The pathway to truth’

The Wayfarer
by Stephen Crane

The wayfarer,
Perceiving the pathway to truth,
Was struck with astonishment.
It was thickly grown with weeds.
“Ha,” he said,
“I see that no one has passed here
In a long time.”
Later he saw that each weed was a singular knife.
“Well,” he mumbled at last,
“Doubtless there are other roads.”

I was reading a piece by Barrie Zwicker called “The Shame of Noam Chomsky and the Gatekeepers of the Left.” Zwicker undresses the old fart.

There is undeniable quality in Chomsky’s writings. It is hard to back away from his impressive body of work on American foreign policy and propaganda.  But what if he is himself a propagandist? Zwicker gives us a list of techniques beginning with absurdities and ending with “word inflation,*” and uses them on Noam.

Here’s Chomsky on JFK from a now-dead link at his old haunt, Z magazine:

It’s true that I know very little about the assassination. The only thing I’ve written about is that the claim that it was a high-level conspiracy with policy significance is implausible to a quite extraordinary degree. History isn’t physics and even in physics nothing is really “proven” but evidence against this claim is overwhelming from every testable point of view, remarkably so for a historical event. Given that conclusion, which I think is well founded, that I have written about, a lot, I have no further interest in the assassination and while I’ve read a few books out of curiosity I haven’t given the matter any attention and have no opinion about how or why JFK was killed.

Here’s the undressing:

It’s true that I know very little about the assassination [ignorance flaunted]. The only thing I’ve written about is that the claim that it was a high-level conspiracy with policy significance is implausible [internal contradiction: he admits to knowing “very little” so on what basis does he find any claim “implausible?”] to a quite extraordinary degree [adding to the internal contradiction, word inflation, failure to provide minimal evidence]. History isn’t physics [obfuscation] and even in physics nothing is really “proven” [misdirection, vis a vis the laws of physics] but evidence against this claim is overwhelming [internal contradiction, word inflation, bald assertion, failure to provide minimal evidence] from every testable point of view [sweeping generalization, bald assertion], remarkably so for a historical event [word inflation, failure to provide minimal evidence]. Given that conclusion, which I think is well founded [bandwagon psychology, failure to provide minimal evidence], that I have written about, a lot,[internal contradiction: earlier he said the only thing he’s written about it is to claim implausibility, etc.] I have no further interest in the assassination [dismissiveness, evasion, minimizing importance of the important] and while I’ve read a few books [internal contradiction: he said he knows “very little:” reading “some books” surely qualifies as more than “very little”,] out of curiosity [dismissiveness, suggesting close-mindedness, not even fake open-mindedness] I haven’t given the matter any attention [internal contradiction: for someone who “hasn’t given the matter any attention” he has arrived at extremely strong and controversial opinions] and have no opinion about how or why JFK was killed [internal contradiction: he has an opinion, which he has just energetically expressed, that the way JFK was killed was not by state conspiracy].

Chomsky is in contortions in his statement, albeit a mere chat room post. He’s clearly uncomfortable with the subject, and aggressive in distancing himself from it. He’s urging his followers, who number in the millions, to avoid the subject as well. This is the work of a gatekeeper:

“This far, no further.”

Crediting Chomsky with essential honesty in his work, which I have read extensively, I am left in a quandary. He is not convincing. The assassination, if a state conspiracy (as evidence strongly suggests), was coup d’état, and so is of critical importance. It is true that JFK was but a flawed man, an actor strutting and fretting on a stage. Set him aside. Look at the event.

Elsewhere Zwicker references E. Martin Schotz and his book History Will Not Absolve Us. According to Schotz, an early JFK researcher, Ray Marcus, met with Chomsky in 1969 and a one-hour affair turned out to be four. His secretary canceled all appointments for the rest of the day. He agreed to a follow-up session. Then the line went dead.

Chomsky knows more than he lets on. Marcus later met with a Chomsky colleague at MIT, Selwyn Bromberger, who said

“If they are strong enough to kill the president, and strong enough to cover it up, then they are too strong to confront directly … if they feel sufficiently threatened, they may move to open totalitarian rule.”

Chomsky often refers to people in institutional settings who have to meld their minds with the power around them. We cannot live long with internal contradictions, he says. So, crediting him with integrity, I suggest that this is the avenue he has chosen deliberately – that to directly confront power would cost him his job, perhaps his life. Setting the matter aside as he does allows him a forum for all other matters.

Nonetheless, he performs the role of gatekeeper. Further, by warning his legions of followers away from curiosity about the event, he undermines his credibility. If he is so disingenuous in one area, what degree of confidence can we bestow on everything else?
_____________________
*This is a  list of techniques of argumentation used in propaganda:

*Absurdities
Ad hominem sallies
Bald assertions that are misstatements
Bandwagon psychology
Bizarre non-sequiturs
Bullying
Diminishment of importance of the important
Dismissiveness
Diversions (e.g., not answering the question)
Failure to provide minimal evidence
Fake humility
Fake open-mindedness
False parallels
False syllogisms
Framing to exclude contrary outlooks
Ignorance flaunted as admirable
Inappropriate selectivity
Insinuation
Internal contradiction
Major premises hidden in passing
Misdirection
Misleading asides
Mixing apples and oranges
Obfuscation
Restriction of options
Scare tactics
Setting up straw men
Sweeping generalizations
Word inflation

2 thoughts on “The pathway to truth’

  1. MIT isn’t some “cutting-edge” liberal arts college. Conform or else. I like reading Chomsky for the historical tidbits and occasional puzzle piece that falls into place. I neither worry about Chomsky’s credibility, nor the cumulative effects of his “followers,” for they follow. If not Chomsky, they’d be chasing some other “intellectual rockstar” who confirms their undying faith in the (funky,funky) system.

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    1. What I see more clearly as time goes on is, after the assassination, the CIA branching into more and more areas of American life, and of course, installing fascist governments abroad. It is as if they are covering every base, attacking voting, media (already in place on 11/22/63), .In this light Chomsky would be the gatekeeper of the intellectual left, a post that did not exist before that time.

      I always thought he was able to do his political activism and be a professor because of tenure, but tenure is no protection if the state wants to take you down, as Ward Churchill found out, and a high degree of conformity is needed anyway to get tenure at a place like MIT.

      All of this points to Chomsky being a knowing gatekeeper, something I think important to know as I read anything he writes.

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