Chomsky’s Hamster-Work

A friend sent me this article on Noam Chomsky.

The author, Chris Hedges,  is notably uncritical of the great man, and I myself would not normally criticise Chomsky.  He does his thing brilliantly  and is rightly revered for that.  But as it came from a friend who knows my work and what I am trying to do, I thought I’d respond to him with a few comments.  And then the comments seemed worth making into a post.

The article states

“he ( Chomsky) steps outside of every group and eschews all ideologies.”

But this  is not strictly true. Chomsky says he is an  anarcho-syndicalist.  And that makes him highly ideological.

As an  anarcho-syndicalist, he vigorously analyses and attacks the evils of existing systems of politics and government but, like all anarchists,  he declines to offer an alternative system of government that could be  viable, just and sustainable AND worth voting for. That for me is his great weakness, and what turns his writings and speeches into an – admittedly exalted – form of what I call “Hamster-Work”. Like a hamster on its wheel, he goes on and on and round and round, and in the end – nothing

It was Marx who said

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

As a post-grad student, Chomsky offered an alternative, and still in some ways controversial, new paradigm to that which was dominant in linguistics at that time. Inevitably, fellow-linguists have challenged and modified  Chomsky’s alternative model, and he himself has substantially updated it,  but for over fifty  years it has provided an invaluable and still valid basis for research and inquiry.  Thus,  did he change the world of linguistics by heroically leading his colleagues into territory which until that time had not been identified still less explored.

That’s the kind of leadership I’d like to have seen in his political writings. But he never allows himself to take the lead, never offers an alternative model that would be open to rigorous analysis, criticism, development and  debate. Instead, although he

curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.”

that’s as far as he goes. And today that is old news for many millions of people.  That quote from Chomsky sums up my view of local and national pseudo-democraticgovernment and politics back in the mid-1990s.  In “Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisaiton and People-Power” 2002/3) we discussed the complex, component and disastrous consequences of this system and offered a alternative model of democracy from which citizens could co-create just and sustainable societies.

Now, the Chomsky quote is a barely contested truism, representing something near the majority view in the USA and far beyond. . In constantly rehearsing and re-stating these and related arguments, Chomsky is never “wrong”, of course. His always safely cocooned within the outrage that a mere recital of the facts can generate.  However,when Chomsky asserts

that power, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate. The burden of proof is on those in authority to demonstrate why their elevated position is justified. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled.

he raises profound questions that his  anarchist ideology allows him to ignore. Questions such as:

“If we dismantle illegitimate  forms of authority, then what?  What forms of power and authority would be legitmate in the face of the challenges we face in the 21st Century?”

These were the question that “Gaian Democracies” tried to tackle.  Yet Chomsky shirks them and even seems to think them not worth discussing. I wish that he would address those  and related questions, but it seems that his anarchist ideology prevents him from doing so.  Consequently  it condemns him and millions of his admirers to the ultimate futility of “Hamster-Work”.

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