Archive for the 'Chomsky' Category

Yet another wignut pundit claims Bush is a “socialist”

Yet another right-wing pundit last week claimed that Bush’ fascistic move to preserve the power and wealth of capitalists was actually “socialist.”

I can see that some people are having a difficult time understanding this, so let’s spell this out as clearly as I can:

Since we socialists can’t seem to agree on even the colour of shit, there are about as many different interpretations of socialism as there are socialists.  But the one thing that we have in common (along with some anarchists such as Noam Chomsky) is that we believe that the state can (and should) be used for a time to curtail the power of capitalists, to remove them from their position of ridiculous power and to redress the gross imbalance in wealth that they have accumulated for themselves while 18 million people (3 times 9/11) die globally every year due to poverty.

Fascists on the other hand believe in using the power of the state to preserve and enhance the power of capitalists (see, for instance, the collusion between Nazi Germany and the infamous Krupp family or Mussolini’s Corporatist régime) at the expense of workers.

I know, I know, it’s hard.  They both deal with the state AND capitalists!  It’s so confusing.  But here’s an easy mnemonic device to help remember the difference between the two for next time.

Saying that Bush’s fascist move this week is actually the same thing as “socialism” just because it involves the state and capitalists is a bit like saying that cancer-causing cigarettes are the same thing as chemotherapy because they both involve cancer and its spread.

~

See Also:

More proof that liberal economics is a radical right-wing ideology

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words”

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”   -Orwell, 1984


I know I’ve been bringing up Orwell a lot more frequently as of late (see here, here, here and here), but when I came across this comment on reddit.com yesterday, my mind just screamed to me: “NEWSPEAK!  NEWSPEAK!  NEWSPEAK!”

The comment is:

“Progressives like to blame the greed of corporations. Libertarians like to blame the coercion of government. Progressives want democratic action to solve corporations, and end up giving a ton of power to the government.  Libertarians want the market to solve problems, and give a ton of power to corporations.

We need to get together and realize that elite power sucks regardless of where it originates. Progressives need to stop looking at the government as a benevolent solver of problems. Substitute libertarians for progressives and the market for the government.

What we need is a third way. I don’t even mean a third party, but a political consensus that acknowledges we need to be ever vigilant against elite power.  I think this consensus can be forged and maintained on the internet. I hope that the campaign of Ron Paul is only the start.” (source)

It isn’t that this particular writer is attempting to manipulate somebody.  Indeed, on the contrary,  think it is obvious that this writer is genuinely interested in progressing beyond the existing state of politics.  The reason why this comment is indicative of Newspeak, though, is that this person is writing as if he has just discovered for himself a ‘new’ idea for a political viewpoint when in fact, the idea for what he is talking about has existed for hundreds of years since at least the time of the so-called ‘Diggers’ in mid-17th Century England. The only problem is that, because of ‘Newspeak’ (for lack of a better word), the very essence and meaning of the word he seeks has been removed from political discourse and to the extent that it can be found in political discourse it is, just as Orwell predicted, taken to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means.

Orwell writes:

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

So let’s see here: this writer is looking for some new ‘third way’ forward away from Conservatism and authoritarianism other than libertarianism and what the U.S. laughably considers to be ‘progressivism’.

Here is a graphical view of a standard 2-axis political orientation chart with the left-right economic spectrum horizontally and a vertical axis demarcating statism and state control versus anti-statism.  This is nothing new or revolutionary, but it is in a way, precisely its simplicity and commonality that illustrates the point I am trying to make better than anything else.

As you can see, there is a huge gaping hole in one quadrant.

For ease of reference and clarity, I’ve superimposed the position of various people onto this grid according to politicalcompass.org and other sources.

new-left-right-spectrum-people-2.png

While it is clear that every other ideology in the political compass grid is easily labeled (i.e., I could have easily gone into more detail and labeled the bottom right corner ‘Anarcho-Capitalism” and the top edge from roughly the centre to the far right as “fascism” and so on and so forth), it is true that, unlike all other quadrants on this grid, there is no one agreed upon word describing the bottom left quadrant (where Chomsky and I reside).

