Sunday, May 02, 2010

Gnome Chomsky 6: The button

Brits say "badge"; Americans say "button". Clear in this case who is superior. This month's effort is rather amateurish. I'm posting it a day late so as not to demean the working class, whose holiday 1 May of course is.

From Zazzle, by Sunnypilgrim.
Noam Chomsky Button by sunnypilgrim
"Play on words." [sic]
The late, great Fred Halliday on Noam Chomsky in 2001: "He's become the guru of the new anti-capitalist and Third World movements. They take his views very uncritically; it's part of the Seattle mood - whatever America does is wrong. He confronts orthodoxy but he's becoming a big simplifier. What he can't see is Third World and other regimes that are oppressive and not controlled by America."

On the other hand, the increasingly wacky John Mearsheimer calls him a "righteous Jew" - the category he distinguishes from the Jews he calls "the New Afrikaners"... There's two phrases to conjure with.

And other current fans of this supposed libertarian socialist include the post-totalitarian disinfromation outlet Pravda and the totalitarian regime in Iran, whose peace-loving qualities he praised in a recent interview (they haven't been aggressive "for centuries" he says, neglecting the proxy wars Iran has fought in Lebannon, Gaza, Iraq and elsewhere, following a pattern of arm's-length combat Chomsky has been so vigorous in condemning when America does it). Oddly, however, Press.TV does not quote Chomsky when he correctly describes Iran as being ruled by "a loathsome regime".

Added bonus links: Modernity on Fred Halliday; Ron Radosh on John Mearsheimer.


The Contentious Centrist said...

Chomsky was one of a number of Jews listed by Mearsheimer as "Righteous Jews", alongside Norm Finkelstein and that guy from Mondoweiss. He left out Gilad Atzmon for some reason.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Oops, sorry. I see you mentioned it already.

Levi9909 said...

"Righteous Jews" is every bit as patronising a label as "righteous gentiles" but Mearsheimer mentioned a third category of Jews (what kind of Churchillian would he be if he didn't?) - who he called the "great ambivalent middle"; like most societies really.

So he says that, with regard to the State of Israel there are Jews who are principled critics, Jews who support Israel no matter what and he said that the largest (3rd) group of Jews are ambivalent regarding Israel.

It is strange that Mearsheimer mentions three categories of Jews, and I hate that approach myself, but Bob only mentions two of them.

It's even more strange that CC didn't notice Bob's omission but finds it strange that Gilad Atzmon is missing from a list of names of people who, whilst secular, openly identify themselves as Jews whilst Atzmon's main beef in politics is to denounce secular people who identify themselves as Jews.

Not only that, Atzmon says that he is not Jewish and those of us who do not see Jewishness as an objective or "racial" condition are happy to accept that. Hitler wouldn't accept that. Nor does CC.

So there is no reason why Atzmon should be included in a list of principled critics of Israel who are Jewish. He isn't Jewish and he isn't principled.

There is a reason why Bob should have mentioned that Mearsheimer said that the majority of Jews are ambivalent regarding Israel. It would have been the honest and decent thing to do but it didn't suit the point he was trying to make. But then someone who can suggest that Lebanese and Palestinian resistance to Israel points to an "aggressive" Iran, might not find time or space for truth on their agenda.

Levi9909 said...

Woops, I didn't tick the follow up box cos you never know.

The Contentious Centrist said...

It would be quite silly and frankly, irrational, for any Jew to consider his/her "Jewishness as an objective or "racial" condition"(as if being Jewish is some sort of a disease, or a genetic deformity). But only a Jewish hyper-sensitive mega-narcissist would make such a fuss about it. Like Atzmon trying to cure himself or Levi, by imagining he is so morally superior to all others, for allowing Atzmon his personal choices.

Poor Levi cannot tolerate to live in the real world where no one, not even one, gives a muck about him or his "progressive" idiosyncrasies.

Levi9909 said...

Make up your "mind" CC. Being a Jew is an objective condition (no choice) or it's a subjective condition (a choice).

You don't have to be sulky about it. Just make up your mind.

bob said...

