My Argument With Noam Chomsky

By Chris Mooney | November 18, 2009 12:35 pm

chomskyThe Knight Program at MIT has a magnificent twice-weekly seminar series, and last week we had our biggest star yet: MIT linguist Noam Chomsky. It was great to hear from the great man in such an intimate setting–particularly about his pioneering work on understanding the origins and nature of language.

But at the same time, we also heard from Chomsky on politics–and this forced me to reflect (as I haven’t in some time) on just how far I am from being able to accept his radical, anti-corporate, anti-establishment positions. I do see a modicum of truth to all of them. But again and again, they’re taken so far that Chomsky loses me along the way.

At the outset, let me explain my basic politics. I’ve always been a liberal, but never a radical. I’ve written at various times for The New Republic, The American Prospect, and The Nation, spanning the spectrum of the mainline political left magazines–and I’ve also occasionally crossed over and written for Reason. Throughout, I’ve felt that I can have a valuable dialogue with readers of all of these magazines, and that all of them have serious things to say.

Especially with the New Republic crowd, but also in liberalism generally, there has been a distaste for the Chomskyite view, which runs something like this: wealthy, powerful interests systematically conspire to keep us down and themselves up. They trick us through the brainwashing of public relations and advertising into wanting their products. They financially enslave us through college loans and credit cards and an inequitable healthcare system and unfair tax structures. And they sell us unethical wars–again through what are fundamentally marketing campaigns–that only serve to preserve existing power structures.

In this view, as I understand it, there is really no major difference between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties are similarly licking the feet of the real folks in power, the rich and the corporate. In our seminar, Chomsky even criticized Obama’s historic election, writing it off as the greatest of marketing campaigns, and so likening it to corporate brainwashing triumphs like getting us to smoke cigarettes or want Macs.

With Chomsky’s position, there is always a grain of truth. But there is also, I feel, a lack of nuance.

First off, let’s talk about marketing. There is no doubt that it works, because human beings aren’t fundamentally rational, or at least not all the time. Appeals to the emotions, to desires for comfort and security and, yes, sex, really get to us. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, and so advertising companies have increasingly perfected the art of getting us to want things we don’t need. So far, so good.

But my problem with the Chomskyite view is that I find it strangely unrealistic when confronted with these realities. The idea seems to be that we ought to liberate ourselves from all the brainwashing and cram it all back down the PR agencies’ craws. But this just isn’t going to happen. Once again, people aren’t rational, they don’t have time to fully research every choice they make in their lives, or to critically examine every mass media message they hear, and this isn’t going to change. We’ll always be susceptible to advertising. The answer, then, is to do precisely what Obama did–convey the need for real policy solutions by tying that need, emotionally, to a message of hope, change, and a better future.

I don’t see what is wrong with this. In fact, I see a vast amount that is right with this.

Or take the topic of financial inequity and debt enslavement–something which does indeed happen to our best and brightest and most idealistic young  people. You finish college, you want to change the world, and so you take a public interest oriented job. And then reality strikes. You aren’t making enough money. You can barely support a family. Before long, you start wishing you had gone to law school and gotten a corporate job where the Christmas bonuses are much bigger than your current salary.

Once again, this situation sucks–but in response to this problem of material wants, it is my experience that the radical left preaches an unrealistic, ascetic, self-denying approach that will never work for most people. To some extent, the public interest jobs are poorly paid because there just isn’t enough money; but to some extent, the left actually likes it that way. It is seen as a mark of virtue to live on almost nothing, working for a PIRG right out of college, courtesy of Ralph Nader. But it is ridiculous to expect that our best minds and greatest talents will consent to carry on in this way throughout their lives like good soldiers, driven by ardor for a cause and continually ready to dutifully clash with the corporate lobbyists who earn three to five to ten times more money annually.

I have repeatedly observed, for instance, that one highly revealing aspect of the Marc Morano problem is his comfortable salary. On our side of the climate debate, philanthropists and universities do not create counter-Moranos who can match him not only in the battlefield of ideas, but in the competition  to earn a good livelihood. And it isn’t merely that we don’t have as much money on our side of the fence as the corporations do. That may be true, but the fact remains that there is tons of money in foundations and universities, which sport multi-billion dollar endowments or government and state funding. The problem is, we rarely spend that money in the way that one would do if one actually wanted to win in the battle of ideas. The corporate folks play to win, and that’s why they usually do. The idealists and intellectuals divide their forces, bicker, play to lose, and then exult in the virtue of their cause and the rightness of their ideas even as they fail to make them successful or a reality.

Or at least, such is my experience.

Finally–and last but not least–let’s talk about the “Washington establishment.” I’ve been there. I’ve been a journalist in DC, and I watched how the mainstream left and right alike fell for the Iraq war. I am ashamed to say that I was initially one of those dupes, unfortunately believing along with everyone else the “WMD” lie–although I later I sought to make up for it with it this 2004 Columbia Journalism Review article (unfortunately no longer online) which took to task the editorial pages of our five biggest newspapers for too often beating a drum towards war.

The point is that there is something very powerful, and very insidious, about how the “mainstream” can coalesce around a consensus that is wrong and that trivializes real Chomsky-style dissent until it is too late–especially when everybody is living in an atmosphere of fear (which we were after 9/11, the anthrax attacks, and so on).

So Chomsky is very much on to something here. But again, what is the solution? To duck out the the game and point fingers from the radical margin? Or to figure out a better way to get more voices heard–a strategy that, once again, is going to require some serious ideas marketing?

Once again, I choose the latter.

I’m really glad we have Noam Chomsky. In a genial way, he states a very strong and uncompromising position that everybody should grapple with and that, again, contains at least a partial truth. But where he doesn’t win the argument, in my view, is when he attacks the system outright, rather than showing us how to work successfully within it for change.

We are not going to junk our entire politics or our entire market system. And we are not going to turn people into fully rational creatures who see how advertisers manipulate them and how moneyed interests enslave them, and who are willing to forsake the need for a life of comfort and well-being out of idealism and devotion to a cause. We need to treat people as people, understand their foibles, and then get as much political progress out of them as we possibly can. And in this endeavor, I believe that the Obama way, rather than the Chomsky way, holds the greatest promise for improving our country and our world.

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Comments (87)

  1. Erasmussimo

    “… corporate brainwashing triumphs like getting us to … want Macs.”

    Now THAT’S a statement only a flaming radical could make! ;-)

  2. Jon

    I never got into Chomsky. I think the few times I read him he struck me as kind of a moralist in some funny ways that career intellectuals can be.

    I’ve always been an environmentalist. Not soiling your nest comes before getting and acquiring etc etc., OTOH, the market economy can be a great engine for improving lives, and it’s true, government can be ineffective, resource wasting, slow, etc.

    My lodestar hasn’t been Noam Chomsky, but Paul Krugman. Josh Marshall had a great interview with him a while back where he talked about how he arrived at his perspective:

    http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/055632.php

  3. Guy

    I think blogs like Climate Progress and RealClimate are fairly good at debunking of AGW denialism. They aren’t bought and paid for like Morano but they do speak the truth which is far more valuable commodity.

    It’s too bad that global warming has been so politically polarizing. You would think it that something that threatens everyone would bring both sides together for a common cause.

  4. The idea seems to be that we ought to liberate ourselves from all the brainwashing and cram it all back down the PR agencies’ craws. But this just isn’t going to happen… I don’t see what is wrong with this. In fact, I see a vast amount that is right with this.

    Wow. Just… wow. I don’t know what you are, or what you think you are, but you’re not a liberal.

  5. Paul W.

    Benjamin,

    I hope Chris was oversimplifying (a whole lot) with the part about “I don’t see what is wrong with this.” (And I suspect he was.) If so, the statement might be reasonable and not in contradiction with being a liberal.

  6. Molly McGrath-Mooney

    I think that it’s false to insinuate that Chomsky has decided to “…duck out the the game and point fingers from the radical margin,” or that he has failed to “…figure out a better way to get more voices heard–a strategy that, once again, is going to require some serious ideas marketing…”

    Maybe he does stand out as a lone (big-time academic) soldier, but he has galvanized an army of followers for a long time. More people know of Chomsky, because he has stuck his neck out for decades, than nearly any other leftist academic. He has taken on seriously big issues and provided evidence for his positions when no one else has.

    I’m glad you’re glad we have Chomsky. And we do need ideas marketing, but some of the first could come from Chomsky, given his various fields of expertise. Better not to alienate an ally, but to enlist him in your quest to get your viewpoint heard.

  7. Paul W.

    Chris,

    Have you read The Linguistics Wars by Randy Allen Harris?

    It’s about science and politics-within-science and especially Lakoff et al.’s 15-year war of ideas with Chomsky over linguistic theory.

    It’s surprisingly readable (you won’t have a problem with the linguistics) and gripping.

    I once asked Lakoff whether his famous experiences being in a protracted rhetorical struggle with Chomsky led to his fascination with framing, and he said (I’m paraphrasing) No shit, Sherlock.

  8. Chris Mooney

    “I don’t see what’s wrong with this” refers to the messaging and marketing aspects of Obama’s presidential campaign. This criticizing Obama’s campaign is the thing that baffled me the most about Chomsky’s talk.

  9. Jon

    Benjamin– I think your ellipses left out where Chris stated how he’d answer what the PR firms are doing. Personally, I disagree slightly, in that I think there is something to be said for exposing the PR firms’ game, which is squarely in the muckraking tradition of journalism. But there is also plenty to be said for countering it with a positive vision, as Chris is suggesting. “You attract more bees with honey” as the saying goes. I think there’s a place for both: muckraking, and attracting bees with honey.

