The Shame of Noam Chomsky and the Gatekeepers of the Left, Part 1
By Barrie Zwicker
October 4, 2007
The Shame of Noam Chomsky and the Gatekeepers of the Left, Part 1 (Oct. 4, 2007)
(Excerpted for Chapter 5 of Barrie Zwicker's Towers of Deception)
"Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories....."
-President George Bush, Nov. 10, 2001, to the United Nations General Assembly
"Look, this is just conspiracy theory."
-Noam Chomsky to author [Barrie Zwicker] in conversation, November 14, 2002.
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
Thanks for the identical advice, George Bush and Noam Chomsky. But no thanks.
There's something very strange here. You'd expect George Bush, the most visible face of the American Empire, to employ the intellectually bankrupt phrase "conspiracy theory" as an element of his propagandistic rhetoric in defence of the official story of 9/11. On the other hand, about the last person you'd expect use the same phraseology the same way for the same purpose would be Noam Chomsky, known for the masterful deconstruction of propaganda.
You'd expect Noam to be unmasking the nature of this phrase and the purposes of George Bush in using it. As we shall see, this phrase (and its muscular friends "conspiracy nut," "conspiracy whacko," etc.) is far more than simply another misleading figure of speech. It's a particularly effective tool for suppressing healthy citizen scepticism about the contradictions about the contradictions and absurdities of 9/11 and further investigation into them.
Chomsky himself at one point issued a strong caution against the use of the term. He had just explained (1) , at a public meeting, how mainstream media stories are skewed to favour vested interests by means of reporters quoting establishment representatives at length while neglecting to quote critics of the establishment. "Would you characterise [you] media analysis as a 'conspiracy theory' al all?" a woman asked Chomsky.
"It's precisely the opposite of conspiracy theory, actually," Chomsky said. "...institutional factors ... set boundaries for reporting and interpretation in ideological institutions."
He continued: "Any economist knows this: it's not a conspiracy theory to point [out] that ... it's just taken for granted as an institutional fact. If someone were to say 'Oh no, that's a conspiracy theory,' people would laugh." He concluded: "For people to call [Chomsky's media analysis] 'conspiracy theory' is part of the effort to prevent an understanding of how the world works, in my view ' conspiracy theory' has become the intellectual equivalent of a four-letter word: it's something people say when they don't want you to think about what's really going on."
So, when Noam Chomsky repeatedly uses the phrase "conspiracy theory" to describe questioning of the official story of 9/11, he clearly knows its power and the purpose of its use.
Emotional Considerations Arising from a Study of Chomsky's Work.
Among readers of this book's draft form, this chapter became the most controversial. These readers include writer friends, other friends, and colleagues. No one was close to neutral. The chapter - and I - encountered strong praise and strong aversion, hearty congratulations and dire warnings, gratitude, anger and suspicion.
I came to realise how deep for others - and for me- are the feelings associated wwith this chapter. This caused me to try to separate out the emotional issues. The attempt has helped me think more clearly about Noam Chomsky and the Left Gatekeepers. I hope this sidebar likewise will be useful to you, the reader.
The emotional attitude toward Chomsky on the Right for the most part is imply hatred. A hatchet job on Chomsky in the Saturday Observer section of the Ottawa Citizen of November 5th, 2005, provides an example. "The Fanatic Professor: As smart as Noam Chomsky is, he can be infuriatingly stupid" reads the teaser box at the top of the section front page. Inside, the attack is titled "Blind genius." The hatchet is wielded by the paper's editorial page editor, Leonard Stern. Chomsky's political views are "crude". Chomsky is a "weird one" who "buys into ideas that would embarrass the flat earth society."
