December 28, 2007
If Itís Broke, Donít Fix It

When there is a bull in a china shop, the intelligent first step is not to leave him there until he mends what he broke. The bull is too big and too clumsy and too dumb for that. The intelligent first thing is to get that bull the hell out of the china shop.

Noam Chomsky makes this point conclusively in an interview with CT Review (no link), the journal of the Connecticut State University System:

Interviewer: While weíre in the game, we canít quit the game.

Chomsky: Thatís another presupposition. The Russians were in the game in Afghanistan in 1986. Did we say, ďWell they broke it, so they have to stay there to fix it?Ē No, we didnít say that. When the Germans were in France in 1944, we didnít say, they broke it, so they have to fix it and stay there until they do. We didnít ever say that.

Thereís a deeper presupposition. We own the world, so therefore anything we do is justified . Therefore, unlike the Russians in Afghanistan or the Germans in occupied France, we broke it so weíve got to fix it. Weíre totally different from everyone else because we own the world.

That presupposition is never mentioned. People would be horrified if you brought it out, but the discussions just donít make any sense unless you assume this. Bush announces the surge in exact opposition to the will of the American population, and of course the Iraqis. Both populations want to reduce the troops or for us to get out. Bushís response is to send more troops.

Predictably, as they announce the surge, they announce that Iran is interfering in Iraq. This shifts the discussion to, ďIs Iran interfering in Iraq?Ē Suppose that Germany in 1943 had said the allies are interfering in occupied France. People wouldnít know whether to laugh or cry. The Germans invaded and occupied France. How can anybody be said to be interfering with that?

Well, while the Russians were in Afghanistan, America was proud to support terrorists, incidentally Islamic terrorists, to oppose them. But we didnít think of ourselves as interfering in Russian-occupied Afghanistan. By the same logic, how can Iran possibly be interfering in American-occupied Iraq?

But the debate rages. Are the serial numbers on the improvised explosive devices traceable to Iranís revolutionary guards? We have a profound debate about this, all instilling the assumption that we own the world, because if we didnít own the world then you couldnít even have such a debate. It wouldnít make sense.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at December 28, 2007 11:14 AM
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Probably the single most significant thing about Chomsky from my viewpoint is his consistent ability to bypass social constructs and look in a sort of Zen-like fashion at the ding-an-sich, the individual circumstance and its inherent morality.

But as to gut feelings, what impresses me most is the utility of his ideas. Once I get the feel of what he's talking about, I look around and I find that idea embedded everywhere, though I'd never realized it before. To me that's evidence of a profound thinker, someone who shows you connections you never realized were there, but once you've realized it, it helps you make sense of a bunch of data that previously seemed disparate.

One of the unexpected benefits of reading Chomsky over the years has been a heightened sense of the ridiculous. As he says, the idea that Iran could be interfering in Iraq, while we occupy it but are not interefering, is worthy of Chaplin. Reminiscent, perhaps, of Firesign Theatre's famous skit of the US under a "groovy" adminstration, "Le Trente-Huit Cunegonde". Whatever we do is ipso facto moral, because we're good. The US was founded by good Deists, and will thus ever be moral in all its actions. No matter how selfish or power-oriented.

If you believe this, please don't read Bob Altemeyer.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on December 28, 2007 11:33 PM
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