Comments: Why I Liked Howard Zinn

Auchincloss, Zinn, and Salinger walk into a bar. Auchincloss offers to buy a round of Manhattans, Zinn says he'll just have beer on tap, and Salinger tells them both to shut the hell up.

Sorry, best I can do on short notice.

People's History certainly changed the way I viewed the world. After reading it I had to toss my copy of Paul Johnson's 'Modern Times.'

Posted by Oarwell at January 29, 2010 05:04 PM

If you feel like vomiting, check out Matt Yglesias' take on his blog.

Posted by hugh at January 29, 2010 05:46 PM

Chomsky is no spring chicken either... there's no one out there in their league to replace them when they're gone..

what was it about that generation and that time that created people like that, I wonder.. I don't think it's just a coincidence that all the great leftists/liberals (good kind of liberals like Bill Moyers, I mean, not the sycophantic, racist, morally and ideologically bankrupt types that prevail today) in America are from that time and generation. There was a kind of .. morality.. grounded in religion, I think. This is not something all you (and me) leftist atheists/agnostics here want to hear but I think it needs to be said. And yes, I'm well aware that Chomsky is an atheist/agnostic. Zinn, I don't know. Bill Moyers on the other hand is a believer. But regardless of whether those people were individually religious or not, I think there was a spiritual and moral vitality.. presence.. that just isn't there in today's increasingly hedonistic, selfish, technophilic society.

I'm not trying to romanticize the past. I'm well aware of the hypocrisy and deep problems and prejudices that existed. But I ask again: where are the successors to Chomsky, Zinn, Moyers?

Posted by hv at January 29, 2010 06:45 PM

Mike Davis is a successor to Zinn.

The reason Comskye comes off like a robot is because everything he says is so fucking obvious and so fucking right that he is bored out of his mind repeating it. What makes Chomsky incredible is not his brains, though they are many, or his analysis, which is dead on. It is his indefatigability. He will not stop trying to get more people to understand. A lesser being would have quit long ago and I can't see a replacement for him.

Posted by drip at January 29, 2010 08:09 PM

Chomsky. Chomsky. sorry.

Also, Moyers is not in a class with the other 2. He never hid a fugitive or lead a march or debated Buckley or any number of generals. Moyers has made up for his miserable years working as an apologist for Johnson so maybe Scott McClellan can turn his life around similarly.

Posted by drip at January 29, 2010 08:16 PM

I'll go out on a limb here, and suggest it's the living memory of a generation-erasing war that did it more than religion. (Okay, cutting it close for Moyers.) In Zinn's case, that would include participation therein.

I have found Zinn (discovered only in my advanced internet age) to be a bit more optimistic than I am, but human? Impressively. On bullying? Yes. Absolutely. It's what won me too.

Posted by Keifus at January 29, 2010 08:28 PM

Some candidates for picking up Noam's mantel.

Adolph Reed-Engages in retail political organizing in a way that neither Noam or Howard did. Unfortunately, sometimes comes across as a bid turgid in his speaking style. Recent work with Walter Benn Michaels very important for the left to come to terms with, in my opinion. Forthcoming book on Obama will say everything that needs to be said.

Glen Greenwald-Unclear on what positive ideology if any informs his critique. Oddly sees himself as within the mainstream-as evidenced by his blogroll but is obviously not politically situated there. Command of facts reminiscent of Noam, and writes better. (Not so hard to do, actually.)

Naomi Klein-Lacks the same level of intellectual rigor but charismatic in her way and seriously committed to movement building.

Slavoj Zizek- Took him to be a more or less typical POMO fraud along the lines other "continental" intellectuals. Maybe that was a misjudgment or he's grown. See for example http://www.humanite.fr/Entretien-avec-Slavoj-Zizek (in French).

Jeremy Scahill-Journalist, so no big picture stuff, but reliably on the left and capable of humiliating mainstream pundits in a way reminiscent of Noam.

Sharon Smith-Lance Selfa (Socialist Worker)-Don't know much about these guys-and might be appalled when it turns out that they buy into some sort of bizarre ultra left sectarian world view. But what I've read seems to derive from a level headed, radical, anti-capitalist perspective.

Glen Ford, Margaret Kimberly, Bruce Dixon (Black Agenda Report)-Like Reed, had Obama's number from the beginning. Sometimes comes across as overly committed to a sixties variant of black nationalism. All write beautifully and Ford is a true radio professional.

Chris Hedges-Master jeremiads from former Times bureau chief increasingly targeted where they need to be.

John McArthur-Patrician liberal (but now radical) reminiscent of Gore Vidal though less inclined to wackiness.

Jean Bricmont/(Alan Sokal)-Sokal, while a reliable leftist, hasn't published much, though what there is is quite good. Bricmont is an excellent and persuasive polemicist. His book on Humanitarian Interventions which I've read pieces of is especially good.

Norman Finkelstein-A bit unhinged at times, but at his best is compelling-perhaps especially when he gets away from Zionism and into the general intellectual culture-or, more precisely, the (generally depraved) culture of "intellectuals."

George Monbiot-Important and prolific writer/activist from a radical environmental perspective.

Nomi Prins-Has Wall Street's number. Need lots more like her.

Matt Taibbi-Rigorous, devasting, and enjoys throwing horse semen pies at NY Times reporters. What's not to like?

Sam Smith-(Progressive Review) Older generation but has been getting everything right for forty years. Keeps on ticking.

Joe Bageant-Comes from a place about as far from Noam as could be imagined in all respects, but comes to a lot of the same conclusions. Our peckerwood Orwell.

Arundhati Roy-A bit precious for my tastes but eloquently communicates a radical internationalist critique of corporate centric development.

Dean Baker-Seems to have been pretty much right about everything that matters when it comes to the economy.

I'm sure I'm leaving out lots. But I don't think we're hurting when it comes to candidates for this gig.

Where we need help is people who can actually DO politics, not just write about them.

Posted by John Halle at January 29, 2010 08:42 PM

I kind of like Oarwell's joke. And I hate bullies too. People shouldn't back down to bullies. A good ass-kicking is usually good for them.

I have been thinking a lot about life and death this week for my own reasons, and I hope Howard Zinn's spirit finds peace as part of the Oversoul or God or the center of the space-time continum or wherever it is that souls find the peace that surpasses understanding. Or my understanding anyway.

I think Howarrd Zinn was great, and Chomsky is admirable, but NOBODY is irreplaceable. And irreplaceable at what? Zinn and Chomsky are certainly aware that their writings have not exacxtly changed the course of history. I assume each of them would trade library immortality for a better world, which we haven't been getting enough of lately. (I sure hope they would make that trade, and I do think they would.) Are we all supposed to think that what they accomplished is the best anyone can do? I sure hope not.

Yglesias in my view didn't say anything that unfair or offensive about Zinn. He's not a big fan, but so what. That's just his opinion, and though he's a smart guy, smart guys are a dime a dozen. I don't agree with his opinion, and Kazin's article that Yglesias links to has some stupidity in it that clashes with its confidence. (And Kazin underwhelms me in general.) But the idea that Zinn and Chomsky should be beyond criticism is harmful. Everybody should read "If you meet the Buddha on the Road, kill him."

The world changes all the time, and people better keep improving their understanding and changing their strategies to be effective. That's definitely what the bad guys (the bullies) are doing, and they have all the money and all the power. So kicking their ass is pretty damn difficult even for those who aren't scared to give it a try. Zinn and Chomsky weren't scared, but their results were mixed at best, and lately not even worthy speaking of. Maybe Mike Davis will do better (he does write good books), but I don't think anyone is going to get it done with books. The prophet that slouches out of the desert waiting to be born better have some music and video abilities.

Posted by N E at January 29, 2010 09:05 PM

When we lost Kurt Vonnegut, I began to get the idea that the world might make me think for myself some day sooner rather than later. Howard Zinn seems to continue that unfortunate trend.

Jon, please look both ways when crossing the street!

Posted by Aaron Datesman at January 29, 2010 09:23 PM

Aaron

On the bright side, Vonnegut and Zinn seemed to have died of natural causes related to a lot of time spent on earth, comparatively speaking.

Don't be jinxing Jethro's cousin!

Posted by N E at January 29, 2010 09:33 PM

This is a very nice post. Zinn was special and we will miss him. You should also check out what Dennis Perrin had to say about Zinn.

Posted by cemmcs at January 29, 2010 09:54 PM

I'll toss Paul Street's hat to the podium. And now Chris Floyd's -- um tut sut!

Posted by Woodyeofalb at January 29, 2010 10:29 PM

"I think Howard Zinn was great, and Chomsky is admirable, but NOBODY is irreplaceable. And irreplaceable at what?"

What made them irreplaceable is the that they are both rare creatures, possessed of unusual intelligence, humanity, and integrity. To say nothing of their personalities apart from their politics. We're all unique snowflakes, they just happen to be two very impressive specimens. You seriously want to debate that, the idea that no one is irreplaceable?

"Chomsky are certainly aware that their writings have not exactly changed the course of history."

And you can prove this how? I don't think it's possible to measure their precise effects or how the world would look if they never existed, but they've surely had SOME effect.

"Are we all supposed to think that what they accomplished is the best anyone can do? I sure hope not."

Let's hear what you've done, N E. What are your vast contributions? In what ways have their life-long activism failed to live up to your high standards?

"Yglesias in my view didn't say anything that unfair or offensive about Zinn. He's not a big fan, but so what. That's just his opinion, and though he's a smart guy, smart guys are a dime a dozen. I don't agree with his opinion, and Kazin's article that Yglesias links to has some stupidity in it that clashes with its confidence. (And Kazin underwhelms me in general.) But the idea that Zinn and Chomsky should be beyond criticism is harmful. Everybody should read "If you meet the Buddha on the Road, kill him."

No one has claimed that Chomsky or Zinn is beyond criticism. But it's funny how their detractors always manage to put those words into the mouths of those who defend them. And while intelligent criticism of Chomsky and Zinn is welcome (and rare), in my opinion having healthy respect for both is a kind of political litmus test. In Yglesias' case, putting aside his condescension and damning-with-faint-praise of a great man, he makes the asinine point that "People’s History is neither good history nor good politics, offering basically nothing in terms of ways to think about solutions to the problems of the world." No real argument, just a pathetic misreading, and lazy link to a hatchet job. None of which would matter, were it not for the fact that Yglesias is widely respected by liberals. But I guess all disputes are just a matter of "opinion," as you said.

Posted by hugh at January 29, 2010 10:53 PM

Everyone is irreplaceable; that was Zinn's whole point.

Jon, Ralph Nader is also humane, informed without being pretentious, and damn funny. And I think you're not giving Chomsky enough credit for the first and third. We've lost one, and before the decade is out we'll likely have lost the other two as well...it's hard to imagine the world without them.

I'd agree that Zinn came across as a golden human being, and his example is something to aspire to. And I'd also agree that one of the best things about Zinn was that he wasn't some doctrine-spouting ideologue, but someone whose politics clearly came from a deep and abiding concern for people. That's what I appreciate about all three of them, actually.

Posted by John Caruso at January 29, 2010 11:39 PM

I believe it's fair to say that the American left in general has been a disaster for the last forty years. Chomsky and Zinn have represented the very best of the American left for all of that time. I am an admirer of both, but if anything positive can come out of the loss of Zinn it might be that we could attempt to find ways to use both his positive and negative example in order to find a way to improve.

Here's a problem I had with Zinn: He was too soft on Obama. He was a supporter of Obama in fact. I believe that was a mistake, certainly not unforgivable.

Posted by doug lain at January 29, 2010 11:39 PM

John Halle,

thank you for that very detailed and thoughtful post. I know some of the people in your list (and yes, the Black Agenda definitely had Obama's number right from the start), although some are new to me. I"ll be sure to look them up.

Thank you hugh for rebutting some of NE's ridiculous comments like "NOBODY is irreplaceable" Not only is that an insulting and an ugly, deeply inhumane sentiment, it is just factually and logically incorrect. Putting aside the fact that every human being is unique and important and irreplaceable to their loved ones and family, someone like Chomsky is unique for his sheer intellectual prowess, which probably approaches the genius level. So hell yes Chomsky is irreplaceable.

It always irritates me when people like NE and Yglesias complain Chomsky don't offer "practical solutions" or haven't done enough, blah blah. I mean for fuck's sake.. how much do you want one man to do?? It isn't enough that he has helped to completely change the way people view the world.. he also has to fix every damn problem for you to be satisfied?? Give me a fucking break. Besides doing more than enough to illuminate and educate people, at least he's not CONTRIBUTING to the problem as are smug Western liberals like Yglesias and his pathetic Obama-fawning and Donkey party propagandizing, to say the least of his sins.

Chomsky has single-handedly shattered deeply held "conventional wisdoms" and helped people understand that the post-Enlightenment, Western liberal "democracy" is hardly the finished project as the smug, "End of History"-proclaiming Western intellectuals would have you believe, and that there is the same ol' oligarchy, elite control and oppressive power-structures behind the facade of shallow "democratic" formalities like elections and voting that existed pre-Enlightenment when the social, political and economic order was monarchy and feudalism. And of course, the hypocrisy, deep racism and savage imperialism of the supposed "shining city on the hill". This may seem to be an obvious concept to many people here, and even to more "mainstream" America post the recent financial meltdown and the BUsh presidency and the Iraq war, but you have to remember just how alien and bizarre and loony Chomsky sounded when he started making this critique way back when.

The fact that Chomsky critique has become so obvious.. and more mainstream by now (although still far, far from being acceptable in most mainstream political discourse) is proof of his influence and of the extent of the change in consciousness he has enabled. And there's no way to measure just how consequential and influential Chomsky's work has been, or how far the ripples of influence will reach, and what other change they will directly and indirectly cause. Someone like Glenn Greenwald for example who was very much a smug, centre-right "centrist" who would have been the first to deride Chomsky as one of those "blame America first" people before his epiphany during the Bush years is now quoting Chomsky in his work, and helping to push Chomsky's ideas and critique to a mainstream liberal audience that had always rejected him before. Take a look at how much the Israel-Palestinian debate has shifted .. with criticism of Israel now being far more acceptable and mainstream than it was previously.. with no little thanks to Chomsky for that. I mean I could go on and on.