On the left, the feelings are more complicated. The main emotions are gratitude and admiration - sometimes to the extent of near idol worship. As Daniel Abrahamson puts it: "Noam Chomsky is often hailed as America's premier dissident intellectual, a fearless purveyor of truth fighting against media propaganda, murderous US foreign policy, and the crimes of profit hungry translational corporations. He enjoys a slavish cult-like following from millions [of] leftist students, journalists, and activists who fawn over his dense books as if they were scripture. To them, Chomsky is the supreme deity, a priestly master who logic cannot be questioned."2
I myself was one of his earliest supports, from the days when most had not heard of him. My admiration knew almost no bounds. I have a stack of his books more than a foot high. I was honoured to interview him for four segments on Vision TV. A friend of mine and I at one time competed to see who could get the larger number of letters to the editor published defending Chomsky against the ill-wishers who twisted his words or called him names such as "anti-American". I assisted in a small way with the film Manufacturing Consent.
But I became one of those in the Left puzzled, even mystified, as a result of Chomsky's insistence for more than 40 years that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who killed JFK. This puzzling anomaly took on new significance after 9/11 with Chomsky's opposition to questioning the official 9/11 story - which questioning he says is a huge mistake for the Left.
As I studied his work ever more closely under the intense illumination of 9/11, I became increasingly amazed at patterns, dealt with in this chapter, that emerge from his body of work. Disbelief turned to shock. I feel i have been duped. I feel embarrassment that mainly I duped myself, that I had been in denial. With these realizations came anger from feeling betrayed by someone I welcomed into my innermost sanctum of trust.
One of my emotional tasks is not to go overboard, like the kilted lover who seeks revenge. Trying to be responsible, I attempted to reconcile these new strongly negative emotions with the positive emotion of gratitude that I felt for so long, and that it would seem reasonable that I should continue to feel. Gratitude for all that I did learn from Chomsky, for all the support he has given to causes I support. I still wrestle with these conflicting emotions as I chance across the latest brilliant articulation by Chomsky of the havoc wreaked by the American Empire: For instance, his comments in an article by Jim Mcllroy and Carol Wynter:
Caracas - By sending gas for heating to poor, homeless people for free and at very low prices for those who can pay "Venezuela is giving a great example of cooperation and solidarity with the people of the United States. And this is being seen by the entire world," Noam Chomsky, well known US intellectual, told a public meeting of teachers, students, researchers and journalists on February 13 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to a special report in the February 15 Caracas newspaper Diario Vea.
Chomsky also said that the majority of North Americans "receive little or no information of the great achievements of the Bolivarian revolution, that is headed by President Hugo Chavez, because the mass media only emphasise the bad, and are silent about the positive."3
But now, even while reading a report such as this, I cannot forget the evidence of his being a major leader of the "controlled opposition" to the American Empire. My feelings of gratitude are hugely diminished and can never rise again. I decided to disclose my anger and mixed feelings here, but I have reined them in as much as possible in this chapter. My hope is to channel most of my anger into increased research and into understanding better the complexities of the subject matter. I have also been helped by a friend who is a leader in the "Forgiveness First" movement.
You, too, may encounter strong feelings as you read this chapter. I am grateful for the debate that raged among my friends and colleagues, not least for the emotions directed at me. They have made me reconsider, have rekindled my sensitivity for the feelings of others, and have helped me rewrite usefully, I hope. I also hope you have friends as thoughtful and honest as mine with whom to discuss the intellectual, political and emotional aspects of Chomsky and his work. I must say I now find it creepy.Every person who says of writes "Oh, that's just conspiracy theory" in response to a question or claim about 9/11 should be challenged immediately. The phrase, in that tone, is counterfeit currency. To allow it to stand leaves the person using the phrase the framer of the discourse, and devalues the discourse and the target. Challenging the phrase is not making a mountain out of the molehill. It is to expose it illegitimacy and enable more reasoned discussion to proceed.
Used pejoratively, the phrase fails in at least four ways. First, as part of speech it includes two works each of which as legitimate purpose and meaning - as do the two in combination. The entertain a theory about a conspiracy or possible conspiracy can be eminently reasonable - and usually is.
Second, the phrase as putdown is usually tossed out in place of a response to the facts, claims or assertions brought forward in connection with the with the theory being advanced. As such the phrase is counterfeit, a non sequitur.
Third, it's a psychological below-the-belt blow. The essential power of the phrase - especially when rendered as "conspiracy nut" or "conspiracy wacko" - is that it raises for the person who is the target, the spectre of one of our deepest fears: fear of our sanity. No one wants to be thought of as insane, not even slightly.