1) Yes, there was a third type of Jew in JM's speech, the ambivalent majority. Now, if JM had said that "with regard to the State of Israel there are Jews who are principled critics, Jews who support Israel no matter what and he said that the largest (3rd) group of Jews are ambivalent regarding Israel", I would have agreed with him. This is obviously true. But he used two phrases for the two groups which, although smaller, he rightly sees as more important: "righteous Jews" and "the new Afrikaans". My point was: these are two phrases to conjure with.

Why? Well, if "righteous gentiles" is patronising, which it is, then this is too, but also offensive.

I've argued elsewhere that Mearsheimer is in many ways a product of Kissinger, so here's Richard Nixon: "most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a--you have a Garment and a Kissinger and, frankly, a Safire, and, by God, they're exceptions. But, Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you. Correct? Am I wrong or right?" Here, Kissinger and Safire are exceptional Jews, the ones you can trust, the exceptions who prove the rule. Hannah Arendt spoke about this notion of the exceptional Jew: the noble Jew who the Enlightened gentile liked while disliking the great mass of normal Jews. (Scroll down to Noga's first comment here or p.53 of this pdf.)

"New Afrikaner" is also problematic, if less so, on a number of levels, from the simple-minded equasion of Israel and/or Zionism with apartheid, to the damning of all Afrikaners as supporters of apartheid.

bob said...

2) On Atzmon's Jewishness, I don't want to enter into a debate about that, but simply to note that it is complicated. It is not a straightforward sense of "objective" versus "subjective". The fact is that Jewishness has been thought of as a religion, a race, a culture, and an ethnicity, and that it might be a combination of all or some of these. I don't believe in race, but I think of Jewishness as an ethnicity, and this can never be something that one simply chooses, nor something that is simply passed on to one in one's genes.

Atzmon's pose is to deny that he is Jewish, which is fair enough, but his use by his supporters is to give authority and legitimacy to their antisemitic views (as is done by the fascists who liberally quote Finkelstein, even though I imagine it disturbs Finkelstein somewhat more) and in that sense Atzmon (and Finkelstein) functions as an exceptional Jew, which both shows how he fits in with JM's category and makes it explicit why the category is pernicious.

3) Suggesting that Lebanese and Palestinian resistance to Israel points to an "aggressive" Iran: well, again, not something I want to argue about, whether Hamas and Hezbollah, or the Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq for that matter, constitute "resistance" or not. Even if you think they do, surely you can see that they are also carrying out Iran's wars by proxy, just as the Contras carried out the US's wars by proxy? And that this is evidence for Iranian aggression outside its borders, something which Chomsky claims doesn't exist?

Levi9909 said...

1) Well argued Bob and point taken though your description of the apartheid analogy as simple-minded is a bit slippery given that many would say that Israel is now far worse than simply an apartheid state. Also I don't see why "offensive" is worth saying given that "patronising" is offensive.

2) I agree that most Jews are Jewish at first by accident of birth but in free societies, continuing to identify as Jewish is a free choice. I think the objectification of Jewishness is a slippery slope and the correct position to adopt is simply to accept self-identification. Israel seems to do this with Russians who have no Jewish lineage or belief though not with Ethiopians or Ugandans who do have both Jewish lineage and belief. So the Jewish identity is problematic in an academic sense but objectification is a dangerous thing. Ethnicity is the same as race, it's just the latter went out of fashion. It is fair to say that Jews are largely, though not entirely a descent group but self-identification is still very important, as I say, in free societies. Maybe I mentioned, a guy told me recently that his parents were Jewish. As in, they are but he's not. I'd never heard that before but I had to accept it and I think anybody should.

Your defence of CC's sheer dishonesty regarding Atzmon is ludicrous given that s/he didn't offer the excuse that you're offering. It was a clear attempt at accusing critics of Israel of antisemitism. I don't think Mearsheimer would lump Atzmon in with the Jews he names because he is clearly naming Jews he sees as honourable and intellectual. Atzmon would immediately come across as at best pretentious, on checking, Mearsheimer would see that Atzmon is woefully dishonest and I think Mearsheimer can distinguish between antisemitism and anti-zionism/crticism of Israel. So there are at least two reasons why Atzmon should not appear on Mearsheimer's list by the standards that Mearsheimer appears to be setting.