Chomsky himself alternates between calling it broadly “libertarian socialist” and “anarcho-syndicalist” (yes, I’m aware those are technically two different things, but I’m just talking insofar as a broad name for the quadrant goes).  I call it “True Marxism” or “True Progressivism”.  But there are also any number of other names for it:

-Anti-statist Communism (a redundant phrase as far as I’m concerned)
-Anarchist-Communism
-Trotskyism
-Post-Marxism (a term popularized by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe)

So, in essence, Orwell’s fear of the ‘destruction of words’ has been realized.  Not only does the general populace not have a universally agreed-upon word to describe our ideas, but we ourselves can’t agree on a word for ourselves.  We are, quite literally, they who are without name.  We can no longer use the word Marxism — although it would quite technically be an accurate label for the quadrant broadly understood — because, just as Orwell predicted, it’s meaning in modern parlance has been inverted into its exact opposite.

In a world without a nomial label attached to these ideas, the consequences of which are illustrated beautifully by the comment above, it has become nearly impossible for people to even think revolutionary thoughts because the person has to derive them from scratch themselves without the advantage of their long and rich history.  And, even if they do derive these ideas from scratch, the problem remains about how to express these ideas to others without further cluttering up the nomenclature for such ideas.  Thus, I would argue that it has come to the point where our very existence, our very presence as individuals holding these ideas, has itself become a revolutionary act.

While I am crushed by capitalism,
I continue to breathe.  And so long as
I breathe, I continue to hope.  And it
is this hope that animates my struggle.

See Also:

War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength

Our entire existence summed up in one cartoon

All that glitters is not golden

When does it start?

U.S. Presidential Candidates compared to Canadian political parties

Holy red-baiting, Batman!

I recently submitted an essay in my academic life on the topic of the imperialism of ‘humanitarian’ intervention.

Unfortunately, my paper’s length went way over the maximum page allottance, so I had to cut out this section which critiques an absolutely incoherent attack on MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky from a paper published in 2003 by LSE professor, and part time professional red-baiter, Chris Brown.

Normally, I don’t let these sort of conservative anti-Chomsky attacks anger up the blood so much when I encounter them on the internet, but this sort of argument bothers me immensely when the author is able to get his or her work accepted by a peer-reviewed academic publication when even the most basic standards of decency show that this work is both fallacious and an ad hominem against another academic.

Thus, I have decided to reproduce selected quotes from this paper by Chris Brown along with my critiques of each quote.  I must apologize in advance for the lack of footnotes or endnotes because for some reason WordPress strips them out (although if anybody would like the specific citations I use, you can feel free to ask and I’d be happy to give them). 

The work being critiqued is:

Brown, Chris. ‘Selective Humanitarianism: In Defence of Inconsistency.’ In Ethics and Foreign Intervention. Edited by Chatterjee, D.; Scheid, D. Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 31-50.

—————————–

At the outset of his work, Brown writes that:

“[A] second preliminary point that needs to be acknowledged is that many of those who charge the interveners with inconsistency actually have agendas of their own which are unconnected to this issue.  Chomsky, for example, clearly would oppose any exercise of power by what he regards as the American Empire, and the charge of inconsistency is for the most part a rhetorical device designed to appeal to those who, while not accepting his wholesale critique of American society, are, nonetheless, concerned by the way in which American power is sometimes deployed.”

It is important to emphasize here that insinuating that one ought to discredit those who charge American ‘interveners’ with inconsistency (ex. intervening in Iraq for ‘humanitarian’ reasons whilst assisting in the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion of Somolia currently underway or ignoring the crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan) based on the existence of putative “agendas” is fallacious in three ways:  firstly, it constitutes an ad hominem attack on the character of the author in question based on political beliefs without consideration of the merit of the argument presented.  Secondly, it assumes that it is merely Chomsky et al. who have ‘agendas’ when it could just as easily be said of Brown’s work that it is no more and no less animated by ‘agendas’ (i.e. an anti-Chomsky ‘agenda’ or a pro-Wilsonian interventionist ‘agenda’ et cetera), than could be found in Chomsky’s work.  Thirdly, the word ‘agenda’ itself is a weasel word intended to connote nefariousness or duplicity and thus is not suitable for academic discourse.