  10. Erasmussimo

    Oh no! We now have people declaring what constitutes a “true liberal”. This is precisely why I don’t like labels. If you want to tribalize liberalism and ostracize those who fail to meet your rigorous standards of membership in the tribe, then you’ll end up pure and lonely. Politics relies upon compromise; no two intelligent and thoughtful people can agree on everything. The task is to prioritize your goals and make deals with those whose goals are closer to your own so that you can prevail over those whose goals are far from your own. Better to get into bed with a smelly person than get raped by a barbarian.

  11. Albert Bakker

    The world is bigger than the US, exceeding the domain of American domestic politics by far. Here outside “the homeland,” the difference between Democrat imperialism and Republican imperialism is not so clear. The difference between peaceful free trade and invasions, occupations and imperialism seems much clearer. Torture that is sanctioned by Democrats, somehow is not really prefered to torture sanctioned by Republicans. This type of nuance just eludes us barbarians, you see.

  12. Sorbet

    I am a big fan of Chomsky and have been reading him for a long time now. I even got to chat with him a bit and we shared a few laughs. But I strongly disagree with him on certain positions. For one thing, as you mentioned, almost nothing makes him happy; he has himself said that his utopian state would be akin to the Spanish state at the beginning of the civil war. But Sam Harris also has an accurate critique of him in his book The End of Faith wherein he says that for Chomsky, only body count counts and not intentions, and thus for him George Bush is not much different from a terrorist. As much as I hate Bush this does not make sense and I agree with Harris.

    However, Chomsky’s media model in “Manufacturing Consent” is such a truism that it’s regarded as almost unexceptional. It’s a fantastic and remarkable contribution (the documentary is also very good)

    I think one measure of the respect for freedom of speech in this country is given by how much Chomsky has been allowed to speak his mind.

  13. Paul W.

    Erasmussimo,

    Politics often requires compromise, but often requires refusal to compromise on the part of at least some people, in order to shift the Overton Window (the range of publicly acceptable beliefs), or to keep it from shifting the other direction.

    Chomsky is arguably valuable to liberal politics because he helps anchor the radical and of the spectrum, and argue some people into moving in his direction. Those people mostly don’t fully agree with him, but get more radical than they were, and they in turn do the same to pull other people in their direction. There’s a trickle-down effect, such that eventually people in the middle shift a little toward your end of the spectrum, and that’s crucial.

    (I’m an example of that. I’m still just a liberal, but I’m a bit more liberal than I probably would be if I didn’t have friends who agree with Chomsky politically more than I do. And I think that rubs off, somewhat, on some people less liberal than me.)

    I don’t fully agree with Chomsky about anything major in either linguistics or politics, but damn, he is a flat-out genius at rhetoric, in a non-obvious way. It’s actually scary how good he is at academic/scientific politics, holding an “uncompromising” hard line sometimes, and shifting sometimes when he has to—and getting away with both. (Without usually being seen as an opportunist, by his target audience.)

    I highly recommend The Linguistics Wars to anybody interested in that sort of thing, or Chomsky the man, or linguistics! It’s fascinating stuff. (And it’s also required reading for anybody considering arguing with Chomsky.)

  14. andrew

    well, he does give solutions. usually if you ask for “realistic” ones he’ll give standard reforms (or more like “returns”) to the post-WWII Keynesian consensus. if you ask him what he’d prefer he’ll start talking about anarcho-syndicalism. but he’s very much a pragmatist and realist and knows what’s possible. for example, the concrete measures chomsky gives are often ones that are standard in places like Europe and Southeast Asia. Well, is that radical? Europe is indeed more democratic than the U.S. in many instances. the Southeast Asian bloc of Taiwan, S. Korea, and Japan have managed to distribute wealth and income very evenly while also having growth and productivity unmatched in the history of capitalism.

    you really mischaracterize Chomsky’s approach and stances. the obama way is basically a return to Clintonite policy. well, that’s not very different from Bush Sr. and Jr. policies. it’s further galling that you would suggest that the “obama way” is the better way to reform when he has done everything he could to uphold the status quo (need i recount the ways in which he’s done this?) while reforming the aspects of our society which have gotten too irrational and harmful to powerful interests.

    even the most mainstream sources are in line with what chomsky says. business week had an article called “the health insurers have already won.” is business week a chomskyite source?

    your characterizations of “the left” are also a kind of sick caricature based on watching cnn. the left likes having low salaries? no. people on “the left” who work in NGO’s do it despite the low salaries. why does “the left” pay more for organic food or fair trade products? because they want to see producers making a decent wage.

    you’re basically comfortable with the way things are and don’t want to look into the very uncomfortable questions that the current situation begs, especially because it points back to people like you and me.

    attitudes like yours characterize american liberalism, which is basically plutocracy with a benevolent smile.

  15. Albert Bakker

    #12 You can tell a terrorist from a world leader only by the fact that the former doesn’t have a trillion dollar a year military apparatus by which to kill innocent people to get what they want.

  16. Paul W.

    Albert, I’ve heard it “A terrorist is a bomber without a bomber.”

    Obligatory linguistics tie-in: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”

  17. Albert Bakker

    Well Paul I don’t want to sound all negative, because some things have much improved with Obama. The quality of the empty rethoric has certainly gone up.

  18. Paul W.

    Albert,

    Huh? Could you clarify what you mean, and how it’s a response to me?

    Thanks.

  19. Erasmussimo

    Albert Bakker, I’ll take empty rhetoric over catastrophic action (a la Bush) any day.

  20. Albert Bakker

    Not a response in the sense of a confirmation or a rebuttal, but a remark on the difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama lying not in the use of his army and the navy, but in the use of language as a diversionary tactic.

    Well I sound really negative and truly I am pessimistic about there being any prospect of real “change” let alone improvement. From where I stand, which is from a great distance, I see American domestic politics as some sort of ritualized tribal war. Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone, but opinions about real political issues are of less importance than identification with and loyalty to either one of the two parties. If this is true, that would really be a sad state of affairs in a country that purports to want to export democracy under the point of a gun.

  21. Jon

    attitudes like yours characterize american liberalism, which is basically plutocracy with a benevolent smile.

    The plutocracy problem is real. Jamie Galbraith (the son of the man who invented the term “countervailing power”) laid out a pretty good case against it in *The Predator State*. Putting it all in balance is not going to happen over night, though. And people are going to disagree on the approach…

  22. Sorbet

    15@ That’s not true. You think George Bush intentionally wanted to kill thousands of innocents like Bin Laden? Sorry. As I said, I hate Bush as much as the next guy, and it’s even true that Bush did not care much about collateral damage but that still would not make the above true.

  23. Albert Bakker

    #22 Neither one of them has as a goal in itself to kill innocent people, or use the eufism: cause collateral damage. Neither one of them cares for one moment or loses any sleep over it, because either one of them sees it as an unavoidable necessary sacrifice to reach a higher goal.

    When you carpetbomb cities, that’s not only a demonstration you don’t care about “collateral damage” that’s fully intentional slaughter of human beings.

    I don’t care about George W. Bush, as a person he is irrelevant as far I am concerned. America is a democracy is it not?

  24. Woody Tanaka

    “I am ashamed to say that I was initially one of those dupes, unfortunately believing along with everyone else the ‘WMD’ lie–although I later I sought to make up for it with it this 2004 Columbia Journalism Review article (unfortunately no longer online) which took to task the editorial pages of our five biggest newspapers for too often beating a drum towards war.”

    1) “[E]veryone else” did not believe the WMD lie. Many people rightly decried it, but were ignored by your colleagues in your industry because the pro-Bush spin was a sexier, easier, better or whatever story to cover.

    2) You cannot “make up” for your mistakes by taking others to task for their mistakes. You can only do it by changing yourself to avoid that mistake in the future.

    As for Chomsky and his view of the advertising/PR issue, I think that he’s right. The processes and ethics of PR and advertising are narcissistic and sociopathic by their very nature. They are, at heart, organized lying to a greater or lesser degree.

    You say, “…people aren’t rational, they don’t have time to fully research every choice they make in their lives, or to critically examine every mass media message they hear, and this isn’t going to change.”

    But is it really too much to ask that people not lie and cheat the public? Or too much to ask to ask the business world to take the public’s interests and the interests other stakeholders (such as workers, community, the environment, etc.) into account and not only their own profits, when making decisions?

  25. gillt

    Mooney’s idea of “idealist young people” reads like late William F. Buckley with earnestness in place of eloquence.

    It always pains me to see a thirty-something liberal cynic damning with faint praise those who followed that icky word called idealism into an underpaid career.

    I live in DC which pretty much guarantees me having friends who work for NGOs. I also have friends in the PeaceCorps and in AmeriCorps, who will in turn find employment at NGOs. Mooney’s description is a caricature–underhanded and dismissive–that serves to set-up a buffoonish dichotomy between idealism and progress.

    Btw., this doesn’t compute:

    Mooney: “To some extent, the public interest jobs are poorly paid because there just isn’t enough money”

    “That may be true, but the fact remains that there is tons of money in foundations and universities, which sport multi-billion dollar endowments or government and state funding.”

