By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Noam Chomsky
Narration by: Brian Jones
America’s gadfly is Noam Chomsky. One imagines a number of American elected officials and corporate moguls wishing Chomsky would quit writing about their poor judgment, interference, and undue influence in world affairs. Chomsky is a critic of American government, capitalist excess, and corporate welfare just as Socrates was a critic of the Greek Polis. History suggests Socrates, like Chomsky, never held public or private office. They are similar in that each believes they know better “how to govern” than those who are elected or appointed. There is inherent unfairness in their criticism because neither was in the position of making government or organizational decisions. Socrates and Chomsky measure performance against an ideal, an inherently unchallengeable illusion.
In any government or corporation, those who hold office are human; some are smarter and wiser than others, but all are subject to the greed, covetousness, and hubris of money, power, and prestige. One can argue, even Socrates is subject to those human failings. He petulantly kills himself rather than accept the judgment of his peers. One wonders how much more Socrates could have offered future generations if he had continued philosophical investigation of himself.
No one would question Chomsky’s intelligence but he is subject to the same human failings of all human beings. One wonders how much of his hyperbolic criticism is fired by his own desire for money, power, and prestige. President Carter, President Clinton, President George H. Bush, President Ronald Reagan and others are attacked by Chomsky for making bad decisions that, in Chomsky’s book, make America a “Rogue State”.
Chomsky is like a debater that picks and chooses retrospective actions that make an argument that is convincing because it ignores those facts that do not fit the argument. “Rogue States” does clearly identify facts that show America is not a perfect state but it is a debater’s trick to conclude America is a rogue state.
American government does support dictators who murder their own citizens. Capitalist excess in America is reported every day with CEO’s unreasonably making thousands of times what a minimum wage worker makes. Large corporations like Boeing have used prison labor to manufacture plane parts because slave labor is cheaper than union labor.
These are obvious and provable facts but they do not offer a complete picture of America. They show that America needs to be better. American government’s support of Saddam Hussein is indefensible. The gap between the rich and poor in America is unconscionable. The replacement of government protection of human rights by corporate fiat is frightening.
The question Chomsky might ask himself is would he live anywhere else but America? If he would, how perfect is that other nation? This is not to say that Chomsky and other critics of America are not good for society. They are critically important to the betterment of society. Intelligent critics are our modern Socrates; i.e. our gadflies.
America does need to do better but if one only listens to Chomsky, depression, apathy, and inaction take the place of progress toward a Socratic vision of the “good”.