Posted by hv at January 30, 2010 02:03 AM

Regarding the personality and humor of Zinn vs Chomsky:

first, Chomsky definitely has a sense of humor.. although his humor tends to be more sardonic and ironic and he uses it effectively in some of his talks and essays to highlight the absurdity and hypocrisy of great wise American "intellectuals" and politicians.

second, from the documentaries and talks I've seen by Chomsky and Zinn, it seems clear to me that Zinn is an extrovert while Chomsky is more of an introvert. Zinn is far more personable and comfortable around people.. hence the perception that he is more "humane" than Chomsky. I have deep affection and admiration for both of course, but I think one has to look at Chomsky's work and his deep sense of moral outrage and righteous anger about American foreign policy to see he is just as humane as Zinn. He just has a different way of showing it.

Posted by hv at January 30, 2010 02:19 AM

It's Howard Zinn's fault that I ever became aware of anything at all in this world. I'm adding him to my short list of people who should have earned an exemption from dying, but didn't for some ludicrous reason.

Posted by ethan at January 30, 2010 02:54 AM

Noam certainly likes to laugh. I raised some smiles and chuckles from him a few times, more fulfilling than any night club audience reaction I ever got (or may get, once I go back on stage). And yes, he does have a sardonic sense of humor that is at times quite cutting. If he didn't, I think Noam would've gone insane long ago.

As for imperial children like Yglesias, he is merely serving his class/institutional role. Nothing new. Just the latest model. More are being assembled in various prep schools as we speak. Thanks to Zinn and Chomsky, more opponents of liberal imperial thinking are also being formed. On it goes until whatever.

Posted by Dennis Perrin at January 30, 2010 08:54 AM

I agree with doug lain's comment. I doubt Zinn would be all that appalled that somebody didn't think the People's History wasn't great history. I think it's a good book, and many people obviously also think that, but books don't change the world, especially lately. Zinn wanted to make the world better, but if it's been getting better over the last few decades, I missed it. Some things are better, but some are actually worse, and egalitarianism has been taking a brutal beating. One of Martin Luther's biographers commented that toward the end of Luther's life, all of his admirers sat around his bed waiting for him to fart so they could admire it. I don't think that sort of thing is a fitting tribute to anyone, and it's an especially ironic tribute to people who spend their lives encouraging people to think for themselves and realize that history is made by ordinary people. Nobody is irreplaceable. EVERYONE who was alive centuries ago is gone now. Life moves on.


Chomsky has reason to be proud of himself, but not because he has made the world what he wants it to be. He seems more aware of that than anyone. Let's keep trying, but maybe with new ideas and strategies instead of looking for another Chomsky or another Zinn to spend four or five decades publishing books that a small minority of people read while all the money gets concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and the military runs amok getting fuller and fuller of itself snd more and more dangerous.

As for Yglesias, he has some very smart observations and ideas. I agree with him sometimes and not other times. I don't particularly agree with him about Zinn, but I do think it's stupid to try to make love of Zinn or Chomsky some sort of litmus test of worthiness. I don't think they would like it much either. I think they would just argue substance and keep working.

Posted by N E at January 30, 2010 09:03 AM

Nobody is irreplaceable, and everybody is irreplaceable. Nobody lives forever, so others have to take up the burden and carry on. If the death of someone like Zinn or Chomsky means that no one would or could continue to work on the larger projects they served, then that would mean their work was in vain. I think it's important to remember that there are plenty of people out there who work hard to inform themselves and others, and who should be listened to by those who claim to care. John Halle's list of people is a good reminder of that.

I know less about Zinn than about Chomsky, but I know that Chomsky has always made it clear that he is not an effective organizer (though he did try at the beginning of his political career), that the less visible people are doing the real work, that even his writing is done with the help of many other people with whom he exchanges information. Much of his time is spent in communication with others -- I can't imagine keeping up the level of correspondence that he does. Cheap shots like those of Yglesias (and N E's, numerous times here) only betray their malign ignorance. Chomsky isn't an organizer, but his connections to other people, including organizers and activists, are many; I suppose the same was true of Zinn. Chomsky was, for example, one of the very few white people invited to the funeral of Fred Hampton after he was assassinated by the Chicago police; he has friends and allies and human connections of the same kind all around the world. He doesn't tout things like that, and I think it's even more important for those of us who admire and respect him to remember them, than for his hostile critics.

I think it's significant that once again, N E immediately (reflexively?) jumps to the defense of center-rightists and defenders of empire like Yglesias (and Obama) while taking gratuitous and uninformed slaps at people like Zinn and Chomksky.

Posted by Duncan at January 30, 2010 10:44 AM

My wife, for what is worth, always liked Zinn more than Chomsky because he was always much easier to read and listen too. Sometimes NC is hard to follow because there is usually more than one argument going on at one time and you have to flip back and forth between all of the footnotes and such...

We have seen both speak together on more than one occasion and Zinn always comes off as more personable and funny.

I find both incredible in their dedication to social justice and peace and we would do well to follow their lead.

And obviously since I post links to many of his articles, Paul Street is the person I see as the person most likely to replace NC once Chomsky passes on. The range of topic , scope and quality of his writing is without peer in my opinion. And like Zinn and Chomsky he does more than just talk...he walks the walk also.-Tony


Posted by tony at January 30, 2010 11:00 AM

Much of his time is spent in communication with others -- I can't imagine keeping up the level of correspondence that he does.

I just want to share a little personal note regarding what Duncan says above.

I once sent NC a copy of small anarchist pamphlet I found at a bookstore in NYC. It was regarding WWII and the US bombing of a northern Italian city long after the US knew the German army had vacated the city. The bombing, according to the pamphlet, was just done to remove the radical left workers from factories that they occupied after the German army had left. I had not heard about this particular incident and figured if anyone was going to know about it it would be Chomsky. Well I sent him the copy and heard nothing for well over a year. One day a package arrived in my mail form MIT. I knew it was from Chomsky because we had corresponded by mail before on other topics. This was before znet existed. When I read his letter, which I still have, he apologized for taking so long to respond, but my original letter to him was lost among the piles of books and letters and such in his office and he only found it roughly a year after I sent to him.

Roughly a year after this, NC gave a speech to New Jersey Peace Action which I was a member of at the time. I approached him after his speech and asked him about this whole thing. He smiled and asked, "That was you?" We laughed about it for a few minutes and I thanked him for taking the time to respond and for his commitment to social justice and so on.

That was the only time I met him face to face. It will be a sad day when he is gone and I am sure I will shed a tear just as I did when I learned that Howard Zinn had died.-Tony

Posted by tony at January 30, 2010 11:24 AM

Bob Herbert has a nice appreciation of Zinn in today's NYT.

Posted by Bellwetherman at January 30, 2010 11:26 AM

I agree with Tony. Prof Street is one of my favourites of his generation.
And here is Prof Paul Street on Howard Zinn......
"Howard Zinn: The People's Historian"
here
http://www.zmag.org/zspace/commentaries/4125

And here is Prof Chomsky at a forum held in Chicago, "In Defense of Academic Freedom" when Prof Finkelstein was denied tenure........
here
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5923078877105940730#

And in terms of who is better than whom, all I can say is, I have learnt a lot from both.

And an anecdote about Prof Chomsky. He has a regular phone number ( not unpublished--so easily reachable ). A leftist friend ( A ) was celebrating his 60th. Another friend of ours (B ), without his knowledge, got Prof Chomsky on the phone and gave it to A, telling him, "Talk to Prof Chomsky". A thought B was joking and took the phone and I saw "I do not believe this" expression on his face. He and Prof NC talked for a while and from our side of the conversation, I could gather, he was genuinely interested in knowing what A did, how he got involved in activism etc ( A is an MD who has been working at a public hospital --same as mine-- and consults for the federal govt for healthcare reforms in prison system). Prof NC did make human connections at individual level.


Posted by Rupa Shah at January 30, 2010 11:45 AM


Street on Zinn's passing. Tony

http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/commentaries/4125

Posted by tony at January 30, 2010 11:45 AM

I posted a comment after your post Tony at January 30, 2010 11:24 AM. It went to the moderator as it had more than one link and I had posted Prof Street's article, "Howard Zinn: People's Historian" from ZNet. I do not know if what you have posted is the same as my computer is refusing to load the page with the URL you have posted!

Posted by Rupa Shah at January 30, 2010 12:39 PM

I think someone above had it right when they said Chomsky is more of an introvert while Zinn is an extrovert. Also, Chomsky really is a genius of the first rank, something Zinn was not. His work in linguistics was absolutely revolutionary, and had far-reaching effects on philosophy, sociology, etc. I don't know if that has any effect on his personality. Just saying.

Posted by F.H. at January 30, 2010 12:41 PM

NE, I suspect your real beef with Chomsky is over his views on JFK's assassination, 9/11 etc. You're constantly recommending your own favorite authors, particularly the book (I'm blanking out on the name--JFK and the Unspeakable or whatever), so evidently you don't downplay the importance of political book writing in general. You'd be an idiot if you did. Even if a book doesn't have a massive number of readers, its influence can spread through osmosis.

On the issues, I'm in agreement with Chomsky on 9/11 and am agnostic on who killed JFK, but supposing for the sake of argument that you're right on both and he's wrong, he's still deserving of a lot more respect than you've given him for the reasons hv outlined above.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 30, 2010 12:49 PM

And this by Daniel Ellsberg......
"A Memory of Howard Zinn"
here
http://www.antiwar.com/blog/2010/01/27/a-memory-of-howard-zinn/

What can I say? Those who knew him personally are and were very fortunate.

Posted by Rupa Shah at January 30, 2010 12:54 PM

VIDEO: Howard Zinn Dies & 9/11 Media Criticism
Please pass it on. (see FAIR link in the video info)

Posted by Tom Murphy at January 30, 2010 03:37 PM

For those that have not already seen this. Just incredible.-Tony


http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4009

Posted by tony at January 30, 2010 03:53 PM

For those interested in someone who has recently done some similar work to Howard Zinn, check out this excellent interview of Ronald Wright about his book What is America?, and this lecture as well.

Like Howard Zinn, Ronald Wright does some excellent and empirical dismantling of the mythologized, whitewashed history and ideology of the American state. More importantly though, he is trying to do something that others haven't done as yet, which is to point out how the current American economic and political model grew out of a very specific and fortuious history (not for everyone of course) beginning 500 years ago and that those models and worldview no longer apply to today's world.

As Ronald Wright argues in his book, American culture is a deeply militarized and colonial/imperial culture where slaughter and oppression of the weak and the "darkies" are justified in many different ways, and one that is based on insane notions of endless expansionanism that all metastized out of the history of the American state, consisting of American pioneers stumbling onto a treasure-trove consisting of a huge continent with a temperate climate and precious metals, the subsequent slaughter and genocide of inhabitants in the New World to take over the continent, the subsequent need to rationalize and justify that genocide and slaughter, and the continuous 300 year old war zone that was the frontier expansion. This history has shaped American culture and the ideology of the American state, a model and worldview that are no longer sustainable in the reality of today's world, and in fact, are extremely harmful and violent. To quote from this review:

Wright’s purpose in the book, however, is not merely to set the record straight by exposing the Hollywood-fuelled “cowboys and Indians” story that papers over the assault on North America’s native peoples. He also wants to show how the main themes of this frontier myth—raw individualism and perpetual growth—resound today in the market-obsessed social model that the U.S. exports to the rest of the world under the banner of globalization. It is, Wright says, a model built for a long-lost era.

“Ultimately, the reason I go back 500 years to explain the United States is that American culture is a deeply colonial culture,” he tells the Straight. “These are all colonial attitudes, of endless expansion, oppression of the weak defined and justified in different ways, and that the world is limitless, so it doesn’t matter if there are people starving now—soon they’ll be rich and everything will be fine.…When those ideas were first formulated, the world’s population was only a quarter of what it is now, the economy was only about a 50th of what it is now, and of course there was room for a great deal of economic expansion without worrying about running out of stuff or polluting the environment.…That’s what I mean when I say that a lot of the driving ideas in this so-called modern country, America—and that America has sold to the rest of the world—are actually very old-fashioned ideas. They’re archaic—they’re out of step with the modern world. And that’s what’s so dangerous about them.”

As What Is America? suggests, the fact that these ideas survive shows how deeply we’re committed to searching out our own jackpot in the global market. But as long as we ignore the costs of ruthless expansion described in Wright’s book—the forced labour, the shattered cultures, the countless lives cut short—we allow ourselves to neglect the human price of our own ever-growing appetites. The frontier is closed. We’ve run out of room for history’s mistakes.


Posted by hv at January 30, 2010 04:12 PM

tony

That was a touching and interesting story.

Duncan

Be happy.

Donald Johnson

I don't have a beef with Chomsky or Zinn. I would be proud to have accomplished what either of them has, even if I think society has moved past their politics. More importantly, each of them seem like really good people. If you think I've disrespected Chomsky, you are confusing disagreement about some things with disrespect. I'm pretty confident that Chomsky is wrong about some things, and I will dare say that a few of his opinions aren't even that smart, but he covers vast amounts of ground, and though I couldn't name my own dumb opinions (being a little too close to them), I probably have some dumb ones at the moment too. (Johnson nods head in agreement.) I know I have believed some whoppers in the past.

Chomsky is obviously an amazing person in many ways. I think most of his work is really good, and the amount of it is just astonishing. But he's not the only person in the world with worthwhile ideas, and the world has been going a different diretion from what he would like for quite a while now. Worse still, things seem to be getting worse in some important respects. We all need to get to work on that instead of bemoaning that he and Zinn are irreplaceable. That was my meager point.

