His Greatest (Piece of) Work

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

If man is a being of self-made soul and we can colloquially describe Noam Chomsky as a "piece of work," what does that make Noam Chomsky's soul?

Christopher Hitchens writes an amusing evisceration of Noam Chomsky over at Slate. I don't think quoting the final paragraph will spoil things, so here it is:

In short, we do not know who organized the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or any other related assaults, though it would be a credulous fool who swallowed the (unsupported) word of Osama Bin Laden that his group was the one responsible. An attempt to kidnap or murder an ex-president of the United States (and presumably, by extension, the sitting one) would be as legally justified as the hit on Abbottabad. And America is an incarnation of the Third Reich that doesn't even conceal its genocidal methods and aspirations. This is the sum total of what has been learned, by the guru of the left, in the last decade.
That sums up what Chomsky "knows." The real question is: "How does he 'know' it?" Reading Hitchens's piece, you will see a method that I suspect Ayn Rand would have called "rationalism" (not to be confused with reason). Chomsky had decided long before the atrocities of 2001 that the United States was the embodiment of evil in the world, and his whole thought process ever since has involved concocting narratives to fit with that premise. In such a process, facts are fundamentally irrelevant, with the inconvenient ones explained away or ignored outright and some of the more congenial ones possibly having their day in the sun should they "support" (i.e., fit in with) the narrative. Just look at the relative weights Chomsky assigns to: bin Laden claiming credit for the atrocities -- versus the names the U. S. military uses for some of its weaponry.

At one point, something Hitchens relates brought back memories of a bitter argument I heard about many years ago, that I found very puzzling at the time. Here's the memory trigger:
With the paranoid anti-war "left," you never quite know where the emphasis is going to fall next. At the Telluride Film Festival in 2002, I found myself debating Michael Moore, who, a whole year after the attacks, maintained that Bin Laden was "innocent until proved guilty" (and hadn't been proven guilty).
Hitchens goes on to note that, at least as far as proof of guilt is concerned, Moore was contradicting himself, but it's the "innocent until proved guilty" bit that interests me here.

Moore reminded me of a big argument some people I knew were having way back in the mid nineties about the guilt or innocence of O. J. Simpson in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The argument took place either before or during the trial. On one side of the argument were people who had concluded that, to the best of their knowledge, Simpson had committed the murders. On the other side were people who seemed to me at the time to be confused about the difference between the legal concept of guilt and an individual's personal assessment of the facts of the case. (The possible use of retaliatory government force is involved in the former case, and so it is better to err on the side of caution, even if that means sometimes letting the guilty walk free. On the other hand, an individual can always change his mind if he is wrong, and has little or no ability to harm someone he has misjudged.)

To someone like Michael Moore, the necessarily far more stringent legal requirement to prove guilt are a convenient way to attack the certainty (or at least summarily dismiss the judgement) of an opponent. To someone involved in a "thought" process like Noam Chomsky's, the fiction being entertained is that other people aren't entitled to their own judgement unless their weighing of the evidence is made to someone else's satisfaction (publicly, perhaps?). (The joke is that, if someone actually tried this, such an individual would raise all kinds of absurd objections to every step of the process.) This fiction enables such a person to ignore the fact that lots of people are weighing the available evidence and reaching a different conclusion.

Needless to say, the truth is not determined by popular vote. However, to say, "Most people are wrong about this man's guilt because of x, y, and z," is a far cry from bellowing, "He's innocent until proved guilty," in the face of mountains of evidence whose dots practically anyone could connect -- as with the case of Osama bin Laden.

It's still possible that the people I am remembering were merely confused: I didn't participate in the argument because I found it odd and don't remember it terribly well anymore. But I recall one other thing: The "innocent until proved guilty" people seemed almost rabid to me (as opposed to, say, being indignant about a grave injustice, or fearful that one was about to be committed). That impression could be off, too -- or the "rabidity" could have reflected the angry emotional response of an individual trying desperately to cling to to the illusion of objectivity, but experiencing cognitive dissonance in the face of the differing judgement of other reasonable adults.

-- CAV


jc said...

Hitchens is my favorite Marxist or ex-Marxist(I am not sure what he claims to be now) I have ever read.

Gus Van Horn said...

I don't know what he is off-hand, either. Ex, I thought, but he does use scare quotes where I wouldn't have with the word, "left."