Role of the Intellectual: Noam Chomsky
Important to this discussion about Noam Chomsky’s role in our society is to first note the role of nominalist epistemology. Nominalism’s origin can be traced to Immanuel Kant—history’s most prominent nominalist. It has several forms, but typically it stands for rejection of universals or integrate concepts that accurately reference facts of reality—either our concepts fail to encompass each fact it claims to subsume, or if it can it cannot be logically integrated. To a nominalist, our concepts cannot reference reality, but references resemblances between objects in its definition—but no two objects are truly similar and thus can never be classified.
Our concepts have no depth to the nominalist. Concepts are a label for a class of resembling objects. Words are concepts, or labels. Thus, one offshoot of nominalist epistemology is linguistic theory.
Linguistic theory, in my mind, begins with Hegel—and picks intellectuals from that point forward. Linguistic nominalism takes hold of philosophy by the 20th century. Linguistics is pure theory, lead by intellectual generals (Hegel), applied by intellectual soldiers (Marx, Nietzsche.) Philosophy shapes people’s minds—and it is their minds that decide actions.
Behind each political action is an activist (an intellectual soldier), and behind each activist is (through whatever intermediary party) an intellectual general. Today, the General of the Nominalist Army is Kant, his deputy is Hegel, Hegel’s deputy is Marx (and others before 1900), another deputy would be Nietzsche (contrary to pop culture, a rather unoriginal thinker placed next to his predecessors), and beyond them, a myriad of intellectuals of lower cognitive ability (typically university professors) who apply their commander’s orders upon society.
In the 20th century there have been many academic fighters for nominalism. The one I am to discuss is Noam Chomsky, a nominalist whose influence is one of the greatest in our century—he is a true academic. Highly regarded and honored by the educational institution of the western world: The University.
He began as a linguistics expert (theoretical nominalism) and the nominalist Army’s captain on the ground in political activism.
2. Chomskyan Nominalism: Generative Grammar.
Generative grammar stands as Chomsky’s work that has survived mostly intact over the years. His other works, such as those in phonology, have been superceded by more recent works in phonology. Generative grammar is not a theory likely to last beyond another century or half-century.
Generative grammar postulates a universal grammar of finite rules that underlie all languages. The postulate’s basis is that a native speaker of a language can take a finite number of rules and produce an infinite number of grammatically correct statements—characteristics between grammars of natural languages share a common structure—and these rules of grammar pass between generations of humans intact and are implicitly known. Chomsky had postulated the existence of an innate language faculty years before neuroscientists identified a section of the brain that likely retains language—whether the scientists agree that this organ can produce the universal grammar has yet to be seen. Chomsky’s own reaction to such a discovery was unenthusiastic (perhaps due to his other works quickly becoming outdated.)
To Chomsky, rules of grammar retain merely structure—a well-formed (that is, grammatical) statement is a statement in which the arbitrary axioms of grammar hold true. That is, grammar is essentially arbitrary in the sense that ANY rule of syntax is as valid as any other rule of syntax, but that humans have simply preferred certain rules—and we seem to know these rules before being exposed to reality (grammar is known a priori, in a sense.) This is all nominalistically correct: Knowledge has nothing to do with reality, thus language has nothing to do with reality.
Chomsky wrote volumes on his generative grammar, often invoking use of formalized notation to illustrate his point. His works are academic in the truest sense: Hundreds of citations per volume. He has applied his theory to multiple languages—each of which maintain the generative framework. However, the generative framework is invalid in a Freudian sense of the term: No supporting work has offered scientific validity to the theory.
Linguistically, it is likely his syntactic theories will become outdated and replaced by another nominalist-linguist member of academia.
But at least for another few decades, Chomsky has gained for himself prestige. Academics is ruled by nominalism in every aspect and today academics applies nominalism to everything. And a man of intellect who is a nominalist is respected as a matter of course, Chomsky embodies the academic-nominalist-linguist. Academics owns intellectual power over the world today, thus it makes sense that Chomsky is in the highest tier of power.
His work as a linguist is in the past. He now uses his power to work as a political activist in the ideal nominalist-academic way.
