Noam Chomsky


Links on the web: His faculty web site has no mention of his political work or publications, however, his UROP listing does.

The faculty web site is also quite old: The HTTP-Header says that the file was last modified in March 1999 and the latest "recent publications" from it date back to 1994.

The BBC has some brief audio snippets: For a good overview of Chomsky's political thinking on and analysis of a broad range of topics, see Understanding Power: Chomsky's latest book (at the time of writing anyway) also has an audio snippet and a short section online:

DeepStructure, and much of the rest of Chomsky's linguistic theory, is not universally accepted by theoretical linguists, as much as the people at MIT might like to pretend that it is. TransformationalGrammar had more appeal in the fifties and sixties when we did not have some of the mathematics that we do today. Recent mathematical advances have been used to extend PhraseStructureGrammar? and other monostratal theories (e.g. CategorialGrammar?), allowing much more flexibility without the baroque rules for constituent movement and case assignment seen in Chomsky's (and other transformational grammarians') later work. In fairness, though, Chomsky's work led to many of those same mathematical developments, and modern programming languages owe a lot to his work on formal language theory. One extremely valuable contribution that even Chomsky's harshest critics in linguistics won't deny is his refutation of Skinner. Kicking the behaviorists out of the field and bringing it properly into the realm of CognitiveScience opened the door to truly scientific exploration of language. -- SteveConley

For an alternative to NoamChomsky's TransformationalGrammar that involves nothing like DeepStructure, see HeadDrivenPhraseStructureGrammar. HPSG has the advantage of being much easier to implement computationally.


"a leading dissident political scholar in the United States"

Which is really painless. The real dissidents are in places like China and Colombia.

He probably doesn't risk being killed by the government like (some of) the Chinese dissidents, but I'd say he's still a dissident.

dis‧si‧dent : disagreeing especially with an established religious or political system, organization, or belief. (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=dissident)

So according to the dictionary the term 'dissident' fits NoamChomsky, even though the word often is only used for people who are oppressed for their opinions. Of course, using the word in this particular dictionary sense also implies that nearly anyone who holds any political opinion is a dissident, because nearly any political opinion disagrees with some established religious or political system, organization, or belief.

Chomsky himself makes the point often enough that the penalties for dissidence in free societies are so slight when compared to those faced by courageous dissidents against more oppressive regimes that it's embarrassing to talk about them. Typically we face some degree of marginalization by society (unless we're really under-privileged/black/whatever, in which case the penalties may be more severe); they face torture, death, murder of family members...


Weirdly enough, Chomsky also thinks of himself as a conservative:

"According to Chomsky, classical liberal ideals have been 'perverted into an ideology to sustain the emerging social order' (For Reasons of State, p.156). Since the 1930's, Chomsky notes, the term "liberalism" has come to mean 'a commitment to the use of state power for welfare purposes' (Language and Politics, p.656), rather than the restriction of state power. Chomsky also notes that the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' have switched meanings. ... He comments, 'A modern conservative, like Taft, wants to cut back state power, cut back state intervention in the economy -- the same as someone like Mark Hatfield -- to preserve the Enlightenment ideals of freedom of expression, freedom from state violence, of law-abiding states, etc. (Language and Politics, p. 656)." -- from Chomsky's Politics by Milan Rai. Page 188, note Ch.6 #24

In other words, Chomsky's basic message is "Question Authority". "I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom." -- from the interview "Noam Chomsky on Anarchism, Marxism & Hope for the Future" at http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/rbr/noamrbr2.html. This used to be called "Classical Liberalism",

None of this shows that Chomsky views himself as conservative. He's described himself as an anarcho-syndicalist often enough.


Well, I shan't question authority just because someone tells me to.

Humorous, to be sure. But Chomsky doesn't tell anyone what to do. He simply lays out the facts, and obviously the autonomous thinking individual can do what she wants with the info. (Including doing nothing.) He does offer his own opinions from time to time, but from what I've seen, he is very careful to make clear when he is doing so.

That is why I'm much more likely to trust what he says, than to trust the don't-worry-be-happy facades in leadership. It is obvious from his approach that he is someone who actually values truth and honesty, down to the core. But then again, nothing he says requires that I "trust" him at all. His every piece of information shared exists legitimately and recognizably in the body of knowledge that is the human race. I can start from first principles, and discover it all for myself. No faith required.

To me he is truly one of the most courageous citizens that America has. It takes a lot of guts to think for oneself, after all. That a lot of people in this country are equipped with highly blunted critical analysis faculties is not a negative reflection on him (no matter how they might twist his words for mocking effect, or dismiss his point of view entirely), but is precisely a reinforcement of where he comes from as a moral and rational being.

