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Deconstructing a Deconstruction

Goran Nikolić RSS / 07.11.2011. u 08:53

Author: Dr. Davor Džalto

(Selected  excerpts)

In this essay I analyze one of the recent critiques of Noam Chomsky’s political thought. I focus particularly on this critique since it repeats the most common arguments and views that can be heard from the anti-Chomskian front of intellectuals. Discussing particular topics and arguments I also address broader questions such as what does it mean to be an intellectual today and what kind of responsibility do we need today in the public as well as academic discourse?

An interesting essay “Deconstructing Chomsky” by David Solway appeared in a recent issue of Arts & Opinion (Vol. 10, No. 4, 2011). As I am generally in favor of all fruitful “deconstructions,” I started reading the essay with much enthusiasm, hoping that it might reveal some new facts, perspectives or arguments related to Noam Chomsky and his influential thought. I also strongly believe that nothing should be left without critical examination, as I consider critical thinking the most vital aspect of intellectual life, science and theory in general. Therefore, critical reading of Chomsky is, as any other critical reading, desirable and necessary, especially if we bear in mind the influence and reputation which Chomsky as an author has both inside and outside the academic community.

However, critical reading or “deconstruction” should be based on some arguments and evidence.  Mr. Solway starts very promisingly in this respect saying, “I will, however, provide evidence for my dismissal of Chomsky.” Let us assume that Mr. Solway had an honest intention and that he is a person who wants to be taken seriously in his criticism. These are the premises of my critical reading of Mr. Solway’s text. I will not try to defend at any point Prof. Chomsky, as he is more than capable of doing it alone. Instead, I will only focus on the style of the argument expressed in “Deconstructing Chomsky.”

As I am not an expert in the field of linguistics, I will limit my comments on Mr. Solway’s critical reading of Chomsky’s political thought.

The first disappointment we come across in this essay is ad hominem arguments that the author employs throughout the text. Ad hominem arguments are simply unacceptable in any serious analysis of someone’s thought or particular positions. Therefore, they should also be invalid in the critical reading of Chomsky. For instance, one ad hominem argument (if we can consider it a serious argument at all) is Mr. Solway’s remark: “he (Chomsky) is an intellectual charlatan.” Let us suppose that Chomsky is an intellectual charlatan; what proves this statement? Why is he a charlatan? In practicing some sort of magic, words do have power on their own; it is enough to say something and it becomes true. In serious scholarship and critical thinking, this is not enough. The fact that someone calls Chomsky (or anybody else) a “charlatan,” does not make him a charlatan. Some evidence should be provided.

(...) In the next paragraph we find something resembling an argument, which the author borrows from Thomas Sowell. The accusation is that “Chomsky is one of those public intellectuals who has ranged ‘beyond the confines of his specialty’ and made ‘inflammatory comments on things for which he had no qualifications.’” The only evidence provided is that, “the shabby scholarship alone, evident both in the pulpiteering style and the abject referencing, as well as the apodictic claptrap he purveys, should have set off alarm bells for responsible readers and prompted them to do a bit of supplementary research.”

And yet, there is an important claim in this statement, which deserves to be addressed. It is the statement that public intellectuals should not comment on things for which they have no qualification. It seems self-evident that someone should know something about things he or she discusses. However, it is not clear what it means to have “qualifications” to discuss or do something, especially something like being a public intellectual.  It seems to me that one should have formal education to give comments on oral hygiene or the newest results in the physics of sub-atomic particles. But if we stick to the argument that formal education is the only way to credibly comment on things that touch particular fields, we would need to dismiss e.g. Friedrich Nietzsche as a philosopher, simply because he had no diploma in philosophy. Following the same logic, we would have to a priori dismiss Mr. Solway’s essay, because he does not have a PhD in Noam Chomsky’s political theory!

There is, however, a deeper aspect of this argument – what does it mean to have “qualifications” to be an intellectual? What kind of training should one take, what kind of school should one attend to become an intellectual or critical thinker? Putting questions this way makes us see that the above argument about Chomsky simply misses the point. In other words, there is no training which makes someone a critical thinker, as there is no training which makes you a good philosopher or a “genius” in a certain discipline. It is rather a process of permanent education, analysis and synthesis which allows you to think outside the box and go beyond the limits of formal education, which can be, and in fact always is, some sort of (positive or negative) “indoctrination.” This is, however, not an argument in favor of those who would like to abandon all schools as unnecessary. It is only a warning that formal education functions within a wider social context, so developing critical thinking or becoming an intellectual is not something that can be memorized in a college course.

Bearing this all in mind, the essay trying to “deconstruct” Chomsky exposes itself as just another construction. The final sentences of the essay seem to support such a conclusion: “Ultimately, there can be no rebutting that Chomsky, for all his weird, unanchored giftedness, is not only an intellectual tyrant; he is an intellectual charlatan, however compelling. He is, to go back to Hitchens, the Mother Teresa of the secular domain. And those who hang upon his words have sacrificed both their integrity and their understanding.”

(...) Maybe Chomsky is wrong in many of his claims, but to correct him we need is a serious criticism, which would take into account arguments and the reality of the world we live in.

It would be, therefore, more appropriate if we could hear some analyses that would prove or disapprove particular facts and perspectives, unless the essay by Mr. Solway is considered a literary/poetic exercise, or just a pamphlet, which requires no evidence whatsoever.


Komentari (10)

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rade.radumilo rade.radumilo 12:57 07.11.2011

Svako pod svojim stegom...