  26. Paul/Jon/Chris,

    If that’s the case, then we have to take a closer look at whether or not the Chomsky critique does apply to the Obama phenomenon. Whether or not I like Obama, want to have a beer with him, etc., the proof is in the pudding, and folks should be helpfully critical in order to push Obama in the right direction. We should play to win, and there’s no small amount of a culture of victimization at the so-called “margins” to be tempered. So we should also be realistic.

    But we should also be clear about what winning looks like. As far as this goes, I am genuinely interested and concerned with the extent to which Chris’s flirtations with identity politics outweigh aspirations for an increase in liberties of persons.

    Erasmussimo,

    Not so fast, I haven’t defined anything. I have criticised a comment that I took to be a trivialisation of the autonomy of persons, and called that comment illiberal. Does this imply that I am implicitly working with a question-begging definition? If your True Scot remark is to be at all relevant to what is being discussed, then you must think so; but then your concept of “liberalism” would seem to be idiosyncratic. Those who hold contempt for autonomy are, quite simply, not in the liberal mainstream. So I would be interested to hear your story about how you’ve arrived at a conclusion that allows for an ideology based on the value of the autonomy of persons is compatible with a doctrine that affirms “brainwashing” (at worst, and ostensibly in Chomsky’s view).

  27. Sorbet

    -Neither one of them has as a goal in itself to kill innocent people

    I guess the 3000 people who died on 9/11 were an accident, completely unintended deaths? The point is that, in Harris’s words, if Bush were given a “perfect weapon” which could spare innocent people and kill only Al Qaeda, he would have used it. Bin Laden would have eschewed it. And by the way, no, I don’t think America is a true democracy. Special groups including coporate interests have long since hobbled the democratic process in this country. On the other hand, there does not exist a country which is a true democracy.

  28. Gus Snarp

    @Sorbet – The suggestion that Chomsky is concerned only with body counts rather than intention is interesting. The opposite position was that of the Bush administration which is that the ends justify the means(and if you doubt this at all, listen to anything Cheney has said in the last nine years). As long as your intentions are good, body counts don’t matter, civil liberties don’t matter, due process doesn’t matter. I find that position far more troubling than an excessive concern with body counts. Especially given just how questionable the intentions really are. This is really Chomsky’s strongest point – it’s not that he only cares about body counts and not intentions, it’s that he questions what the intentions actually are.

  29. Sorbet

    Gus Snarp, I agree; either extreme is bad, and I also agree that I would rather pick the former extreme than the latter. Yet the former is a rather extreme and one-sided position and should be recognized as such. Otherwise everyone who contributes to the death of human beings will have to be treated alike, a clearly unrealistic proposition.

  30. Erasmussimo

    Benjamin S. Nelson, you complain that I have misrepresented your statement:

    “I haven’t defined anything. I have criticised a comment that I took to be a trivialisation of the autonomy of persons, and called that comment illiberal.”

    Here the statement that you originally made:

    “Wow. Just… wow. I don’t know what you are, or what you think you are, but you’re not a liberal.”

    I don’t see any reference to a comment. I see a statement denying that another person fits into a class of your own definition.

    Next you write about me:

    “So I would be interested to hear your story about how you’ve arrived at a conclusion that allows for an ideology based on the value of the autonomy of persons is compatible with a doctrine that affirms “brainwashing” ”

    Gee, I would say that’s a gross misrepresentation of what I wrote, but if you wish to contest my claim, please show me the connection between something I wrote and your accusation. By the way, the sentence as written is syntactically garbled. I think I was able to divine your meaning by replacing “is” with “to be”.

  31. Eras. Confused. It’s in blockquotes directly above. Again: “The idea seems to be that we ought to liberate ourselves from all the brainwashing and cram it all back down the PR agencies’ craws. But this just isn’t going to happen… I don’t see what is wrong with this. In fact, I see a vast amount that is right with this.”

  32. Albert Bakker

    #27 Wherever did you read that I said that the people who were killed in the terrorist attacks on 911 were accidental and completely unintended?

    I said they were sacrificed. They were deliberately killed but not for the sole purpose of killing them, they were killed to achieve a higher goal. That goal was to force the US to respond drastically. That would have been the one entirely foreseeable consequence and so Al Qaida logically succeeded and even way above their expectations.

    The Al Qaida strategy from the beginning has been to emulate their succes against the Soviets, to bleed America dry by sucking them into the muslim world, because the US itself cannot be militarily defeated on their own territory directly, by no one, ever, period. And when the US government decided to use 911 to attack Iraq and remove the Saddam regime, that was really a day of celebration at al Qaida HQ.

    And so now they find themselves in the situation that they cannot leave and they cannot stay in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or Iraq. Doomed either way. And it will get progressively worse. The Obama government sees itself as having no option but to escalate and make matters worse even more quickly.

    Sam Harris by the way is a good orator and I like to watch him speak. But he is really not a good source for information about geopolitics and military strategy. He’s a guy with a really good atheist hammer who cannot help but see every problem as a religious nail. Some problems however are political.

  33. Erasmussimo

    Benjamin S. Nelson, I understand that you were criticizing a comment, but you did it by declaring that the writer was not a liberal. You most certainly did NOT call the comment illiberal, as you falsely claim; you declared that the writer is not a liberal. In any case, this “I said/You said/He said” argument is getting silly. I offer you the last word with the request that you at least keep it honest.

  34. Jon

    Benjamin in 31– Your use of the ellipsis in that quote is way misleading. It completely distorts what he was saying (as he points out above in 8).

  35. jl

    The writer of this article has no business being a professional writer at all. He says he bought the Iraq War, and now he’s advocating the “Obama way” over the “Chomsky way” which is a joke. The Obama way is to run for president and immediately give powerful business interests everything they want, from bailouts, to advisory positions in government to watered down healthcare reform, it never ends. The Obama way is to have no Human rights agenda, but just to let the world run its broken way forever and ever.

    As for the Chomsky way, the Chomsky way, there is no Chomsky way, the man just compares the governments words and actions and shares the results. n What you do with his information is your own problem.

  36. Sorbet

    I understand what you are saying but I think Harris’s analogy and question are still good ones. If you had a perfect weapon which could spare innocent people (say in Iraq) and kill only insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists, would Bush use it? I think the answer is in the affirmative. If Bin Laden had a weapon which left innocent people untouched and killed, say only politicians in the US, would he prefer it to a weapon which also killed innocents? I doubt it. Therefore I don’t think the equivalence between Bush and Bin Laden (or Bush and Hitler for that matter) is warranted.

    I believe that if we allow such equivalences to go unchallenged, then as liberals we also lose the moral authority to challenge people comparing Obama’s socialism to Soviet communism. There are countless arguments to be made against the vile man named George W Bush, but I don’t think pointing out equivalences between him and Hitler or Bin Laden cuts it.

  37. Antoine Bonnin

    “Chomsky even criticized Obama’s historic election, writing it off as the greatest of marketing campaigns, and so likening it to corporate brainwashing triumphs like getting us to smoke cigarettes or want Macs.”

    How dare he criticizes Mr. Obama’s election! That was sarcasm for your use of “even”. Actually, Chomsky recognized how historic this election was, especially the democratic primaries which saw a woman run against an African American for the first time in American history. Indeed it was a great marketing campaign which claimed two top prizes at Cannes Lion ad awards. The one who can pay the most wins elections in the US. No one lives in a democracy, most of us live in non-tyrannical oligarchy.

    And what is so radical in Chomsky’s views? Going to war for a decade sounds a lot more radical than expressing compassion and understanding for other cultures and people in general.

  38. Gus Snarp

    You know what I don’t like about the original post? It’s this line: “wealthy, powerful interests systematically conspire to keep us down and themselves up”. I don’t think that’s an accurate statement of Chomsky’s views. I find it hard to be the guy defending Chomsky because the man’s work really should speak for itself better than I ever could, but I don’t think that Chomsky would argue that anyone is “systematically conspiring to keep us down”. That phrasing puts it on par with all the actual conspiracy fantasies out there like birthers, moon hoaxers, 9/11 truthers, etc. I think Chomsky would say, as I would, that there is no conspiracy, no secrets, it’s all right there in the open. The U.S. Government acts in the interest of the wealthy because it is composed of the wealthy, financed by the wealthy, and lobbied by the wealthy. We don’t get into international conflicts for moral reasons, we get involved because of our own strategic interest. U.S. strategic interest is basically the economic interests of the wealthy. There’s never been any real effort to hide this, because they see no reason to hide it. In fact, they may well believe that what’s best for the rich IS what’s best for America. But make no mistake, it’s virtually impossible to win a major elected office in this country unless you are fairly wealthy. You have to be connected to wealthy people to finance your campaign and you have to be able to afford not to have a job while you campaign. Our representatives are rich. Their friends are rich. They all have a major vested interest in the well being of the stock market. It’s’ not a conspiracy, it’s just the way things are. Chomsky may not offer a viable solution, but I am not one who believes that you lose your right to point out flaws just because you don’t have a solution to them.

    and @Sorbet, this is the issue with Chomsky, only body counts matter because there is only one intention – make the rich richer. So claiming you have a noble intent is meaningless, anyone who thinks we went into Iraq for the Iraqi people, to stop Saddam from killing, to find weapons of mass destruction, is naive. We invade Iraq for strategic positioning in the Middle East and continued access to cheap oil. If we made Cheney and his buddies richer and got revenge on Saddam for some perceived family insult in the process, so much the better, but it was never about WMD, human rights, or any other noble cause.

