Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chomsky and Chavez

It appears that a Hugo Chavez endorsement of a book carries the same weight as an endorsement by Oprah. As you may know, Chavez made reference to Chomsky's 2003 book,"Hegemony or Survival" in his UN speech recently. My understanding is that the book went to the top of Amazon.com's best seller list back in 2003, dropped down significantly, but on being mentioned by President Chavez of Venezuela shot back up to the top. In that speech, Chavez also called President Bush "the devil" and held up the book and suggested that people may want to read it. Since then, Chomsky's publisher has printed 50,000 copies according to the N. Y. Times. Maybe Chomsky can get the leader of Iran to do the same thing when sales decline.

The subtitle of the book is "America's Quest for Global Dominance," which illustrates Chomsky's disposition to overstate what he can prove. Let me be perfectly honest: I am not now nor am I ever going to read this book so you may want to dismiss what I have to say about the title of this book, or, rather, the subtitle. The term "hegemony" is arguably not overly dramatic since it can be interpreted, say, as "hegemony over the Middle East" or over some other subset of the globe but "global" has, well, global reach. If Chomsky thinks that even our very misguided and error-prone Administration actually has the ambition to dominate the globe then he either doesn't understand the phrase "global dominance" or he is tying to hype his sales by using overly dramatic language.

Surely Chomsky does not think that Bush is stupid enough to think we can dominate China. The big problem we are going to have with China is stopping them from dominating us economically. I will be dead by that time but a lot of you will live to see this happen, I fear, unless we shape up our school systems and generate a lot more well educated scientists, engineers, etc. and start working on rebuilding our domestic manufacturing base.

My most recent experiences of Chomsky were in a long TV interview and a New Yorker magazine article based on interviews with him, among other things. In both one hears/reads extravagant language being used by Chomsky of a sort I began hearing when a student at MIT in the mid-1960's. Usually, one can interpret his more extravagant claims so they actually sound plausible but you lose the drama.

In my blog, Terrorism, I noted that he had claimed (as I recalled) that America was the greatest terrorist nation in the world. That, of course, is an incendiary claim. But we may be sure that he doesn't mean by "terrorist" what most people do. Most people say that an action is terrorist if it deliberately targets civilians. Does anyone really think that the US deliberately tries to kill civilians wherever it drops bombs or fires off Tomahawk missiles? I didn't think you did. However, the US does terrify the living crap out of people (in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most recently) where it uses such weapons and also does sometimes inadvertently kill civilians. Chomsky seems to mean by "a terrorist nation/group" as one that scares the living crap out of noncombatants and sometimes kills them inadvertently. On this understanding it would be hard to disagree with him. But, if he is saying that the U. S. is just like Al Queda but uses better uniforms, he is a fool. And he isn't that.

Chavez didn't tell us whether he meant the "d" in "devil" to be capitalized. He was, after all talking not writing. The New York times used a lower case "d" in its report on book sales. With the "d" capitalized the claim would definitely be much too religious in tone for me to accept. I think I shall also balk at the less explicitly religious interpretation suggested by a small "d." That is too metaphorical for me to take seriously. I am, however, studying a claim by an old colleague of mine that Bush is "evil." I am wondering if that claim can be defended. I think though that we have here just another case of leftist rhetoric as a surrogate for argument. Please don't think I don't think that right-wingers don't do the same thing. Of course they do. That's the only way an extreme position can be maintained.

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Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Is Bush evil?

The (oldish) version of WordNet which I have on my PowerBook gives these definitions:

1) evil (as in "evil") adj. : morally bad or wrong; "evil purposes"; "an evil influence"; "evil deeds"
2) evil (as in "depraved") adj. : having the nature of vice
3) evil (as in "evil") adj. : tending to cause great harm
4) evil (as in "malefic") adj. : having or exerting a malignant influence; "malevolent stars"; "a malefic force"

Morally bad or wrong? Don't know the man personally, but some of what we hear about, filtered through the media, sounds questionable at best. Inconclusive.

Depraved? Haven't heard anything that would go to that. (Vice...I'm thinking Cheney, but never mind.)

Tending to cause great harm or exerting a malignant influence? Most definitely. Even though good intentions may line the road, it still comes to a bad end.