Zinn also seems to have een a great man, and his People's History seems to have done exatly what he wanted it to do--expose a broad range of people to a mostly untold story and so open eyes to that history. So the book was a fabulous success whether or not Yglesias was right about the book's quality as pure history (I don't think he was, but who cares?). Good Lord, this idea that everyone who is worthwhile has to be right about everything is ridiculous. NOBODY is right about everything. Many brillian people have been completely wrong about one thing or another, and sometimes brilliant people are even dumb about some things.

I agree with John Caruso that everyone is irreplaceable--in a certain way. One of my favorite religious ideas is in the Talmud (I think). "Whoever saves a single soul, saves a universe. Whoever destroys a single soul, destroys a universe." Lawrence Wechsler once wrote a good book called A Miracle, A Universe based on that teaching about a remarkable project by the Brazilian Catholic Church to document the military's torture in that country after the 1964 coup organized by our CIA. The book is very worth reading, because the Names Project (as it was called) is one of the most remarkable and inspiring cooperative efforts of defiance I have ever heard of. I learned of it in a book, but I doubt that many people did. Books are great. I love books. And Zinn's and Chomsky's books are good and I have read many.

But books just aren't reaching enough people these days. So God bless those inspired film-makers and musicians who can reach people in ways that make people better. People don't really need to know what happened in 1775 or 1864 or 1914 if that doesn't interest them. But they--we--do need to be able to see the dignity in everyone, to develop bonds with other people rather than barriers between each other, and to work together rather than knock each other down. (That is not the same thing as agreeing about everything.)That's what I think Zinn and Chomsky were working for, and what I gather Tony is working for and probably more than a few other readers here are working for. I can't think of a better tribute or to Howard Zinn, or anything that would be more likely what Zinn would want.

And Donald, I'm glad you have come around to agnosticism on the JFK assassination. Baby steps. :)

Posted by N E at January 30, 2010 04:32 PM

For those interested in someone who has recently done some similar work to Howard Zinn, check out this excellent interview of Ronald Wright about his book What is America?, and this lecture as well.

Like Howard Zinn, Ronald Wright does some excellent and empirical dismantling of the mythologized, whitewashed history and ideology of the American state. More importantly though, he is trying to do something that others haven't done as yet, which is to point out how the current American economic and political model grew out of a very specific and fortuious history (not for everyone of course) beginning 500 years ago and that those models and worldview no longer apply to today's world.

(continued below)

Posted by hv at January 30, 2010 05:57 PM

(continued from above)

As Ronald Wright argues in his book, American culture is a deeply militarized and colonial/imperial culture where slaughter and oppression of the weak and the "darkies" are justified in many different ways, and one that is based on insane notions of endless expansionanism that all metastized out of the history of the American state, consisting of American pioneers stumbling onto a treasure-trove consisting of a huge continent with a temperate climate and precious metals, the subsequent slaughter and genocide of inhabitants in the New World to take over the continent, the subsequent need to rationalize and justify that genocide and slaughter, and the continuous 300 year old war zone that was the frontier expansion. This history has shaped American culture and the ideology of the American state, a model and worldview that are no longer sustainable in the reality of today's world, and in fact, are extremely harmful and violent. To quote from this review:

Wright’s purpose in the book, however, is not merely to set the record straight by exposing the Hollywood-fuelled “cowboys and Indians” story that papers over the assault on North America’s native peoples. He also wants to show how the main themes of this frontier myth—raw individualism and perpetual growth—resound today in the market-obsessed social model that the U.S. exports to the rest of the world under the banner of globalization. It is, Wright says, a model built for a long-lost era.

“Ultimately, the reason I go back 500 years to explain the United States is that American culture is a deeply colonial culture,” he tells the Straight. “These are all colonial attitudes, of endless expansion, oppression of the weak defined and justified in different ways, and that the world is limitless, so it doesn’t matter if there are people starving now—soon they’ll be rich and everything will be fine.…When those ideas were first formulated, the world’s population was only a quarter of what it is now, the economy was only about a 50th of what it is now, and of course there was room for a great deal of economic expansion without worrying about running out of stuff or polluting the environment.…That’s what I mean when I say that a lot of the driving ideas in this so-called modern country, America—and that America has sold to the rest of the world—are actually very old-fashioned ideas. They’re archaic—they’re out of step with the modern world. And that’s what’s so dangerous about them.”

As What Is America? suggests, the fact that these ideas survive shows how deeply we’re committed to searching out our own jackpot in the global market. But as long as we ignore the costs of ruthless expansion described in Wright’s book—the forced labour, the shattered cultures, the countless lives cut short—we allow ourselves to neglect the human price of our own ever-growing appetites. The frontier is closed. We’ve run out of room for history’s mistakes.

Posted by hv at January 30, 2010 05:58 PM

N E, I am happy. Do you have a point?

My complaint is not that you "disrespect" Chomsky; respect is a rather empty word, like "love." All your protestations of respect founder on what you actually do, which is to say things about these people, and others, that aren't true, in a predictably misleading way. For example:

"Books are great. I love books. And Zinn's and Chomsky's books are good and I have read many. But books just aren't reaching enough people these days. So God bless those inspired film-makers and musicians who can reach people in ways that make people better."

This sounds so nice. How could anyone think you don't respect Zinn or Chomsky? But neither Zinn nor Chomsky limited himself to writing books. Both were involved in many activities, and I guess Zinn was more of an activist than Chomsky. I know less about him than I know about Chomsky. But Chomsky not only corresponds with many people at an exhausting rate, he spends a sizable amount of time traveling around speaking -- an amazing schedule for an 80-year-old, and he's been doing it for decades now. Nor does he limit himself to the US, he goes all over the world. He's known to ordinary people in many countries, who love and respect him. So, while you try to put a nice face on it, you are trying to diminish Zinn's and Chomsky's achievements by pretending that all they did was write books. They didn't; they did much more. So cut it out, okay?

You go on to write that "People don't really need to know what happened in 1775 or 1864 or 1914 if that doesn't interest them." I'd agree with as far as it goes, but in fact 1) Zinn's People's History is immensely popular, read by many people who probably don't read much other history; and 2) neither Chomsky nor Zinn write, or speak, only about the distant past -- Zinn addressed current events constantly, and so does Chomsky. (I could add 3], the same misrepresentation was made by the Truthers at Chris Floyd's blog last summer. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence.) So once again your protestations of "respect" for Chomsky and Zinn ring false, because you are saying things that aren't true, meant to diminish their achievement and their continued relevance. You have shown yourself to be a reliable source of misinformation on many matters. It doesn't matter how sincere or respectful you are. Stop it. Right now.

As I've said before, your distortions show a pattern, which is basically to try to diminish activists and dissidents while making excuses for the powerful. No doubt you aren't aware of this. But the pattern is there; others have noticed it.

I'm not sure anyone has mentioned or linked to this already, but Democracy Now! did a nice tribute to Zinn. It supports what I've been saying here, drawing on people who knew and worked with him.

Posted by Duncan at January 30, 2010 06:43 PM

Thanks to both Duncan and hv for your comments—I've enjoyed reading them. Great points all around.

F.H. wrote about Chomsky: His work in linguistics was absolutely revolutionary, and had far-reaching effects on philosophy, sociology, etc.

And the Chomsky hierarchy is one of the underpinnings of formal languages and computational theory in computer science; he's as much a giant in that field as he is in linguistics. Chomsky is one of the greatest minds of our time, and to say that he isn't irreplaceable in any sense of the word is simply ignorant.

We're just incredibly fortunate that he's also tirelessly committed to fighting the bullies of the world, and that he's chosen to dedicate so much of his time and formidable intellect to the task.

Posted by John Caruso at January 30, 2010 10:06 PM

hv

I'm not very familiar with Wright, but that information is fascinating. Thanks.

Duncan

There are real evildoers in the world, and though you and your current admirer John Caruso may not be able to tell them apart from people who have the nerve to disagree with you even partially, the difference couldn't be more real or important. You're pretty thin-skinned for someone so quick to snark. Howard Zinn sounds like he was a great person, and I certainly haven't diminished him, and he doesn't need you to defend his honor anyway. What you're saying hasn't been about him at all--it's all been about you. That doesn't seem so happy to me.

In the 80s, I noticed some good people who couldn't get along with some other good people even though they were all opposing truly evil people. Meanwhile lots of people got killed in that little Central American counterinsurgency that there is now another post about. Maybe the effort to stop that was doomed anyway, just as maybe the opposition to the war in Iraq was doomed anyway, but the lack of discipline and cooperation of those trying to prevent it couldn't have helped. The left isn't so strong in those areas, and those on the left seem to me to be quick to become at odds with each other and ineffective, which also makes them very easy to manipulate and subvert. There's a reason that people like Karl Rove openly laugh at the so-called "anti-war movement". And the refusal to admit that strategies and ideas haven't gotten results is catastrophic. Neither Noam Chomsky nor Howard Zinn are diminished one iota by someone disagreeing with them or suggesting that their ideas haven't succeeded. The goal is making the world better, and the purpose of debate and exchange of ideas is to figure out how to do that. You seem more interested in bitching about my rotten opinions.

I will confess, to your delight no doubt, that I didn't do nearly enough to stop what was happening in Central America back in the 80s. I was young and busy trying to survive some mistakes of my own, so I didn't do enough. I'm not siting in judgment on Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn from the lofty heights of moral superiority. They are admirable people whom I admire whether you think so or not, and frankly you don't get to be the arbiter of that, even if you really would like that job. Caruso seems especially eager for that sort of role too, and he likes to toss around words like ignorance and argue with phantoms about Chomsky's genius as a linguist, but frankly, that wasn't what I said, which makes his calling what I didn't say ignorant rather ironic. Then again, even geniuses are replaceable, which I think Chomsky and Zinn would each agree with, so I don't really even know what his point was about the remark I didn't make other than that it was an opportunity to snark and pile on, which he just couldn't resist. There isn't anyone but you guys keeping score of all these great zingers, so if that's your goal, have fun. Karl Rove will just keep laughing his ass off, but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you really got in a good one.

Posted by N E at January 30, 2010 11:53 PM

Dear Peoples:

It would be nice if, in comments about Howard Zinn, we could do him the courtesy of following his example and not being snippy with each other.

thank you,
Blugmom

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at January 31, 2010 12:18 AM

Blugmom

My apologies.

--your prodigal, wayward Blugson (the one who gets the other kids all riled up and then acts like he didn't do anything)

Posted by N E at January 31, 2010 09:51 AM

"Thanks to Zinn and Chomsky, more opponents of liberal imperial thinking are also being formed."

And thanks also to Dennis Perrin, Jonathan Schwarz, John Caruso, Eli Stephens, Arthur Silber, As'ad AbuKhalil, William Blum, John Pilger, and Mišo Alkalaj (my most influential political mentor in Slovenia), among others. Somebody already mentioned Chris Hedges. I would add Andrew Bacevich. And Ivan Eland. Robert Fisk. Phyllis Bennis. Mark Weisbrot. Craig Murray.

Writers/thinkers/critics I used to respect, like Norman Solomon and Brady Kiesling, have unfortunately lost credibility as a result of their enthusiastic backing of candidate/president Obama. Ditto Michael Moore.

Posted by Jean at January 31, 2010 12:44 PM

I found more common ground between Zinn and Chomsky. I.e. levelheadedness. Zinn may come off as more compassionate, but he ain't short on facts. People's History is a factory of facts that were never revealed to me in the same way. Zinn was humane without the creepy, pollyannish romanticism of the flower child. That's what appreciated to most about him.

Posted by Paul Avery at January 31, 2010 01:17 PM

Wendell Berry.

Posted by Oarwell at January 31, 2010 02:41 PM

Also

Gore Vidal. His essays on the National Security State, collected in 'United States,' are incredibly prescient.

Mike Parenti. Ed Herman. Bill Kaufmann. Justin Raimondo. Laurence Vance. Ted Rall. Tom Tomorrow. Kevin Phillips.

And my hero, no longer trapped in the Black Iron Prison: Edward Abbey. A singular curmudgeon, a uniquely American rebel voice. 'Desert Solitaire' and 'Monkey Wrench Gang' classics. (RIP 1989)

Posted by Oarwell at January 31, 2010 02:57 PM

Power exercised this way is actually weakness disguised as strength.

Posted by Leon Benjamin at January 31, 2010 04:16 PM

Oarwell

You score two grazzis from me. I haven't read Wendell Berry, but from his wikipedia entry I certainly hope to. And I haven't read bill kaufmann, but I most definitely will very soon, because anyone praised very highly by andrew bacevich and george mcgovern must be worth reading. I agree about Parenti and Kevin Phillips, and I can't think of a better essayist than Vidal.

Posted by N E at January 31, 2010 05:56 PM

NE--

On JFK, I've actually been on a seesaw about that for a long time, though I have leaned towards Noam's dismissive attitude towards the whole thing. I'm never more sympathetic to your view of it than when I read some NYT writer raving about a Bugliosi book--similarly, I'm more prone to the "Oswald acted alone" theory when I read someone who seems to know for sure that group X did it. So you tend to see me reacting to your view rather than the actual muddle that represents my true feelings on the subject.

On Noam--okay, fair enough.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 31, 2010 06:56 PM

Donald Johnson

Though not religious, I am a firm believer that only something like the Holy Ghost changes people's opinions about such things. (Don't ask me how it's like the Holy Ghost.) I didn't even think much about these things for many years. I don't hold people opinions on these questions against them, even if I do sometimes get irritated by what I consider to be uninformed blather about certain Presidents even when it comes from people whom I sense are pretty decent folks.

I was just teasing you for professing agnosticism about who killed JFK. You don't have to argue about that with me or defend your views. I don't talk about those issues with most people when not commenting here, and though it may be hard to believe, I don't need to. I even think there's truth in the argument that belief in conspiracies is corrosive to the body politic. It is. But what's really corrosive is the concealment of state crimes, which, regrettably, is common.

Posted by N E at February 1, 2010 03:26 AM

Been reading these with great interest and relish, thanks to everybody.

