Remember in the documentary The Corporation when MIT linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky said people can be anything depending on the circumstance—even a gas chamber attendant? Here’s what he said: “It’s a fair assumption that every human being, real human beings, flesh and blood ones, not corporations, but every flesh and blood human being is a moral person. You know, we’ve got the same genes, we’re more or less the same, but our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean, every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant and a saint.”
The quote implies that exterminating humans is a moral endeavor. In other words, morality has no universal form and content. It is whatever the circumstances define as moral. It is then our nature to follow the norm. I try to remember in every class where I show that documentary to make sure students know that Chomsky’s claim pulls too many people into the orbit of banal evil. It is not the species that can be made into vaccine mandate/passport loving authoritarians given circumstance. It’s some people can be turned into vaccine mandate/passport loving authoritarians given circumstance. What circumstance reveals is not the infinite moral plasticity of man but who those men really were all along: authoritarians waiting for the right circumstance.
In other words, we now know Chomsky was describing himself.
Last night I took some time listen to Max Blumenthal’s analysis of Noam Chomsky’s politics presented on The Jimmy Dore Show. Spot on.
I was aware of Chomsky’s past involvement with the military-industrial complex, but I had long believed the horrors of the Vietnam War changed him. He was usually good, if sometimes prone to hyperbole, on the question of American imperialism. I have quoted the man’s insights on Freedom and Reason (We Have Become Eisenhower’s Worst Fears; The Self-Pacifying Political Stratum of the Modern Corporate State). I show substantial portions of the film Manufacturing Consent to my students in Freedom and Social Control. They learn about his “propaganda model.” I present the comparative/content analysis section on Cambodia and East Timor as paradigmatic of this type of work in Research Methods. I still intend to do so. This is important stuff. My Chomsky library takes up an entire shelf of my vast library.
But Chomsky has changed. Or did he really ever change? Blumenthal talks about how Chomsky’s technocratic training never really left his soul. His entire career was at MIT, a linguistic informing the development of weapons systems directly or indirectly. Chomsky finds himself at home in the technocracy, Blumenthal suggests. A company man, Chomsky now delivers the talking points of the authoritarian progressive establishment. (How much do you wager that his position on the question of Black Lives Matters is the standard progressive social justice formula?)
Blumenthal notes importantly that during the Manufacturing Consent period of Chomsky’s career, in his “Political Economy of Human Rights” phase (where one of his books was so controversial the publisher folded the company to prevent the book’s release after he couldn’t back out of the contract), the man did not work alone. His collaborator was Edward Herman. It seems more obvious that before that Herman shaped Chomsky’s thinking during that period. Sadly, Herman is no longer with us (Herman died in 2017).
Blumenthal appeals to the work of Michael Parenti as the superior go at media criticism. Those who know me well, know I think very highly of that man. Parenti is a Yale educated political scientist. I teach his material in a class I sometimes offer for the present moment called Power and Change in America. Parenti’s early 1990s books Inventing Reality and Make-Believe Media are important if a bit dated. The man’s catalog is much larger than that, though. His textbook Democracy for the Few, in its several editions, is a must read. He is prolific. And great with words.
Moreover, Parenti is a terrific speaker. Dore and Blumenthal talk about Parenti’s lecture “Conspiracy and Class Power.” It’s the speech that made me stop worrying about people calling me a “conspiracy theorist.” Parenti explains that things don’t happen by accident. People in positions of power make things happen. The rich have always wanted one thing, he says: everything. He then asks the audience to consider whether those with that mentality will do anything to keep privilege and power. Of course, is the answer. Even if it means killing people. They do it all the time. (Want evidence? Read William Blum’s Killing Hope. But you can also take a look at the record of the medical-industrial complex. The reality of medical science is horrific. I fear it is about to get even more so.)
A bit more stridently Marxist than Mills, Parenti works in the tradition of C. Wright Mills and the “Power Elite” model of explaining history, developed over a series of books by Mills in the 1950s. Mills was influenced not only by the work of Karl Marx, but also that of Max Weber. In the early 1950s Mills wrote a book with Hans Gerth called Character and Social Structure. Let that title sink in a bit. (We won’t go down that rabbit hole here, but you might anticipate a forthcoming blog on the matter. In the meantime, here is a short piece I wrote on Mills: C. Wright Mills and the New Fascism.)
Blumenthal does us a real service in helping those of us who remember Chomsky in the 80s-90s, the man we admired, work through the distress of seeing him in this state. Our trauma isn’t new. Chomsky shocked me when he showed up a few years ago up comparing Trump to Hitler, a comparison so ridiculous that it makes Chomsky’s past insights feel accidental. His aggressive “lesser of two evils” campaigns every four years long ago indicated that he was losing critical power power and sliding back into his past technocratic socialization. Blumenthal helps bring it all together for me.
I am worried about sounding too harsh. The fact that Chomsky is 92 years old isn’t lost on me. Blumenthal may have repurposed the term when he refers to the current intellectual landscape as a “gerontocracy.” Dore believes Chomsky is in mental decline. It’s obvious from the clips that Chomsky’s reasoning is unusually faulty and his mood is petulant.
However, the most disturbing piece of it is his authoritarianism and this doesn’t seem to be the work of senility. Chomsky’s opinions are marked by a profound loathing of the working class that betrays his elitism. He has always gotten to his head. Dore notes the air of fear that surrounds Chomsky’s manner and tone. You don’t need to note it for the audience. He is scared. He doesn’t want to die. His pathological fear makes him pathologically hateful. He sees the unvaccinated as killers because they spread the virus. Of course, the vaccinated spread the virus, as we all now know (even if many are too ashamed to admit it), and so Chomsky’s arguments make no sense. But I have written extensively on the reality of this virus on Freedom and Reason, so I will refer you to my past blogs.
It is not accidental that a man who compares Trump to Hitler will see those who are not vaccinated as killers. Chomsky believes, as do his irrational progressive peers, that those who do not get the vaccine are Trump supporters (he appears to be unaware that vaccine hesitancy is highest among black Americans). If Trump is Hitler, then what does that makes Trump’s supporters? It makes them Nazis. That’s right: the people Hillary Clinton labeled the “deplorables” are Nazis. And Nazis are killers.
This way of thinking is delusional and paranoid. More than this, it demonstrates a profoundly superficial understanding of politics and power. I cannot exaggerate how shallow this understanding is. It’s third grade. Trump is a liberal, a nationalist, and a populist, hardly remarkably things to a clear head. Yes, he’s a flamboyant New York City real estate tycoon prone to braggadocio. Yes, he tweets mean things. He also loves his country and was part of the 1990s populist movement that harassed the New Democrats and warned us about NAFTA and mass immigration and globalism.
No, today’s fascism comes in the form of corporate statism, the functionaries of which are drawn from the legacy media, the university, the culture industry, and the administrative state bearing the political face of the Democratic Party, especially its progressive wing, with establishment Republicans collaborating. (See Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism: Fascism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; Fascism Becoming Under Cover of COVID-19 Hysteria; Biden’s Biofascist Regime.)
Chomsky, a man who described himself for decades as a “libertarian socialist” and an “anarchist” is actually on the authoritarian capitalist side of politics. And not in a subtle way. Chomsky is deranged. It’s sad. But it’s also dangerous. A lot of people hang on his every word with eyes wide shut.