By (3) and (4), yeah, he's evil.

(Who's the colleague, btw?)

9:16 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

For me to call Bush evil I would have to see it shown that his intention is to cause harm. Since I believe that that is Rove's intention, at least in regard to the Democratic party, then I probably should believe that Bush is evil in that respect as well.

However, is his engaging in the Iraq war an effort to cause harm to Iraq per se or is the harm that he has done been a consequence of other intentions, some of which might be said to be honorable or even laudable even if fatally misguided? I tend to think that his intention has never been to cause Iraq harm. He intends to cause harm to those terrorists he believes have evil designs on the US and others. He is just hopelessly wrong in going about it.

The problem is that taking some step like trying to kill OBL with cruise missiles as Clinton did, if it goes wrong, as it did, is just a transitory failed action. A war, unfortunately, once started can be hard to end. We and our allies rolled over Germany. Unfortunately, it is much harder to roll over terrorists. You never know where exactly they are and they don't give up. So you just try to kill or jail as many as you can. There are other ways to do that besides invade countries.

9:09 AM

Blogger Wishydig said...

I wonder how well "tending to cause great harm" works. You address this in your reply when you specify Bush's intention "to cause harm to those terrorists he believes have evil designs." Doesn't the focus of the harm shape the judgment of the evil? Radiation can harm to a whole body - but when focused on certain cells we call it a treatment.

Now I see my question requiring me to wonder how much harm the shrapnel of any war needs do cause before I call it evil.

In your post you hint at the difference between a capitalized and lower case 'd' in devil. Am I right to hear this distinction as the same as the difference between the devil and a devil? Chavez was hardly ambiguous with his label -- after saying "the devil was here" he added "in this very place it smells like sulphur today."

Interesting to note that the UN audience was chuckling while applauding many of his claims. Was that because they agreed and took the assertions seriously or because they thought them ridiculous and wanted to force a lighter tone?

10:56 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Your point about shrapnel, Michael, puts me in mind about the dust up between Hezbollah and Israel. It is certain that many if not most Hezbollah rockets sent into Israel were designed to kill civilians through the use of ball bearings packed in the warhead. That is decidedly evil. I believe the Israelis were said to have used some ordinance (cluster bombs?) designed to have the same effect. If true, that too would be evil.

Your noting the distinction between "the" and "a" devil makes me think that "the devil" and "the Devil" refer to the same entity. Its hard do say since there really isn't one IMO. I didn't know about the audience reaction. The laughter could have had several different significances depending on how seriously he intended his claim to be taken.

My take on Chavez is that he is very serious about despising Bush and liked being able to disrespect him in his own country and that he was just having some fun. One of the down sides of having the UN in the US is that Bush had to see to the protection of two leaders who come here to abuse him.

4:00 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I don't think I have much to add, except that it's hard to take this Chavez seriously. I think I tend to agree with you, LG, in assuming the best of motives for Bush (I try to assume the best motives for everyone).

Does Chavez know how outlandish his claims sound? On "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" (a comedic news show on NPR) recently even they laughed (decidedly at, rather than with, Chavez) even though they continuously criticize Bush. If people that agree with you still think you're ridiculous, then what can you ever hope to accomplish without any credibility?

12:47 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

"Chomsky seems to mean by "a terrorist nation/group" as one that scares the living crap out of noncombatants and sometimes kills them inadvertently."

No so. He often means that the US commits terrorist acts by directly supporting terrorist groups to do the killing for them. Kind of like when we supported and armed Al Queda to fight the Russians in Afghanistan in the 80's. That one turned out pretty bad for us. It sounds crazy, yes, but it's quite simply true. We help to over throw democratically elected governments we don't like, we economically strangle places we don't like and, of course, we bomb places we don't like. I don't care what you call it, it's aggression, and it all sounds pretty vial to me.

And if you think that the administration doesn't know about the mass suffering that happens when they enact these kinds of policies, be it a war or some other "operation," then I would imagine that you would have to take them for complete incompetent idiots.

Ultimately, we shouldn't be judging these people on the inflection of their personality, we should be judging them by the consequences of their actions, and clearly their actions have lead to suffering and death on a massive scale.

11:30 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:07 AM


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