I'm a great admirer of Howard Zinn's work, though the revelatory reaction it elicits has always puzzled me. Much of People's History was hardly "hidden"--one just had to view the consensus historical narrative with a reasonable degree of skepticism, note how the people around you acted, read the paper, have a library card, and WANT to know. Of course it's tremendously useful that Zinn wrote it, and so well; and to the degree that his work has inspired skepticism and further investigations, I believe it to be an unalloyed good. And there's not much I can say that about.

For me, the work of Zinn or Chomsky is useful to the degree that it resonates with my own lived experience, and helps me make sense of the world I know. So it isn't essential, only somewhat helpful. There is no disrespect implied in this; it is simply a fact. And of course the usefulness of Zinn or Chomsky's work to me, is completely separate from their intent (which I think we can agree is truly laudable) and their personal behavior and character (ditto), not to mention their usefulness to any of you.

Donald J., I personally have a beef with Chomsky over JFK's assassination because he's wrong about it. To the degree he addresses it, he says it doesn't matter; and that's simply wrong. It matters for precisely the same reason that People's History matters. Because a lot of people trust Chomsky's judgment implicitly, a lot of people who could've helped correct our historical record in a tremendously powerful way have lined up instead with the forces of doctrinally motivated not-knowing. And this is PRECISELY the kind of attitude that Zinn was fighting against with People's History. One cannot laud Zinn on the one hand, and accept the Warren Commission on the other, without exposing a crippling bias.

You may be agnostic, and there's been an awful lot of time and money spent to make the case seem complicated, but the forensic and ballistic evidence--not to mention a mountain of circumstantial evidence, AND a rapidly clarifying picture via FOIA and ARRB files--all this says Chomsky is wrong on JFK.

This doesn't make Chomsky a bad guy, nor does it invalidate all the stuff he's right on, or his other good works, or his intent. What it does say is that he's fallible, and that he, like the rest of us, feels social pressures as to what is acceptable thought and what is not, and fits reality to his mental map. Protestations of "genius" aside, Chomsky is just a person.

Nobody comes in for as much praise, as constantly, on this site, as Chomsky. Which is fine; all ATR is, is fantasy football for smart people. But fandom is not, in my experience, a path to wisdom.

Without pulling a Duncan--demanding "Stop it. Now." seems a rather ironic rhetorical device in a thread that started out to be about bullies--maybe the way to honor people like Zinn or Chomsky would be to ponder the degree to which some folks feel it necessary to exchange one authority figure for another. I have no beef with Zinn, but I don't consider his work to be carved on tablets; I do have a beef with Chomsky which I've explained; and this little beef has taught me something hugely important: one follows leaders--even MIT-tenured geniuses!-- at one's own risk. And the relative size of my beef with Chomsky has everything to do with ME, my psychology and history, and very little to do with him.

Admiring iconoclasts is a difficult thing. What Zinn did and wrote and what Chomsky does and writes, is inextricably linked to their own lives and who they are. Each of us must undergo this same process of feeling life, and being taught by experience, and no theory or book of history--regardless of how wise or well-intentioned the writer--is going to get us there. Knowing Zinn and Chomsky seems like a real help; but idolizing them seems to me to be progress AWAY from wisdom, not towards it.

That's how it looks to me; if you can get there through them, God bless. I can't, at least not today.

Posted by Mike of Angle at February 1, 2010 02:53 PM

Mike: ...idolizing them seems to me to be progress AWAY from wisdom, not towards it.

Idolizing anyone is a mistake, of course, but a standard tactic of Chomsky-bashers is to characterize any mention of him as idolization or worship. It's a textbook ad hominem, and a straw man to boot. And though I'm not at all saying you're one of those people, I'm disappointed to see you echoing their words. I've never known anyone who "idolized" Chomsky as an infallible "leader" who needed to be "followed"; rather, he's respected and valued because he's spent half a century emphasizing the critical values of thinking for yourself and following the evidence rather than listening to official narratives (and Chomsky is the first one to tell people not to take his word for it). You're certainly entitled to have an entire side of beef with him, but that doesn't mean that people who don't are mindless robots programmed by their svengali.

By the same token, I've never seen anyone who treated Zinn's work as though it was "carved on tablets". And what I've seen in this particular thread is just immense and well-deserved respect for a man who dedicated his life to fighting for things that matter and bringing attention to areas that are otherwise ignored, and whose death is a real loss to us all. I don't see anything wrong with having a thread where we can recognize that and memorialize his extraordinary life as it comes to a close, and I'd gently suggest that maybe that isn't the best place for people to carp at either Zinn or those who are paying tribute to him.

Posted by John Caruso at February 1, 2010 05:07 PM

Caruso:

Mike isn't echoing me, so don't be too disappointed. He is just voicing his opinion, which has a few common elements with mine. And nobody has done any Chomsky-bashing here. Or "carped" at Zinn. That carping has been between us once you joined Duncan, not at Zinn or Chomsky. I have no continuing interest in who started our bickering. I defer to our Blugmom's request that we drop it.

I have just enough confidence to say that Chomsky's opinions about any matter touching on conspiracy are pretty much dumb, which stands in stark contrast to his opinions on other things, including the linguistic genius you wrote about. I have said many times that he is much smarter than I am, more dedicated, more admirable in a host of ways. But his IQ drops noticeably on the subject of conspiracy, which Peter Dale Scott (for whom the same things could be said) explained in part on the clip I linked last week. And on the whole, like Scott, I'm not awed by Chomsky's political analysis. I think it's superficial, and more importantly, it hasn't worked. It has become so non-threatening to the powerful interests in our society that the military considers it harmless and has invited Chomsky to give speeches to cadets. I guess in a way offering that observation is "Chomsky-bashing" in that it does drop him off the very short list of perfect people who have succeeded at everything they tried to do.

But I've also always been clear about saying that Chomsky is a genius, and more importantly, he wants a world where all people are treated as they should be, and he has spent a lifetime working really hard to make it come closer to happening. I think I've made my admiration of that pretty clear. The same can be said of Zinn. Good lord, just that sentence is the highest level of tribute that I could pay anyone. I don't have to agree with Chomsky or Zinn about everything or think that all their opinions are smart, just because somebody else, such as you, says I have to.

If I ever meet Chomsky in a parallel universe or heaven or whatever where I can talk to him honestly about some of his views on topics like 911 or the JFK assassination, I will, because I think I know generally why he decided to stay away from conspiracies forty years ago when JFK and RFK and MLK were murdered by the state, but I would like to hear his explanation from him. The trouble is, he can't share that in this world. (I don't think it was any form of corruption, or even fear.) Others have tried to get him into a dialogue about it, to my knowledge always without success, and I really don't blame him for staying out of that fracas. If I were advising him, I would caution him not to weigh into that, just as he counseled Norman Finkelstein to be careful what path he went down. (Finkelstein didn't follow his advice.) For Chomsky, nothing good would have come of it, and it likely would have made his political activism much more difficult if not impossible. I don't think his choice was selfish. That being said, I hope he apologizes to JFK in the next world too, because he owes him quite an apology, even if his motives were good and honest. JFK and RFK perhaps weren't better than Chomsky (better how?), but they were braver. Sorry if people don't like to hear that, but I doubt I'd ever lose a fair debate about it.

What was going on with Chomsky's views in this area used to really intrigue me, because I wondered why Chomsky would steer clear of any issue involving state power. That doesn't intrigue me as much any more, perhaps because I came to intuit the enormous effect that taking the other path would have had on Chomsky's life and work. That would really have been (and still be) grabbing a tiger by the tail, and he would never have been able to let go. And because I think Chomsky as an activist endorses a view of history that ennobles ordinary people and not powerful men who rule over forces that oppress ordinary people. Maybe he's right that painting a portrait of JFK that makes him a hero would undercut that message. I can understand that view, but it rests on a utilitarian view of truth, even if the cause is just. I don't like that.

Take from that what you will, including nothing at all. My views aren't embellished or concealed. If anyone asks questions, I answer them, typically even when they aren't polite. Often I get the feeling people haven't understood me and just want to rail, and that's probably my fault sometimes. I just do the best I can at explaining myself. But I try not to tell anyone what they want to hear just because they insist on it. I don't like that either.

Posted by N E at February 1, 2010 06:51 PM

Oarwell: Edward Abbey! Hells yeah! Also, dig the P.K.Dick reference.

(the Colorado Plateau is easily my favorite geographical place in the nation)

Posted by Cloud at February 1, 2010 07:35 PM

John, I was not carping at Zinn, or Chomsky, or people who pay tribute to either person. They are worthy of tribute. I was, primarily for my own benefit I guess, explaining my own perspective on them, and where it comes from. I felt that I was actually quite laudatory, save for Chomsky's stance on JFK. If that didn't come through, I apologize.

[Everybody can stop reading at this point, unless they're really interested.]

Most progressives I've known DO have a tendency to idolize Chomsky--as some liberals lionize JFK, or another type of person does John Lennon. Said progressives tend to bristle when I remark upon it, but I don't mean it as a slam. Read back in the thread--Dennis remarks on how he made Noam chuckle a couple of times; it's understood that a laugh from NC is worth more, because, well, he's NOAM CHOMSKY. And I would feel the same way if I made Noam Chomsky laugh. (Maybe I have--Jon?)

The difference is that most progressives I know pretend they're too smart for hero-worship. So they locate their admiration in Chomsky's polymath genius, his accessibility, his courage...Once again, nothing wrong with that; they're attractive traits, just like JFK's charisma, or Lennon's wit. I think it would be bizarre if progressives did not idolize somebody; it's the nature of group affinity. Yes, this kind of admiration is at odds with Chomsky's core values, but that's the wages of fame. Our point of disagreement seems to be that you don't consider Chomsky to be the second-most idolized man on this site, and I do. I wrote a mostly laudatory post about him, and you felt the need to defend--not his position on the JFK assassination, which is what I take issue with--but the propriety of "carping," as if I was diminishing him. I wasn't--save in the context of the JFK assassination, which is really the only arena in which my opinion on Chomsky has any validity. I'm simply not well-read enough to express an opinion, save on the very negative effect Chomsky's pro-Warren Commission stance has had.

You wrote:
"following the evidence rather than listening to official narratives..."
Yes, precisely. And in the instance of the JFK assassination, Chomsky has chosen NOT to follow the evidence, and has chosen to listen to official narratives. Why? I have no idea. Chomsky is factually wrong on the assassination, and the only way that this is even remotely defensible in 2010 is to assert that "it doesn't matter." Well, I would say it DOES matter, for two reasons:
a) saying the JFK assassination doesn't matter weakens people's outrage over other political murders that Chomsky and the Left say DO matter, such as Fred Hampton and MLK. Political murder is absolutely wrong, and any other stance smacks of a fundamental cynicism which, while it may read as sophistication with some, robs the opponents of violence of moral force. As King showed, moral force is an essential tool in political change.
b) Year after year, adminstration after administration, the MSM and the USG remain determined to stifle everything but the official version of what happened in November 22nd. Why? I have no idea, but from Vince Bugliosi to Cass Sunnstein, it really, really bugs 'em. One must fight where the battleground is, comfortable or not; and accepting the parameters that the enemy sets ("x is reasonable discourse; but y is wacko conspiracy theory") once again turns this from a simple endeavor imbued with moral force into some weird, theoretical debate.

Once you leave the official narrative, JFK's murder forces you to reevaluate what the hell kind of country we're living in. It suddenly makes sense why the efforts of good, super-smart, insanely dedicated people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky have been ineffective in stopping our slide into straight-up Fascism. Suddenly it makes sense why the Dems are a bunch of self-sabotaging fools; why the GOP is even more blatant in its disregard of anything but corporate power; and why the terrified population seems more and more willing to give up its freedoms. Suddenly you realize what sort of gangsters we're dealing with, and why all the well-reasoned blog posts (and comments), and all the voter registration, and marching, and all the other absolutely noble, thoughtful, patriotic stuff that people do doesn't seem to "take."

I was born in 1969, and every day of my political life has been a slow slide towards Armageddeon. Everybody I know is politically aware and better educated than their grandparents, and less than 10% of them are right-wing wackos. The covert violence--physical and psychological--which manifests in JFK's murder and coverup answers what I believe to be the central question facing the readers of this blog: why the strategies we use are not yielding the country and world we all wish for.

I don't have the answer, but this I do know: A People's History of the US is about correcting the official narrative, no matter how painful or discomfiting that is, so that we can finally be the people we say we are, and make the world we say we want. This is precisely the same motivation of people digging at the assassinations of the Sixties. Future Howard Zinns will no doubt "reveal" this history.

It is, I suspect, too late for Noam Chomsky to find religion regarding JFK; but that wouldn't be the important thing anyway--the important thing would be a clearer perception of the capabilities of the people we face, what's at stake, and how we can turn back the tide. Chomsky's done a great, great deal of good and lived an admirable life, but his lagging in this area is a completely fair criticism, and anybody who can't see this is, to me, indulging in fandom. That doesn't diminish them, or Chomsky himself, but it is my opinion. Everybody's gotta idolize somebody, and Chomsky's a pretty good choice.

Posted by Mike of Angle at February 1, 2010 08:29 PM

There is definitely a real discussion lurking here-and getting to the bottom of it might actually help us advance the kind of politics Howard and Noam were committed to and which have been in retreat for a generation or more-Noam's repeated protestations about "living in a vastly more civilized society" notwithstanding.

It would, of course be tacky and pretentious for me to link to a posting touching on some of these matters.

Apologies.

Comments appreciated in any case.


Posted by John Halle at February 1, 2010 09:39 PM

...you felt the need to defend--not his position on the JFK assassination, which is what I take issue with--but the propriety of "carping," as if I was diminishing him.

Nope, I felt the need to point out that characterizing people as idolatrous fans who blindly follow their leader's proclamations isn't a valid argument, it's (literally) an ad hominem.

And I'd agree that any and all of Chomsky's (and Zinn's, and everyone else's) positions are fair game for criticism. By the same token, I think you should consider that people who disagree with your beliefs might be doing so not because they're just reciting from their leader's "carved tablets", but because they've thought things through rationally and have come to different conclusions than you.