  39. Gus Snarp

    @Sorbet – I have never labeled Bush a terrorist (Reagan maybe, but not Bush), but I have to say this hypothetical secret weapon argument is pretty shallow. One cannot compare Bush and Bin Laden on the basis of suddenly giving each a magic weapon. Bin Laden and other terrorists and guerrillas have developed their strategy over years of lacking enough power to have any impact. Terrorism wasn’t invented as a way to be evil, it was invented because it gives marginalized people a way to have an impact that is felt by powerful societies. I don’t argue that that makes it right, but if Bin Laden had been in control of the Saudi government he would never have resorted to terrorism. A secret weapon that would kill all the U.S. politicians is still not nearly as useful to Bin Laden as a weapon that would wipe out the enemy without killing civilians would have been to Bush.

    Besides, Bush could have defeated Iraq with far fewer civilian casualties. What is terrorism? The attempt to get what you want by instilling fear in a populace. What did we do in Iraq according to Bush’s own words? Shock and awe. What is shock and awe if not instilling fear in the populace?

    Well, that should be enough politics for me for one day.

  40. Jon, fine, but that’s a separate point from Eras’s, which was a non-starter.

    Incidentally, it’s a point that I had already responded to, addressed to you @26. I take it that my comments there weren’t satisfying. So I’ll add that though I think my original reading was an honest one, it evidently didn’t track Chris’s intent. If so, then that was my error.

    Still, as I tried to point to @26, some concerns persist about the extent to which we’re playing with identity politics as a substitute for a politics of substance.

    First, we are entitled to ask: why is it that resistance and rejection of brainwashing “isn’t going to happen”? Not incidentally, what does “brainwashing” mean here? (Did Chris mean to put scare quotes around “brainwashing”?) It’s not a trivial or merely grammatical concern: I really don’t know if Chris thinks that mass persuasion is brainwashing or not. It would not be an indefensible position to take, given all the vulnerabilities that he notes about the populace: diffident, overworked, overstressed. And if he does think it is proper to think of as brainwashing, then my initial comment was not in error after all.

    Second, assuming we can put that aside (i.e., that “brainwashing” should have been in quotes), and that Chris wants to make an entirely separate point to the effect that people can be persuaded by a rational message with emotional appeals etc. That would be obvious and non-controversial argument if it had been made in a vacuum. But Chomsky believes that these campaigns aren’t doing that. So I don’t know why Chris thinks he’s making a relevant rejoinder to Chomsky. A relevant rejoinder would be: i) it is an intellectually responsible way of being emotionally persuasive (given your audience) if you do x,y,z and not a,b,c; ii) Obama succeeded because of x, y, z, and never did a, b, c.

  41. Sorbet

    Gus, then let me ask you this; if intent matters so less, how do you distinguish Stalin or Bin Laden from Bush from Harry Truman? Plus, your argument that Bin Laden may not have done what he did if he had been in charge of the Saudi government is a hypothetical, so I am not sure we can engage in serious discussion there. I would still think that invading a country for oil is not as bad as killing innocents for personal religious beliefs (that is actually the main point that Harris was trying to make, that Bin Laden actually willfully wants to kill a 4 year old girl while Bush does not). My main point is that it is hyperbole to constantly compare Bush to Hitler and most reasonable people who hate Bush will agree that the comparison is absurd. If we keep on doing this, at the very least we have no right to tell the right-wingers who compare Obama to Stalin to shut up.

  42. Sorbet

    And let me also say that Muslims’ grievances about Americans stepping on their religious soil were not even completely unwarranted. But Bin Laden’s stated objective which began simply with expelling Americans from Muslim lands has expanded to breaking up the Zionist-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant coalition, which includes support for groups such as Hamas explicitly wanting the extermination of the State of Israel. I think most reasonable people would not compare such a man to George W Bush; again, let me state that I hate Bush almost as much as anyone else.

  43. Erasmussimo

    Gus Snarp, while I agree with you on many points, I’d like to make a technical correction to this comment:

    “Besides, Bush could have defeated Iraq with far fewer civilian casualties. What is terrorism? The attempt to get what you want by instilling fear in a populace. What did we do in Iraq according to Bush’s own words? Shock and awe. What is shock and awe if not instilling fear in the populace?”

    Wars are not necessarily won by capturing the enemy’s capital or bombing them to rubble. Wars in modern times are won in only one way: by convincing the enemy that they are beaten. So long as they consider themselves in the fight, they will fight. The Japanese refused to accept defeat until the atomic bombs stunned them into accepting defeat. The North Vietnamese should have lost the Vietnam War if you consider only material factors, but they refused to accept defeat and so they fought on. The USA, by contrast, decided that it had lost and that’s what lost the war for the USA. So ultimately the point in war is to impose such a powerful psychological shock that the enemy decides that they are beaten. Since this cannot happen in Afghanistan, victory there is impossible. But the idea of shock and awe is in fact the most humane way to conduct a war; the alternative is the meat grinder of World War I in which both sides simply grind away at each other, with horrific losses and no real results.

  44. Albert Bakker

    #36 Sorbet said: “I believe that if we allow such equivalences to go unchallenged, then as liberals we also lose the moral authority to challenge people comparing Obama’s socialism to Soviet communism.”

    Are you really trying to say you need to base your distinction between the Bush government and al Qaida on speculation about what they would do given they had a wonder weapon, in order to defend Obama from ridiculous charges of Sovietism?

    Let aside the wonder weapons, you don’t really think Al Qaida exist just to kill Americans do you? That by eliminating a few people with drones somewhere in Pakistan and Afghanistan you can declare victory, go home and live happily ever after? I mean in real life, if you succeed at all in such a “decapitation” operation, without killing a few dozen people in the process, you still just have made the problem actually worse. You just promoted someone even more cunning and ruthless. And that is reality as you can witness right now.

  45. Albert Bakker

    #42 I see you point with unwarranted comparisons of persons, that is why I made a point of comparing used tactics instead of personifying it.

    And by the way Hamas, back in the days midwived by Likud as an alternative to the PLO, and now actually elected, has chosen for a course to become politically integrated into the two state concensus and they have shown by action they are committed to that. (Which I personally think is not a real long term solution at all, because it still leaves unchallenged the anachronism of Jewish supremacism an institutionalized racism.)

  46. Peter Smith

    But my problem with the Chomskyite view is that I find it strangely unrealistic when confronted with these realities.

    ‘these realities’? which realities? what are you talking about?

    But this just isn’t going to happen.

    is this an argument? who wrote this, a five-year old?

    in the end, you don’t like or agree with chomsky because you think he wants to take marketing and shove it down the throat of marketers, but you think that’s not going to happen, so you don’t like Chomsky, or you don’t agree with him because…well, just because. and therefore, you choose ‘the Obama way’.

    is this thought, or analysis?

    weird.

  47. Antoine Bonnin

    @Sorbet: when you say “I would still think that invading a country for oil is not as bad as killing innocents for personal religious beliefs “. Did you mean to say that killing innocents for oil is not as bad as killing innocents for personal religious beliefs? Personally, I find both intents as appalling. And it is sad to hear people characterize Bin Laden as a Muslim, the simple fact he uses suicide attacks on civilians is a clear violation of Islam. There is a big difference between Martyrdom and suicide bombing which most people tend to ignore. Although I agree with you, we should not compare Bush to Bin Laden as the latter was a lot less effective in killing innocents than the former.

    One last thing when you paraphrase Sam Harris: “the main point that Harris was trying to make, that Bin Laden actually willfully wants to kill a 4 year old girl while Bush does not”, Sam Harris books are entertaining but some of his arguments would never stand any type intellectual scrutiny. For example what you cited is implying that Bin Laden would deliberately target a 4 year old girl when it is logistically and practically impossible, and again the same is true when missiles are dropped on houses that kills an innocent 4 year old (aka collateral damages).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to justify anyone’s actions here, but a little bit of balance is necessary in order to keep things in perspective.

  48. Gus Snarp

    @Sorbet – You don’t like my hypothetical, which is an attempt to point out the effect that power has on tactics, but your completely fictional and impossible hypothetical is OK? Seriously though, you’ve argued in good faith without being insulting, which I appreciate, especially since I think I got a little long winded and ineffective last night (the danger of being on the internet too late). I’m not going to argue this any further with you, I don’t entirely agree, but I also don’t think you’re off the deep end.

  49. Gus Snarp

    @Erasmussimo – From a tactical point of view there is some merit to your argument, but I’m not sure it is entirely correct, or that it works in this case. Shock and awe didn’t exactly convince everyone in Iraq that they were beaten either. I think we’ve reached a point at which, in many places and particularly in the Middle East, shock and awe is still not enough to convince people they are beaten, particularly when you are fighting them on their own territory and not yous. I think one could have easily predicted the Iraqi insurgency, and the Afghan insurgency, shock and awe or no. In the case of a populace that is as willing to fight us as that in Iraq and Afghanistan you are unlikely to convince them they are beaten until you kill every last one of them. Is it morally acceptable to kill every last Iraqi and Afghan if that’s the only way to achieve victory? If it’s not, then why is it any more acceptable to intentionally destroy civilian infrastructure and to kill innocent civilians indiscriminately?

    A strong argument can be made that we would have been more successful in Iraq if we had preserved more of the civilian architecture, bombed more strategically, and used more troops and less bombs. We would then have been far more likely to win over hearts and minds in Iraq. We resort to shock and awe not to cow the populace, but because we want to keep the American casualty figures down to preserve public support and because we learned the wrong lessons from Vietnam and believe that failure to use overwhelming force was the cause of our defeat. But then, to me this point is moot since it was immoral to invade Iraq in the first place.