3) Re Iran's "aggression" - In per capita terms Israel is the largest supplier of arms in the world. I wouldn't accuse Israel of aggression to all of the victims of the arms it supplies. Too much of a stretch by most people's standards.

bob said...

Also worth reading on Mearsheimer: Ron Radosh (hat tip Jogo). He links to Marty Peretz, who points out that the context of JM's speech was a memorial lecture to a fascist, Hisham B. Sharabi of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. (Peretz slightly misrepresents Monthly Review, which, as Radosh says, prefers Castro's gentler version of Stalinism to the Soviet real thing; there is also the vexed question of the relationship between MR and its "zine", which was where his speech was published.)

Radosh concludes: "Now Mearsheimer, as one writer has pointed out, sounds much like the Charles Lindbergh of America First. No wonder his writing now appears in publications like the Buchananite American Conservative and the Marxist [sic] Monthly Review."

bob said...

Race and ethnicity: I don't think that ethnicity is simply a fashionable way of saying race. Talking about race is talking about biology: blood and bones in the old days, genes in today's more sophisticated versions. You can have descent-based groups without accepting that it is carried genetically. I accept it if someone says they're not a Jew, but being ascribed as such by others makes a difference; Atzmon's ascription as Jewish by others makes a difference to the authority with which he is taken to speak on Jewish matters.

Iran and aggression: it's not simply that Iran supplies weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah, and to certain Shi'ite insurgent groups in Iraq. They also fulfil its foreign policy aims, as the Contras fulfilled America's. Chomsky should surely be aware of that, even if he thinks those aims are OK.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Your defence of CC's sheer dishonesty regarding Atzmon is ludicrous given that s/he didn't offer the excuse that you're offering. It was a clear attempt at accusing critics of Israel of antisemitism. "

I don't understand where levi sees dishonesty. Atzmon is an antisemite, not because he denies he is a Jew, (that would be a matter for psychologists to decide) but because he hates Jews and cooperates with anyone who is dedicated to the demise of Israel, which is 85% Jewish. It is not through sheer coincidence that he chooses Israel and Jews as the object of his hatred and activism. They matter most to him, precisely because he still feels a Jew.

Gilad atzmon reminds me of the man who hated his father in Heidrich's story, as recounted in "Conspiracy" through the actor Kenneth Branagh. When the father dies, the son who hated him grieved the most for him. Why? Because that hatred had shaped his life and given meaning to his existence. The fictional Heidrich was telling the story as a cautionary tale about why it is important not to hate the Jews even as he was orchestrating their destruction. It's not about hatred. It's about utopia and efficiency. In an ironic, twisted sort of way, it is Atzmon's very hatred that humanizes him and inspires pity for him. He is Quasimodo gazing in the mirror and horrified at the misshapen image his eyes perceive. He is like the anorexic teenager who, having starved herself to skin and bone, looks in the mirror and sees an obese body. Gilad is a man in search of his humanity and antisemitism is his means of finding it.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Bob: I'm not sure I agree with the conflation you make between Mearsheimer's "Righteous Jews" and Arendt's "Exceptiopnal Jews". I'll try to think of a good way of explaining my intuitive rejection of this analogy.

In the meantime, I just want to say this:

"Righteous Jews", to my ear, is a precise echo of "Righteous Gentiles" which carries a deeply symbolic meaning in modern Jewish history. It's not condescension, unless you think that any recognition of an act of heroism is condescension. It is homage paid to otherwise unsung heroes and also a reminder that antisemitism is not an irresistible impulse or a force of nature. That all other things being equal, some people could act in ways that re-affirmed common humanity.

By choosing the term "Righteous Jews" Mearsheimer aimed at precisely this ironic mirroring of a deeply revered Jewish tradition of gratitude and acknowledgment of goodness. It was a malevolent attempt to create a balance between saviours of Jews and some of the ugliest advocates of Palestinians (who act against the survival and well-being of Jews). The most cursory comparison will reveal the inadequacy and contempt encapsulated in this formulation, another over-stretching of the rhetorical fallacy Amis called "The fetishization of balance".