Posted by John Caruso at February 1, 2010 10:03 PM

"John, I was not carping at Zinn, or Chomsky, or people who pay tribute to either person. They are worthy of tribute. I was, primarily for my own benefit I guess, explaining my own perspective on them, and where it comes from."

The problem isn't that you criticized Chomsky regarding JFK, but that you accused others of fandom, idolization, and hero-worship without providing any good evidence.

"Most progressives I've known DO have a tendency to idolize Chomsky--as some liberals lionize JFK, or another type of person does John Lennon."

I don't doubt that a number of progressives idolize Chomsky, but I think "most" is an unprovable exaggeration. Most progressive blogs never mention him and a number of them are outright scornful of him. If anything, he's under acknowledged among progressives. Also, of those who praise him, how do you distinguish between admiration and idolization? And how do you distinguish someone who defends Chomsky because they happen to agree with him on a certain issue and those who defend him because they worship him and can't bear to see him criticized?

"Read back in the thread--Dennis remarks on how he made Noam chuckle a couple of times; it's understood that a laugh from NC is worth more, because, well, he's NOAM CHOMSKY."

One can consider him NOAM CHOMSKY without considering him NOAM CHOMSKY, THE INFALLIBLE. There's a difference between recognizing what makes him great in the eyes of many people and worshiping him. I feel good when I make an attractive woman laugh, it doesn't mean I worship her or take everything she says uncritically.

"The difference is that most progressives I know pretend they're too smart for hero-worship. So they locate their admiration in Chomsky's polymath genius, his accessibility, his courage"

And you know this how? Mind-reading? Furthermore, what exactly is wrong in the first place with locating one's admiration for Chomsky in his "polymath genius, his accessibility, his courage"? Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Posted by hugh at February 1, 2010 10:23 PM

The hero worship charge is impossible to defend against, in part because it's half true in my case, but it's unfair anyway--I've had problems with Chomsky from the moment I started reading him. I defend him against unfair attacks, of which there are a multitude.

I have no interest in getting into this thread in any depth, but I wanted to point out a non-sequitur--

"It has become so non-threatening to the powerful interests in our society that the military considers it harmless and has invited Chomsky to give speeches to cadets."

That's kind of silly, NE. My understanding is that there was a West Point prof who invited him, who obviously admires him. Now Chomsky also thinks the US military is guilty of war crimes--that's probably "threatening" to them to the precise degree they think his views are likely to have an influence on policy. In other words, they're not threatened, not because they think his views are acceptable, but because they don't think anything will come of them. Maybe they read Marx in their history classes too.

As for JFK, it seems to be part of popular culture to think that maybe he was killed by the CIA and certainly popular culture takes for granted that the CIA is constantly involved in all sorts of plots against American citizens. Knowing or believing in such things doesn't seem to have any more impact on our culture than knowing or believing the standard Chomskyite litany of American sins (which consists of a list of all the massacres, tortures, unjust wars, and genocides we've supported). Maybe the problem is that only a significant minority believes that A) JFK was killed by the CIA or B) that the US commonly supports mass murder overseas. Maybe if the number of believers in either A or B exceeded some magic percentage the Revolution would be at our doorstep.

Posted by Donald Johnson at February 1, 2010 11:33 PM

Mike of Angle

(Nobody else needs to read it if they aren't interested.)

Bear in mind that it is one thing for you or me to have an opinion about the JFK assassination, or, more recently, 911. If Chomsky were to take a position on such matters, it would be an enormous and enormously controversial event. Our musings just get a little electronic file at the NSA which might not even be read by anyone unless one of us somehow gets on TV or otherwise gets an audience sometime. Because of his stature, that's not true for Chomsky. His life and work would be swallowed up by an assertion of government responsibility for JFK's assassination or 9/11. He would be pestered and quizzed by a whole different class of person, only some of whom would be working for intel agencies. Many, instead of being hard-working activists like Tony, might be disturbed or unhinged. (Don't be too hard on them, it's disturbing.)

In some ways Chomsky's dilemma reminds me of RFk's dilemma. If RFK had taken a position in 1964 on the assassination, it would have split the Democratic party in two, destroyed JFK's domestic political program, which LBJ had immediately adopted and pushed through, and perhaps delivered the country to Goldwater or Nixon. I rather suspect that JFK and RFK discussed what RFK should do in the event of an assassination, and implicitly if not expressly RFK's instruction must have been to put the country first. That is certainly what JFK would have instructed, because he was brave to the core. That is also suggested by David Talbot's book Brothers, which describes RFK's back-channels messages to Moscow, and implied by the near certainty that JFK and RFK had discussed a coup after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Generals LeMay and Powers among others were openly discussing them as traitors because the JCS had wanted to take the Russians out before they gained ground toward parity with their ICBMs. We know that JFK was aware that the hard-liners in the military might strike against him either through a coup or assassination. He and RFK had talked about Lincoln's assassination, and JFK encouraged the making of Seven Days in May, saying that he could imagine a coup, though not at that time. (By the way, why the hell is Robert Gates watching Seven Days in May while flying back from Pakistan? http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175198/)


So the question that Jim Garrison couldn't understand, and that some of his admirers haven't seemed to fully grasp, had an answer: RFK knew that JFK wanted him to put politics first (in a good way), even if that meant not bringing his killers to justice. That must not have been an easy decision for RFK, who was one of the scrappiest men who ever lived. But that's what he did, because the stakes were high, including not just his brother's legacy, but also the very real possibility of nuclear war, which had more than a few proponents in Pentagon circles. For RFK, the truth had to take a backseat. I can understand that.

In that regard, Chomsky faces the same dilemma. If he were to talk about 9/11, or even the JFK assassination, he might not ever get to talk about anything else, including the issues that he has devoted his life to out of sincere conviction. Not because he would be killed, but because that's all he would get asked about. He would get dragged into the endless, pointless arguments that he obviously considers a huge waste of time, perhaps for reasons similar to Donald Johnson's, to talk about something that he doesn't even want to spend his time on. He wouldn't have any choice after that. And for what? Would his opinion change anything? I certainly don't think so, except that it might undermine or even negate his political work. That's what I mean by his being a utilitarian view of truth. I don't like that, because I like truth. Or I think I do anyway. And yet I have to admit that I find that utilitarian view of truth more excusable from RFK than from Chomsky, so in that regard I have some sort of bias creeping into my thought. Maybe because I've lost a well-loved brother too, as RFK did, and if he had been murdered, it would have been hard for me to hold myself back. RFK was tougher than I am, even if not quite so big, so I know how hard it must have been for him to do what he did. I respect that a great deal.

People lie all the time, to themselves and to others, and people who act as if lying is shocking are the biggest liars of all. The only question I have is why people lie, and for what reasons. Chomsky doesn't want anything to do with conspiracies, and I don't blame him for that. But he gets asked about it anyway, so he quickly says something stupid to make the topic go away. He almost has to do that. It is forced on him. But what he has said is jarringly stupid coming from him, so it made me take a double-take the first time I heard it. It was just so far beneath the power of his mind. But it's all he can do. People pester him to say something, and if he were to say something equivocal, they would pester him more. And he can't really even explain why he doesn't want to get into it, because that would invite questions too. So he gets in and out of it as quickly as he can, and his opinions lack their usual power.

That being said, I don't think Chomsky is a great historian. He points out a lot that is crucial, but I think his political activism leads him to mistakes as a historian, like that lamentable and completely wrong book about Camelot. But not only that book. When I first began studying Wilson and the events of his time, I had been predisposed toward Chomsky's very negative view of Wilson by Walter Karp and Chomsky. I trusted each of them, but the more I learned the less I agreed with them. And the thing is, when I held the view of Wilson promoted by Karp and Chomsky, my views in general were far more traditional and less heretical than my present views. I don't think Chomsky's view is all that heretical or dangerous. I think the general viewpoint of Chomsky (and Karp) ducks most of the difficult questions by assuming what Tony described in an earlier thread, that men who rise to the top of powerful institutions have internalized their values. When it comes to the Presidency, that is not my impression. In my view, it's a pat answer that avoids having to look further and think harder.

And we need to look further and think harder, because we're headed for trouble. A storm is brewing, year by year, and when it finally arrives it will make Katrina look like a refreshing spring shower. Maybe I'll be dead by then, but you know, the kids. And not just mine either.

Posted by N E at February 1, 2010 11:56 PM

Donald Johnson

I meant that Chomsky's views aren't "threatening" to the military in precisely the way you identified--they know nothing will come of it.

I don't think we'll ever get a revolution just because the public holds certain opinions of any kind. Certainly the public knows we engage in extreme violence abroad. But they accept it as justified or beyond their control. Most people trust the military. And since they get presented with almost a complete fantasy about what actually happens abroad, that shouldn't be all that surprising.

If most people were actually convinced that elements of the US government murdered a few thousand American citizens, that might shake things up. Most people don't even consider that a possibility worth thinking about. They dismiss it out of hand. It is just inconceivable to them, even moreso than it is to you, and I think it's pretty inconceivable to you. (Not that it could happen, mind you, but that it could happen and be gotten away with.)

I can't predict whether anything revolutionary would happen if most people believed that. I tend to think we'd just get no more limited and flawed democracy but instead some form of protracted martial law. But I'm guessing. Maybe we'd have a green revolution, but I find it hard to imagine.

Posted by N E at February 2, 2010 12:20 AM

John wrote:
"By the same token, I think you should consider that people who disagree with your beliefs might be doing so not because they're just reciting from their leader's "carved tablets", but because they've thought things through rationally and have come to different conclusions than you."

Oh, absolutely. That's absolutely possible--in fact in most cases I'd say it's likely, because there are very few topics that I consider myself well-read enough on to come to concrete conclusions. (That's why all my comments are about the same stuff; don't think I haven't noticed, I'm just as bored as you are.) However, as I keep saying, my beef with Chomsky is specifically his attitude towards the JFK assassination. The American left has never stepped up on this issue, and I think that's bullshit. Maybe you're okay with it, but I'm not; I think it hurts them and hurts all of us, and I've told you why.

Reasonable people may differ, but after literally 30 years of talking with people about it--when people express support of the "Oswald acted alone" theory, I know they have not "thought things through rationally." Some set of "carved tablets"--be it Gerald Posner, or some goofy Discovery Channel doc, or The New York Times, or The Nation or a need to believe in the USG, or even the opinion of Noam Chomsky--some authority has been substituted for a good faith examination of the evidence. I know this because there's a LOT of it, and the hard stuff, ballistics and forensics, only leads to one conclusion: what the Warren Commission said happened, didn't, and there was a coverup. A modicum of research in any one of several directions rapidly leads to this conclusion (an hour, tops), and it is getting more obvious with each new gout of released files.

You may not believe me (please don't), or may not care (though I think that's a mistake for reasons explained earlier). But knowing what I know, I feel absolutely justified in my belief that lone nuttism/"who cares" is not just diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, but wrong. Chomsky's wrong on JFK, period, and I've told you why I think so. Saying he's right about lots of other things, or that he's a genius, or that he's a tenured MIT professor, or that he's a nice guy, or that I'm somehow slurring progessives by suggesting that they idolize this 99.9995% admirable guy (imagine that!)--all things that have been trotted out on this thread--none of that changes the fact that, on JFK, Chomsky's wrong. I wish he weren't. It doesn't please me or profit me. But the evidence says what it says, and there's more of it every year. By all means go investigate it yourself; perhaps someday you can explain to me Chomsky's position, as someone who has surely read more by and about him than I have. I don't get it, and think that anybody who agrees with him on this issue is deeply foolish, but since I am a kind-hearted man, I call them "fanboys" and not "fools."

Hugh writes:
"I don't doubt that a number of progressives idolize Chomsky, but I think "most" is an unprovable exaggeration."

What I wrote was 'most progressives I've known,' and while that might annoy you, that has indeed been my experience. And your and John's postings suggest a level of attachment to Mr. Chomsky's image and reputation that--well, let's just say I've seen it on rec.beatles.moderated. Before everybody flips out: I'm not saying this invalidates him; I'm not saying that his fans are unthinking zombies. I am saying that, as this thread makes clear, people defend the shit out of Noam Chomsky, even when--as in the case of JFK--he's clearly wrong from a logical, evidence-based standpoint. "Why" I leave up to you; I'm frankly tired of talking about it.

My experience has been that Noam Chomsky, and to a lesser extent, Howard Zinn, have robust cults of personality. Your experience may differ. My contention is that Chomsky's "who cares?" stance on JFK has encouraged people who would otherwise be front-and-center in the effort to find out the truth to concentrate on other things instead. Things that I, personally, think less seminal.

And with that I say g'night from Santa Monica, and sayonara to this thread, because this isn't helping anybody progress, least of all me.

Posted by Mike of Angle at February 2, 2010 01:28 AM

Mike,

This isn't about JFK, which I've never looked into. The problem is that you unfairly accused people of being Chomsky worshipers and then act as if everyone's just taking offense at your JFK comments, which isn't true.

"And your and John's postings suggest a level of attachment to Mr. Chomsky's image and reputation that--well, let's just say I've seen it on rec.beatles.moderated"

Very classy way to make a point, Mike. One could also say that you have an "unhealthy attachment" to seeing people who disagree with you as Chomsky worshippers and fanboys. Or perhaps an "unhealthy attachment" to forcing discussion of the JFK assassination by inserting it into the conversation despite the fact that it's irrelevant to what others are taking issue with.


Posted by hugh at February 2, 2010 03:03 AM

Hugh, Mike of Angle, and anyone interested:

Donald Johnson inserted the topic, not Mike, and he did it to speculate about my supposed dislike of Chomsky, which doesn't exist. I like and admire Chomsky and his work, though I wouldn't rank him as my favorite thinker even though he is pretty amazingly smart and productive and dedicated.

The subject isn't quite irrelevant, though I do hope the spirit of Howard Zinn can excuse the thread ending up on the topic of Chomsky and JFK. Make no mistake, Howard Zinn seemed to have a great spirit. I wish I had known him, and I share JS's high opinion of him. His People's History was a really important book, even though I think Vidal was right that the age of books has passed. (Maybe Vidal said novels, but the points is very similar. When somebody can make the People's History into a video game that can be played on an Xbox or Wii or whatever the latest system is, the future will be safe.)

