Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Twilight of Chomsky’s foreign policy

I may be the only person who watched the now-famous “Justice vs. Power” Chomsky-Foucault debate and realised how much of a charlatan Noam Chomsky actually is. Michel Foucault not only won the debate, he won the rest of the twentieth century Baudrillard didn’t capture.

And ol’ Baldy continues to rack up points well into this Ritalin-addled twenty-first century. Chomsky contents himself with packing out meetings of the Socialist Student Union in every private university kids attend when they can’t get into to Ivy Leagues. On linguistics, Chomsky is unquestionably brilliant, but on politics, he has always sounded like a teenager.

This guiding light of the I-hate-my-daddy contingent of the unemployable political left continues to argue with sophomoric equivalency that the US in its conduct of the War on Terror should be governed by standards of international law. This is gross anti-intellectualism. The world should be fair and equal, and that’s that. It is not an argument, it is a belief without foundation in evidence.

Noam Chomsky
The problem is that it doesn’t hold anyone else to this standard (except arguably for Israel). When you point out people’s hypocrisy, don’t forget about the casualty-producing systems. If you focus on only one system, as Chomsky does, you can’t really claim any standard other than hatred of that system. He’s no more limited to criticising the US than he is limited to criticising his own family or the whole world. Those are both systems he’s a part of, but he doesn’t feel limited to them.

This comes down to two issues: the role of principles in the formation of policy, and the perpetual inability of the left to articulate a concrete platform for a future society. Without attention to whether one’s actions follow one’s principles, you leave yourself open to not only charges of hypocrisy but outright hostility.

But here’s the thing. There is no “international law.” There is no universally acknowledged sense of anything except hunger and gravity. There is only one rule: the most powerful make the rules, and every nation has to follow those rules except the most powerful.

This exception is part of the rule. It’s the most important part of the rule. It says when Country A invades Country B, the US Marine Corps can take over both countries until Halliburton arrives and ensures it won’t cost the New Zealand taxpayer $75 to drive a Japanese import to the Warehouse for “quality” goods made by the most skilled child-labourers global capitalism can provide.

Chomsky and others on the left call this “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is bad, you see, because it’s unfair. Everyone should be held to the same standard. Everybody should have to follow the rules, including (and especially) the US. But these people only bring up exceptionalism when they can score cheap points by crying “hypocrisy!”

What is exceptionalism? Exceptionalism is why the unemployment rate in the US, France, Germany, Japan and New Zealand is between 5-9%, but in Spain and Greece – where people are rioting – it’s approaching 15-25%. Exceptionalism is the first set’s ability to play with the global economy while citizens of other countries bear the brunt of any mistakes.

If the US was held to the same standard the conditions of most of Chomsky’s listeners (the 98% who think the top 2% should pay more taxes) would revert to that of Eastern Europeans. But if fair is fair and right is right, then they should just wait. The global economy is due for another recession soon.

Let me rephrase the one and only rule of international law: whoever has the guns and the money gets to make, break and enforce the rules. That is not my opinion of what the rule should be. That’s what the rule is. It is a property of nature based on thousands of years of historical evidence. It is as immutable as the laws of physics. Failure to acknowledge it is a mark of insanity.

But still, Chomsky grinds on: “We should be treated like we treat others.” He plays the “should” game. The world should be like this. The government should do that. That’s why he’s still so popular in the age of Trump with a crowd that has no skin in the game. It’s easy to dictate terms without accountability.

Progressives have historically been very good at critique and awful at implementation. Ascribe the evils of the world to control, institutions, the Panopticon or whatever, but at some point, there needs to be a plan that’s more than “tear it all down.” Most small utopian communities are either too obscure to inspire or die in their cradles from infighting. Chomsky should focus on pragmatic, constructive efforts rather than generating reams of paper cataloguing the failures of modern society.

And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that there’s a reason why left’s systems seem fascist: because they have to be fascist in order to implement the systems. Fighting fascism means reducing government, not pushing for more of it. This is Tolkien’s lesson. Any system that requires a great degree of government control is, (almost) by definition, fascist, which is the same thing as progressive but with a “for the people” stuck on the end of the state motto.

Ol' Baldy: Michel Foucault
Chomsky could not come to terms with reality. Foucault lived reality. Foucault was very much about getting to the bottom of what is. And though he found the same state Chomsky did – language and media as instruments of social control – Foucault found much more. He flourished in the idea of total dominance by power. He explored and dissected it, holding up its organs for all to see. You can see it in this passage:

The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. And because it will overthrow the power of the ruling class it considers such a war to be just…One makes war to win, not because it is just…it seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power.

And yet the trouble with Foucault is that he demands a brutal and total acceptance of reality and a suspicion of everything else. After all, any illusion of what should be may simply be an internalised expression of the State’s control over you. So you must never say should. You must only see and, if possible, take some power for yourself.

With Chomsky, all that’s necessary to understand international relations is to reverse and flip every word uttered by the great academic. So for that reason alone, he is useful to read. Foucault died long before the world proved him right. Chomsky has lived long enough to have learned better. And yet still he persists. What’s that word for people who do the same thing over and over expecting a different result…

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