April 21, 2004

My What Would Chomsky Do? penpals

By Stephen Gowans

I'm in the grips of a malaise. Maybe it's because I'm surfeited of American Leftists inventing laughable reasons to justify a vote for the Democrats. And maybe it's because I keep going over the same ground, and all that happens is that the Leftists-for-Kerry crowd just develops ever more elaborate justifications to hold a gun to their heads and pull the trigger.

Normally, I'd say, if that's what they want to do, let them, but since the continued destruction of the US Left by its own hand has enormous implications for the rest of the world, it's no small matter.

Said one member of the suicide squad: "I have said--at the risk of having my leftie-credentials pulled--that we cannot stay out of electoral politics." Since this stands as a kind of oblique "Go Kerry Go!" speech, I'd say the card carrying lefty is more at risk of having his credentials pulled as the owner of fully-functioning brain.

He's not alone. There are plenty of Leftists in the grips of the logical fallacy that anybody but Bush must be better than Bush, and since Kerry is the anybody who has the best chance of beating Bush, Kerry must be better than Bush. QED.

This line of argumentation is to be preceded, under rule 13 of the congregatio de propaganda fide handbook, by the obligatory diatribe against the Democrats. They're the second wing of the business party. No better than the Republicans. Don't expect much from them. Vote Democrat.

(By the way, pinching your nostrils between your two fingers apparently has the magical property of transforming a dumb act into a realistic one.)

I have, over the last couple of months, been sucked into the wholly unproductive activity of exchanging notes with this crowd, an activity commensurate with arguing over the existence of God with WWJD fanatics.

Since the Kerry is Bush-lite view is premised on wishful thinking, the exchange is never weighed down on my correspondents' side by such inconveniences as evidence or bullet-proof reasoning (or much reasoning at all, come to think of it.)  In fact, it all reminds me of a spirited exchange I once had at a dinner party where I discovered I was the only atheist in a room of a half-dozen sentimental believers.

I'll admit, when I discovered I was the lone atheist I was shocked. Stupidly, I believed that intelligent, well-educated people -- and they were -- are never stupid and never believe dumb things, like stories from fairy-tale books.

But I've grown to see that the world can be pretty well divided into two groups of people. I think George Carlin described the division this way:

There are those of whom you think: "He sure seems intelligent, but he's a fucking moron!" And others of whom you think: "He sure seems smart, but he's fucking nuts!"

If this seems to be a way of saying everybody is either fucking nuts or a fucking moron, but me, I should quickly add that I belong to a third category: "He sure seems to be fucking nuts. And he's a fucking moron, to boot!" My only redeeming quality is that I don't pretend to be smart. And I'll freely admit that the bag of neuroses I carry around probably makes me fucking nuts.

In any event, the believers, as believers are wont to do, took it upon themselves to reform my misguided thinking. Although outnumbered, I welcomed this with barely concealed zeal. There's nothing -- well, okay, there are few things -- I enjoy more than a spirited debate. Yeah, I know, most people shy away from them. But I'm weird that way, having cut my debating teeth on countless arguments with my brother and sister at the dinner table, punctuated by the tossing of mash potatoes, cutlery, and an occasional fist, to make a point. And these weren't arguments about matters like, Whose turn is it to pick up the dog shit in the backyard? but weighty, practical matters, like, Who's the better drummer: Gene Kruppa or Buddy Rich? Should everyone receive the same wage? and, Is love nothing more than a conditioned response?

Anyway, in the end, my dinner companions and I reached a stalemate. I clung to my atheism and they said, if they didn't believe in God, the prospects for an afterlife sure looked pretty shitty, so they'd go on believing in the Big Guy upstairs, if I didn't mind.

Strikingly, the same kind of argument is made for the existence of a figure known as "Kerry: The candidate who is slightly better than Bush." If you don't believe he exists, my correspondents say, the prospects for peace post-November sure look shitty, so, if I don't mind, they'll just go on believing.

If wishful thinking doesn't carry the day, there's always an appeal to authority. When I asked another Leftist what made him believe Kerry would be any better than Bush, he replied: "My 30 years experience as an activist."

I was thinking of shooting back in one of two ways: By pointing out that I had 31 years experience as an activist, so I guess that made me right, or that my dick was bigger than his, which would have amounted to the same thing. But since my years of experience as an activist and my dick size aren't really all that impressive (I don't really have 31 years of activist experience), I decided against it. The only contest I knew for sure I could win is the mash potato toss, having perfected my aim from the ages 14 to 18 by using my brother's head as a target. So I replied that I knew I was right and he was wrong because I could throw mash potatoes better than he, and if he didn't believe me, I'd have him over for dinner any time. I received a reply, which read: "At first you seemed smart, but now I see you're fucking nuts!"