I agree with Mike that the position of "the left" on the jfk assassination and state crimes in general has been and is a whopping big problem. That seems like an obvious conclusion to me because of the enormous investment made by Langley and its corporate sponsors in the longstanding coverups and ongoing effort to marginalize anyone who tries to get people to seriously consider that not all "conspiracy theories" are crazy. The evildoers obviously take suppressing the truth pretty damn seriously, enough so that anyone with unobstructed neural pathways and no monetary incentives one way or another should have a "hmmm, I wonder. . ." moment pretty quickly. But people are busy and there are lots of reasons not to get into that and . . .

Mike is a lot smarter than I am if he thinks an hour will suffice to understand the JFK assassination. I spent a lot more than an hour (or a week) to become confident about my understanding of the JFK assassination, but anyone who looked back through the posts I have put on this site over the past months recommending books would save a mountain of time. I read plenty of dreck before I figured out who to trust and who not to trust and, more importantly, knew enough to understand why some whole books (especially the genre of "the mob did it" ) couldn't satisfactorily answer very basic and fundamental questions. (Even the dreck can be fascinating. I thought the book by LBJ's mistress, Madeleine Brown, was fascinating even if she did tell some whopping lies because she was pissed that LBJ wronged their son.) The assassination isn't any longer an open mystery except as to operational details and identity of shooters and other facts immaterial to understanding its political and historical significance, even if those facts would have been important to criminal convictions.

But really, the most revealing and important information isn't about the assassination, but about the coverup, which still continues even now. That is a testament to what people in power think it would mean if most Americans knew that militarists in the CIA and military killed JFK. That's what tells us so much about our society, government, media, and what is and isn't possible within their structures and systems. Neither our government nor our media work like people are taught or wish to believe. And elites especially don't want to believe the system is as corrupt as it is, because it puts them at the top of a system that is maintained by murder, fraud, and a host of other crimes. Elites uniformly don't like that sort of view of their place in the world. I mean, what a drag! How's a person supposed to have a positive self-image if that's true? And since the culture of narcissism hasn't slowed down lately, the members of our cultural elite value a positive self image. (Is there anything else they uniformly value?)

The failure of "the left" to deal honestly with this hasn't been as big a problem as the Democratic Party's "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" approach to state crimes, even when those crimes involve stolen elections. If the opposition party in a country won't even bitch in an organized and coherent way about the Presidency being stolen from it twice in a row, it's hard to imagine that opposition party ever opposing ANYTHING. And, in fact, the Democratic party hasn't been a real opposition party during my adult life, which started with the orchestrated demise of Jimmy Carter. (Walter Karp did get the gist of what went on there.) That's a position that would be easy to defend in a fair debate too.

The system is a sham, and whether Donald Johnson can believe it or not, all things are consequently possible to those with the cold-blooded, murderous nerve to do them. It's the same world that Machiavelli described centuries ago, just in a different place and time. (Machiavelli actually urged his Prince to commit state crimes needed to enhance his power, advising that few would dare question the majesty of the State, and those who did would be powerless against it. He was a perceptive man.) No social or governmental institutions exist to prevent serious criminal abuses of power by the state, and all of our institutions are corrupt in the sense that they will, as a matter of course, act to protect their own interests and, therefore, by necessary operation, the system as a whole. The more serious the crime, the more certain the coverup. Coverups follow state crimes in our system by operation of principles as irresistable as gravity.

This is just far too big of a problem to be ignored, which is the easy emotional response. In fact, it's the problem that is the barrier of last resort that prevents any other problems from being solved. We can't fix other problems because the National Security State, via its covert operations capabilities and control of the media, subverts all efforts for real change. So we get "Yes we can" change that is doomed from the outset, even if Barack Obama is the well-intentioned guy I think he was and perhaps still is.

Regrettably, there is also a real chicken and egg question. Chomsky and Zinn may well have always been right that creating a better society will be a prerequisite to fixing the National Security State, and that Peter Dale Scott's approach (they share the same goals) just can't work as a matter of politics. Obviously, not many people are fans of Peter Dale Scott. I hadn't even heard of him five years ago. His analysis of society doesn't harmonize neatly with movement politics. The problem is, the approach of Chomsky and Zinn, though better at energizing a crowd and opening people's eyes, definitely hasn't worked. Worse still, their refusal to face this problem has helped enable the apparatus of the National Security State to aggressively and criminally asserts itself into politics, whether through assassination, terrorism, or election fraud. That has to be admitted and understood to be prevented. Whether this sort of covert intervention in our politics happens every five or ten or twenty years doesn't matter, and whether it's always as big and game-changing as 9/11 doesn't matter. It happens when necessary and to the extent neessary, and that's enough. As long as that remains the case, all movements for social and political change will fail, because they are doomed from the outset. Anyone who accepts that as a truth has to face some big questions.

The activist left doesn't want to admit that organizational politics can't succeed to any significant extent any more than elites want to admit that they are at the top of an unjust system, because if the left admits that political change isn't possible within existing structures, that is fundamentally demoralizing and detrimental to their political organizing. It means democratic organizing will go nowhere, because building energy and activism is impossible if people don't believe it can get results. The perception is that it would just drive everyone even more toward fatalism and apathy that serves the interests of the elite. So the left has a utilitarian attitude toward truth too, as nearly all people do most of the time, and the left is biased toward the hopeful position that it can reach enough people to create a real movement for change, from the ground up.

If the left is wrong, and peaceful change is unlikely to work becasue of deep and pervasive corruption, that would leave only revolution as an alternative, which is the most doomed and counter-productive alternative of all. Terrorism or revolutionary violence would hand even greater power to the authoritarian structures of the National Security State. Things would get very ugly very fast. Which is why such incidents ultimately might be staged to justify a crackdown, should real change ever appear imminent. (That was the response of the National Security State at the end of World War One, and again in the Sixties and early Seventies, and it is easy to imagine it happening again on a grander scale.) That's another reason that people on the left don't want to accept that our politics are rigged.

That is not a rosy picture, which is why this crappy system has been cruising along without disruption by real change for so many decades.
When the real brains of the left--the budding Zinns and Chomskys who are making their way into adulthood now--recognize this sorry state of affairs, they may begin to try to answer the crucial question that has to be answered: What is to be done? Is there an alternative better than Fight Club? How are we going to stop this Insanity Train before we destroy the earth's climate, start WWIII with the Shanghai powers, and/or push our political system into Beckian fascism? Somebody needs a more promising solution than waiting for Neo to appear. And if the great minds of the budding future come up with a plan, people are going to need to work, and work hard, to fix this.

These look to me to be the pressing questions of the day, and if they aren't answered with discipline and intelligence, we're screwed.
Can it be done? Hell if I know. But it's better to try and fail than just give up. The left needs new strategies, because the world has changed a lot in the last few decades. I don't see how anyone can say that Zinn or Chomsky laid out a workable roadmap to a better world, because they are old now and the world hasn't followed their fine example. But only new stragies are needed. The ideals that "the left" embraces should remain the same---liberty, fraternity, and equality will be the bedrock of any decent society (EVERYONE should read The Spirit Level).

So some very smart young people need to recognize the reality of the systems and structures of power in our existing society and think long and hard about how to make real change possible so that we can one day have a society in which people live freely, sharing more equally and without bitterness in the benefits of cooperation and community instead of fighting like pirates to get as much for ourselves as possible, each person for himself, doing violence at home and abroad to those who get in our way. Even the rich would probably be happier, though they might not have as much stuff, because ultimately this race to have the most and the best and the newest of everything is empty, even if it is a consuming, insatiable emptiness.

Both Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky would be thrilled for a world of liberty, equality, and fraternity to come to pass, even if they don't agree about the best way to get there. And I'm sure that neither of them would want a reflex devotion to their views to stand in the way. Neither of them has struck me as afraid of ideas, or afraid of being wrong, or afraid in general. And neither of them strikes me as having a need for everyone to sing his praises. That's coming from somewhere else, and it just gets in the way of what they'd actually want.

Posted by N E at February 2, 2010 11:57 AM

"And elites especially don't want to believe the system is as corrupt as it is, because it puts them at the top of a system that is maintained by murder, fraud, and a host of other crimes"

When you say "murder" here, you are in the context of JFK's assassination. But very clearly even if we accept your JFK theory, mostly the system is maintained pretty well without murder.

The rule is more important than the exception -- even if you are right about the exception.

"Worse still, [Chomsky's and Zinn's] refusal to face this problem has helped enable the apparatus of the National Security State to aggressively and criminally asserts itself into politics, whether through assassination, terrorism, or election fraud. That has to be admitted..."

Some might say instead that rather than requiring admission, what is required is evidence. What evidence would you suggest demonstrates that the "failure" of Chomsky and Zinn to address JFK assassination theory has had the result you claim?

Frankly, in the terms you put it there, your theory of what Zinn and Chomsky ought to have been doing and the outcome of their failure to do it seems absolutely ludicrous.

And, oh holy f@ck?! 9/11 as well???!?!

Yeah, no matter what your theories are, N E and M of A, (and really, no matter whether your theories are even correct), your claim that a smarter left would be pounding a "the really-bad government insiders did it to thwart the not-as-bad government insiders" theme really strains credulity.

Posted by Earth at February 2, 2010 01:37 PM

Mike, I haven't said a word about Chomsky's position on JFK (or anything else) or JFK more generally, because none of that has anything to do with my point. And I was blazingly clear about my actual point. I know you're a smart guy and so it's hard to believe that you can't understand the plain words on the page—but it seems pretty clear by now that when Chomsky comes up (and especially Chomsky + JFK), all you're capable of seeing are slavering myrmidons defending their god-king from blasphemy, regardless of what's actually being said. Which is a shame, since it makes it impossible to have a worthwhile conversation with you on the subject.

I'd just be repeating myself if I responded further and hugh has already said it better than I have anyway, so I'll leave it there.

Posted by John Caruso at February 2, 2010 01:46 PM

John Caruso

That's always how my teenage daughter tries to have the last word too, and I always respond this way. (Probably even when she isn't talking to me, because these things seem to be inherited.)

'Slavering myrmidons' is really pretty cool language, but I didn't hear Mike call anyone that. Oh well.

Posted by N E at February 2, 2010 02:48 PM

Just came back to say--

Stop calling people "fanboys", Mike of Angle. Hugh is right about that--it's damned irritating, especially when you don't know one freaking thing about the person's actual attitude towards the alleged recipient of his undying devotion. You can call me that on Noam if you like--it's a stupid, insulting phrase to describe my attitude towards him, which is critical in some areas (I for one would not particularly want to debate the guy, as I don't think he debates fairly and I can give a list of other things I don't like about him), but I did read everything he wrote on politics (and one or two books on linguistics) for about 15 years, so it's not totally inaccurate. But you also brought out that insult last summer when I just mentioned Kucinich as a hypothetical example of a genuinely decent person in the White House--as it happens, I like Kucinich, but pay very little attention to him. So in that case it was simply a stupid thing to say. Evidently it's part of your all purpose critique of some parts of the left and you employ the phrase when the opportunity presents, whether or not there's any reason to believe it's applicable.

Posted by Donald Johnson at February 2, 2010 03:04 PM

Earth

Your first question:

I'll give it a shot, but it's well beyond the scope of this thread, and not the subject of this site (or many others), but murder by state actors isn't confined to assassinations. Though I am not going to wade into 9/11 here, that is the biggest example, but it is by no means unique except as to scale. (Just read the theologian David Ray Griffin on 9/11 if you have questions. If your mind is already made up, that's what it is.)

The military in various places, including US allies and satellites or proxies, is willing to inflict civilian casualties when considered necesssary. Everybody knows that, including Chomsky. The question is whether the US murders American citizens when necessary. Then again, you might ask yourself, why would that be different?

For examples:

See Nato's Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (Frank Cass, 2005) by Daniel Ganser, forward by John Prados, and warm thanks by the author to Noam Chomsky among others.

Or see Puppet Masters, The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy, with information on Licio Gelli and P2, the Moro kidnapping, and the Bologna bombing among other topics.

Or see the Yankee Cowboy War by Carl Oglesby and in particular the chapter relating to the explosion that blew up the plane on which Dorothy Hunt (wife of infamous CIA agent E.Howard Hunt) was a passenger. To quote Time Magazine in 1974 quoting Chuck Colson: "'I don't say this to my people. They'd think I'm nuts. I think they killed Dorothy Hunt.' He was referring to the death of E. Howard Hunt's wife in an air crash in 1972. Colson thought that the agency was trying to silence her." http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,943904-2,00.html

Or consider the Murrah building in Oklahoma city. I have no idea if someone at Fort Bragg messed with Tim McVeigh's head while he was undergoing his preliminary Special Forces training, or what happened when McVeigh went to work for a defense contractor named Calspan after that, or when he became friends with a shady CIA character with an Iran-contra background. All I can say is that is all suspicious, and since it is impermissible to consider the possibility of state involvement, that is all anyone can say. Six months before the Murrah Building exploded the intelligence community was under attack and the existence of the CIA was being called into question because of its poor record after the Ames scandal and the end of the Cold War, and within two months of the OK City attack the Clinton Presidency had turned around (per Clinton himself) and Clinton lauded the agency and its importance to protecting America. Look it up--I did. You can get the Washington Post and NY Times online through a library and do word searches, so it isn't that hard to research, if anyone gets curious. But still, no investigation. Ordinary principles of criminology go out the window when state violence might be involved. So all anyone can do is speculate, for which they are dismissed as crazy. Now that's impressive.