I don't think courage enters into this, especially since his kind of thinking is very common in the environment where he works. What I want to know is, if I do think for myself and draw conclusions very different from his, am I to be dismissed as a brainless drone of the System?

Actually, his kind of thinking is not very common in the environment where he works. The "conventional wisdom" among conservatives seems to be that academia is a bastion of The Left, but in fact, when it comes down to genuine substantive issues (like U.S. foreign policy, and history), as opposed to issues like... "the correct word to call a gay person"..., academia is in general remarkably subservient to the Official Version. They're as bad as the media, in that department.

And as for "brainless drone of the system", that's not Chomsky's style. He doesn't use inflammatory and insulting rhetoric like that. (I do, but he's not me.) You must not have read him. He simply lays out the facts, without forcing any kind of underlying philosophy into the equation. His main focus is to bring out into daylight the ugly sides of our government's and country's history. So if you "challenge" him, all you're doing is challenging facts. Facts that are out there and plain to find, in the government's own records, in sources aplenty. What may be painful is discovering the contradictions in one's own philosophy that allow one to accept "double think" without a moment's hesitation.

But I acknowledge it is more comfortable to dismiss the truth as yet another "opinion", so that one can feel comfortable in picking and choosing what one wishes to see, regardless of the reality. (Intellectual courage is a difficult thing to maintain.)

But many of what people call facts are open to interpretation. Intellectual courage is one thing, but taking your opinion (or your interpretation of facts) as facts is intellectual dishonesty. And it's hard to believe that he doesn't hold or teach opinions, otherwise he would not style himself (or his disciples would not style him) as a "dissident." -- DroneOfTheSystem?


Whatever his contributions to linguistics, Chomsky is neither a dissident or a free thinker (I would argue that the latter do not exist). He is a reactive critic of US policy but willingly overlooks foreign atrocities. He willingly and knowingly goes through life with blinders on even as he exhorts us to take them off. What's more, the nature of his blindness ("no enemies on the Left") is entirely in tune with the fashion of a significant fraction (if not the majority) of 20th Century intellectuals.

His behavior after the American withdrawal from Indochina is a case in point. In 1975 he argued that there were no massacres under the Khmer Rouge and that Americans were being brainwashed by their media to think that there were. He directly attacked the testimony and credibility of Cambodian refugees, and only acknowledged the massacres 3 years later once he had found a way to blame them on the US. This is not the behavior of a true free-thinker but simply of someone who goes with the "US wrong, left-wing dictatorships right" thinking that was so trendy in the 20th century.

Gee, at least Chomsky provides sources for his claims. Where, besides the confines of your creative mind, does the above BS come from?

Don't get me wrong. If he says people should dig for the facts and make up their own minds, I'm with him. But I believe that he himself does not really operate this way. The real question is, do you believe your own lies?

On the above: Chomsky did not deny the massacres under the Khmer Rouge at all. Far from it. He does point out, however, that the US media exaggerated claims, made up statistics, falsified photographs, and basically lied about what was actually happening in such as way as to support the interests of prevailing US power.


This is an unrelated episode, but it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth: Chomsky wrote the introduction to a book by Holocaust "revisionist" Robert Faurisson. He argued that the "scholar's" ideas, however distasteful, cannot be censored. I don't want to debate the merits of free speech for Holocaust deniers and other kooks, but if Chomsky wanted to defend Faurisson's right to freedom of expression there were plenty of other venues in which to do this. I don't know if Chomsky actually believes the claims of Holocaust deniers but by writing an introduction to the book he lent his name and credibility to the movement. I am disappointed that someone whose "intellectual integrity" is so highly valued in some circles would have allowed himself to be used in this way. -- DroneOfTheSystem?

I remember that in the ManufacturingOfConsent? documentary he told a student that holocaust deniers were wrong

This really needs to be cleared up: as outlined in the Achbar/Wintonick Manufacturing Consent documentary, Chomsky wrote some "elementary remarks about freedom of speech" which the publishers used, as a pre-emptive defensive measure (knowing the content of the book), as an introduction. Chomsky goes to pains to point out that there's a crucial difference between defending someone's views, and defending their right to express them. He will not give the state the right to determine historical truths. When asked a question on the subject "Are you denying the gas chambers existed?" he responds "Of course not. But if you're in favour of freedom of speech, you're in favour of freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favour of freedom of speech, that means you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise you're not in favour of freedom of speech." He goes on to say that if someone wants to refute the views of Faurisson, there would be little difficulty in finding the evidence to do so, and points out that he has himself taken the opposite extreme position on the matter, saying "Even to enter into the arena of debate over whether the Nazis carried out such atrocities is already to lose one's humanity." The documentary ends the piece by quoting Chomsky:

"It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers."