Brown goes on to offer a moral explanation or defense of inconsistency in US intervention policy.  This argument states that:

“There is one possible answer to this question that would preserve the notion that the interveners where behaving consistently in accordance with some moral rule, and not simply selecting the case where they would intervene on the basis of non-moral criteria. Very crudely, it might be held that this particular case was chosen because it represented the most serious current violation of human rights or the situation where the most serious humanitarian disaster would follow from inaction — but this is, indeed, rather too crude because it ignores altogether issues of practicality. Better would be some notion of ‘triage’; thus, one might divide the world’s trouble spots into three categories — those where the difficulties are sufficiently minor such that forcible intervention would most likely always do more harm than good; those where the difficulties are of such magnitude that action would almost certainly be ineffective, either because of the scale of the problem (as, perhaps, with civil wars in the Congo) or because they are caused by states who have the power to turn any external military intervention into a full-scale war (as with Chinese depredations in Tibet, or Russian in Chechnya). [emphasis added]”

This argument is both morally coherent and extremely important.  Indeed, if this formulation were true, and if the United States’ inconsistent interventionism was motivated along the same lines as ‘triage’ then not only would this justify inconsistency in humanitarian intervention, but it would actually go much further and make it so that it would be immoral for the U.S. not to behave inconsistently. If, in a ‘triage’ situation, you frivolously waste the limited medical resources available on just any patient, then you potentially cause significantly more suffering and fatalities than if you limited your attention to the cases where the limited resources can be of most benefit.

This formulation is also relatively simple to test.  If it is true that a humanitarian ethics of ‘triage’ and efficacy is what animates the U.S.’s decision to intervene in a given crisis and not another, then there would be two factors which could explain specious arbitrariness both of which fall under Brown’s moral rubric of ‘triage’: First would be the scale of disaster, the second would be ease of remedy. So, if Brown’s ‘triage’ model holds up, one would expect that U.S. intervention to end human rights violations are avoided in situations which are likely escalate into a full-scale war against another hegemon such as China or Russia, and one would expect the actual cases of intervention to have occurred in situations which are easier to remedy and with less threat of an expansion of hostilities.

This ‘Ease of remedy’ notion — central to any ‘triage situation’ — can be interpreted in many different ways. It can have several factors, for instance:

-Geographic location (is the nation close to other co-operative allies?)
-Does there exist a definitive and coherent polis or political community that is being crushed by oppressors which, if left on its own, could establish itself as a viable state under international law’s so-called “principle of effectiveness”?

A cursory overview of the long history of U.S. interventionism clearly demonstrates that U.S. foreign action is not animated by any notion of ‘triage’.

Case studies to this effect:

#1) The U.S. decided to intervene in Kosovo despite massive Russian and Chinese opposition and eventual Russian land-based counter-intervention, thus greatly risking confrontation with at least one other major global hegemon.

#2) The U.S. decided to intervene in Panama at the dawn of the 20th Century and sever it from Columbian control, thus artificially creating a polis which did not exist previously and which was most certainly neither coherent nor viable under the ‘principle of effectiveness’. Indeed the evidence for this utter lack of its viability rests in the necessary presence of foreign (U.S.) battleships at port in Panama City for the declaration of independence and the outright mention of the United States as a protector and ally of Panama in state’s the new constitution — which, to my knowledge, is the only time ever in history that third party country other than victor and the country being declared independence from, is actually mentioned in such documentation.

Conversely,

#1) The U.S. chose not to intervene in Indonesia’s slaughter of the East Timorians which, between 1977 and 78 alone (although the oppression continued on into the 80s and for a majority of 90s as well), resulted in at least 200,000 dead, despite the extreme proximity of key U.S. ally Australia. Moreover, East Timor, by every account, meets the second criteria of a definitive and coherent polis which could achieve viability if left on its own.

