Friday, August 09, 2013

Chomsky and Zizek and the Journal

The recent “feud” between Chomsky and Zizek that the Wall Street Journal is promoting is only interesting for the use it is being put by the Journal. Reading Chomsky on politics in 1982 transformed me into a lifelong learner, reader of Chomsky and reader of Chomsky’s political critics. His empirical accuracy over a thirty year period has been astounding (check out the 500 pages of footnotes that accompanied the book Understanding Power). Contrary to many who are fans of Chomsky’s political critique, I’ve also loved the work of Salvoj Zizek. Chomsky’s statements implying that Zizek’s work has no value are wrong. I’ve found Zizek’s insights stimulating, helpful and fun. I don’t think I would understand what’s valuable in Lacan without Zizek and Bruce Fink. So I think Chomsky is wrong about Zizek and Lacan, and Zizek is wrong about Chomsky. They are both great in their domains. I do think that Zizek’s comments about contemporary political events – like the war in Afghanistan – are weak. That kind of stuff is Chomsky’s great strength.

It shows how skewed mainstream debate is that you can just state a crude version of Chomsky’s views and they seem foolish. But is the sense of foolishness in Chomsky’s views or in the mainstream assumptions that he is countering? What if it turns out that the mainstream assumptions are ludicrous – the US is pro-democracy, there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace process? If the radical argument against mainstream assumptions is seriously considered then the reader has to find out what’s right by exploring the issues. The Journal author doesn’t want the reader to do this and so the whole incident is presented as humorous and not to be taken seriously. Ironically, this is just the kind of journalistic behavior that Chomsky and Zizek help us understand. No wonder the author doesn't want to confront the issues they raise.

The whole point of the story of the “feud” is to marginalize these thinkers who offer a radical and rationally argued critique of western social and political structures and policies. Since the Wall Street Journal is a bastion of and, on its editorial page, a promoter of mainstream conservative policies they naturally oppose radical critique. Since the Journal is in the power position they can make fun of opponents. By not treating them seriously they can try to get their readers not to treat them seriously and instead use them for entertainment purposes.