He was wrong about something in 1975 and he wrote an introduction to a very controversial book to make a point about free speech? Gee...

Has he ever admitted he was wrong? Has he ever apologized for being so militant about it? if I were a Cambodian refugee I'd be very slow to forgive.


Noam Chomsky overlooks foreign atrocities? That's rich. -- SteveHowell

Yes he did, and he tried to deny them as well.

Man, people who try to roast Chomsky sure come up with some zany ways of doing it! But it's humorous, because their very tactics prove Chomsky's points about propaganda again and again. -- ConcernedParticipant?

Do we have any sources for Chomsky trying to deny foreign atrocities? I have heard the claim that he was an apologist for Pol Pot, but on some further investigation it seems that he was simply condemning media coverage of such affairs, not condoning the affairs themselves.


Seeing as:

Therefore...

-- SteveHowell (joking, of course)

Chomsky's Economics By James Ostrowski http://mises.org/article.aspx?Id=1132


The hypocrisy of Noam Chomsky by Keith Windschuttle http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/21/may03/chomsky.htm

''It kind of makes for a comical read. The premise is basically because he criticizes the US crimes then he is automatically supporting the crimes of others, or because he explains why others commit these crimes that he is supporting them. Further comical for its critique of the propaganda model which engages with none of the ideas of the propaganda model rather points to individual autonomy, as if people in corporate media are not hired and selected for the views they represent. Or as if the model did not take that into consideration... Hilarious really. You will find no mention of the fact Chomsky has criticized official enemy states. Take the criticism of Castro's regime when it escalated its repression a few years back. Or the fact that he has called the September 11th atrocities possible the greatest acts of terrorism the world has ever known. Chomsky is simply pointing to the framework and has good explanations as to why people in that framework do not see it as such.''

Be aware that Windschuttle has been seen as a "revisionist historian" - <http://mentalspace.ranters.net/archives/000016.shtml> and <http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/04/05/1049459857081.html> for two random pages.

Pinko hypocrite or not, NoamChomsky is one of the people you'd call if aliens landed, at least if you follow the excellent instructions in 'Me Human: You Alien' (<http://www.magicdragon.com/EmeraldCity/extraterrestrials/index.html>).

Good point. I will call Chomsky when aliens land. Not before.

If we would take a SimpleMinded approach to all that NoamChomsky has said about society and we were to sort it into two piles, One with what NoamChomskyOffersAsCriticism? and the other with all of what NoamChomskyOffersAsSolutions?, which pile would be the largest and by what order of magnitude?

This leads to the question: What do we do with criticism?

Does a critic have a responsibility to offer solutions, or does he play the role of contrarian, and that of a representative conscience? What are those who receive and recognize in the criticism some truths or problems to do?

Is it the responsibility of the critic to offer hope, to challenge those who can act, with alternatives that can rectify or correct the criticized area?

Should the piles be made of equal height by the creation of innovative and constructive solutions? Or as some would have it, that the system under which we live is doomed to failure, and we should point it out as long and as loud as can be done?

Does a critic have a responsibility to offer solutions?

No, not at all. Division of labour and all that. Besides, there are plenty of solutions on offer.

Yes: for example, when asked 'how can we reduce the amount of terrorism?', an important question in current times, Chomsky's answer is pretty clear: 'We should stop participating in it.' That's a solution right there. And if you disagree with that fact that we (in the Western world) are participating in it, pick up a book by Chomsky and look at the footnotes (or take a look at http://www.understandingpower.com/) for references to sources describing the role played by the West in the world, with regard to terrorism. E.g. look at the findings of the world court in the case Nicaragua brought against the United States. The world court found in favour of Nicaragua, that the United States was guilty of Illegal Use of Force (aka international terrorism), and to the best of my knowledge the US stands on record as the only state to be convicted in such a manner. The Unites States' response was to refuse to recognize the authority of the world court and to step up its campaign.

With regard to more general solutions to problems faced by humanity, in terms of organization of society and so on, Chomsky is cautious about expressing a view. I think he tends to say that with anything as complex as a human society there are few definites - the best way forward requires careful thought and experimentation. But his overall support of widespread democracy is pretty clear. He sometimes draws on historical precedents (such as the Spanish anarchists) when talking about these things.

Chomsky is on record as being an anarcho-syndicalist. He's "careful" only because he doesn't want to bother reiterating the existing extensive literature on how to organize society along those lines.

