"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Noam Chomsky–Darling Of The ‘Progressive’ Left And Wrong Again

Poor Noam Chomsky.  He took his licks recently at an Artificial Intelligence Conference at MIT when he went head-to-head with Peter Norvig of Google.  Chomsky held to his timeworn argument that in order to create artificial intelligence, one must understand the brain; but Norvig objected, saying that in the era of big data one needs not know where language originates and understand its internal mechanisms; but only to see how it is used.  By mining billions of bits of data, Google can simply see how language is used and what are its consistently common grammatical features, and create an intelligent language program.  Chomsky had been outdistanced by the modern world.

In a long, loose, and rambling article in The Guardian (6.5.13) Chomsky puts on his other hat, that of Liberal Political Thinker, and tells us what is wrong with the way the United States does business. We need to listen to the people more, he says, especially tribal voices decrying the rape of the environment, the predation of greedy capitalists and power-hungry political leaders.  If an extra-terrestrial were to look down on the earth today, says Chomsky, he would see an inevitable path of destruction, led by the Evil Kingdom, America.

Chomsky has been championing the causes of the Left for as long as he has been the hero of linguistics; but unfortunately in the political arena as in the world of AI, the modern world has left him behind. It is an increasingly and bewilderingly complex world where there are no longer simple answers nor stable boundaries.  There are no wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Palestine, or Israel; but a regional war with no administrative or constitutional boundaries.  Shiites, Sunnis, and their sub-sects and political wings are arming themselves for intervention throughout the Middle East; old Cold War animosities are reemerging with the contrary support of Russia and the US in Syria. Chomsky still sees the world in the static and predictable world of the past.

Lionizing the close-to-the-land, spiritual tribal people and condemning the venal, money-grubbing West is almost senile in its idealism.  His take on Bolivia, for example, is telling:

The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the "rights of nature."

The reality is that Evo Morales is a left-wing ideologue who manipulates and exploits his own people – the indigenous Aymara and Quechua Indians – by telling them that the oil and gas in the ground is theirs and it should stay there.  He appeals to both the militancy of the miners and to native Indian tradition; but his goal is only to stay in power.  By keeping valuable resources ‘in the ground’ he is depriving a desperately poor population of financial gain and economic development.

The same can be said of the late Hugo Chavez who, according to Chomsky, said that the West should stop consuming so much oil.  Counter-intuitive unless you realize that such preachy evangelism was yet another publicity ploy to pander to his own hyper-nationalistic electorate.  Keeping oil in the ground is never a bad idea since oil prices have always gone up, and by waving an environmental flag along with his populist, socialist one, there was no way he could lose. The ‘progressive’ cabal of Chavez, Morales, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador all talk an environmental talk, but their nature – like every other world leader – is to acquire, preserve, and expand political power.

Sadly and comically Chomsky says:

You know, Chavez was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.

Next on the Chomsky agenda is nuclear war.  There is no doubt in his mind that we are headed for a nuclear holocaust and a fiery Armageddon.

The other issue is nuclear war. It's been known for a long time that if there were to be a first strike by a major power, even with no retaliation, it would probably destroy civilization just because of the nuclear-winter consequences that would follow. You can read about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It's well understood. So the danger has always been a lot worse than we thought it was.

In stating this Chomsky shows how he is still lost in the 50s and 60s when ‘Duck and Cover’ was the mantra, and the ugly apparition of dark, brooding missiles aimed at the US was everyone’s vision of the Soviet Union.  Without a doubt, the Soviet Union and the United States came close to the possibility of a nuclear exchange, but whether or not it would have been The Big One has been long debated.  More to the point, in this era of asymmetrical warfare, the threat is more from a terrorist mini-nuke or a stealth bomb than an all-out conflagration between Iran and the United States.  MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) worked well during the Cold War, and few people believe that when Iran gets the bomb, they will use it.  Most people overestimate the numbers killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – millions it must have been, given the frightening power of the bomb, the almost inconceivable power of the Universe harnessed in Fat Boy.  The numbers are actually only 66,000 and 39,000 – not insignificant, and perhaps not even necessary, but far from what one would expect from an explosion of Tantric power.

Then Chomsky turns his attention to poor North Korea.  Wouldn’t you be upset if you, like North Korea, were surrounded by hostile forces ready to do you in?

Why would [the North Koreans] behave the way they do? Just imagine ourselves in their situation. Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.

Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was sent to destroy North Korea's dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply – a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg.

Chomsky, of course, conveniently forgets to mention that the insular, hermetic, and crazed North Korean communist kingdom has created one, big, national gulag, reduced the population to rags and starvation, and has used what resources it has to arm itself and threaten outsiders to stay in power.

It is just whistlin’ Dixie to assume that Kim Jong-Un is any different than Hitler, Stalin, or Mao; and that he would listen to reason.  Put in the vernacular, he is a scary muthafucka, just like a thousand despots before him who said “Absolute Power or Death”.

I am not particularly sanguine about the prospect of world peace any time soon.  One only has to look at the last 4000 years of human history to dispel that notion.  We can only navigate as cannily and intelligently as possible through roiled straits. We in the United States have been particularly vulnerable to idealistic notions and have believed all along that history really doesn’t mean that much; and it’s the dynamic, optimistic future which does.  It is the pragmatists and the coming amoral majority of suicide bombers,terrorists, and retrograde but smart despots who will prevail.

If there is one lesson in all this, it is most definitely not that of Chomsky.  If the United States is to retain its primacy in the world, it has to start playing by amoral rules.  It’s a jungle out there, and not the one populated by sweet, loving, indigenous tribal people.

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