    Also, a historical note on WWII and Japan – There is serious disagreement on the point you raise. There is some evidence that the Japanese were seriously considering surrender and that they likely would have surrendered soon even if we had never dropped the atomic bombs.

  50. Peter Cole

    I don’t consider this a serious article. Chomsky is a serious thinker. He deserves a serious response. When I first started reading his articles, I was a skeptic. His viewpoint seemed so far from the mainstream that I, even as a life-long “liberal”, had trouble accepting it. It seemed too “radical” to be true. I searched long and hard for sources that convincingly rebutted Chomsky’s assertions. I also checked Chomsky’s allegations and sources. I couldn’t find anything to disprove his claims. If the author has anything substantive to say about Chomsky, I’m all ears.

    “I’m really glad we have Noam Chomsky. In a genial way, he states a very strong and uncompromising position that everybody should grapple with and that, again, contains at least a partial truth. But where he doesn’t win the argument, in my view, is when he attacks the system outright, rather than showing us how to work successfully within it for change.”

    If Chomsky deals in “partial” truths, then by all means, reveal the full truth. What is the “system” that Chomsky “attacks”? These opinions are sloppy to the point of meaninglessness. Chomsky deserves better. Your readers deserve better.

  51. Sorbet

    @Antoine, if you say that suicide attacks are a clear violation of Islam, why do so many Muslims even in progressive countries like Turkey support them? Plus, why are so many young Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan joining Al Qaeda even as it is regrouping? Why are so many otherwise educated individuals in Pakistan’s army and ISI for instance sympathetic to the Taliban and Qaeda? Political and economic motives undoubtedly play a role, but it would be naive to discount the role of religious faith and martyrdom and actual belief. Plus, let us leave aside hypotheticals. The ground reality is that terrorists have deliberately targeted innocents with the goal of targeting innocents several times over the last few decades. I mean, sure, you can say that the terrorists who literally invaded Mumbai on November 26 last year had “political” grievances. But these political grievances without a doubt clearly stemmed from religious grievances, as the long history of the India-Pakistan conflict shows. Just like Bin Laden, they opened fire indiscriminately on any human being they could see. I think it’s far fetched to compare these actions to any action by Bush, Clinton, Johnson, Truman et al. But if you really think the comparison is justified, I will leave you to your thoughts.

    @Albert, I think we are deflecting the issue by talking about whether drones etc. would achieve practical goals. I agree with you that they won’t. My point is that, as bad as Bush was, it is ridiculous to compare him to Hitler and I think it’s hyperbole. As a liberal, I equally castigate friends who do this, and of course, also right-wingers who compare Obama to Stalin. If you think the Bush-Hitler/Bin Laden comparison is a valid one, then all I can say is that I disagree, and that I think we can respectfully agree to disagree.

    @Gus: It’s good to argue with someone who does argue in good faith without being insulting. I merely brought up the Harris example because I thought it serves as a good metaphor to clarify the point. Anyway, I have already said that in spite of being a bad a big fan of Chomsky and having talked to him at some length once (and getting half a dozen books signed by him), I disagree with this part of his views. If Chomsky and others really want to say that they don’t think there’s much difference between Bush, Clinton, Johnson, Truman and Hitler, Bin Laden etc., all I can say is that the disagreement is strong here. Again, I appreciate the reasoned dialogue.

  52. Sorbet

    One thing I should mention is that I am in agreement with the view that shock and awe cannot win a war; one only has to consider the Vietcong’s heightened resolve in face of the bombing in Vietnam. Out of all the things that our earlier brain dead commander-in-chimp failed to grasp, this was one of the most important and consequential. Well, those who forget history are condemned to relive it.

  53. Gus Snarp

    @Sorbet – Man, I would love to have a talk with Chomsky. I was at a conference where he was doing a Q&A session. The organizers put him in a relatively small room in the hall, then had to move him to a bigger room, but still had people lined up outside to get in. Poor planning. They should have opened all the dividers to make one huge room, at the least. Don’t know why it didn’t occur to them that just about everyone would want to see Chomsky. The real irony though was when the convention center security detail came to shoo everyone away from the doors. So I didn’t get to see him live, let alone chat one on one with him.

  54. Paul W.

    Antoine,

    And it is sad to hear people characterize Bin Laden as a Muslim, the simple fact he uses suicide attacks on civilians is a clear violation of Islam. There is a big difference between Martyrdom and suicide bombing which most people tend to ignore.

    Since when?

    My impression is that the Koran and the Hadith have a whole lot of stuff in them about jihad and killing apostates and infidels and so on. Sure, as with any huge body of scripture, you can find passages that seem to contradict that, and you can find ways of reading it to tone it down, but still.

    My impression is that a lot of advocates and defenders of “moderate” Islam acknowledge that the scriptures do in fact talk about being militarily at war with infidel countries, and say some pretty broad things about doing what it takes to defeat them, with a big human toll.

    Those moderates then go on to say that those passages need to be reinterpreted in light of modern conditions, because in those days Islam really was under military attack and had to defend itself, but now it’s generally not and muslims don’t need to be so ruthless in defense of the faith.

    That’s the same kind of strategy orthodox but non-fundamentalist Christians often use to dismiss a lot of the genocidal lunacy in the Hebrew Scriptures—even though the text doesn’t say that those things were only valid at that time and often seems to be making timeless statements, they don’t apply in the modern world.

    That’s a problem with scriptural religions in general, IMHO. They really do have barbaric stuff in the scriptures, which plainly mean the barbaric things they say about stoning homosexuals, or killing apostates, massacreing priests of other religions, or warring with other religions’ peoples.

    Islam has a bigger problem than Christianity with that (again IMHO), because its scriptures are even harder to interpret in anything but a fundamentalist way. It is a central tenet of anything like orthodox Islam that Mohammed was the final and authoritative prophet, with a direct pipeline to God’s own truth. Other prophets might be fallible or say ephemeral things that later prophecies would override, but not Mohammed, peace be upon him.

    I think people exaggerate the moderation of “moderate” Islam. Even in Britain, mainstream imams generally will not repudiate things like killing apostates—they waffle around it, the because they can’t be seen to contradict clear and repeated statements by the Prophet.

    As for suicide bombing, I think a lot of people overestimate the difference between suicide bombing and any other kind of suicide mission that, say, an American soldier might accept. They are equally suicidal, at least, so why is one the act of a crazed maniac and the other a noble sacrifice by a patriot?

    (Here I’m not addressing the difference between terrorist acts directly against civilians and acts against enemy combatants. That’s a whole other issue. For the moment, assume that we’re talking about a suicide bombing of a military compound, or something like that—how is that qualitatively different from a suicide mission that an American soldier might volunteer for, and be considered a hero by most Americans?)

    I find it very easy to believe that vast number of Muslims don’t see that distinction clearly, because I don’t, either. It’s not just Muslims who honor people who knowingly sacrifice their lives for a cause. It’s most people; why would anybody think Muslims are different?

  55. Paul W.

    Gus,

    One reason you for an undersized room for a Chomsky crowd might be to keep a lot of people out, or to keep the crowd manageable, in the face of protests.

    I once helped organize an event where Chomsky spoke about politics, and we intentionally made the room no bigger than we could confidently handle the security for, and were glad we did.

    We ended up with a group of ultra-orthodox Jewish protesters outside chanting about how Chomsky is a race traitor and whatnot, and we had to extract a few of those people from inside the hall. If we’d let everybody in, it likely would have gotten out of our control, and Chomsky wouldn’t have been able to speak.

  56. Gus Snarp

    @Paul W. Interesting point. This was an academic conference and Chomsky’s appearance had no publicity outside the conference. No one waiting was a protester. That doesn’t mean the organizers weren’t thinking security as you suggest, but in this case I chalk it up to incompetence, just from what I know of how the conference (and past conferences) was organized in general. ;)

  57. Sorbet

    It’s a great experience. In my case the talk was in a small town and the weather turned out to be bad so a lot of people did not show up. After the talk a couple of us crowded around the great man, but some drifted off in a few minutes, leaving only four or five of us with him for about 40 minutes.

    What strikes you about him every time is how he fields every single question, no matter how provocative it is, with the same kind of quiet patience, withering sarcasm and occasional wit that are his trademarks. You should watch his 1969 interview with the odious William Buckley on YouTube. And of course, his sheer power of assimilation of knowledge and logical thought surpasses that of any intellectual I know. His wife says that he reads about 20 newspapers everyday and pretty much completely digests and organizes their entire contents in his mind, ready for future reference, and there’s every reason to believe this is true. His sheer intellectual capability and horepower is phenomenal.

  58. Antoine Bonnin

    “Political and economic motives undoubtedly play a role, but it would be naive to discount the role of religious faith and martyrdom and actual belief.””
    Again, the language is important here, it’s one thing for uneducated people to be misguided by terrorists groups, but to use terms like martyrdom to describe Al Qaeda’s attacks is a total rebuttal of Islamic fundamentals. We are lucky enough to have access to information, so let’s use it instead of spreading more disinformation.

    “I think it’s far fetched to compare these actions to any action by Bush, Clinton, Johnson, Truman et al. But if you really think the comparison is justified, I will leave you to your thoughts.”
    Please enlightened me on this point? As you said earlier “I would still think that invading a country for oil is not as bad as killing innocents for personal religious beliefs”, so killing innocents for oil is not as bad as killing innocents for personal religious beliefs. How is that not far fetched?