Sure, I didn't want to give the impression that he is vague, or doesn't have a position. Some of this is investigated in the Ackbar/Wintonick documentary. The part about experimentation, however, still holds. I think his position incorporates something along the lines of: there are no definite guaranteed roads to maximum human happiness, that we know of anyway, but there are certain guides that we should take into account when trying to organize society towards such a goal, such as human need for freedom (assuming it exists), and so on. In fact Chomsky talks about thought experimentation in his cover-comment on Michael Albert's Parecon (ParticipatoryEconomics?) book.

Chomsky is an extremist intellectual who (may or may not have) made significant contributions to linguistics. This does not justify his notoriety as a political theorist. He portrays himself as an academic producing reliable information. However, there is a pile of problems with even his earliest work. If one merely looks at the last 5 years you still get more self-delusion than fact.

Case 1 - Chomsky claimed that he had 2 sources that the bombing of a Sudanese medicine factory had killed "many more" people than 9-11 attacks did. In fact, his two sources both denied even doing any research into those areas (HRW and a member of the German diplomatic corp in that country). Google - noam sudan sources

Case 2 - Chomsky's longstanding double standard regarding Israel and the US. "...virtually everything that Israel is doing, meaning the United States and Israel are doing, is illegal, in fact, a war crime. And many of them they defined as "grave breaches", that is, serious war crimes. This means that the United States and Israeli leadership should be brought to trial." Yet Chomsky has only called for one country other than those two ever to be called for war crimes - Afghanistan when he thought a war was too harsh a response. For instance, Chomsky's primary criticism for the genocide of Kurds in Northern Iraq was that the US did not stop them. Yet, he also attacks the War in Afghanistan as unjustified.

Case 3- Chomsky said a "silent genocide" was occurring at the onset of the War in Afghanistan and predicted "between three and four million" deaths. Now he claims that no such predictions were made. Google- Chomsky the coward

And for the King of Chomsky criticisms - Case 4 - Cambodia. In Distortions at Fourth Hand, Chomsky defends his past denial of Cambodian genocide by saying it can't be known either way. He then blames the conditions not on the peaceable Khmer Rouge but instead on US action. http://jim.com/chomsdis.htm is a good point by point dressing down.

Chomsky has an agenda. He makes things up and presents them as academically sound. Whether he continues his fanatical rants as a source of attention and wealth or simply out of habit isn't clear. What is clear is that he is not credible.


Chomsky's intellectual elitism -- one of many sickening examples (talk at Rowe, Massachusetts; April 1989):

These are funny words, actually. I mean the way it's used, being an "intellectual" has virtually nothing to do with working with your mind: those are two different things. My suspicion is that plenty of people in the crafts, auto mechanics and so on, probably do as much or more more intellectual work as plenty of people in universities. [...] So if by "intellectual" you mean people who are using their minds, then it's all over the society. If by "intellectual" you mean people who are a special class who are in the business of imposing thoughts, and framing ideas for people in power, and telling everyone what they should believe, and so on, well, yeah, that's different. Those people are called "intellectuals" -- but they're really more a kind of secular priesthood, whose task is to uphold the doctrinal truths of the society. And the population should be anti-intellectual in that respect, I think that's a healthy reaction.

In fact, if you compare the United States with France, or with most of Europe for that matter, I think one of the healthy things about the United States is precisely this: there's very little respect for intellectuals as such. And there shouldn't be. What's there to respect? I mean, in France if you're part of the intellectual elite and you cough, there's a front-page story in Le Monde. That's one of the reasons why French intellectual culture is so farcical - it's like Hollywood. You're in front of the television cameras all the time, and you've got to keep doing something new so they'll keep focusing on you and not the guy at the next table, and people don't have ideas that are that good, so they have to come up with crazy stuff, and the intellectuals get all pompous and self-important. So I remember during the Vietnam War, there'd be these big international campaigns to protest the war, and a number of times I was asked to co-sign letters with, say, Jean-Paul Sartre [French philosopher]. Well, we'd co-sign some statement, and in France it was front-page news; here, nobody even mentioned it. And the French thought was scandalous; I thought it was terrific - why the hell should anybody mention it? What difference does it make if two guys who happen to have some name recognition got together and signed a statement? Why should that be of any particular interest to anybody? So I think the American reaction is much healthier in this respect.


NoamChomsky: A billion-and-one ways to say "power corrupts". --PhlIp


And now this vicious example of self-hatred: http://www.chomsky.info/debates/20020530.htm

More Chomskyist trashtalking to brainwashed disciples:
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