3. The Captain.
In 1974, Chomsky and Foucault met in Holland to discuss the political issues facing the last quarter of the 20th century. Around this time Chomsky emerged as a political activist—pushing a nominalist agenda and taking security in the academic way: Obscurity and re-invention. Obscurity in the sense that he chose a pre-existing system that had been a popular form of socialism over one hundred years before (libertarian socialism.) Nominalist in the sense that the great materialist-nominalists were on the left wing of social affairs—from Marxism to Anarcho-syndicalism—Chomsky himself is no doubt a member of this thought. Chomsky is likely a materialist by implication.
He has not admitted any innate human nature, the closest I found was in the 1974 debate in which he had admitted that humans simply seem to be creative—and have creative urges—and that those creative urges are being oppressed by current political systems. He is thus a “libertarian socialist” and a supporter of Anarcho-syndicalism—a form of anarchism upheld by various left-wing international associations (that is, the IWW and IWA; to which Chomsky and his parents have always had close ties with.)
His political theories have no underlying theory that is consistent enough to examine from a philosopher’s viewpoint. However, his gadfly tactics and socialist mindset have lead him to examine all areas of politics, his earliest works dealing with the war in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s—his “middle” works dealing with the history of (typically American) relations between political powers which, for him, seem to begin around WWII—and his latest works dealing exclusively with American policy in the Middle East.
For this article, I will discuss his policies in regard to history. In short, Chomsky has re-written history and America’s role in the world after World War II. To a nominalist, re-writing history involves manipulation of the reader and dropping all historical context—and to treat history as naturalistic (that is, treatment of historical events not as a causal entity, but as a series of often un-connected events.)
For example, during World War II, Middle Eastern countries faced invasion by axis powers to secure its natural resources (oil) which would have been a source of economic power for the axis. To prevent this, Britain and the U.S.S.R. invaded countries from Persia to Palestine. Rather than colonize or occupy these lands after the Second World War, the U.S.S.R. and other nations withdrew to allow international intervention into the political systems of those Middle Eastern nations. The governments installed were pro-democratic and had fair justice systems (by western standards.)
Over time, the governments were toppled and replaced by corrupt, mismanaged governments from the inside. This occurred by the cold war. Rather than intervene with these governments, the western bloc supported the corrupt governments and gangs on the condition that they would stop any Russian invasion. The choice was merely a decision among two evils, the west chose the lesser evil: Support thugs, so long as the economies of the middle east weren’t nationalized and cut off from the world by the soviets (those greedy communists!)
Free trade continued through the end of the cold war. The support of any Middle Eastern government was only through free trade with the US economy—no significant other support has existed.
Chomsky has re-written this history in the interest of entertaining his younger pupils. It is here, his re-write of history, that his powerful mind distorted facts and set him as a major socialist capitalist-conspiracy theorist and social commentator that would influence pop culture as we have known it.
What follows is one of the greatest historical constructions I have encountered. It has all the elements of a wonderful conspiracy theory or science fiction, but with the distinguished style of dry academia to lend credibility. Its manipulation is ingenious and its loss of historical context is seamless.
The pattern that emerges from Chomsky’s political works involves political skepticism. That is, academic skepticism much like that of Hume’s, yet oriented in a political manner. Political skepticism is relatable to most readers as it is merely a socially acceptable form of paranoia—a causeless distrust of political power centers.
This form of skepticism plays on media (symbols of information and knowledge), history (which prove the source of political policy), economic power (specifically large corporations), and world leaders and political policy. (Its key assumption is that all beliefs are equal and relative.)
Chomsky is a main source of mistrust of media, history, world leaders, and political policy—which he claims are all influenced heavily by economic powers.
Chomsky’s re-write of history begins after WWII (the events during and before WWII in the middle east are typically neglected as the causal chain of events could unravel his works.) According to Chomsky, the United States, under economic duress of large corporations, came short of colonizing the land they have never fought for during WWII but had in some way forced oppressive client states to rise and funded corrupt governmental officials to continue their tyranny and the oil supply to the United States corporations. Small Arab gangs were funded by the United States corporations to continue oppression under the guise of invasion from the U.S.S.R. The corporations of news organizations actively suppressed information flow of these atrocities to the American people so as to ensure continued oppression of Arabs for use of their oil.
In 2006, Chomsky visited Hamas militants in Gaza (video can be found on youtube.) He was asked to characterize American reactions to 9/11, which he described as anger and upset as they had merely seen a glimpse of what Islamic terrorists have apparently lived with for years—and did not like this. In other articles, he has condoned the rhetoric of Islamic terror organizations (namely, Osama bin Laden, but also Hezbollah leaders as well) as if these organizational leaders were playing to role of the intellectual in our society by exposing lies from international power centers. That is, Osama bin Laden has been attempting to show American sins in international politics that have given rise to corrupt governments and used them to oppress Arab Muslims—he has simply chosen a form to discourse that he sees as equal to what the American client states have inflicted on Arab Muslims.