#2) The U.S. chose not to intervene in the Kurdish regions of Turkey during their oppression, despite the extreme proximity of key U.S. allies Israel and Greece and the remarkable linguistic and social cohesiveness (not to mention territorially cohesive and contiguous) of the Kurdish regions.  Moreover, on this subject, Miller writes that:

“In Turkey, in the fifteen years prior to the bombing of Serbia, the death toll of a conflict over Kurdish autonomy and suppression of minimal expressions of Kurdish identity (including Kurdish names and cassettes with Kuridish songs, much less Kurdish-language schools), was 35,000, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate…. in the southeast there are 2 million people left homeless. The previous year, the UN Committee on Torture endorsed an Amnesty International allegation of widespread and systematic use of torture.”

Lastly, in both of these two aforementioned cases it wasn’t just that the U.S. callously gave a proverbial triage RTS (Revised Trauma Score) score of zero to the East Timorese and Kurds of Turkey.  The final blow to the ‘triage’ model is that during both of these crises, the U.S. actively engaged in assisting Turkey and Indonesia before, during and after the human rights violations in question.

Brown later goes on to give the most logically incoherent portion of his work when he poses the question:

“If to behave morally it is necessary to follow a non-arbitrary moral rule, then humanitarian interventions appear not to fit the bill — such is the charge made by critics to the evident discomfiture of supporters…. [But] is it always and necessarily wrong to be inconsistent or arbitrary in applying a moral principle?”

The context of this exerpt is extensive, but in this section, Brown is (correctly) making the argument that his critics hold the belief which, expressed using formal logic symbolism, would hold that:

moral behaviour → consistent behaviour
(“if moral behaviour then it must be consistent behaviour”)

However, Brown takes this logical formulation and attempts to deconstruct it by showing examples of inconsistency in US and UK tobacco, alcohol, drug and cannabis policy as a akin to US humanitarian interventionist policy.  Thus, what he is attempting to demonstrate using the example of US and UK policy in this area is:

 (¬ consistent behaviour ≠ ¬ moral behaviour) → opponents’ argument is flawed
(“if not consistent behaviour does not equal not moral behaviour, then the arguments of his opponents is flawed”)

However, the error Brown makes is that he assumes that ¬ moral behaviour = immoral behaviour in the same way that ¬ consistent behaviour = inconsistent behaviour.

In actuality, ‘not’ moral behaviour does not equal immoral behaviour since behaviour is not dichotomously moral or immoral.  There are any number of examples wherein a person can behave inconsistently and still be neither moral or immoral.  For instance, if, on the vast majority of days, I prefer to have sugar instead of sweetener in my coffee, my inconsistency one morning in asking for sweetener in my coffee is certainly, as demonstrated mathematically above, not moral behaviour, but it is also obviously also not immoral behaviour. My decision here would have been a pragmatic one — perhaps sweetener is less appetising, but also irritates my stomach less than real sugar — and thus was completely outside the dichotomy of moral and immoral behaviour.

Thus, what is clear is that inconsistent behaviour can be ‘not moral’ or outside of the realm of morality — which would fit within the formulation of Brown’s opponents.  But inconsistent behaviour cannot be moral behaviour unless this inconsistency is itself morally justifiable.  And, as the example of Brown’s ‘triage’ model demonstrates, Brown’s attempt to moralize the inconsistency of U.S. intervention simply does not coincide with reality.

Left-wing podcasting is here

Paulitics: Paul’s Socialist Podcast

You can now click on the sidebar to be taken to the new official podcast companion to the Paulitics: Paul’s Socialist Investigations blog.

The podcast is devoted to presenting unique discussions, debates, news commentary and academic lectures to the public from a broadly left-wing or socialist perspective.  Occasionally podcasts will be hosted by myself and my lovely co-host (AKA girlfriend) Kimberlee.  At other times, the podcasts will feature academic or activist speeches or talks on a variety of subjects ranging from resisting the U.S. Empire to capitalism to media propaganda to philosophy to socialism and to many, many, other topics.  Notable featured figures that I’ve already lined up include Noam Chomsky, Alex Callinicos, Tariq Ali, Naomi Klein and Cornel West.