    “why do so many Muslims even in progressive countries like Turkey support them? Plus, why are so many young Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan joining Al Qaeda even as it is regrouping?”
    For the same reason a lot of Americans support the views of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, they have grievances with the current situation and these people are the only one giving them some kind of answer. It does not make the answer any more accurate, but it is an answer. And what exactly do Muslims from Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan support? I’m pretty sure they don’t support their own killing which is what you are implying. Suicide bombers in Afghanistan are usually really poor people who need to support their dying families in one way or another. Imagine looking at your kids dying from starvation because you have no means to feed them, what would you be willing to do to help them? It is easy to judge these people from our ivory towers, it is different to put yourself in their shoes. Until we provide them with a way to support their lives, these killings will continue.

    Putting aside all of this, no one seems concern with the current exports of heroin from Afghanistan which increased drastically after the invasion in 2001. In 2000-2001, the Taliban’s drug eradication program led to a 94% decline in opium cultivation. In 2001, according to UN figures, opium production had fallen to 185 tons. Immediately following the October 2001 US led invasion, production increased dramatically, regaining its historical levels. Cultivation in 2006 reached a record 165,000 hectares compared with 104,000 in 2005 and 7,606 in 2001 under the Taliban.

    For more info here’s a full report: http://www.unodc.org/pdf/publications/afg_opium_economy_www.pdf

    And now we have put back Mr. Karzai in charged who’s fighting drug trafficking by pardoning heroin traffickers: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE5684FW20090709

    Anyway, facts don’t really matter in this debate as the violence is increasing and no one is willing to recognize the current situation on the ground.

  59. Paul W.

    Antoine,

    “why do so many Muslims even in progressive countries like Turkey support them? Plus, why are so many young Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan joining Al Qaeda even as it is regrouping?”
    For the same reason a lot of Americans support the views of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, they have grievances with the current situation and these people are the only one giving them some kind of answer. It does not make the answer any more accurate, but it is an answer.

    Keep in mind that a huge part of the support for people like Limbaugh and Beck comes from fundamentalist Christians and more generally, relatively orthodox Christians, who explicitly see themselves as an embattled minority in a culture war. They’ve sided with scriptural religion and anti-intellectualism against secular modernism. Scriptural religion and orthodoxy are a big problem here—why would you think they’re not a problem in Muslim countries, which are mostly at least as orthodoxly Islamic? (Especially given my earlier point about Muslim scriptures being even more dangerously prone to fundamentalist intepretations.)

    A big part of the problem, both here and there, is that orthodox scriptural religion gets zillions of people all worked up about the wrong problems.

    Even in the United States, tens of percent of the people believe that the world is not unlikely to end an an us-vs-them cataclysm a la the Book of Revelation within 50 years or so. For them, there is no long term, and they expect an apocalypse. Many of them look forward to it, and many more are fatalistic and hence defeatist about it.

    These people are not capable of seeing the big picture and the long term and worrying about the true roots of international conflicts in economic inequality, resource limitations. They have bad explanations that distract them from what’s real and important, and make them paranoid toward moderates and especially liberal intellectuals who are the enemy.

    It’s really bad here, where there are a lot of “moderates” who are nonetheless fairly orthodox and cannot effectively marginalize the more extreme fundamentalist conservatives, because they more or less believe in the same scriptures.

    Why would you expect it to be any better in the Muslim world? Why would you think it’s not an even bigger problem where a bigger percentage of people are outright fundamentalists, and even the moderates are usually pretty orthodox, and the scriptures are even more authoritative and inflammatory, and the social and even criminal penalties for criticizing fundamentalist belief are much more severe?

    U.S. politics is pretty screwed up by religious orthodoxy, I’d be the first to admit. But I have a hard time imagining muslim countries not being worse. We at least have a strong secular democratic tradition and bizarrely widespread respect for our constitution. Many muslim countries are explicitly theocratic, some are explicitly undemocratic, etc. Despite our big fraction of religious kooks, we’ve got it pretty good, considering. They don’t.

    Imagine looking at your kids dying from starvation because you have no means to feed them, what would you be willing to do to help them? It is easy to judge these people from our ivory towers, it is different to put yourself in their shoes. Until we provide them with a way to support their lives, these killings will continue.

    I see what you mean, but consider this.

    Many poor women will resort to prostitution, if necessary, to feed their children. (And rightly so, IMHO.)

    But such women are not paraded around as heroines. They are often vilified, and rarely held up as role models.

    Those social pressures discourage many women who likely would resort to prostitution from doing so. Few women do who aren’t in really dire straits. (Especially in the Muslim world.)

    Suppose that prostitutes providing for their families were held up as admirable, brave, and righteous people making a noble sacrifice for something worth sacrificing for.

    Don’t you think that more women would be willing to become prostitutes? Don’t you think that fewer would avoid it in order to save their families the horrible social embarrassment of having a whore for a mother, daughter, or sister? (I’m pretty sure that if I were a woman, that sort of thing would matter a lot to me.)

    I would expect the situation is fundamentally different with respect to suicide bombing.

    If people considering volunteering new that most of their friends and neighbors, and others in their society generally, would view them as despicable anti-Islamic cowards, they’d be less likely to do it and leave that blot on their families.

    Conversely, if they expect to be regarded as heroic martyrs of Islam—and I think they generally do, at least in the circles whose opinion they care about—they’re more likely to do it.

    Religion may not be the main root cause of most conflicts, but it certainly makes it harder to reveal the actual root causes and address them. It makes relatively intractable problems even less tractable.

  60. Albert Bakker

    #54 Paul W. – It is not necessary to speculate about the theology of suicide bombing. Robert Pape has the numbers and the science.

  61. Sven DiMilo

    I’m really glad we have Noam Chomsky. In a genial way, he states a very strong and uncompromising position that everybody should grapple with and that, again, contains at least a partial truth.

    This is an Overton WIndow argument of exactly the kind you reject with regard to the science/religion issue.

    But where he doesn’t win the argument, in my view, is when he attacks the system outright, rather than showing us how to work successfully within it for change.

    Because The System can’t/won’t change, it should not be attacked outright? It’s Chomsky’s job to show “us” how to work within the system he regards as entirely wrongheaded? (Especially since, you know, working within the system for change has always worked so well in the past.)

    “I don’t see what’s wrong with this” refers to the messaging and marketing aspects of Obama’s presidential campaign.

    What’s wrong with it would be if the marketing (like a lot of? most? all? “marketing”) turned out to be a bunch of bullshit and Obama turned out to be same as the old boss despite the messaging. Seeing any signs of that? I am. The new motto coined by Michael Berube is “incremental change you can just barely believe in.

    Finally–and last

    Nice writing.

  62. Paul W.

    Albert,

    Got a good link?

  63. Sorbet

    -Again, the language is important here, it’s one thing for uneducated people to be misguided by terrorists groups, but to use terms like martyrdom to describe Al Qaeda’s attacks is a total rebuttal of Islamic fundamentals.
    Why do you say this in spite of the fact that many Muslims, including Muslim mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers, clearly regard their fellow Muslims’s sacrifice as martyrdom? Plus, the terrorists clearly regard their attacks as martyrdom. One only has to read Robert Wright’s “The Looming Tower” to know about the alarming number of Muslims who were utterly entranced by martyrdom in the fight against the Soviets in the 1980s, and we are not talking about a small minority here. The same forces were galvanized against the US. The problem is precisely what Paul enumerates, that a lot of even moderate Muslims don’t put their foot down and vociferously reject the idea of martyrdom. Instead they prefer to dance around it. Sorry, but I think we need to get some basic facts right here. And what exactly did you imply was far fetched in what I said? If you think Bush, Johnson, Truman etc. can be readily compared with Hitler and Stalin, please say so. At least I will know where you are coming from even if I disagree.

    -why do so many Muslims even in progressive countries like Turkey support them? Plus, why are so many young Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan joining Al Qaeda even as it is regrouping?”
    For the same reason a lot of Americans support the views of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, they have grievances with the current situation and these people are the only one giving them some kind of answer. It does not make the answer any more accurate, but it is an answer. And what exactly do Muslims from Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan support? I’m pretty sure they don’t support their own killing which is what you are implying.

    Umm..right. That’s precisely why we look down upon Beck, Limbaugh and their acolytes and consider them divisive and dangerous forces. Just because Al Qaeda might give disillusioned men some kind of answer does not make the actions of either deplorable. Plus, the “argument from poverty” as you note is only part of the deal and is simply not the answer. It has been demonstrated many times now, most notably in the case of the 9/11 terrorists, that a lot of suicide bombers come from relatively well-educated and stable households. You only have to read Marc Sageman’s “Understanding Terrorist Networks” to know that suicide bombers come from a diverse variety of backgrounds. What unites them is a sense of brotherhood, but no one can doubt that it’s religious sentiments that form a rather large part of the brotherhood.

    As for your thoughts on opium, I fully concur and would strongly recommend a great recent book, Gretchen Peters’ “Seeds of Terror” which illuminates the appalling lack of attention the West has paid to this dominant source of the Taliban’s coffers.

  64. Paul W.

    re suicide bombing and religion, I should probably clarify a little. (Longer comment in moderation.)

    I’m not saying that religion is often the main source of conflict, much less the only one, or that problems would generally go away without religious orthodoxy mucking up people’s models of the world.