Problem je u tome što je esej gospodina Solveja zapravo propagandni pamflet namenjen određenoj ciljoj grupi. Zadatak mu je da doda još koju armaturu i džak dva cementa u temelje određenog životnog stava i političke svesti, koja ne dopire do nivoa neophodnog za razumevanje teksta gospodina dr. Džalta. Sa druge strane, takav esej i ne može da prenese poruku ljudima koji su na nivou svesti koji je neophodan da bi se kritički posmatrao svet oko sebe.
Tako svako ostaje u svom taboru i retko koja poruka se stvarno razmeni između istih, a "Mein Kampf" će se i dalje prodavati kao literarno štivo od neke vrednosti nekome, umesto kao toalet papir.
srdjazlopogledja srdjazlopogledja 12:59 07.11.2011

Ad hominem

Neverovatna je potreba za napade na lik, umesto na delo. I, šta sad? Brisanje pljuvačke je bolji naziv za blog.
Kada bih ja pisao kritiku za NČ, ista bi se zasnivala na ispraznosti njegovih predloga, nikako observacija. Uopšte, šta ti levičari imaju da ponude? Samo neke blesave konstrukte socijalizacije (preko države, naravno, etatisti), kojim se hrani upravo ona zver koju kritikuju. Resocijalizacija. Termin za osuđenike i kaznene ustanove, ovog puta primenjen na celokupnu populaciju.
srdjazlopogledja srdjazlopogledja 13:52 07.11.2011

Re: Ad hominem

Šarski kaže "ćuti dok Profesor govori, ali i kada sa govorom prestane"?
Oskudna odeća Profesorova oslikava njegovu sklonost ka nematerijalnom, možda nekad obuče uniformu kao veliki vođa Mao, kako bi dao do znanja da žica postavljena oko svih. Eto ti napad na lik, kada već insistiraš!
nsarski nsarski 13:59 07.11.2011

Re: Ad hominem

Ah, i ja se petljam bez potrebe. Izvini na uznemiravanju...
Goran Vučković Goran Vučković 22:34 07.11.2011

Re: Ad hominem

Kada bih ja pisao kritiku za NČ, ista bi se zasnivala na ispraznosti njegovih predloga, nikako observacija.

Cool - a šta su njegovi predlozi koje bi kritikovao?
srdjazlopogledja srdjazlopogledja 00:13 08.11.2011

Re: Ad hominem

Paz' ovako. Kroz par godina penzije u rs se spuste na dovoljne za leba od 3 dinara, te naiđe neko normalan da to ukine. U tom čuješ NČ kako se vajka, eto ti NEOliberali uništili pio u rs... Dakle, njegova je pozicija, pio je super, a menjanje toga loše, predlog, ne dirajte niš'a.

Verovatno bi se radovao da pdv bude 30%, a penzije 70% budžeta.
Goran Vučković Goran Vučković 02:29 08.11.2011

Re: Ad hominem

Paz' ovako. Kroz par godina penzije u rs se spuste na dovoljne za leba od 3 dinara, te naiđe neko normalan da to ukine. U tom čuješ NČ kako se vajka, eto ti NEOliberali uništili pio u rs... Dakle, njegova je pozicija, pio je super, a menjanje toga loše, predlog, ne dirajte niš'a.

Ok mrzi te da tražiš njegove predloge koje bi kritikovao.

Verovatno bi se radovao da pdv bude 30%, a penzije 70% budžeta.

Radovao bih se kada bi države i društva koje mi nešto znače, a u to svakako ubrajam Srbiju i UK, živele prema mogućnostima i s vremenom smanjivale teret koje ostavljaju budućim generacijama, umesto što ga, kao sada, uvećavaju - kako god vršile preraspodelu realnog društvenog bogatstva. Ja tome doprinosim tako što ću najverovatnije odživeti svoj životni vek bez ijednog kredita (osim jedne radne stolice na 6 čekova početkom 90-tih u Beogradu), uključujući i onaj stambeni. Na otvorenom tržištu i u nimalo povoljnim uslovima u Srbiji 90-tih sam sa društvom uspeo da stvorim imovinu koju sam diversifikovao direktnim stranim ulaganjem u Srbiju pre par godina, prodajom svog vlasničkog dela. Najvećim delom svoje penzije, kao i drugim sredstvima koje držim van penzijskog "pakovanja" (wrapper-a) upravljam sam. Ove godine sam prodavao svoje i firmine usluge od Singapura do Santjaga, a do sredine januara ću zujati od kuće do Pariza i nazad, spremajući sa kolegama rešenje za velikog francuskog klijenta, od koga smo posao uzeli na javnom konkursu u konkurenciji nekoliko najjačih igrača u našoj tržišnoj niši na svetskom tržištu.

Ono čemu se ja radujem kad govorim o ovoj tebi sa tobom, Srđo, je činjenica da moji roditelji, srećom, ne moraju da strepe da li će gladovati kad se promeni vlast u Srbiji. A ja, izvinićeš, zadržavam pravo da budem socijalista - za svoje pare. Što, verujem, praktikuje i profesor Čomski.
srdjazlopogledja srdjazlopogledja 12:14 08.11.2011

Re: Ad hominem

socijalista - za svoje pare

Biti "socijalista", te pomagati porodicu, rodbinu, prijatelje, one kojima je pomoć potrebna, predstavlja način da postanemo bolji ljudi. Obavezu. Jačanje spona u zajednici, solidarnosti, a u isto vreme i karaktera onog koji se na brigu i pomoć odlučio. Međutim, prebacivanje te obaveze na državu, te obuhvatanje celokupne populacije na davanja priloga, ne postiže taj efekat, već upravo suprotno, odaljava ljude, otuđuje ih, stvara netrpeljivost.
srdjazlopogledja srdjazlopogledja 12:28 08.11.2011

Re: Ad hominem

Gore je "davanje priloga" pod navodnike trebalo staviti, obzirom da nije u pitanju izbor, već sila.
rutkowski rutkowski 13:52 07.11.2011


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