I am often struck by how degraded our national discourse has become. It seems that people prefer to apply labels to one another, using those labels as a platform from which to spew rhetoric and vilify the other individual. What happened to the possibility of two people with differing opinions having a civil (perhaps even robust) debate?
In English class the other day we had an online discussion about a Noam Chomsky article called "Selective Memory and a Dishonesty Doctrine" In it, Chomsky takes issue with the locking-out from Iraqi reconstruction of companies in countries which did not support our war. I'll admit, I agree wholeheartedly with the premise he puts forward as well as his conclusions. It was fairly trivial to come up with a response I felt comfortable with.
One of my classmates, instead of responding to the essay decided to discredit Chomsky by calling him a fringe left-wing radical. That's it. He said nothing of the merits of Chomsky's claims nor did he counter with ideas of his own. When I responded that I didn't think his subjective dismissal of Chomsky's ideas was valid, I got quite the vitriolic response which basically, again, ignored the content of what Chomsky said and attacked him as a Holocaust denier and terrorist sympathizer. The entire message was condescending to me and factually inaccurate regarding Chomsky. This irritates me. I find it indicative of the larger culture we find ourselves in. We seem to have lost our ability to respect one another's opinions. I find this very troubling.
Here's our exchange (Yay online class records!):
The essays and cartoons in Chapter One are about the past, and different ways of looking at the past. One of the most controversial issues in the country over the last few years has been the decision to go into Iraq in 2003.
If you believe the polls, most Americans today want us to end the war; in 2003, when the essay "Selective Memory and a Dishonest Doctrine" (p. 18) was written by Noam Chomsky, it was the other way around. Still, there were lots of people even then who thought it was a bad idea, and it won't take long for you to figure out that he was one of them.
This is one of the most straight-ahead opinion pieces we'll be reading this semester, so I'm interested in your opinion about it: is it persuasive? Can you find any "holes" in his argument? Does it stand up today? Please post in before next Tuesday morning, September 25.
I love that title when talking about Noam Chomsky - "Selective Memory." Awesome. On that topic, is there anything else this class should know about Chomsky before they begin reading this? He's been a major historical figure within the fringe of the radical left-wing movement.
You are welcome to your opinion, but what does applying a subjective label, such as this, add to the discussion? Your assertion that Chomsky is part of the "fringe of the radical left-wing movement" may be your opinion, but you leave out that he is an incredibly well respected scholar who has been at the forefront of psychology and linguistics for decades.
While I agree that Chomsky is a vocal member of the "Left Wing," your use of the words "fringe" and "radical" reflect a completely subjective and one sided evaluation of the man. I've noticed this a couple of times now. Railing against liberals because they are liberal strikes me as a rather shaky platform from which to base an argument. What about the ideas he is presenting? Should they not speak for themselves? Doesn't it seem dangerous to assign motives to people actions without actual knowledge of who they are as a person?
(My name), thanks for the reply. You obviously know little about your friend Chomsky. You should consider reading some of his books or even his website. I know Chomsky very well. I've actually read one of his books (Thought Control), read some of his other writings, and many of his interviews.
I'm glad that you posted. That's my point. What else about this man is important to know? I think all opinions on Chomsky are welcome, he's a colorful man.
I didn't leave anything out, I simply posed a question. I don't remember putting my "evaluation" out there. Maybe your choice of words there was a little shaky. Please, feel free to praise him all you want.
Here's a video where Osama Bin Laden speaks about his friend Chomsky -
I think we can agree that if Osama Bin Laden thinks you're on his team, you have a problem, right? Or does that not fit into your glowing review?
And yes, yes, his ideas do speak for themselves. He believes the Holocaust was made up and there were never any gas chambers killing Jews during WWII. Good idea don't you think? I’m sure you can find a way to defend that too.
Also, please refrain from suggesting that I don’t know about the subject that I posted about. Does that make any sense to you? Come on…
Your holocaust statement is simply not factual. In order to remain civil and avoid misleading statements, I will simply suggest you take a look at Chomsky's own response to this claim: http://www.chomsky.info/letters/1989----.htm I find it rather coincidental that this article is essentially a response to people twisting facts used to try to vilify him.
The fact that bin Laden is enamored with Chomsky is quite a talking point, but does little to convince me. Bin Laden also called the US the world’s largest economic power. Economists will tell you the same thing. Does that make Alan Greenspan a terrorist sympathizer? Is war propaganda really the place we should be taking our cues as a society?
Your response does little to respond to my actual statements. Do you have an opinion regarding the point Chomsky makes in this article?
Also, I have read much Chomsky. I was even lucky enough to see him lecture at MIT. I may not agree with everything single he says, but I am very into his idea that he has a right to say it.
Did someone threaten his right to say it? Please post a quote that suggests this? Thank you.
Note that there was no response to the lies he posted. Just a diversion to yet another subject that has nothing to do with the argument posed by Mr. Chomsky in his article. Is this the level of discussion and debate we should be accepting as a society? Childish barbs at my intelligence and comprehension did not seem to move our discussion in any direction other than down the toilet. Flat-out lies were posted as fact without a shred of evidence. When those "facts" were challenged or disproved, he seemed to shut down entirely and offered no apologies for his deceptive and unsubstantiated claims.
In the end, I feel angry that I was treated in such a childish and dismissive manner and I can only assume he feels some level of smug satisfaction due to his last zinger. So what did we accomplish with almost 800 words between the two of us? Nothing, we accomplished nothing. The whole situation seems to mirror the state of discourse within our society. We, as a people can do better than this.
Also, I learned that I need to steer clear of flame-bait. ;)
To boot, I also learned that "knowing Chomsky well" only requires that you read a single one of his books.