    For example, I acknowledge that Pape—and I have read a little Pape before–is right that not all suicide bombers are Islamic, or even religious. (Clearly in the case of the Tamil Tigers, who have a an atheistic communist ideology.)

    I implicitly acknowlged that sort of thing when I talked about patriotic soldiers on suicide missions not being very different from suicide bombers attacking similar targets, despite the fact that we often describe them with different terms with opposite valence.

    Still the fact that religion isn’t always a cause of conflicts, or the major cause, doesn’t mean that religion isn’t often a contributing factor, and often a complicating factor that makes problems that are not mostly religious messier and somewhat less tractable.

    (To revive an analogy from another thread, H1N1 swine flu does kill people, even though most people who die don’t have it, and most people who get it don’t die of it. The latter points do not negate the idea that H1N1 swine flu is a bad thing to get, on average, on the whole.)

  65. Paul W.

    Sorbet,

    Re Truman at least, I have to agree with Antoine to a substantial extent.

    Truman dropped nuclear bombs on civilian population centers. The goal was precisely to cause mass destruction, not particularly against military targets.

    That was a clear act of state terror, as basically everybody at least implicitly acknowledges.

    The most common rationale cited by people who defend that action was to scare the Japanese into giving up, in order to save American soldiers’ lives. (And Japanese soldiers’ as well, but that’s not as important to a lot of people.)

    Basically, we very intentionally chose to kill scores of thousands of civilian noncombatants in order to terrify the Japanese into submission. We decided that the ends justified the means, and we intentionally killed civilians to win a miltitary conflict.

    The only thing that makes that not “terrorism” by the usual definition is that it was done by a state, not a non-state organization.

    I think that most people around the world except Americans recognize this as the sort of thing that terrorist do—and two of three most devastating terror attacks in history. The other was the firebombing of Dresden, a civilian center of little strategic importance, with actually worse consequences than either of the two nuclear terror bombings.

    To many people, this makes U.S. posturing about terrorism ridiculous. We have not abjectly apologized for our terroristic attacks during World War II, and promised not to do it again. When it comes up, we can’t seem to come to a consensus that it was wrong.

    We apparently reserve the right to attack civilians, killing tens of thousands of them at a whack, and hundreds of thousands in total, when our ends justify our means.

    Why should anybody listen to us when we say that “terrorist acts” are intrinsically and always wrong, and that the ends never justify those means? We evidently do not believe that.

  66. Gus Snarp

    Wait, the Tamil Tigers are atheist? I thought they were Hindu. At least that’s the original root of the problem, Hindus versus Buddhists (and the associated ethnicities).

  67. Paul W.

    Chris: I’m really glad we have Noam Chomsky. In a genial way, he states a very strong and uncompromising position that everybody should grapple with and that, again, contains at least a partial truth.

    Sven: This is an Overton Window argument of exactly the kind you reject with regard to the science/religion issue.

    Absolutely. Thanks for saving me the trouble of pointing out that Chris is mite inconsistent about this sort of strategic thing.

    Chris always avoids even acknowledging the the New Atheists’ counterarguments against accommodationism, much less rebutting them—despite the fact that he evidently uses exactly the same sort of reasoning himself about other controversies.

    What a shock.

  68. Paul W.

    Gus,

    OOPS… I wasn’t really all that awake still, so it’s my turn to say mea culpa.

    It’s my impression that the Tigers are, officially and organizationally at least, a secular separatist movement.

    For what it’s worth, Pape says “This is a Marxist group, a completely secular group that draws from the Hindu families of the Tamil regions of the country.”

    I’m not sure. They may be generally Hindu, but my distinct impression is that the conflict is largely about ethnicity and territory more than religion, and that their specific choice of suicide bombing as a strategy isn’t particularly religious. It is, pretty much as Pape says, because it works.

    I could be wrong. Maybe there’s more of a religious angle than Pape lets on, and the overt ideology may not reflect the ideology of the actual participants. I’m certainly not very knowledgeable about this and welcome any attempts to straighten me out. (I could be relying on Pape too much in some respect, or just generally talking out of my ass. I can’t keep my terrorist groups straight.)

  69. Paul W.

    By the way, I’ve still got $20 that says that Chris will never publicly say the word “Overton,” much less mention Overton Window arguments for the New Atheist strategy, much less admit that they’re the main counterargument to his strategy, much less address the reasoning.

    Of course, since I said “never” I can’t win, but any taker could win any time Chris decides not to completely stonewall about the issue, as he’s done for over two years now, despite the issue being raised by many people, scores of times, here and elsewhere.

  70. Sorbet

    Paul, your observation is accurate. With the Tigers it’s really a regional and ethnic conflict.

  71. Gus Snarp

    @Paul W. Well, one could probably argue all day about the extent to which religion plays a role, but religion is one of the major markers of the two ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. The Tamil people are generally Hindu, while the Sinhalese people are generally Buddhist. The background is that the Minority Hindu Tamils were given administrative positions by the British when Sri Lanka was under British control. When the island achieved its independence the Sinhalese majority reversed the situation and laws were passed such as making Sinhala the sole official language. There were also a lot of acts of violence on both sides. The Tamil Tigers may well be atheists and Marxists, but the population they draw their support from is Hindu and are separated from the Sinhalese majority in large part by their religion. The Tigers have also attacked Muslims as well as Buddhists. Everything I’ve ever read about the Tamil Tigers talks about religion, and I’ve never before heard them referred to as atheists or Marxists. I could well be wrong about this too, I’m no expert and it’s been a very long time since I did any research on the topic.

  72. Sorbet

    Re Truman: I agree. The dropping of the atomic bomb was primarily a diplomatic and political objective to keep the Russians out of Japan and scare them. Cogent scientists realized that this would only lead to an arms race but nobody was listening to the scientists by that time.

    As for suicide bombers, we cannot neglect the fact that, Tigers notwithstanding, the majority of terrorist acts are committed by Islamic terrorists and not Buddhist or Hindu or Christian terrorists. This fact clearly needs further exploration.

  73. Gus Snarp

    Really, religion is rarely the root cause of any conflict, it’s a tool used for propaganda, just as it is by the Tamil Tigers.

  74. Sorbet

    Paul, I completely agree with you about both Dresden and Hiroshima. But I think you will agree that quantity does matter. What Truman did, deplorable as it was, pales in comparison to what Hitler and Stalin did, and with their own people (to be honest Stalin steals the show here).

  75. Paul W.

    Sorbet@72 or so: agreed on both counts.

    Gus@73 or so: agreed, I think; for these purposes, it’s a form of propaganda that easily gets out of hand, has a defense mechanism that’s particularly hard to get around–e.g., you’ll get allies like Chris making you out to be an extremist and uncivil and so on because it’s rude to criticize religion in the way you’d criticize any other messed-up ideology.

  76. Sorbet

    Hi Gus, I have to respectfully disagree with that. Consider the Kashmir issue. Sure, it’s about land if we look at it superficially. But the Pakistani government has explicitly funded fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups whose stated goal is to wrest the land away from the infidels (in their own words). In fact when Pakistan was formed, the explicit slogan supported by Pakistan’s founder was “We Muslims got Pakistan by peace, but we will take over the Hindu land by force”. Nobody denies the key role religion has played in this 50 year conflict. Similarly, consider the Israel-Palestine conflict. Again, it clearly appears as if it’s about the land. But think about it; would the conflict be half as serious, violent or protracted if both the Israelis and Palestinians did not think of the region as their holy land in a religious context? Take away the religious context, and what’s left?

    I am not saying that religion is the root cause of every conflict, but I think it’s naive to deny the role religion plays as a primary driving force in these conflicts. In fact I would argue the opposite, that land, politics etc. are frequently the means through which religious sentiments are commonly exercised in these cases.

  77. Gus Snarp

    @Sorbet – I don’t think any of that shows that religion is anything more than a propaganda tool. It just happens to be a very powerful one. People in power want land, money, resources in general. But those people don’t fight. They know that religion is a far more powerful motivator to the poor, uneducated masses they need to fill their armies and their suicide vests. I do agree that none of this would be as serious, violent, or protracted without the religious element, but I don’t think that the people who actually make the root decisions are nearly as motivated by religion as they want their followers to think.

    BTW, as an aside to this aside I don’t think the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is about religion or land at its root. It’s about water. Why has Israel essentially let the Gaza Strip go, but is still hanging on to the West Bank for dear life? Because it’s the West Bank of the Jordan River, the main source of fresh water for all of Israel.

  78. Paul W.

    Sorbet@74 or so…

    Agreed on that too. Truman wasn’t Hitler or Stalin, and we were the good guys in WWII, IMHO.

    I was only pointing that we (people) are inclined to see our ends justifying our means while maintaining that no ends could ever justify “their” means, even when it’s basically the same means in question.

  79. Antoine Bonnin

    Interesting how the conversation about this article is lacking Chris Mooney’s input. I would love to hear his opinion on some of the points brought above.

    @Paul:
    I see your point about prostitution and social pressures, but also consider the following :). These poor people choosing death by suicide don’t do it because society around them say it’s the right thing to do, they do it because they don’t have an alternative. In other words, they are even more desperate than the poor prostitutes. Either way, we should give these people alternatives, and killing them does not seem like a good option. Imagine investing all that Defense and military money into building schools and infrastructures, I’m pretty sure people’s opinion of the US would drastically change and the Taliban would not even be an alternative anymore.