Fourth, the cumulative use of this putdown forms a psychological and political wall in society, that helps protect actual conspiracies from being discussed and investigated as they deserve to be. It's a compact but powerful ideological tool to deflect attention away from the reality of the conspiracy's existence. Let's look more closely at each dimension, because it's time to permanently decommission this weapon of psychological warfare.
Real Conspiracies Abound
First, real conspiracies exist, have always existed and always will. In law, a conspiracy is simply two or more people agreeing to an illegal goal, and one of them taking at least one act in furtherance of that agreement. So common is the crime of conspiracy that a keyword search of any newspaper's archives will reveal numerous archives will reveal numerous stories of people charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to commit murder, and so on. For instance, between January 1 to June 30, 2004 a total of 529 articles in New York Times used the word conspiracy.
Three more recent high-profile examples of conspiracy charges being laid are those against Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom, against Martha Stewart, and against Enron Defendants.4 In the American political arena, large conspiracies have been proven in the case of Iran-Contra and the "October Surprise" that denied Jimmy Carter the presidency. No one can be labelled "paranoid" for saying Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger conspired to topple the democratically-elected government of Salvadore Allende in Chile in 1973.5 In the military sphere, the secret 1962 plans by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff to kill Americans and blame this on Cuba to justify war on Cuba qualifies as a conspiracy, or nothing does. (See Chapter 7, Operation Northwoods).
Webster G. Tarpley, reaching back further into history, points out that the American Revolution "was based on a conspiracy theory which saw the individual actions of George III as being governed by a singly unifying design, which was to impose tyranny on the UK's NOrth American colonies."6 Even though the American Founding Fathers could not produce documents proving their case, were they wrong to believe this? Tarpley notes that the US Declaration of Independence signed in Congress in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 contains "one of the most celebrated conspiracy theories of all time." Toward the beginning it states that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a government..."7 There you have the conspiracy theory and the call to action based on it, in one passage.
No one should ever accept a whiff of criticism for suggesting that conspiracies have existed and do exist. More than that, the existence of conspiracies, especially at the highest levels, is bedrock. It is those who disparage the existence of conspiracies who should be put instantly on the defensive. As Don Paul, a 9/11 Truth activist and author in San Francisco puts it: "We should remember, I think, the following realities. Conspiracies are history. Conspiracies are how the ruling elites grab or maintain power."
PROFILE: Webster G. Tarpley
"International Terrorism is Not Spontaneous; it Requires Expert Terrorist Controllers"
As a by-product of his fluency in more than five languages, his fascination with history and his photographic memory, Webster Griffin Tarpley is a tour guide extraordinaire. In Berlin he led me on an hours-long Metro and walking tour, during which he explained the glories of the Pergamon Museum, the lessons of Emperor William II memorial church on the Kurfurstendamm, the history of the Reichstag. We took a pedicab to Checkpoint Charlie and along the way "we" talked with ordinary Berliners. He literally knew the history of almost every street, building and monument. It was the same in Paris, London and Madrid. his own favourite travel is "political tourism." If there's an election, a conference or a demonstration he wants to be there and learn all about it.
More than anyone else I know in the 9/11 truth movement, Webster Tarpley provides a tour of the most important checkpoints of our political world the powers of the oligarchies, the importance of economic forces, and the specifics of the fake terrorism mounted by oligarchies' covert agents - all of which he situates in the sweep of history as he sees it. His work in these fields is singular, from his 1978 Moro dossier and his famous book George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, which he wrote in 1992 with Anton Chaikin;8 to his 1998-9 study of the world financial crisis entitled Surviving the Cataclysm; through his 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA published in March 2005 and now in its third edition. He frequently uses the term "rogue network" to describe the machinations of "the huge and pervasive intelligence agencies ... whose cumulative effect is to over-determine observed reality."
As it happened, he was in Berlin on September 11th 2001. "I concluded more or less instantaneously that the 9/11 events were a provocation by this rogue network ... in order to provide a new enemy image to organise the internal social order of the US and other NATO states, and to provide a pretext for military attacks on Arab and Islamic countries."
