Chomsky vs. Will
I don’t know if Noam Chomsky can catch a baseball. It is not what he is known for. Actually, I don’t know if George Will can catch a baseball, but he knows baseball; has written at least one worthwhile book about baseball, and I have sat behind him at a baseball game. That is where I got the idea.
Noam Chomsky is the smartest living American, whether he can catch or throw a baseball or not. He writes about a book a year, books that are essential to any kind of informed understanding of American history or American foreign or domestic policy, though not so much about baseball. Noam Chomsky is a subversive. He understands the lengths to which our leaders have gone to achieve dominion over the planet, and he knows the costs in lives and suffering of that dominion.
George Will has intellectual written all over him, kind of slight, not tall, very learned looking and sounding, and he writes wonderfully. I thought so when he was part of my daily bread in the Washington Post every day at law school as Watergate was unfolding before me. Since then he has become ABC’s spokesperson for the forces of stability. His tongue is sharp; his attitude dismissive; his ideas soundly right wing. I will admit to not paying much if any attention to the man since the eighties when I bought a book that he had written about that decade which included virtually no mention of the defining issue of those times, the wars in Central America.
The omission actually gave me hope that this was a man capable of embarrassment at a governmental policy characterized by its utilization of death squads. That, of course, is the standard ploy of the status quo; one does not address one’s failings. One simply ignores them. On the other hand, the status quo does not consider the destruction of a country, not to mention the hopes of a region, a failing. Instead, it trumpets the success and merely leaves out the number of lost lives and exterminated villages. When, in the case of Guatemala, President Clinton apologized ten years later, it was the finest halfhearted, meaningless gesture of his career, and when tallying halfhearted and meaningless compared to what he could have accomplished, that is saying something. But I digress. An old fan holds dearly fond thoughts, and I saw George Will’s leaving out a few chapters as a sign of decency.
Noam Chomsky’s decency burns so bright it can’t be obscured by a hit piece in the New Yorker. He has bled the cause of righteousness for his entire life which, the world should rejoice, still continues well after seventy years. He did everything at his disposal to end the war in Indochina, stopping short of self-immolation. It is impossible to quantify the magnitude of such a tragedy as that would have been. There was so much more that the world needed to know about the stratagems and war crimes that awaited United States’ implementation as well as lay in our bloody wake.
I didn’t waste the intervening years in my opinion, but I will always wonder how different a path I would have taken had I read American Power and the New Mandarins when it was given to me by a well-read Princeton grad and two-tour Vietnam Vet in 1973 instead of sometime in the €˜80’s after four or five other of Noam Chomsky’s efforts at national awakening. Have I failed him, wallowing in my powerless state, awake at least, thanks to him, but inert?
Blessed or challenged with large thoughts, it was in the nineties that the vaguest gelling of action first stimulated the muscles of the lower back. I like to move around when I go to a baseball game, closer down, better or different vantage point. And so it was at Camden Yards, then the new home of my team, the Baltimore Orioles. Around the sixth inning, I had achieved a tenth row seat on the first base side but only a little bit. This was the space of the rich, the long time, or the well-connected. That evening, or every evening for all I know, it was the space of George Will.
I say my parents made me polite and shy. The good or bad of that is a hesitancy to invade the serenity of another without invitation. George didn’t know who I was, much less that I was there sitting stealthily three rows behind him. How could he have been expected to ask me to join him in a conversation? Seeing him obviously provoked my imagination. My stomach churned a bit as I considered alternatives. Approach, subject matter? Between innings, while departing? Either I decided on the latter, or my shyness/good breeding/cowardice left me with no choice. Game over, I moved to get close enough to talk. I don’t remember if I bothered to introduce myself, or just said, €œexcuse me, Mr. Will, would you debate Noam Chomsky?€
His reply will never leave me. He did his best not to show annoyance at having his serenity disturbed. €œNo, we don’t share enough premises to make it interesting.€ Doing my best to defend that position, at least for the only sort of debate that George Will would find interesting, one that considers the effective strategies of world domination and delicately balances the sayable and unsayable Kissingerian tenets of realpolitik, I suppose he has a point. But would it not be of value to the citizens of the world to retreat momentarily from the heights of grand power manipulation and begin with some essential assumed commonly possessed premises? The survival of mankind, the value of an individual human life, the long-term devastation wrought by the continued compromising and destruction of individual citizens’ or soldiers’ underlying moral sense, the value of truth?
Why could not the vast resources, intellectual and financial, of Madison Avenue be profitably engaged in the promotion of this titanic battle of intellects and philosophies. Not since Vidal and Buckley, the ad campaign might inform, has the American electorate been treated to such a clash of mental energy and divergent political disposition. Democracy on trial? Can proponents of enlightened monarchy(Will) acknowledge their need to manipulate the masses with a dash, or bucketful, of artful mendacity? Is the most cerebral of anarcho-syndicalists(Chomsky) willing to place the fate of the planet in the hands of people who have never heard of him, possess a belief system incapable of conceiving of US responsibility for the crimes of which he accuses it, and who might not be able to read his books, much less understand them?
I hereby vow to make it happen in the supremely unlikely event I ever achieve such power..