In Defense of Noam Chomsky

“Amongst Western intelligentsia, to criticize if not loathe American values is viewed as progressive and liberal whilst to support brutal and intolerant religious and political ideologies is a hallmark of being enlightened. It is the freedoms afforded by America that permits [sic] Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguist and political activist, to spew endless antipathy toward the United States while championing astonishingly brutal regimes. Apparently, Professor Chomsky is unaware of what would happen to him (a Jewish man) if he were to live in Gaza and offer similarly trenchant criticisms of Hamas.”—Gad Saad, “Be Thankful for Your Liberties and Freedoms,” Psychology Today (November 22, 2012)

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In The Consuming Instinct (2011), Gad Saad claims that the gender roles depicted on Mad Men are written in DNA on the Holy Tablets that Moses brought down from Darwin’s Mountain. If you oppose any of his reactionary ranting, he wraps himself in the flag of science and says you’re anti-science. No, dude. I’m not anti-science. I’m just anti-bullshit.

Jesus, that great rabbi, famously admonishes us in Matthew’s Gospel to “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). I read this to mean that we should spend far more time on the perfection of ourselves than we do on the perfection of others. By extension, I read this to mean that we should spend far more time on the perfection of our own tribe (or nation or family or religion or ethnic group) than we do on the perfection of other tribes. This doesn’t mean, I hasten to add, that you can’t judge the ways of I.S.I.S. and the Taliban, for instance, to be disgusting and barbaric; it merely means that you should probably spend more time talking about what we’re doing wrong.

Though I usually disagree with him, Noam Chomsky does precisely this. And he’s fully aware (and openly appreciative) of the American freedoms that make it possible for him to say what he says. I’ve heard him say so on numerous occasions. As such, saying, as Gad Saad does, that Chomsky couldn’t do what he does in Gaza is, at best, profoundly misleading. Regardless, what I find most troubling about Gad Saad’s article is its implicit attempt to equate all critique of American foreign policy with hatred of American values. After all, what could be more American than patriotic American idealists holding their government to an impossibly high standard? And what could be more profoundly unAmerican than trying to silence legitimate critique?

Be that as it may, I think it’s important to note that in this article Saad uses precisely the same sleazy debate-club technique to silence critique of American foreign policy that he has elsewhere used to silence critique of his own work in evolutionary psychology. I call it the “Wrapping Yourself in the Flag” strategy. It’s a fairly obvious rhetorical technique. Rather than respond to the substance of a person’s criticism, what you do instead is claim that any critique of this little thing you love is, of necessity, a critique of some great whole. For example: (1) If you critique this neoconservative piece of American foreign policy that I love, you’re actually saying that you hate America, Americans, or American Values; or (2) If you critique this fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity that I love, you actually hate all Christians or God; or (3) If you critique my pseudo-scientific theory of gender, you actually hate Science, Darwin, or the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. I’ve come to expect intellectually dishonest “love it or leave it” reasoning of this kind from unprincipled politicians and debate-club presidents. But I expect far more from a tenured professor at my alma mater.

–John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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