He's also an activist. "My most important long-term commitment is to work to improve the intelligence and world awareness of the anti-regime political forces in the United States and around the world," he says. He recognizes the importance of media. "On the positive side, I would cite the talk radio people like Jeff Rense and the Lennie Bloom/Sherman Skolnick cloackanddagger.de, as well as Alex Jones, Jack Blood, Meria Heller, the Dave von Kleist Power Hour, Keidi of LIB Network in Los Angeles, and others Free speech lives in these anti-establishment radio and internet radio outlets, be they leftist, conservative, centrist." On the other hand, he cites his disappointment, as an example, of the failure of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times - or any other mainstream paper - to review 9/11 Synthetic Terror. He observes: "Even a slanderous review would be better than total silence."
Tarpley foresees new political upsurges on the agenda for the decade and a half ahead, along the lines of 1968. "Bush, Blair and the neo-cons are in the process of creating bureaucratic authoritarian police states. The emerging opposition to those oppressive regimes will need epistemology, economic program, political strategy, international focus and networking, and much more." Tarpley hopes to be able to help on many of these fronts, "including the serious matter of identifying agents of influence in the US-UK finance oligarchs [are deploying to] try to wreck emerging opposition."
9/11 Synthetic Terror Made in USA By Webster Griffin Tarpley is available to buy on Amazon.com.
Theorizing is Inescapable, Useful and Indispensable.
As for theories, they're the foundation of science, and unavoidable in everyday life. Unavoidable because we are hard wired to theorize. If you hear a loud bang right now, you cannot stop your brain from launching an instantaneous scan of your memory chips. You cannot prevent possibilities from flashing into your mind: Is it a car backfiring, a gunshot, a car crash, and electrical transformer exploding? You rush to the window with at least four theories in mind. Smoke and sparks flying from a hydro pole validate the exploding transformer theory. In science, the process is more refined. Theorizing is inescapable, useful and, indeed, indispensable as a means of marking sense of the world. It is the heart of the scientific method. The word theory and the idea it encapsulates should be put on a pedestal, not besmirched in an illegitimate slogan.
Second, the phrase as non sequitur. The first sentence of a review in The Nation of David Ray Griffin's book The New Pearl Harbor was: "Conspiracy theories are hard to kill." The review was by long-time CIA operative Robert Baer. In his response to review, Griffin wrote: "....by declaring 'Conspiracy theories are hard to kill' [Baer] pretends not to know that in the book's introduction, I pointed out that the question is not whether one accepts or rejects a conspiracy theory about 9/11, but only whether one accepts the government's conspiracy theory or some other one. By pretending not to know this, Baer suggests that to take issue with the book one needs only to put it in the 'conspiracy theory' genre, thereby dismissing it a priori."9
A Below-the-Belt Blow
Third the phrase as a psychological below-the-belt blow. It is justifiable to describe the term "conspiracy wacko" as a weapon of psychological warfare. Psychologist Floyd Rudmin writes:
The power of this pejorative is that it discounts a theory by attacking the motivations and mental competence of those who advocate the theory. By labelling an explanation of events "conspiracy theory," evidence and argument are dismissed because they come from a mentally or morally deficient personality, not because they have been shown to be incorrect. Calling an explanation of events "conspiracy theory" means, in effect, "We don't like you, and no one should listen to your explanation."10
Op-ed page pundits sometimes deliver the blow more gently, but to the same pejorative effect. They attempt through amateur 'psychologizing' to explain away the evidence of those they label "conspiracists." Some people, the line goes, have the "need" to believe conspiracies and so they "invent them."
Fourth, the cumulative exercise of this phrase in its putdown mode performs an ideological function in society. It endorses the idea that only a nutty minority could actually think out leaders would lie to us, or that there are very real and powerful interests that secretly engage in crimes of various sorts to protect and expand their power, control and wealth. The demeaning notion, that those who are suspicious of power are few and mentally unstable, can only benefit then powerful. You can bet that the last person who thought up the term "You can't fight city hall" was a mayor.