He also reminded me that Noam agreed with him, but what I really think he meant was that he agreed with Noam.

He wasn't alone. It turns out there's a whole movement of Noam ditto heads, who reply to the challenge, "Tell me why Kerry is slightly better?" with, "Well, gosh, everyone knows Kerry's better, even if only marginally, because, well, because, well...damn it, because Noam says so."

That's Noam, as in Noam Chomsky, the US Left's great oracle, keeper of the truth and defender of the faith, and head, whether he knows it or not, of the WWCD movement -- What Would Chomsky Do? I've nothing against Chomsky. In fact, I like him. But the lamb-like ductility of the guru-seekers who hang on his every word can be grating.

One of these woolly, grass grazers, wrote to me, confessing he was conflicted. Maybe it was true, he conceded, that a vote for Kerry was, at best, a waste of time, and at worst, an endorsement of the vile set of policies the Kerry team has formulated, but, gosh, Noam urged him to vote for Kerry. And if it came down to a choice between what Noam urged and what Stephen Gowans urged, the choice was a no-brainer. After all, Gowans is just a guy who is not only fucking nuts, but a moron to boot. Chomsky is a Messiah.

But it should hardly matter who articulates the argument, a Messiah or a fucking moron who's nuts. What matters is, Does it make sense? And is it based on anything more than wishful thinking?

He reminded me of my otherwise brilliant co-worker, who would agonize over every dumb decision to come down from on high, trying to make sense of what seemed ill-considered and downright stupid (and was), only to eventually throw up his hands in exasperation, meekly concluding that if it seemed nonsensical to him it was only because he wasn't bright enough to understand.

Leftists labor under the same delusion. If it's backed by Chomsky and Parenti and Michael Moore and other Gods of the US Left pantheon, it must make sense, even if it seems not to. Carlin, who's blessed with a healthy irreverence, might say, "They seem smart, but..."

My correspondent produced Noam's encyclical on the impending election, so that I could see with my own two eyes that a decree had indeed come down from the leftie Mount Olympus. I dutifully read through it, and was immediately dismayed. Not because it said, All good Leftists shall vote for Kerry, but because it didn't say that, though plenty of people thought it did. Astonishingly, Noam hadn't made a single reference to either John F. Kerry or the Democrats.

So why is it that the lambs thought their shepherd was herding them toward the big tent Leftists think they can find a home in? Maybe because Noam, who's not above the rhetorical eye-gouging and kicks to the groin that are standard in any forensic street-fighter's repertoire, signaled his position by taking a few well-aimed swipes at those who warn against a vote for Kerry. The problem with these people, complained the shepherd between the lines, is that they're stuck in some university seminar, and have yet to step foot outside to face the cold blast of reality.

Having said that, Noam then added a silly piece of illogic. Bush is dangerous, therefore (this part being implied) you should vote for Kerry. But isn't it possible that Kerry will be just as dangerous as Bush, perhaps even more so? An alternative isn't better, simply because it's an alternative. I mean, Celine Dionne is an alternative to Leonard Cohen, but you wouldn't catch me listening to either of them.

What's more, it's not as if the alternative is saying anything to make you believe he would be better. Let's run down the list of things Kerry thinks are pretty cool. Targeted assassinations. Israeli ethnic cleansing. Denying Palestinians a right to return to their homes. The building of illegal settlements in occupied territory. Territorial expansion through military conquest. A bigger army. Military supremacy. The unilateral use of force. The pre-emptive use of force. The continued occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The bold, muscular exercise of US power.

Oh, but here's how Kerry's different. He thinks the occupation of Iraq should be a NATO operation. Under US command. I guess that is different.

But you know what? Chomsky didn't actually say people should vote for Kerry. Not in so many words. It's implied, carefully insinuated between the lines, as skillfully as any accomplished -- and unctuous -- politician could.  What Chomsky actually says is: Bush is dangerous. Don't vote for Bush. Be realistic.

Whenever anyone gets this cute, I just play dumb, and refuse to draw the conclusion they want me to draw.

Bush is dangerous.

Right.

Don't vote for Bush.

Couldn't agree more.

Be realistic.

Good point. We should realistically acknowledge that Kerry isn't going to be any better than Bush, much as we might wish him to be. Realistically speaking, the only option is to vote for neither.

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Stephen Gowans