There was also the strange coverup of the real cause of the crash of TWA 800 headed for Paris, at a time when the French were pissing off the US and Israel by interfering in the negotiations over Lebanon. The plane crash raised that weird Pierre Salinger disclosure via sudden press conference that the plane had in fact been downed by a missile, a claim from which Salinger later backed off as I recall, though scores of people saw the missile tracks in the night sky, notwithstanding that the FBI kept briefing them that it was an optical illusion. Books have since been published blaming the Iranians for shooting down the plane, which certainly seems to have been shot down by somebody. Of course, I just don't think the Iranians are likely that eager to get themselves annihilated, so I'm always a little suspicious about that sort of claim. Still, whatever happened, that there was a coverup is clear.(See Into the Buzzsaw, Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, foreward by Gore Vidal, edited by Kristina Borjesson, a documentary maker whose film on TWA 800 was suppressed.)

Similarly, if there is anything to the facts presented in the late Alan Francovich's documentary The Maltese Double Cross, some strange coincidences suggest that someone may have blown up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland to prevent a CIA team traveling on the flight from returning to Washington and blowing the whistle on some improper activity. But who knows? It certainly doesn't look like the Libyans did it to me, but once again, we don't get to know. Time Magazine which suggested several theories, including that the plane was blown up to prevent the CIA agents on board from blowing the whistle on covert activity.
http://books.google.com/books?id=und3CaJQqiMC&q=MckEE#v=snippet&q=MckEE&f=false

These events involve murder, and that's just a short list by grabbing a few books and typing what I remember. And, worst of all, I forgot William Blum's favorite complaint about the CIA's sponsoring Luis Posada Carilles, its operative, to blow up a Cuban passenger jet, among other things, in 1997. It really irks Blum that we do this stuff while simultaneously calling everyone else terrorists, so he has in the past called up the Homeland Security hotline to report a terrorist incident and given them the information on Carilles and his location in Miami. (I love Blum, as does Chomsky, who knows all this stuff.)

I believe Carilles is living in Miami these days. This is just my speculative imagination, but in my mind, not to be outdone by Blum's sense of humor, the CIA had its Osama bin Laden videotape double praise Blum's book (rightly hailed by Chomsky as the finest in the field). I got a kick out of that plug by Osama Whoever. Those guys at Langley have a sense of humor too, if they don't kill you before they get to the punch line.

2) Your Second Question:

That wasn't an important point for me, but Chomsky's constant (and I think wise) denial that the government killed JFK or perpetrated 9/11 doesn't help people on the left believe it. But probably anything Chomsky said wouldn't matter anyway and would just become a monumental headache for him. I don't even think Chomsky could convince most people to clear their heads enough to believe that 9/11 was an inside job. That's a little different than the JFK assassination, on which most people are well ahead of Chomsky.

3) Your Third Point:

I can't really tell what it is. A lot of exclamation points. I don't even have a theory of what Zinn and Chomsky ought to have been doing. That's up to them. I was talking about how the "holy f@ck!" people are going to straighten up this mess before the world is destroyed. There may be no easy answer.

Brilliant, brilliant minds do the best they can at the times they live (and I ain't that). Chomsky wasn't the first and won't be the last brilliant mind. If you read Max Horkheimer's foreward to Martin Jay's fabulous book, the Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, you'll see that Horkheimer and his fellow genius colleagues chose communism in the inter-war period because it seemed the most likely force to defeat fascism. The book is worth getting just for Horkheimer's one-page introduction, because he expressed himself in clear terms befitting the caliber of his mind.

Minds presently not fully developed are going to have to come to grips with our present social, political, and historical circumstances to arrive at solutions to the daunting problems presently facing humanity. The solutions Chomsky came to believe in several decades ago will no more succeed today than those Horkheimer and Adorno and their colleague arrived at in the 1920s in Germany. It will have to be something new, and all I was doing was laying out the problems any solution will have to confront.

Your Fourth Point:

What you think about 9/11 is up to you. But you probably aren't reading anyway after my response to your first point. C'est la vie.

Your Fifth Point:

That last comment you made is incomprehensible to me. It doesn't bear any resemblance to anything I have said that I can recognize, so I can't respond. I'm not hypnotizing anyone, so you get to make up your own mind what you think, which I favor. I won't even try to get you worked up into an emotional frenzy so that your judgment becomes clouded.

Posted by N E at February 2, 2010 04:46 PM

N E,
You have some bad habits. The worst is that you spill too much. Seriously, your stuff is getting all over the place here.

The most annoying however, is your propensity to pretend, when called out, to have meant something else than what your words clearly said. You meant murder and the threat of murder as in JFK and 9/11, covert, deniable murder by (in your eyes) the worst, most dangerous state actors to keep the (in your eyes) not-worst state actors (and citizens) in line. Your multi-paragraph, response to my "first question" is not only off-point, but is seriously dodging the point.

If you think "I don't even have a theory of what Zinn and Chomsky ought to have been doing" and "Worse still, [Chomsky's and Zinn's] refusal to face this problem has helped enable the apparatus of the National Security State to aggressively and criminally asserts itself into politics, whether through assassination, terrorism, or election fraud. That has to be admitted..." combine to form something coherent, what is it, please?

Or maybe "Chomsky's constant (and I think wise) denial that the government killed JFK or perpetrated 9/11 doesn't help people on the left believe it. But probably anything Chomsky said wouldn't matter anyway" means you've backed off your ridiculous claim?

Surely, if "Chomsky's constant (and I think wise) denial that the government killed JFK or perpetrated 9/11 doesn't help people on the left believe it." constitutes your best evidence for it, I can see why you'd abandon your claim, reproduced again at the risk of making your foolishness embarrassingly plain: "Worse still, [Chomsky's and Zinn's] refusal to face this problem has helped enable the apparatus of the National Security State to aggressively and criminally asserts itself into politics, whether through assassination, terrorism, or election fraud."

But I suppose I should cut you some slack, because you do say, in the midst of your ramble, "Ordinary principles of criminology go out the window when state violence might be involved. So all anyone can do is speculate, for which they are dismissed as crazy."

As far I can tell, Chomsky doesn't dismiss this admitted speculation as the work of crazies, just time-wasters. On the evidence, he's right about that.

Posted by Earth at February 3, 2010 06:40 AM

Earth (and of course anybody else):

I do spill too much! :) But "seriously" is hard for me to take "seriously" because I was answering your question, and I didn't bring up JFK and Chomsky, somebody else did. Don't ask why any crazy person believes in state murder and then go "your messy reasons are all over the place." Well, yes, they are all over the place, which is a damn unnerving thing, and it seems quite likely to me that I only know the one half of one percent of it.

We have exactly the caliber and quality of government and society you should expect to get if you create unaccountable entities vested with the power to commit covert crimes, turn them lose in a system with no real oversight, create a puppet corporate media, and ostracize anyone who suggests that the state might have committed a terrible crime. Does it surprise you that those entities vested with such covert, unaccountable power might then go forth and commit lots of crimes to serve their purposes? Just why would that surprise you? Yet it does, and such a suggestion shocks nearly everyone, and it would have once made me roll my eyes too. Why? That is "seriously" a very important question.

Hell if I understand what specifically went on in all these events that take place behind the veil of the National Security State, but it seems to me that state murder is a very strong potential explanation for each of the events I mentioned. In some cases objective evidence points strongly in that direction. In each instance there was no meaningful and honest investigation, but instead a coverup of the facts to prevent alternative explanations from having support. That is routine. In fact, it is more than routine--it is what happens without exception. That is how our system works, which almost anyone who studies it concludes, often with some surprise. Several books on the Polk Affair come to mind with regard to the mechanism of how coverups spring into existence without being "planned" in the way you might think, if you don't like reading about the Warren Commission.

I try to ignore ad hominems. (Though something about Caruso gets me bickering. I'll have to see a shrink about that.) If you think I'm a fool, that's ok. I suppose the great fool-judger in the sky will decide that someday, and I'm not even too worried about that. If I'm a fool, I'll have a lot of company in the fool afterlife, and please bear in mind that all of us fools are people too. Nihil humani alienum puto, as old Karl Marx used to say. We human beings, we're stuck with the whole mix, all of it. To the extent I'm able, I don't take things personally on principle. Sure I have just about any fault I can think of, but that's just charm and personality and the like. At my core, I am one with you and all other human beings, even if that does sound like quasi-mystical bullshit. That's what the "fraternity" in liberty, equality, fraternity is about. Fools are people too, and as long as they don't want to kill my other brothers, they can stay at my house any time.

I'm not trying to "prove" anythign in ANY comment, and I certainly wasn't trying to dodge your point. I give sources so that anyone can follow up what they choose to, coming as close to the question as I can, but I certainly could have misunderstood what you were asking. That was my best shot for a comment on state murder, with emphasis on things Chomsky knows. I admire Chomsky for all the reasons I've said, but I have heard him say something to the effect that the government wouldn't do 9/11 because "what if they got caught." For me that was telling, because it was a silly statement which even I with my lower-power brain recognizes as a bad answer, and Chomsky knows better than that. That outlook is inconsistent with the whole of his thought. The state doesn't "get caught." Good Lord, when has that happened? Chomsky doesn't get praised by Blum and Ganser and Christopher Simpson and all sorts of other intellectuals because he doesn't know better than that. So I think you're right that he just doesn't want to touch the subject, if I understood you to be saying that. And that's fine, I don't fault him for that. But I do think that you and others should realize that it's not for the reasons you don't want to touch the subject. It would be entirely different for Chomsky to suggest government involvement in 9/11 than it is for me to do it. I touched on that already, and for once I won't repeat myself.

Like me, you aren't Chomsky. If you thought a little harder about the issue, you'd just have a more open mind about the possibility that maybe elements within the state really would and could do something like murder hundreds or thousands of people if they had strong enough reasons to do that--reasons they considered approximate to military necessity, which is sometimes described as the protection of National Security. (People in other countries, including the British, seem to have a more realistic sense about what powerful hidden forces within the state might do if given some incentive.) Donald Johnson can believe someone would do it, but he can't believe someone could get away it. I've been there, thought that. The more I learned, the clearer it became to me that wasn't true. It can and has been done since antiquity, and probably before that too. Machiavelli was right. We just like to think we’re smarter and better and more exceptional than humanity has been down through the ages everywhere else. Sorry, not so.

If you and enough other people get to the point where the National Security State gets robbed of some of this unaccountable power, maybe the state's bad habit of covert crime can be brought under control or even eliminated. I'm not holding my breath, because I think too many people are just going to keep muttering "that's crazy" forever and complaining about things that can't be changed under the present system over and over again while the world goes steadily to hell. That's my prediction as to the likely outcome, even though people, including you, probably mean well and certainly don't want that to happen. I ain't the Wizard of Oz, so there's not much I can do about it.

But then again, neither I nor others make our decisions facing only probable outcomes. There's that little thing called "hope" that we can't ignore, especially when it's all we have, even if it has been given a bad name recently. The chance that anything I say will ever change a damn thing approaches zero, but it's still a chance, and the best one I see, and responsible and rationale people don't ignore small chances of success. So all I can do is keep being a fool and explaining what I think is true and important and why, for whatever it is or isn't worth, and hope that maybe a little of it will stick with somebody, who might be able to get a little to stick with somebody else, in the way that ideas can spread with some luck. Maybe history will help out someday with a tipping point, I hope in advance of catastrophe. It isn't that this is some esoteric issue that doesn't affect the real world.

This, in my view, is the linchpin issue. It is, I believe, why Democratic Presidents consistently get elected to do something better and end up doing something worse. It's part of the explanation (though not the whole explanation) for why we no longer have any meaningful opposition to our militarism and why the legs have been cut out from under all movements for change that should exist, because things have been getting worse and worse for ordinary people for decades. It affects people in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Honduras, in Venezuela and the rest of South America, and of course in the United States. The National Security State of the United States has become the Roman Legions, and the international banks are Caesar. Take away the covert power of the legions and the banks may fall. At least the fight against them will be fairer.

The reason I harp on this is that I don't think problems can be fixed when they aren't recognized. If they can, certainly I don't understand how, but if you can explain it to me, I'm all ears. You might have missed all the stuff I wrote about the point being to come up with solutions to fix these big social problems. And I guess that's understandable if you don't think the problems exist. But I didn't come around to this view about the murderousness of the state with eagerness, or for lack of trying to find other explanations, or at an age when my mind was immature. (my personality, maybe, not my mind). I simply couldn't stop trying to answer some questions that disturbed me enough to make me put a whole lot of time into trying to answer them, in much the same way that David Ray Griffin and Stephen Jones did, though I haven't commited my life to this because I can't. What I learned hasn't brought me peace of mind, so in a way you would be well advised to just shrug and dismiss me as a nutcase and not ask questions. From a personal perspective, I would have been wise to not start asking myself questions.

But you see, for me it's not about peace of mind, or about me, or about anything except how collectively we might be able to remove the covert power of the National Security State from our national life, becasue if we can't do that all efforts for political and social change will fail. That IS a large part of what has been going on for the past sixty plus years. The deck is already stacked against popular movements, and if Presidents can be killed and terrorist events carried out and elections rigged to counter whatever political gains are made, power will just keep becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of corporations, principally financial corporations, for the world is now their oyster. The professional class benefits from this and sticks its head in the sand. Been there, done that. It probably won’t save their children or grandchildren. There may ultimately be a greater measure of equality in the final payment for these sins, if that cheers you up any.

I consistently say the game is rigged because it is no different, in the political context, than a card game where the dealer can deal from the bottom whenever he needs a good card. It is actually true that 9/11 really did change the world, though not in a good way or the way politicians like to claim, and the change was of great benefit to the National Security State and its corporate sponsors. That doesn't mean they all had a big meeting and conspired to arrange it--that sort of view is silly. But it does mean that every single entity and organization tied to the National Security State has a powerful motive not to let anyone get to the bottom of the truth about 9/11. The people in those organizations probably think they're doing the right thing, including all the guys working for NSA posing stupid comments on blogs, because after all, conspiracies are crazy and unpatriotic and socially harmful. What those people think doesn't matter. The result is still that the truth is never revealed, at least not for many decades, and never fully. And so the Natinoal Secuity State cruises along, and when some right wing ideologues or other cool-blooded killers get control of pieces of it and carry out covert operations that involve murder, the automatic mechanisms of coverup kick into play to protect the system as a whole, and no one is held accountable. This is going to be a low enough comment without going into that, but it happens over and over again. The National Security State is designed for concealment, so don't be too surprised that it accomplishes that.