Episode #1 featuring Noam Chomsky is already uploaded and ready to go for your listening pleasure.  I did have one minor glitch with the podcasting host’s promotional material — the 10 second spot didn’t go where I wanted it to go, so it interrupts Chomsky for about 10 seconds before coming back to him (you don’t miss anything, though).  I’ll definitely iron out this glitch for Episode #2 which will feature a talk on empire and Imperialism by Alex Callinicos. 

You can subscribe to the Paulitics podcast in any of the following ways:

(chose your platform)

 ← (the generic podcast RSS feed URL)

For more information (such as subscribing to the podcast even if you don’t have an iPod) go to the podcasting FAQ at the bottom of the page here.

BREAKING NEWS: Michael Moore gives a GOOD speech

I’m not normally a fan of Michael Moore.  But the segment which Democracy Now! did on his testimony at the California state legislature has a clip of what is truly a fantastic speech delivered with an oratorical style I did not think Michael Moore capable of.

There is no way that I can say this without sounding pretentious as hell, but I have previously felt that Michael Moore’s brand of progressivism — especially when compared to true luminaries such as Noam Chomsky — was a bit like cousin Cletus’s 5-part serenade ‘Ode to a swimmin’ hole’ on his banjo after an afternoon of good moonshine.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

Before this interview, I always thought:  Entertaining?  Yes.  Enlightening?  Not as much.  So, while I may be losing some of my commie street cred by saying this, I do have to say that, regardless of your opinion of Michael Moore, his speech in this Democracy Now! segment is well worth the watch especially considering the neo-liberal forces at work within our own country working to bring us closer to U.S.-style healthcare.

moore1.png

 

Click here to view the Democracy Now! segment (opens in Real Media Player)

 

 

If you don’t have Real Media Player, you can download it for free here

Who’s afraid of human rights? Conservatives apparently

amnesty-international.pngI recently came across Sam Carson’s fantastic posts (available here) on the 2007 Amnesty International Report (available here).  If you haven’t taken a look, it’s well worth the read.

In his post (actually it’s a series of posts) Sam draws attention to the sad criticism of Amnesty International by right-wing figures and organizations such as Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the U.S.-based Capital Research Center.

I’ve always found Dershowitz et al‘s claims that Amnesty International is biassed to be disingenuous at best and I think Sam’s done a great job bringing this issue to the fore.

Specifically, the intellectually dishonest position of Dershowitz et al needs to have a better airing amongst true progressives so that the absurdity of the right’s claims that Amnesty International is a “political organization” with a bone to pick against the US and is biassed against them by focussing on their human rights abuses — can be once and for all discredited.

This task of discrediting the right-wing’s claims that Amnesty International focusses unduly on the US should be fairly to demonstrate for anybody who has ever read AI’s reports for three reasons.

First, even if there was more material on human rights abuses in the US and the West, this does not negate the validity of actual findings of their reports.  I don’t think anybody (even Dershowitz) goes so far as to claim that AI just makes this stuff up.  So complaining that AI is a political tool with an axe to grind against the US is a little bit like a child who steals a chocolate bar from the corner store, gets caught and then complains that he got spanked when the boy down the street has done worse.  The fact that the boy down the street has done worse has no impact whatsoever on whether or not the first child deserved what he got.

Second, the way Amnesty International has ALWAYS structured their reports — and, come to think about it, the way virtually all NGO reports are structured — is to lead with and emphasize places with the newest and biggest developments in human rights abuses and then, understandably, merely update information on already well-documented, long-standing human rights abuses like those in China or Columbia for instance. 

So since the US is the one creating most of the new and interesting ways to infringe upon human rights since 2002, what the hell do they expect??