ModernityBlog said...


Thanks for that.

Mearsheimer, what a weird speech

The Contentious Centrist said...

This may explain why it is weird:

"That Mearsheimer fails to see is that while it's true that extremists in the pro-Israel lobby are assisting Israel in its journey towards oblivion by counseling or enabling permanent occupation, he is performing the same Kevorkian-style tender mercy for the Palestinians by counseling and enabling the abandonment of efforts to end the occupation. Telling the Palestinians that they are doomed for a certain, probably long, term to endure formalized apartheid and there isn't really anything they can do to avoid that, but that in the long run they basically don't have to do much of anything for their national project to triumph since Israel will inevitably self-destruct is about as unhelpful, unrealistic and disempowering as anything I can imagine. It's been my long-standing suspicion that while Mearsheimer clearly doesn't like the pro-Israel lobby, he doesn't seem to really understand, or even care that much about the well-being of, the Palestinian people. That Mearsheimer is using them and their cause as a foil in his ongoing feud with the pro-Israel lobby, which he has been at odds with for so long he is starting to resemble, all but confirms this."

Levi9909 said...

CC - "Gilad is a man in search of his humanity and antisemitism is his means of finding it."

Which illustrates why he has nothing in common with the self-identifying Jews named by Mearsheimer, ie, Finkelstein, Chomsky and Weiss. Your point was to conflate Atzmon and his antisemitism with genuine and honest critics of Israel.

I didn't say that he is antisemitic because he denies he is a Jew. I said he is antisemitic and he denies that he is a Jew. Also, he says that other secular Jews should renounce their Jewishness too. That latter is antisemitic together with other things that Atzmon has said but not his renunciation of his own Jewishness.

Conversely, I would say that to insist that someone is Jewish when they insist that they are not, is also antisemitic because it racialises/objectifies Jews. Atzmon didn't do that; you did.

Still, at least you attempted a serious answer this time.


ModernityBlog said...

"Your point was to conflate Atzmon and his antisemitism with genuine and honest critics of Israel. "

That already HAPPENED when the SWP (and others) took to pushing Atzmon.

THEY made that linkage.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"I didn't say... "

I was not responding to you or anything specific you were saying. Your kinds of thoughts and arguments require too many mental contortions and ethical acrobatics, with very little returns.

Gilad Atzmon is an interesting case and every once in a while when his name is mentioned I take one more shot at understanding what he represents.

You, Levi, are not interesting. You are nothing but a stereotype and a boring one, as all stereotypes are. One way of recognizing a stereotype is its predictability. And predictability is discerned through the resort to cliches, ad homs, Reductio ad Hitlerum, to name but a few features.

Please don't take that as an insult.

Levi9909 said...

You were addressing me or at least what I said, you ridiculous liar. You misrepresented what I said and you got caught and previously you had dishonestly tried to place Atzmon and his antisemitism in the same camp as serious Jewish critics of the State of Israel.

I am sure you find Atzmon interesting and even likeable since zionism and antisemitism are so closely related. Atzmon should be listed with you, not Finkelstein, Chomsky and Weiss.

ModernityBlog said...

As an aside, has there ever been with thread where Mark Elf doesn't accuse others of being liars?


The Contentious Centrist said...

"You were addressing me or at least what I said, you ridiculous liar. You misrepresented what I said and you got caught and previously you had dishonestly tried to place Atzmon and his antisemitism in the same camp as serious Jewish critics of the State of Israel."

Serious? You mean like you?

From where I'm standing, I cannot see much difference between you and Atzmon. I understand a little better now since YOU believe the difference is he is no longer Jewish while you are. Any other difference I should be aware of?

Don't you get it that the ideological nuances that seem so important to you are really lost on anyone who has not adopted your rabid leftist dogmas? You make a career of demonizing Israel and her supporters (as is very nicely illustrated in this little discussion right here in this thread) and you complain that the demonized does not make an effort to figure out the quantum nuance separates your thinking from Atzmon's?

