Noam Chomsky no conspiracy theorist

Issue 
Noam Chomsky.

In 9/11 and numerous other works, veteran MIT linguistics professor and libertarian socialist author/activist Noam Chomsky has argued the United States is “a leading terrorist state.”

According to the author of a recent diatribe in Australia’s Monthly magazine, these “views on American foreign policy” are “myopic” and “conspiratorial” and make Chomsky an unsuitable recipient of the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize.

It scarcely matters who authored the piece, because its core assumptions are so generically reactionary that they might have been lifted straight out of a well-thumbed copy of The Lazy Conservative’s Guide to Chomsky Bashing (421st edition).

Since his late 1960s rise to prominence as leading critic of the capitalist imperialist structures that produce US aggression, nationalistic right-wingers and many so-called left-liberals of the corporate media have found it more convenient to dismiss Chomsky as a disreputable conspiracy theorist rather than engage with the substance of his claims.

Conspiracy theorists deal with rumour, innuendo and fantasy, usually drawing on what they claim to be secret information, giving rise to such corkers as alien crashes at Area 51, faked moon landings, Paul McCartney is dead, or that scientists and governments have concocted the climate change scare to increase their power over the populace.

That’s conspiracy, with nothing to back it up except faith-based hyperbole.

Yet, as anyone who actually reads his work will immediately realise, Chomsky is all about the evidence — reams of evidence presented in thousands of pages of calm, meticulous, forensic detail.

It is this illuminating use of publicly-available sources that makes him so dangerous to the pretensions of the powerful and their adoring cheer squad in the plutocrats’ press.

Chomsky’s challenge to the conventional wisdom is, of course, an affront to those blinkered by the seductive ideology that casts straight-out imperialism as a benevolent mission to humanity.

Hence, the phenomenon of Chomsky-denial may best be explained with resort to the old truism: “There are none so blind (or perhaps myopic) as those who will not see.”

When they label Chomsky a conspiracy theorist, a lunatic, a self-hating Jew or a morally-bankrupt traitor, what they are really affirming is the personal stake that they have invested in the capitalist imperialist status quo.

Throughout human history, every major imperial power has developed an ideology to justify its quest for supremacy. From the Romans, to the British to the US there is a common thread — “we” have to run the world for its own good and anyone who gets in “our” way must therefore be crushed.



Since at least the start of the 20th century, US national identity has been so deeply entwined with imperial myth-making that it has attained the status of a civic religion.

Even the most appalling, unlawful acts committed in the pursuit of imperial control can never be regarded as terrorism by those who worship at the altar of power — to do so would be blasphemous from the standpoint of nationalism.

The same principle applies with Zionist nationalism, which has (not accidentally) formed a close alliance with US state chauvinism.

It is generally establishment intellectuals in the press and academia who are the defenders of state criminality — their historic role has been to legitimise the power they serve.

In the US and other Western centres, this has led to a studied refusal to even consider the possibility that the use of US power against “soft” civilian targets may be inherently illegitimate — may, in fact, constitute terrorism.

Rule No. 1: Terrorism is not something “we” do — it’s something that “they” (the colonised) do.

The difference between Chomsky and most mainstream “liberal” scholarship is that he has been able to look at what is plainly evident in the documentary record of US diplomacy without filtering it through the distorting lens of imperial ideology.

Thus, when he sees US power used to target civilians abroad, he can see it for what it is — terrorism — rather than how we are supposed to see it — making the world safe for democracy.

Although Chomsky’s use of evidence is necessarily complex at times, the basis of his method is actually quite simple. It’s an exercise in the sort of “elementary morality” (as he calls it) that young children can understand.

To avoid falling into the trap of hypocrisy, you have to hold yourself accountable to the same moral standards that you would impose on others. This applies to nations as well as individuals.

Hence, when religious extremists crash planes into packed New York skyscrapers — that’s clearly terrorism and can never be justified.

However, the same standard of judgement must also apply to any assessment of the actions of the US and its allies such as Turkey, Colombia and Israel.

Even the most cursory reading of the historical record reveals that the US has engaged in terrorism — the calculated use of violence against civilians to achieve political ends — on a massive and sustained scale.

In fact, as Chomsky and other dissenting voices have repeatedly pointed out, the US remains the only formally-constituted nation state to have been condemned by the UN-sanctioned International Court of Justice for terrorist activity in connection with Reagan’s brutal anti-leftist crusade against the Nicaraguan people in the 1980s.

And Nicaragua, let it be emphasised, was no isolated case.

In the face of such overwhelming evidence, it is a remarkable achievement that mainstream media contributors can label Chomsky a mere conspiracy theorist and still (apparently) be taken seriously.

What a testament to the power of wilful ignorance — but it won’t fool the millions worldwide who read Chomsky’s books and attend his lectures, gaining insight and inspiration to continue resisting the oppressive machinery of empire.

Comments

Chomsky sells zillions of books, hundreds of people flock to his lectures, and a few years back he was called the world's most important intellectual. He is, in addition, among the bravest of academics in that he uses his tenure for what it was intended: namely, speaking out in ways that would get non-tenured academics fired and permanently unemployable (to wit, Finkelstein). Not only does he put most other tenured professionals to shame, he also does the same to most people who call themselves Lefties. Chomsky's leftism is lefter than most want to go. He's a base-and-superstructure type socialist. Most of us would not go that far left. But his best quality is that, unlike most Left thinkers today, he does not trash other leftists for not being "pure" enough. I think he knows that that circular-firing-squad style of leftism is what keeps the Left weak.
Unfortunately, a fool will never be persuaded, no matter how exhaustive the evidence, and the fact that Chomsky's work is considered so 'controversial' - despite taking publicly available data as his basis, and refraining from excessive interpretation - is a testament to the tragedy that is liberal capitalism. I'm astounded by the degree of outright animosity towards professor Chomsky on the Internet, not just from 'normal' conservatives - if there are any - but especially from conspiracy theorists. Obviously, obscurantists hate those who use rational exposition as their tool, and a lot of conspiracy theory, by presupposing the usual 'Zionist conspiracy' is, indeed, little more than the moronic rehashing of historical anti-Semitic myth. The sense you get trudging around the insane asylum that is the Internet, is that many, many people are simply incapable of considering the issues of capital vs people, addressed by Chomsky and others, without taking recourse to Bilderberg groups, Zionist conspiracies, etc. As such, they can't help but reiterate the central trope of historical anti-Semitism, which is that a cabal of 'Jewish Trotskyists' (the conflation of which speaks volumes about the conflators' ideological agenda) is calling the shots in secret and controlling the economy by proxy, as opposed to, say, the guys in Fortune or Quote. Conspiracy theorists leverage the culture's insatiable hunger for excitement and titillation, by suggesting the truth of (neo)liberal capitalism lies in 'secret societies', a.o.t. the not-so-exciting business press. The truth is in the banal details of everyday, but of course, they need to be properly read. On that note, I saw an episode of Seinfeld a little while back, in which Elaine was making a great stink about Jerry, George and Kramer's 'illiteracy' and penchant for getting all their data from TV. Elaine then proceeded to taunt Jerry by saying the guy she was dating at that moment was 'cultured' and 'sophisticated' where her former boyfriend was childish, because the guy read the Financial Times - most likely not in the way Chomsky does, though, but there you have it: for arguably the bulk of the population today, the figure of social intellectual is as alien as a Maoist dictator, and the greatest imaginable intellectual achievement is to be a successful stock broker.