Lastly, as Noam Chomsky is fond of saying, ‘whenever you hear something said with great confidence, it’s always a good idea to check first and see whether it is true’.  So, to recap, the claim by the right is that there is undue focus on the United States by Amnesty International and that the US is used as a ‘political punching bag’ by what constitutes an ultimately partisan organization.

If we take a look at the main body of the report (the country by country report) we see the following breakdown in the pages devoted to some key countries.  Out of 242 total pages, Afghanistan takes up about 2 pages, Algeria approximately 3 pages, Bosnia and Herzegovina about 3 pages, China around 3 pages, and the United States — which supposedly has so much undue focus — is tied with Columbia in taking up approximately 4 pages each.

Wow, I guess Amnesty International must really have an axe to grind against the US, eh?

(Oh, and if you think that maybe America is focussed on unduly in other countries’ reports, you’re wrong again.  The word “US” is mentioned approx. 150 times in the 242 page report — excluding the section devoted to the United States — but the vast majority of these occurances are attributable to either the phrase “US-led invasion of Iraq” or to occurances of figures for currency [GDP, foreign aid etc.] which are always given in US dollars.)

So who’s afraid of human rights?  It appears the answer is the United States, Russia, China, the Congo and the Taliban and conservatives.

Well, I guess they keep good company.

Chomsky on self-deception and other fun topics

This video contains an excellent discussion between Robert Trivers and Noam Chomsky on self-deception that is absolutely fascinating and, given the recent revelations in the U.S. about the Bush administration, is very worth taking a look at.

It’s relatively short and a very easy listen, so I encourage everyone, even those not familiar with Chomsky or Trivers’s work to take a look.

What I found especially interesting about this exchange is their discussion of the nature of the process of internalizing information in what can be termed self-propagandization.

While neither Chomsky nor Trivers directly mention the work of either Hungarian Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács or French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (possibly because the latter has fallen out of favour in academic circles since the 1970s), the shadow of these two philosophers on the topic discussed above is unmistakable and worthy of brief discussion.

Continue reading ‘Chomsky on self-deception and other fun topics’

Propaganda in action: The closure of the Hershey plant

Welcome to the second installment in the ongoing series “Propaganda in action”.  In each installment, I analyse a current event’s coverage through multiple media outlets in the West to uncover the hidden, systemic propaganda in our speciously-free media.  (For the original installment on Pinochet’s death, click here).

As Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman note in their “propaganda model”, what characterizes propaganda in the West is not so much that what gets covered are lies.  For the most part, journalists are honest people who want to do good in life and in their employment.  Rather, our experience with propaganda is centred around sins of omission.  Let’s explore with reference to the media’s coverage of the Hershey corporation’s closure of its Canadian flagship plan in Smiths Falls (just outside of Ottawa).

Here’s what the Canadian media – even the supposedly “left-wing media” (and even that supposed bastion of socialism:  the CBC) – had to say about the closure.

#1)  The CBC

“Hershey confirms Smiths Falls plant will close”

This story on the plant closure demonstrates several levels of propaganda very much in line with Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model. 

Firstly, the story is told almost exclusively from the perspective of management.  The corporation, or its spokesperson, Kirk Saville, is given a total of precisely 100 words. The union, or its spokesperson, Henry Gadhan, is given just 19 words.

Secondly, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that the Hershey factory is the primary employer of the small town of less than 10,000 people.  Moreover, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that this move will essentially destroy not only the city’s primary industry, but will destroy the property value of anybody who lives there.

Thirdly, nowhere is the corporation’s reasons for relocating to Mexico given.  In fact, even the new location for Hershey’s factory (Mexico) isn’t given at all.

#2) A Channel News

Smiths Falls Hershey Plant Closing?

Continue reading ‘Propaganda in action: The closure of the Hershey plant’

On intellectual honesty and the Cuba debate

I’m not one for hero-worship, but it’s hard to resist when listening to stuff like this.  Seriously, Noam Chomsky is amazing.

Can anybody have any remaining doubts that Marx was right when he wrote that the ideas of the dominant class in any given epoch constitute the dominant ideologies of the populace?

I’ll leave it for you to decide.


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