The Descriptive, Non-Putdown, Use of the Phrase Conspiracy Theory
It may be that a larger percentage of the population today is concerned about conspiracies than was the case in, say the 1950s/ Despite the official "lone gunman" explanation for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 78% of Americans believe a high-level conspiracy did him in. The eventual unravelling of the lie - put out by the White House and dutifully amplified by the mainstream media - that Iraq possessed WMDs has increased the knowledge that a powerful network can collude in inventing a countrywide, even worldwide, bogus reality. Suspicions linger about the plane crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone, a much-respected politician poised at the time of his death to play a key role in holding the Bush Administration to account. And of course there are the contradictions of 9/1. As already noted, almost half og New Yorkers believe the White House was complicit in 9/11.
If more people than before suspect high-level conspiracies, Rudmin puts forward an intriguing theory as to why. Conspiracy theorizing arises, he says, when:
a. Significant political or economic events change power relationships in society;
b. Contradictions in the explanation of these events are noticed by ordinary citizens;
c. Curiosity and then concern are aroused, and
d. Further information is sought under the presumption that power is being abused and deception is being deployed [emphasis added]11
This swings a spotlight onto the media. Rudmin continues:
Conspiracy theory is "deconstructive history" because it is in rebellion against official explanations and against orthodox journalism [emphasis added] and orthodox history.
Conspiracy theory by ordinary people is radically empirical: tangible facts are the focus, especially facts that the standard stories try to overlook. There is a ruthless reduction down to what is without doubt real, namely, persons. Conspiracy theory presumes that human events are caused by people acting as people do, including cooperating, planning, cheating, deceiving, and pursuing power. Thus, conspiracy theories do not focus on impersonal forces like geo-politics, market economics, globalization, social evolution and other such abstract explanations of human events.
To call conspiracy theory "naive" does not mean that it is uncritical or stupidly innocent. In fact, that is what conspiracy theorists ... say about orthodox explanations of events promoted by government sources, by mainstream journalism, [emphasis added] or by school-book history.
Conspiracy theories arise when dramatic events happen, and the orthodox explanations try to diminish the events gloss over. In other words, conspiracy theories begin when someone notices that the explanations do not fit the facts.12 [emphasis added]
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3
1. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, eds., Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, The New Press, 2002, p. 26.
2. Daniel L. Abrahamson (http:www.falseflagnews.com) commentary, September 27, 2005 on Rense.com
3. Jim McIlroy and Coral Wynter, "Venezuelan Humanism vs. US Terrorism," Green Left Weekly, February 19, 2006.
4. Dan Ackman, "Vernie Ebbers Guilty," Forbes.com, March 15, 2005
Indictment "Count One" (Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice, Make False Statements, and Commit Perjury), United States of America v. Martha Stewart and Peter Bacanovic, Defendents. United States District Southern Disctrict of New York, S1 03 cr.17 (MGC).
US Department of Justice, "Former Enron Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth L. Lay Charged with Conspiracy, Fraud, False Statements," Press Release, July 8, 2004.
5. National Security Archive, The George Washington University Gelman Library, "Chile: 16,000 Secret US Documents Declassified," Press Release, November 13, 2000. These relate to "Washington's role in the violent overthrow of the Allende government," nsaarchive.org
6. Webster Griffin Tarpley, 9/11 Synthetic Terror Made in USA, Progressive Books, 2005 pp 333-343
7. Ibid., p 335
8. Webster Griffin Tarpley and Anton Chaikin, George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, Executive Intelligence Review, 1991.
Webster Griffin Tarpley, Surviving the Cataclysm, Washington Grove Books, 1999.
Webster Griffin Tarpley, 9/11 Synthetic Terror, op. cit.
NOTE: Since 1996, George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography has been available for free download on Webster Tarpley's website www.tarpley.net
9. David Ray Griffin's response to Baer review of The New Pearl Harbor.
10. Floyd Rumin, Professor, Psychology Department, University of Tromso, Tromso, Norway, writing on www.NewDemocracyWorld.com, April 2003
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