Often these tyrannical client governments supported by the Americans are simply labeled “oppressive.” Take the “oppressive” nation of Saudi Arabia. Its governmental policies, especially in its treatment of women and its continued human rights violations (“human rights” as defined by American standards) are no doubt oppressive in the view of Americans. (Our support of this nation is via economic trade—a relationship which America can survive without, and this fact is known well by the Saudis.)
However, what would Osama bin Laden mean by “oppressive”? If Saudi Arabia were ruled by a fundamentalist Islamic state, it would cease relations with any non-believer of Islam (including the United States), it would revert to even more barbaric methods of justice, women would be forbidden to vote, get an education, work, get abortions, etc. Many of these things the government of Saudi Arabia either does not comply with or is moderate on—in that way, Saudi Arabia is “oppressive” of the Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden.
This is how Americans can be accused of not “listening” to the extreme Islamic rhetoric of bin Laden after he attacks New York city—they are correct in saying Saudi Arabia is oppressive, but for opposite reasons than what Americans might think. This is one of many similar manipulations Noam Chomsky uses to sell his books.
This is one example of a Chomskyan re-write of history—he has covered every corner of the earth, shown each country or region as a victim of American (economic) imperialism.
The facts of history show otherwise.
4. Lieutenants and Sergeants.
Chomsky’s views are not original or new. It is merely an application of 1890 labor union views to modern times—whose views died by the end of WWII (and perhaps the reason Chomsky neglects this time in history.)
He is, essentially, a third-rate labor leader. But like his century-old predecessors, he must present his version of truth with an element of entertainment. It is hard to sell people on pure socialism since the end of WWII, but it is easier to manipulate to cause dissident actions against non-socialist governments (a role American academia has taken almost exclusively.)
His manipulations are easy to see through for the developed intellectual, but for those less developed or less intelligent, they idolize Chomsky for his seemingly original and exotic rhetoric. One good example is Eric Reed Boucher, known better as “Jello Biafra.”
Jello Biafra was a punk rock artist with the group Dead Kennedys, through which he gained status in American pop culture. His subsequent spoken-word albums have become canonical to American pop culture. He is admittedly a strict follower of the Chomskyan form of socialist doctrine.
Michael Moore, a documentary film producer is another follower of this doctrine—often appearing next to Chomsky in various doctrinal films.
Both Michael Moore and Jello Biafra have brought views influenced by “Chomskyan doctrine” to a massive audience. (And many in this audience, new to this doctrine, are easily manipulated and often agree with the films.)
Chomsky’s work and the works of his followers have the manipulative quality of a simple conspiracy theory (essentially with the truth value of UFOs and Spontaneous Human Combustion.) That is, Chomsky and his followers assume and attempt to know more than what can be reasonably allowed. Their approach to re-writes of history and distortions of international policy usually involve comic-strip evil, greedy capitalists trying to enslave the world through corporate oppression whose corruption of the American government allow them to enslave the entire world.
Chomsky portrays the motivations of his comic-strip characters (that is, political figures) as shallowly as a sci-fi B-film might. As with any manipulation and historical re-writes, things are lost, one such item is causality—to be specific: Volitional causal attributes: namely, political motivation. The simplest fool might conjecture Bush’s motivation in the Iraqi war to be simply “greed” for Arab oil (whatever that might mean is yet to be shown.)
Given historical context, it is more likely that Bush is simply a naive Christian altruist—attempting to “free” Iraqi citizens from mob-rule. (The mob’s only defense is that it is a religious mob and thus has some sort of precedence over any other kind of mob—and is above reproach by virtue of American political correctness.) If Bush were simply greedy for Iraqi oil, he would withdraw from Baghdad and patrol Iraqi oilfields with special forces. We simply cannot presume to know (based on conjectured economic relationships) that simple “greed” accounts for president Bush’s approach to international relations. The world is not so simple—but Chomskyans would rather you think otherwise.
I urge that everyone, especially Americans, attempt to see through the socialist revamp that is Chomskyan politics and use common sense in their search to understand our history and political relationships.