    @Sorbet:
    Thank you for the recommendation, “Seeds of Terror” looks quite interesting. I’m a little bit perplex with its main theory though. Why would the Taliban destroy most of the heroin cartel before 2001 to do the opposite after the invasion? I’ll have a read and see how it justifies this ;).
    “Why do you say this in spite of the fact that many Muslims, including Muslim mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers, clearly regard their fellow Muslims’s sacrifice as martyrdom”
    Although that might be true, it does not make it accurate. I’m only pointing out what Islamic scholars are saying in regads to Martyrdom and suicide. The fact that others are misinterpreting the Quran is another topic all together.

    In regards to the US own problems with its religious fanatics, it’s a good point that illustrates why the US should focus on its own problem before trying to solve world issues. The US should be a model for others to look up to, unfortunately the constant meddling in the Middle East has created and is creating more problems than it’s solving.

    I agree in part with Gus when he says “religion is rarely the root cause of any conflict, it’s a tool used for propaganda”, by attacking Islam one is alienating a huge part of the population, hence making dialogue impossible. We have to use our knowledge to see pass these propaganda techniques and start educating everyone. Religion is part our world, so instead of denying its content we should try to find common grounds and educate communities.

    On a different note, anyone know a better place to have this type of debates? I find it hard to follow as the number of comments is getting longer :)

  80. Woody Tanaka

    Sorbet #72, I know it’s a popular opinion to say that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a “message to the Soviet Union” but I think it’s nonsense. This was 1945, not 1948. And while Truman wasn’t an FDR on his view of the USSR, he wasn’t, in 1945, envisioning a post-war conflict with them, either.

    Further, the bombings weren’t to keep the USSR out of the war with Japan. Hell, the US had arranged in 1943 to have the USSR enter the war with Japan, after the defeat of Germany. At Yalta, the USSR pledged to enter the war within 3 months. The Soviets invaded Manchuria exactly three months to the day after the German surrender. They could have entered the war at any point during those 90 days, and the US knew it and welcomed it. Truman was joyous when the Soviets got into the fight. Indeed, the then-current American plans (Downfall) were planned out through 1946 and probably would have lasted into 1947, so there was no question that the US knew that the USSR would be in the fight, and they welcomed that.

    Further, the claim (Gus Snarp #49) that the Japanese were “trying to surrender” and would have done so without the bombings is wishful thinking, at best, in my opinion. They were seeking a way to end the fighting, but it would have envisioned no occupation, no admission of defeat, a continuation of the current Japanese ruling structures, war crimes trials (if any) by the Japanese and not the Allies, etc. There was no way the Allies would ever have accepted that. Further, even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were still factions who wished to continue fighting and even a plot to kidnap the Emperor to prevent him from surrendering. There was a peace faction, but the notion that the Japanese were seeking or preparing to surrender on terms any where near what would have been acceptable to the Allies is simply not true.

    Finally, (since we’re on the subject) the other big WWII ending theory which I find questionable is that it wasn’t the atomic bombings that caused the surrender, but the entry of the USSR into the war. The problem with this idea is that the basis for it is usually claimed to be the quick collapse of the Kwantung Army. The problem, though, is that the reason it collapsed so quickly was because it had already been written off, functionally speaking, as the Japanese had neither the resources nor ability to properly provision it, nor return it to Japan. While it was undoubtedly a blow to the ego, the fact that it was not even mentioned in the broadcast by Hirohito is some evidence in my mind that it was not of the magnatude to jusify something that had been unthinkable — surrender. A new “cruel bomb” (and I leave the question of the morality of the bombing to ethicists) however, provided just such an option.

  81. Gus Snarp

    @Woody Tanaka – I didn’t say “trying to surrender”. No one knows for certain what would have happened if we hadn’t dropped the bomb, but we do know that support for continued war was weakening among Japanese leaders. One cannot say for certain how things would have worked out, but neither can one simply state the old chestnut that we had to drop nuclear bombs to end the war. We just don’t know if that’s true or not.

    We might not have accepted a more conditional surrender, but one would have to wonder why, since the people in power in Japan didn’t really change, and the top ranks of the Japanese ruling elite basically walked away scott free.

  82. Sorbet

    Woody Tanaka; you only have to read the deliberations of several major characters to know that even in 1945 there was grave concern about the Russians (for starters I would consult Gar Alperovitz’s book). The major character in ths drama was Secretary of State James Byrnes. More than anything else it was he who had Truman’s ears. Groves of the Manhattan Project also had a deep revulsion for the Soviets and did think of the weapon as a diplomatic one. Churchill had actually advocated the rather extreme and ridiculous measure of continuing the fight against the Soviets after Germany’s defeat. FDR himself has said more than once privately that his motive was to bleed Germany and the Soviets against each other (for instance see Andrew Roberts’s “The Storm of War”). There are many indications that the US was concerned about the Soviets; I don’t think it’s that contentious so maybe you should cite some sources if you think it’s nonsense.

    As for Japan, it’s also known that the Japanese were trying to negotiate with Washington by way of the Japanese ambassador to the Soviet Union. Sure, the military faction was shrill, but there was a significant percentage of the government who were ready to surrender if they had been allowed to keep their emperor.

    At the very least there is now significant consensus that Truman should have considered diplomatic channels much more before deciding to drop the bomb. Secretary of War Henry Stimson who was intimately involved in the proceedings even said this in his memoir. Anyway, this is still a controversial topic so I think we should stop at this juncture.

  83. Woody Tanaka

    Gus Snarp, I apologize, I was trying to paraphrase your statments regaring the Japanese likely would have surrendered soon even if we had never dropped the atomic bombs and did so badly. I should not have used quotation marks.

    No, no one knows for sure what would have happened. However, we do know that although there was a peace faction in the War Counsel, it was not in the majority until Hirohito decided to surrender. Even those members of the peace faction would have fought to the death if that was Hirohito’s wish. They certainly had plans and resources in place in an attempt to turn back the invasion of Kyushu.

    The US would not have accepted less than an unconditional surrender, primarily, I believe, because they (most FDR) feared a repeat of the end of WWI; he believed that the failure of Germany to be decisively defeated and subject to unconditional surrender led to the “stab in the back” theory in Germany during the Weimar years, leading to the rise of Hitler and WWII.

    Further, while Hirohito and the imperial family were given the whitewash and their crimes (for which they should have hanged) were ignored, Hirohito’s power in the government and that of his office were stripped. Further, the Toyko Trials produced a large number of convictions of the war-era military and civilian leaders. Given those changes, combined with the occupation (until 1952) and the consitutional changes brought about by the 1947 constitution, I don’t know that you can say that the people in power in Japan didn’t change.

  84. John Gathly

    If you say “we will never” before everything Chomsky advocates, then of course his arguments will not persuade you. If you do ever read him, however, he does make good cases consistently on what will lead to success in his radical endeavors. Throwing out the system is, in fact, the only way to enact meaningful change. This Obama PR method has not, and will not ever result in significant change, but it will sell a lot of buttons.

  85. Marion Delgado

    Chomsky’s field is linguistics. But then again, Chris, when will you realize that what you regard as “normal” “average” establishment figures are actually a million miles off the beam of a consensus among economists and policymakers internationally – always pushing a very dogmatic, very simplistic model of the world that does indeed favor the interests of what they see as either their class or the best class.

    Start with the endless adulation of Reagan’s absurd, endless nonsense and work your way down from there through people like David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, David Broder, etc. ad infinitum.

  86. Paul W.

    Antoine,

    I see your point about prostitution and social pressures, but also consider the following :) . These poor people choosing death by suicide don’t do it because society around them say it’s the right thing to do, they do it because they don’t have an alternative.

    I find this hard to believe—which isn’t saying it’s false, and I really don’t know, but it doesn’t sound right to me.

    People almost always have choices, however horrible all their options might be.

    So, for example, a female suicide bomber from a slowly starving family might choose to become a suicide bomber and let her family reap the literal rewards, or she might choose to turn to prostitution to help her family eke out a subsistence living.

    I’m pretty sure (but again no expert) that many devout Muslim women would choose the former over the latter—not just because their societies glorify and reward suicide bombing and vilify prostitution, but because they themselves have internalized their society’s values. Many Muslim women would prefer to be dead than to be a whore, and to be heroically dead and in heaven would be vastly preferable to being a whore. Just killing themselves would get them away from prostitution, but wouldn’t help their families and would not get them to heaven. (Rather the reverse, I think, but I forget my Islam.) Martrydom would be much more appealing, for those who buy into that.

    (In junior high school—not the best junior high school in the universe—I knew a Palestinian girl and asked her about her and her family’s views of premarital sex. She said that if she had premarital sex, her father would literally slit her throat and drink her blood. No kidding. Not only that, she said she thought it would be the right thing to do—he wouldn’t want to do it, but he’d have to; you can’t leave that kind of stain on the family’s honor.)

  87. Sean Mulligan

    I think that your description of Chomsky and his supporters is a strawman argument. Chomsky and other left critics don’t expect everyone to have an astectic lifestyle. They show how the system victimizes people around the world and Americans and encourage people to seek alternate sources of information and to creat their own if possible. Chomsky has mentioned how the media take advantage of people since most people don’t have time to research all the issues. Chomsky points out that whether or not the two major parties are identical, most members of both parties have the same positions on many major issues. Members of both parties supported NAFTA, NATO expansion, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War. Their is nothing wrong with hope and change but that most of his supporters exagerated how liberal his positions were and simply assumed that he agreed with them.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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