In that regard, anyone who doesn't understand how this can happen and truly wants to understand would be well advised to read the few books I have mentioned in prior threads on the JFk assassination and coverup, perhaps most of all Gerald McKnight's book, because that's about how the Warren Commision came into being and what it has done. Donald Johnson will probably start talking about aliens again, but the issue is nothing like that. What the Warren Commission did and why is known, as is how it went wrong, and nothing about that is strange or crazy. It can be understood, and if you don't understand it, you'll have to explain that to yourself, not me. There are no little green men involved, and the importance of knowing how a President can be killed and the truth concealed forever after is awfully relevant to anyone who wants to understand the actual operation of our government and society. What is involved is how the organs of state power work in our government, what they can do, and how the government and media will react to alleged state crimes.

This is not a trifling matter. If this problem with the existence of unaccountable power vested in the National Security State is not fixed, we'll just keep moving in the wrong direction, in the manner of lemmings headed for a cliff. If you look toward the horizon, that cliff is there.

To adopt Duncan's style, we better End. The National Security State. Now.

Posted by N E at February 3, 2010 12:05 PM

NE:

"But really, the most revealing and important information isn't about the assassination, but about the coverup, which still continues even now. That is a testament to what people in power think it would mean if most Americans knew that militarists in the CIA and military killed JFK."

Unarguable. The New York Times, that great bastion of establishment double-speak, ran almost 30 articles denouncing Stone's 'JFK' before the film had even opened. Same goes on today with any mention of 9-11: immediate demonization; the speaker, if they happened to have some limited mainstream purchase, instantly made a pariah, a leper. Bush and Cheney fought hard for 18 months to prevent any investigation--why?

As Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

Great back-and-forth, doing honor to Zinn's spirit.

Posted by Oarwell at February 3, 2010 12:46 PM

Oarwell:

Thanks. Remember that there is the oddball exception to the pariah rule. Jesse Ventura can go on TV with his Conspiracy Theory show because he won't be taken too seriously, in much the same way that Alex Jones won't be taken too seriously. A major point seems to be to make people think these ideas are wacky or offbeat. (I don't mean to insult Ventura or Jones, but they aren't perceived as serious, even if a lot of people who are presented as serious are right-wing nutballs like David Horowitz.)

Your quite accurate mention of the media response to Stone's JFK makes me realize that I've never given much thought to how and why JFK got made by Stone and released to theaters for distribution when it did. Obviously, the media responded with vigor even before the movie was released, as you point out, so it's not like they didn't know the movie was in the works for some time before it was released. Ten or fifteen years earlier that movie wouldn't have made it into production. Maybe even just five years earlier.

The media response shouldn't be surprising given that the CIA continued and continues to have such a strong influence on the media, as Lisa Pease has noted on her very good blog, aptly named Real History. Our very own Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was the head of the CIA back in late 1991, having been appointed by another Langley longtimer, Poppy Bush. Pease has a post, URL below (I haven't taken another crack at Nell's instructions yet), that includes a full memo by Gates of the CIA's Public Affairs Office's ability to "work with" the media to get the CIA's message out. Gee, is that a "conspiracy"?

http://realhistoryarchives.blogspot.com/2009/03/cia-and-media.html

Now that I think about it, it's interesting to me that the emphasis around that time seems to reflect a deliberate shift to affecting public perception rather than suppressing information. The assassinations review board was created once the movie JFK was released, and a large volume of documents were declassified for the first time. That's why so much more is known now than was known when the movie was made, eliminating so many questions that had existed. I think every book I have praised post-dates that time, and most if not all were published within the last decade.

Yet it hasn't really made that much difference. The management of public opinion has been more successful than the suppression of information ever was. People are proud, so we don't like to think their opinions have been managed at all, just as we all like to think that advertising works on other people but not us. (Sorry guys, not so.) Maybe the greater indifference now is just because of the passage of time and people who loved JFK have died, but I wonder. Perhaps all those social scientists and communications experts who have long been working for Langley simply concluded that suppressing too much information isn't the best way to control public opinion. That certainly is the time when the media campaign to make people think conspiracy theories are crazy really took off, and I'm not sure, but I think the campaign began in response to that movie.

I'm going to have to ruminate on that and maybe dig around a bit.

Posted by N E at February 3, 2010 04:41 PM

"If you thought a little harder about the issue, you'd just have a more open mind about the possibility..."

N E, I knew when I posted that you've never been one to let the other guy have the last word, or in your case the last thousand words. And I opened a can of worms when I started diagnosing your problems. But this is another, ugly one: you hear things people aren't saying. And then you lecture them on what you think you heard.

It's not about what I consider could be a possibility. I've not told you what I consider possible.

In any event, as you now don't seem to be offering any defense of what I regarded as your offensive thesis on Chomsky and Zinn (figures I clearly must worship uncritically, having bothered to argue about this), I'll take it as retracted and leave the field to you.

Posted by Earth at February 3, 2010 06:12 PM

Earth

Good grief. Do you always ask people questions AND complain that someone answers them? I don't care who has the last word.

Posted by N E at February 3, 2010 09:06 PM

"I don't care who has the last word." As long as it's you, eh?

"I'm not hypnotizing anyone, so you get to make up your own mind what you think, which I favor. I won't even try to get you worked up into an emotional frenzy so that your judgment becomes clouded." But in fact, you don't favor people making up their own minds, unless they end up agreeing with you. If they don't, it's because they haven't thought hard enough, or their neuropsychology hasn't changed states, or the Holy Spirit (Just kidding! Not kidding! Just kidding!) hasn't readjusted their beliefs. Or maybe it's because they're old activists who write books that nobody reads any more, instead of going out and working with people, because they can't stand the idea that they've become politically irrelevant, but if you ever meet them in a parallel universe or heaven you'll ask them honestly why they haven't embraced the Truth. All of this is somewhat entertaining, but it contains no "IDEAS" whatever, or any reason why someone should change his or her mind.

"If most people were actually convinced that elements of the US government murdered a few thousand American citizens, that might shake things up. Most people don't even consider that a possibility worth thinking about. They dismiss it out of hand. It is just inconceivable to them, even moreso than it is to you, and I think it's pretty inconceivable to you. (Not that it could happen, mind you, but that it could happen and be gotten away with.) ... But I'm guessing. Maybe we'd have a green revolution, but I find it hard to imagine." I guess it's just inconceivable to you, isn't it? Again we've got your dismissive attitude to (and misrepresentation of) people who don't reach the same conclusions you do. I don't find it inconceivable that "elements of the US government" (interesting qualification there) would kill thousands of American citizens. As I've pointed out before, I don't object to conspiracy theories per se. I don't dismiss the reality of factional conflict within the US government. When I (and others with the same positions) point out these things, you ignore them and return to the old broken record of ad hominem accusations. Almost anything is "conceivable." It's conceivable that the moon landings were faked; that UFOs have crashed in New Mexico, which the Men in Black covered up; that Elvis lives and walks among us, dispensing Cadillacs to the worthy; that there is a vast network of snuff-film producers killing off women to produce their evil wares, which can be bought or rented under the counter at your local mom-and-pop video store; that thousands of children each year are drugged and kidnapped into sex slavery at shopping malls around America.

The question is, is there good reason to believe it? At this point, the answer seems to be No; your only reason seems to be that it is conceivable, and that you evidently are very attached to the concept. Which says more about you, I'm afraid, than it does about the concept.

Posted by Duncan at February 4, 2010 11:08 AM

Why Duncan, you seem to have a pseudonym. Don't read what I write if you think it's no good. That should be pretty easy.

If you want to refer me to anything to help me better understand your perspective, just tell me what I should check out of the library. I will actually do it, time permitting. And if it persuades me, I'll let you know. If you want, I'll also tell you what I think is wrong with whatever you recommend, because there is something wrong with everything. But if you don't want to hear negative opinions, that's fine too. It's up to you.

Posted by N E at February 4, 2010 02:53 PM

Duncan

I've done you a disservice, because I recall now that you pointed me to a book, People or Personnel, by Paul Goodman a while back, which contained the following important excerpts:

"But in the system we have been describing, the Executive also is not a governing person nor group of persons, any more than the baronial corporations are persons except as a fiction. During the activist Kennedy regime, frustration was continually expressed because, somehow, the Cabinet and the President himself were powerless. Just so the heads of giant corporations and of apparently autonomous universities claim that they are powerless to alter policies that they say they disapprove of. It is inherent in centralization that powerlessness spreads from the bottom to the top. There is certainly a structure of power in the country, but it seems to be a misnomer to call it a power elite."

And at page 189.


"Even if an excellent man happens to be elected to
office, he will find that it is no longer a possible instrument for social change on any major issues of war and peace or the way of life of the Americans. Indeed, as the members of the Liberal Project have complained, office does not give even a good public forum, for the press does not report inconvenient speeches. . . . So we must look, finally, not to this kind of politics, but to direct functioning in what concerns us closely in order to dispel the mesmerism of abstract power altogether."

This problem has only gotten worse since Goodman's day. Understanding it and dealing with it is necessary. Long ago the ancient strategist Sun Tzu wrote that "tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

A strategy is necessary for any victory to occur, and any good strategy is going to have to deal with the realities of how the executive branch presently functions, especially given the dominance that the National Security State has come to have over the executive branch.

So thanks for pointing me to Goodman.

Posted by N E at February 4, 2010 03:41 PM

You know what, Donald J, Hugh, and John Caruso? You're right. I am too hasty in my assumptions in this area, and will try to be less offhanded in my characterization. Furthermore, I realize that I come at this issue with so much heat that it's off-putting. That having been said...

After reading this blog from day one, I believe that there is a bias towards Chomsky/Zinn/Kucinich/ilk on ATR comment threads--a sense that the whole world dismisses and makes fun of these guys who are generally well-intentioned, smart and admirable, so here we should give 'em their due--a conclusion which I agree with, btw, but know that others can do more effectively than I could. You may disagree that such a bias exists--"No, Mike, we like them only because, and only when, they are right, and we are completely free of bias"--but I feel that five years (or whatever it's been) is a sufficient sample size for me to draw this conclusion. Every community will develop certain aspects of bias over time, and that's okay, and if you're going to shade towards a point of view, those guys are about as good as you can hope for.

So while I agree that Chomsky/Zinn/Kucinich/ilk are well-intentioned, smart and admirable, I assume given this venue that's taken as read; and because the pace of negative change seems to be accelerating, I feel an impulse to move off these guys, towards new thoughts and approaches. And because I know that perhaps the most revered one of all, Chomsky, is factually incorrect on a seminal issue of recent American history, I point this out. If I point this out too frequently, I apologize; if it doing this I offend other commenters or characterize them in ways that are insufficiently charitable, I apologize. I'll keep working on it.

Imagine if every time Saddam came up, I commented how I thought Saddam MIGHT have had WMD, or that caring one way or the other didn't really matter. I would expect that other commenters, who cared a lot about the issue and had read and thought more extensively on it, would correct me, providing links and books. I know for a fact that Jon (Blogmom) would be there in two minutes, with facts. And if I KEPT doing it every time Saddam was mentioned, the irritated responses would be on me, and a certain broadness of characterization of my outlook would be understandable. To suggest to someone as well-read on the subject as myself or NE that JFK is equivalent to Bigfoot, or a preteen interest in UFOs, betrays a basic misunderstanding of what's being discussed, if not personal disrespect (since we're on the topic). To write, "I think Oswald did it and here's why," or even, "I'm skeptical--wouldn't someone have talked?" sends the thread off in a much more substantive, much less personalized direction. I for one would welcome that kind of exchange of information, and NE's source-laden comments suggest that he might too. Whatever portion of ATR readers that care about this issue could geek out for a while, and all would be well.

But the tone of ATR threads on the assassinations is different from other topics on this blog, and it's worth asking why. To suggest that the opinion of Noam Chomsky, a bellwether thinker of the Left since 1960, has NO effect on why a JFK conspiracy is such a hard sell with some on ATR is, to my mind, highly unlikely. Furthermore, to suggest that ATR is somehow immune to the flamewars and posturing I see on rec.beatles.moderated is silly. This is a comment thread on the internet, and as soon as somebody brings up JFK, it acts like one.

I don't feel any commenter should be told to shut up; I do feel justified in wondering why the hell some ATR commenters are so thin-skinned about what I may or may not think about their degree of intellectual autonomy, and so unconcerned about the systematic slaughter of a whole generation of American leaders. If you, like Chomsky, don't think JFK matters, fair enough. (As NE posited, I think Chomsky thinks it DOES matter, but doesn't want to get swallowed up.) But just like the trolls that used to harass Jon about WMD, don't get offended when somebody who cares about the issue and has done a lot of reading on it, disses your opinion as superficial. It IS superficial; you're OK with that, we're all OK with it; but it's not a personal insult to call it what it is. My take on Chomsky is superficial--the only time I mention the guy, it's in relation to JFK, and/or in my belief in a pro-Chomsky bias amongst ATR commenters. If that bugs you, I would suggest you have an inflated view of the intellectual rigor of blog comment threads. One could reply that I am more apt to "believe" Michael Parenti or Peter Dale Scott on an unrelated issue because of their views on JFK, and I would speedily agree with you. Am I a "fanboy" in that way? Sure I am; everybody who reads this site has people that resonate with them and people who don't, and to get offended about it is silly. I mean, you CAN, but it's not an insult. It's my clumsy way of trying to figure out why a person doesn't have the exact same thoughts I have in my head, in his/hers. And your response, "Don't say I think X! I think Y, you jerk!" is probably the same exact thing.

To reiterate: I am sorry if my characterizations in JFK threads sometimes offend certain ATR commenters, and I will genuinely try to be more respectful in the future. I'll even try to shut up about it, which (as you all know) is supremely difficult for me. I would only ask that you extend me the same effort, and knowing you guys, I'm sure you will.

Posted by Mike of Angle at February 4, 2010 07:44 PM