getting more disillusioned with chomsky - 10/10/08

From Buck on October 10th, 2008:

I gotta say, I'm getting more and more disillusioned with Noam Chomsky. So much of what he says seems so one sided. It would take a very big time commitment for me to research the whole Israel/Palestine issue, including, like I said in the previous e-mail, to simply find out more on the history of "palestine" which is more specifically a name for a general area in the middle east, literally. It seems to me the more apocalyptic image he can create and horrific situations he can describe the more he'll be believed because he's an MIT professor. There's a lot to be said about this strategy, sometimes you need to exaggerate a situation to get the necessary amount of attention in order to help form a solution, sort of over shoot things in the hopes of reaching a middle ground. However, at least in my eyes, he's losing some credibility. Like I said, I'd need A LOT of time to look into the history of the Israel/Palestine issue, but what I am aware of is that Israel did agree to grant Palestine sovereignty if Hamas took out those sections of their constitution, they refused. I also know that Israel started evacuating the settlements which constitute a significant point of contention within this conflict, not to mention that Hamas has recently fired rockets at an Israeli school. Chomsky says Israel uses the West Bank as target practice, and doesn't mention that Palestine does the same thing. C'mon, this is so one sided! This is against the founding principle of our party, the thing that the two of us are in total agreement, there are two sides to a story, and usually, both sides are to blame. Chomsky, in his role as one of the most influential intellectuals in the world, should make it a priority to tell the whole story. Given his status in the academic word, the simple act of ommision communicates a tremondous amount. The impression I got from this excerpt is that the state of Israel should be dissolved (not to say that that's what he believes, but that is the honest impression I got from the language he was using).

On to the next thing:
That is fair, but I did say that this was a superficial point and that I didn't agree with it for those reasons. I don't think either candidate will bring about any major change, but the appearance to the rest of the world of a democrat of mixed race as president after 8 years of bush comes as no surprise to be popular. Its too bad for McCain because the deck is already stacked against him, just being an old, white, republican following eight years of the very unpopular Bush.

The point I was trying to make about this, wasn't quite that it's a superficial reason to vote for him but that the opinion polls themselves and peoples reasons for saying he would be better for the U.S. or that they would vote for Obama are superficial. What I mean by this is that there does not seem to be any legitimate, solid foundation for why the international world would prefer Obama (other than "he said..."). The initial boost to U.S. favorability as a result of Americans voting for a black man would wear off after a few months and return back to regular levels. The same would happen after any drop as a result of McCain winning because again peoples reasons for not wanting him are purely superficial. So when faced with the reality of McCain and his pro-green environmental policies, favoring diplomacy, better leadership for the economy, the drop would be offset and return back to regular levels, and most likely better than Bush. What it seems like you think I meant by it being superficial is the same way people would vote Liberal in Canada just so Conservatives won't be in power, sort of like that's not a good reason to vote for a guy just because people have irrational desires to have Obama as next president of the U.S. But the reason i think it's superficial is because beyond possibly 6 months it won't really be any more of a boost to international opinion than McCain winning.

And third, the Space race.

A few things I take issue on with the Chomsky quote. First of all, he says:

"Nobody really believes that the US is trying to protect itself from North Korea. That's not serious"

Well I agree that that's not the reason we're developing our space program, but to dismiss N. Korea so easily is almost just as foolish. They have spent time working on missiles that could reach the western U.S., Hawaii and the coastal areas. That is pretty serious, and should not be so easily dismissed. Next, is his comparison to the development of Navy technology, which is an extremely good example:

You know, the development of space technology, including space warfare today, is similar in its technological-industrial significance to the development of navies a hundred years ago. If you look at say, England and Germany a century ago, which had the most advanced navies then, they were dealing with extremely tricky technological problems. Putting a huge gun on a moving platform and ensuring that it could hit another moving target was one of the hardest technical problems of the early twentieth century.

In fact, Clinton-era publications of the US Space Command describe control over space as a parallel to control over the oceans a century ago. Then, countries built navies to protect and enhance their power in commercial and strategic interests. Today, the militarization of space is intended to protect US investments and commercial interest and US hegemony around the world.

So what is Chomsky saying here? What I can gather is that since he believes the U.S. should abandon its ambitions for space and he is making this comparison, then he similarly believes England, which is the closest parallel to the U.S. today, should have abandoned their naval ambitions. Seriously? Do you think that would've been a good idea? Do you think the Germans would have abandoned their naval development if England did? Aside from the civilian benefits that come from military research, this is a ridiculous idea. It would have been terrible for England to stop developing their navy, and silly to think that Germany would have stopped if England did. In fact the best proof of this is the exact example that Chomsky himself uses about the U.S. and the militarization of space:

We're looking at the dawn of a new arms race. For example, Germany technically opposes the US space militarization program, but is bound to get involved. Otherwise it will be left behind in the development of advanced technology. Germany understands that very well. The US understands it too, and they fully expect that Germany and other countries that they want on board will go along with the program. The Bush Administration recognizes that US power is so overwhelming that it can't really be opposed, even if countries object to US actions.

So in the case of Germany, they would've been happy to continue developing their navy, including their devastating U-boats used during WWII, if England had stopped. It just means that they get a bit of time to get ahead while England watches on, until they realize they might as well hop on the bandwagon. That brings me to my third point, that none of this addressed what I said about China, that China would be happy to continue their space research even if the U.S. were to stop theirs. They don't pursue militarizing space just to make sure they keep up with the U.S. They also do it because there is a strong Chinese belief that not only should they keep up with the West but also that China is the center of everything and the most important, and they have the right to supremacy, see their central belief of "The Mandate of Heaven" which parallels very nicely to "Manifest Destiny." Again, all you have to do is look at their treatment of Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong. They believe they have every right in the world to those sovereign states, they historically "belong" to China, and so it is one of their central goals to bring that forward.

Finally, there's this point:

"Destruction of the environment is not only rational; it's exactly what you're taught to do in college. If you take an economics or a political science course, you're taught that humans are supposed to be rational wealth accumulators, each acting as an individual to maximize his own wealth in the market."

This is another example of Chomsky looking at only one part of the picture, and the more apocalyptic he sounds the more authority he seems to have, because why would you exaggerate the "destruction of the species"? What Chomsky failed to mention here is that what we're also taught in economics are theories of externalities and the "tragedy of the commons." Basically they outline how to deal with the environment etc... that we actually are better off, from an economics perspective, caring for the environment etc... and not exhausting resources and all this. I'm in a bit of a rush right now, but I can write more about it in another e-mail if you want.

Anyway, you're up!

p.s. How beautiful has the weather been/going to be this weekend?? It's awesome, definitely wanna go for some motorcycle rides... stupid homework...


  1. Just out of curiousity... are you jewish.. ?

  2. Well Israel was a state created for the Jews removed during WWII. There's an appropriate sense of entitlement for Palestinians. Also, the use of the name Palestine is not suppose to be polarizing. It's always been called Palestine; When the bible was written, the Jews THEN even called it Palestine.

    I'd agree Chomsky doesn't argue both sides of the issue sufficiently. But his approach is from a academic/theoretical perspective, and not from a govt. policy/pragmatist perspective.