Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Final Gnome Chomsky: For Christmas

Talk about flogging a dead horse. This is the last in the series.

From Deedtheinky:

While I'm here... There is a fascinating interview with Chomsky (whose 82nd birthday it will be on Tuesday) in Jewish mag the Tablet. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic extracts an interesting bit, about when he was a Zionist youth. But it is worth reading the whole thing. First, he talks of the influence of Ahad Ha'am in his household; in my view, Ha'am is a really neglected figure in the history of Jewish political thought.
Ahad Ha’am was an early advocate of the idea that later became famous with [the Marxist political scientist] Ben Anderson, when he wrote his books about how nations are imagined communities. He said there’s an imagined—I don’t think he used the term—but there’s an imagined Jewish community, in which Moses plays a central role, and it really doesn’t matter if there was a historical Moses or not. That’s part of the national myth, which is a sophisticated version of what Shlomo Sand was trying to get at. Sand debunks the historical Moses, but from Ha’am’s point of view, it makes no difference.
Then comes a really cringey bit:

Did you read Nivi’im, the prophets, with your father in Hebrew?
The word “prophet” is a very bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word, navi. Nobody knows what it means. But today they’d be called dissident intellectuals. They were giving geopolitical analysis, arguing that the acts of the rulers were going to destroy society. And they condemned the acts of evil kings. They called for justice and mercy to orphans and widows and so on.
Is it just me, or is that Chomsky (who is constantly called a "dissident intellectual" by stupid pseudo-intellectuals) likening himself to the Nivi'im? Anyway, Chomsky is famous for "speaking truth to power", but a little later we get a bit of economy with the truth:
Remember that Hezbollah happens to be the majority party.
Hezbollah is not the majority party in Lebanon.
It’s part of a coalition. They won the last election with 53 percent of the vote. Because of the method of distributing seats, they don’t get the majority of parliament. So we’re talking about basically a majority coalition, which runs the south almost entirely. You can like it or not like it.
Now, a less well-informed interviewer than David Samuels would have let the claim that Hezbollah is the majority party go by. The fact of the matter is that Chomsky is right that the electoral system in Lebanon is complicated, so (as in the UK or US) share of the popular vote does not translate into seats, and the March 8 Alliance coalition of which Hezbollah is a part did get 55% of the popular vote, but Hezbollah is in fact the second largest of nine parties in that coalition. Samuels continues to challenge him:
Hezbollah is a highly militarized organization that runs South Lebanon in a way that is hardly reflective of secular democratic ideals.
It’s interesting that secular Lebanese would not take that attitude.
Most of them see Hezbollah as an extension of Iran.
No, they don’t.
­They believe that the Iranians are trying to rip up their state.
Ultra-right-wing Lebanese think that.

Again, Chomsky is being uneconomical with the truth. For Chomsky, a couple of "dissident" (lefty) intellectuals speak for secular society. I am sure, for example, you wouldn't find many secular Armenians sharing Chomsky's views, or the members of the Democratic Left Movement, probably the only party in Lebanon that can genuinely be classed as on the secular left.

I also feel Chomsky is less than honest about the Faurisson affair. This was, of course, the 1979 controversy when Chomsky signed a petition circulated by the ex-leftist Serge Thion defending the "respected" Robert Faurisson and his "findings" about the Holocaust, which "fearful officials" allegedly tried to suppress. Chomsky claims the key word ("findings") "is absolutely neutral" - an absurd claim.

Moving on to more contemporary issues, Chomsky reiterates his (in my view correct) critique of the "Israel lobby" theory of right-wing foreign policy wonks Mearsheimer and Walt:
Realists have a doctrine that says that states are the actors in international affairs and follow something called the “national interest,” which is some abstract ideal which is independent of the interests of the corporate sector. What they see from that point of view is that the United States is supposed to be pursuing its national interest, and they know what the national interest is. The fact that Intel and Lockheed Martin and Goldman Sachs don’t agree with them is irrelevant.
However, I think what continues from there is bizarre: the notion that realists like Walt and Mearsheimer exhibit the desire to salvage the Wilsonian idea of American innocence. I'm not sure I get this, as I understand them to be directly criticising Wilsonian idealism in favour of a realpolitik of state interests, and "American innocence" is neither here nor there in their account.

Finally, how comes I've only just discovered that there is a band called Gnome Chomsky? An punky indie band from Houston with a cool logo and Mexican roots.


BenSix said...

Is it just me, or is that Chomsky (who is constantly called a "dissident intellectual" by stupid pseudo-intellectuals) likening himself to the Nivi'im?

Or perhaps they're just virtues he admires; would like to attain. Given the thrust of his writings he's hardly likely to profess admiration for people who argued that rulers were terribly benevolent and deserving of high praise...

Jessica Goldfinch said...

As far as I know. Navi- to proclaim, summon, call forth or mention, enlighten. Hebraic with most likely joined roots with Akkadian, which makes sense given the time frame and shared geography. Hence, Arabic - Nabi.

Navad=nomad, wanderer

I'm wondering if the root has lent itself to 'navigate', given that prophets were supposed to 'show the way' or 'light the way' or indeed maybe to add 'poetic' clout to the meaning of the Navi in the film 'Avatar'.

In any event, whatever Chomsky's intention whether to claim he is an 'enlightner' or not; Chomsky is, to me, simply very interesting and somewhat eccentric (a positive), but not an Avatar!

שירה said...

for next time: nEvi'im(p)not nivi'im, and Navi(s)

"I'm wondering if the root has lent itself to 'navigate', given that prophets were supposed to 'show the way' or 'light..." No, the word in Hebrew also derives from Greek - Nivut(nevigation) Navat(nevigator).

Avatar??? bald, air bending dood? - love him!

Matt said...

On Wilsonian idealism, I think Chomsky would acknowledge that Wilsonian idealism and the Realists view of the national interest are at odds. But that's what creates a need for a scapegoat to paper over the differences.

My problem is that Chomsky won't properly name this scapegoating.