You are both quite loathsome. But in Atzmon's case I can find some mitigation in the fact that he is slightly less hypocritical about his motivations. And he is a gifted artist. What's your excuse?

The Contentious Centrist said...

Why Can't Jews Be More Like Noam Chomsky?

Levi9909 said...

CC - you are clearly incapable of serious or honest discussion with anyone who doesn't support your ethno-religious supremacist worldview.

ModernityBlog said...

Rather predictably Elf resorts to his favourite line, throwing around the accusation of "ethno-religious supremacist".

If Elf doesn't call his interlocutors "liars" hen he'll shout "supremacist".

He's done that to me, to Bob and countless others, irrespective of the arguments.

That's Elf's way and if you had a penny for each occasion you could probably buy a seat on one of the virgin spacecrafts (hint:they are very expensive).

The Contentious Centrist said...

The only one here who has been obsessing over ethno-religious supremacies and such is levi0000. He is the living proof that the myth of Jewish genius is, alas, exactly that, a myth.

But I've always maintained that Jews have every right to be as stupid, petty, bigoted, pompous, sanctimonious and hypocritical, as anybody else, without being subject to special ridicule over it. So I'll try to abide by my own principle in this matter.

bob said...

I'm really busy today, so I'm hoping I get a chance to get back on this thread, specifically on the words "righteous Jew", which is, as CC says, offensive to the hear precisely because it echoes the "righteous gentile" phrase. I acknowledge that it carries "a deeply revered Jewish tradition of gratitude and acknowledgment of goodness" (CC), but at the same time I've always been a little uncomfortable with it.

I'm also interested in how the trend, which started with the modest wisdom of Primo Levi and continued with the late Gillian Rose, of "descralizing" the Shoah, turned bitter with Norman Finkelstein and has now taken on a life of its own. Mearsheimer's pronouncments are only one example; Atzmon's are among the most extreme. I presume on Mearsheimer's part this is a deliberate strategy.

More later, or maybe not.

bob said...

(The "it" in my first paragraph being the phrase "righteous gentile", in case I wasn't clear.)

The Contentious Centrist said...

"...but at the same time I've always been a little uncomfortable with it."

Don't think that I don't understand, Bob. It can be the subject of a whole dissertation, in fact. I have a few thoughts:

There is a very lavish program produced by CNN which is called "CNN Heroes". Here is the description from wiki:

"CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute is an annual television special created by CNN to honor individuals who make extraordinary contributions to help others. It is hosted by Anderson Cooper. It started in 2007 and continues now, with the awards show aired at the end of the year.

Over the course of the year, viewers can nominate and vote for the heroes they want to nominate for recognition and honoring."

I watch a few minutes before I turn away from it. It is done in a very glitzy fashion, with film stars presenting the awards, almost like an Oscars night. It makes me squirm in discomfort. I'm not exactly sure about the message it conveys. It's like rewarding what should the standard, expected behaviour. Why is there a need for it? Why is it necessary to keep reminding people that helping others may come with a piece of candy at the end of it?

On the other hand, how do we teach people learn to appreciate such goodness if not by public acknowledgment and reward?

Reward is just the obverse side of punishment. If a famous person is caught doing something immoral, even if not illegal, he/she gets publicly humiliated in the media's attention and no one cares a fig. Yet when an unknown person is recognized for doing something good, we feel uncomfortable when he/she is publicly thanked for it. There is a lack of balance here that tips towards the celebration of the negative and dismissal of the positive.

Perhaps we feel uncomfortable exactly because we are taught that we need to behave ethically and charitably as a rule and not for a reward. In Maimonedes' Eight Degrees of Charity, the second highest level of charity is the one who gives tzedaka to the poor, but does not know to whom he gives, nor does the recipient know his benefactor. Thus assistance is rendered without recognition or expectation of a reward or gratitude. This principle affirms the discomfort that we feel with such customs as the regulation of appreciation for "Righteous Gentiles" (carried out in a much more dignified and low-key ceremony in Yad Vashem than CNN's heroes celebration).

