To those who read the above assessment of Noam Chomsky as our preeminent American (yeah World) public intellectual, it must have sounded like Pope Benedict XVI announcing his pal John Paul II’s imminent Beatification. I was grossly misinformed. After reading “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Noam Chomsky” edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel from numerous public appearances and interviews, Vintage, 2003), my title asserts that this compendium is not only very dispensable but intellectually highly toxic, revealing a hubris that is dangerously misleading.
“Too ‘True’ To Be ‘Good’” asserts that Chomsky’s arrogance about his frequently unique insights into the errors of the American political history over the past century is so clouded by blind brilliance as to be useless for those committed to necessary changes in the American Behemoth.
Compare him with autodidact filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore is no internationally famous linguist. He’s just a guy whose middle class family has been destroyed by Flint, Michigan capitalists with no concern for their workers but committed only to greater riches for their stockholders. Michael hurts. Noam merely moans dramatically. Michael’s films have made the greedy capitalists outraged at how his films have revealed their evil ways to the middle masses.
Noam’s bleats (corrupted further by his mendaciously demotic idiolect—he uses “guys” like that fake cowboy, Bush 43) are unheard on Wall Street. Here we have a wealthy retired professors performing for a global gaggle of tired out lefties who feel good listening to his self-intoxicated mewling.
And NC’s peculiar relations with his academic “uncolleagues” is significant: he respects only the hard sciences and asserts that the humanities and social sciences are full of intellectual bums. Whenever he’s asked for hard evidence on the uselessness of these university disciplines, he welches by suddenly feigning ignorance and humility! And the book’s footnote numbers allude to a website
(www.understandingpower.co.uk) if you want to check his data or generalizations. What a parody of scholarship. No bibliography. Just his solipsistic repetitions of silly devils like “wage slavery”.
I grew up in Detroit and worked all Big Three auto factories earning money for my Ph.D. And his whining about “wage slaves” is total malarkey. Was being tied to the rigors of farming better than working making automobiles? Silly. I also worked a summer for a pea farmer in Bay City, and I’d gladly prefer a factory to a farm. It’s the destruction of the CIO unions that’s the scandal. And I’ll bet our pampered grant winner never pushed a broom anywhere, as I did at the East Lansing State Bank for my young family as I finished graduate school. NC’s world is is what is left of his former leftist New York intellectual comrades.
He never once mentions the real academic scandal of “our” generation (I was born in 1927, he in 28): the co-emergence post-Reagan of the $100,000 plus professor and the simultaneous peonization of English graduate students. Now there is real wage slavery—ABD’s parlaying multiple parttime gigs with no healthcare nor pension rights so their Profs can wangle grants, sabbaticals and small classes of highly motivated—ABD’s. Chomsky has devised a cushy global retirement of internationalized pretentions to defend political freedom. I’ll bet two years of my miniscule pension (I junked a full professorship with tenure at 55 for the cultural freedom of journalism)that he’s one of those post Reagan profs who watched tuition inflation boost their benefits while their “successors” suffered the “wage slavery” of ABD’s.
To be really true is good. To be falsely “true” is worse than no good at all. I’ve never been so let down by a book in my entire academic life. The Romans used to say the corruption of the best is worst. Chomsky’s preening with his glib condemnations of all the rest of US is pathetic. Moore is truly good. And he risks his ass in his fight against out of control greed. Chomsky fakes chumminess as he slides from one phony self love fest to another. Shame on this “saintly” act. I’m accusing him not of dishonesty but self confusion. Even geniuses can get lost.
And how can he oversee a 400 page book on political commitment and not mention the Berrigan brothers? If the brave Jesuits in Central America have earned his praise, why not his American “brothers”? Do you have to be a CIA victim to get his attention? Even get a sniff of anti-Catholicism left over from his leftie New York former contacts. The great Eugene Debs makes the Index but not Dorothy Day nor Father Bob Drinan, S.J. Ideological slavery is a worse affliction for an intellectual than his faux “wage slavery”. And he mocks Maureen Dowd falsely and maliciously. Bad example for the junior professor. The Kids. Shape up, Noam, or shut up.
Here's a previous post on Chomsky.
Click for an article by Chomsky on Egypt.