Jane Austen had something to say about it, in "Sense & Sensibility":

"Colonel Brandon's character," said Elinor, "as an excellent man, is well established."
"I know it is," replied her mother … “his coming for me as he did, with such active, such ready friendship, is enough to prove him one of the worthiest of men."
"His character, however," answered Elinor, "does not rest on one act of kindness, to which his affection for Marianne, were humanity out of the case, would have prompted him. To Mrs. Jennings, to the Middletons, he has been long and intimately known; they equally love and respect him; and even my own knowledge of him, though lately acquired, is very considerable; and so highly do I value and esteem him…”

Elinor's view corresponds to the higher principle that decency and goodness ought to be the norm, not the exception that requires special recognition. But it is her mother who exemplifies the more prevalent and instinctive inclination to confer special significance on an act of kindness.

So I have to wonder which is the greater condescension, the actual acknowledgment of righteousness as a somewhat unusual human achievement, or the dismissal of those who will consider it worthy of a special notice?

Elinor does not pour scorn on her mother for the special gratitude she expresses towards Brandon, just as Maimonedes does not degrade the lowest level of charity giving, when assistance is openly given and openly acknowledged.

The Contentious Centrist said...

By the way, here is another unexpected wrinkle on the subject. THe quote is from a comment on an article in "The Tablet":

"By the way, Lithuanians escaped lots of Jews from Vilnius ghetto… Did Jews escaped any people from Soviet prisons?"

Food for thought.

bob said...

Suprise suprise LRB are going to publish JM's nonsense:

James Bloodworth said...

Will you be selling these buttons via the blog?

What is it with Chomsky and undergraduates? They bloody love him! Which is wierd, considering how, in my opinion, his worldview is very much that of the 20th century - i.e. cold war, before 9/11 etc.

I sometimes get the feeling that people cling to Chomsky and his anti-Americanism because it lets one off asking the more difficult questions about religion and ideology - obviously there's no issue with backward monotheism and tribalism (especially when the followers of this monotheism have a darker hid, which should be irrelevent if one was being objective): to point that out would be far too much like racist imperialism - hell, you might as well have packed Kipling's suitcase for him!

Far easier, and requiring far less effort, to say "It's America. It's a result of their past crimes", and pour oneself another hemp tea.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Far easier, and requiring far less effort, to say "It's America. It's a result of their past crimes", and pour oneself another hemp tea."

Nick Cohen:

"All modern thought," he announces in the opening pages,

can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasising [its] hypocrisy, violence and abomination. The duty to repent forbids the Western bloc, which is eternally guilty, to judge or combat other systems, other states, other religions. Our past crimes command us to keep our mouths closed.

"All modern thought" sounds hyperbolic at the start of this book, less so by the end of it. If you have observed the ideology of the fringes of the Anglosphere's liberal Left, you may have already seen a culture where global warming, environmental catastrophes, the suffering of Africa, the tyrannies of the Middle East, racism, starvation and global inequalities are all, when you get down to it, the fault of Westerners.

Bruckner uses the example of the reaction to the July 2005 London bombings to convince the sceptical reader of the extent of the self-hatred. The French media said al-Qa'ida was punishing London, as if the slaughtered commuters were criminals receiving their just deserts. The left-wing mayor of London at the time, Ken Livingstone, explained that the attacks wouldn't have happened if the West had left the Arab world alone, even though the bombers were not Arabs but native Brits whose minds had been captured by the psychopathic ideology of international Islamism that has as its main object the subjugation of Muslims, not the punishment of guilty Westerners. John le Carre bettered Livingstone when he explained that Britain and the US had "no parliamentary opposition", which was news to many in both countries. The victims of past injustices -- whose number did not include the bombers -- had been pushed into psychopathic violence by the exploitative West, le Carre opined. We should not react. It sufficed "to observe these communities" and not interfere."

James Bloodworth said...

Your preaching to the converted in me Centrist. Very well put though:)

I thought Cohen's What's Left and Andrew Anthony's The Fallout well summed up what has happened to a large portion of the left in recent years. Good stuff.