Monday, March 25, 2013

And Then There Is Joe -- Blow, That Is

"The more one dissents from political orthodoxies, the more the attacks focus on personality, style and character." So says Glenn Greenwald in his latest article about Noam Chomsky. And people wonder why I blog as "Joe Blow."

It is bad enough that I have had to put up with the likes of some locals such as Ernie Branscomb, Eric Kirk, Hank Sims and not to forget the illustrious newspaper opinionater, Dave Stancliff, but to subject my family to the consequences of their juvenile rancorous invectives was a bit much.

Glenn's "How Noam Chomsky is discussed" expresses my sentiments on this issue to perfection. He begins by saying:
"One very common tactic for enforcing political orthodoxies is to malign the character, "style" and even mental health of those who challenge them. The most extreme version of this was an old Soviet favorite: to declare political dissidents mentally ill and put them in hospitals. In the US, those who take even the tiniest steps outside of political convention are instantly decreed "crazy", as happened to the 2002 anti-war version of Howard Dean and the current iteration of Ron Paul (in most cases,what is actually "crazy" are the political orthodoxies this tactic seeks to shield from challenge). 
This method is applied with particular aggression to those who engage in any meaningful dissent against the society's most powerful factions and their institutions. Nixon White House officials sought to steal the files from Daniel Ellsberg's psychoanalyst's office precisely because they knew they could best discredit his disclosures with irrelevant attacks on his psyche. Identically, the New York Times and partisan Obama supporters have led the way in depicting both Bradley Manning and Julian Assangeas mentally unstable outcasts with serious personality deficiencies. The lesson is clear: only someone plagued by mental afflictions would take such extreme steps to subvert the power of the US government. 
A subtler version of this technique is to attack the so-called "style" of the critic as a means of impugning, really avoiding, the substance of the critique. Although Paul Krugman is comfortably within mainstream political thought as a loyal Democrat and a New York Times columnist, his relentless attack against the austerity mindset is threatening to many. As a result, he is barraged with endless, substance-free complaints about his "tone": he is too abrasive, he does not treat opponents with respect, he demonizes those who disagree with him, etc. The complaints are usually devoid of specifics to prevent meaningful refutation; one typical example: "[Krugman] often cloaks his claims in professional authority, overstates them, omits arguments that undermine his case, and is a bit of a bully." All of that enables the substance of the critique to be avoided in lieu of alleged personality flaws. 
Nobody has been subjected to these vapid discrediting techniques more than Noam Chomsky.
 To continue reading the rest of the article, please click this link.

Glenn says in defense of Chomsky, and I offer this paragraph for Eric Kirk's benefit:
"But the strangest attack on Chomsky is the insinuation that he has changed nothing. Aside from the metrics demonstrating that he has more reach and influence than virtually any public intellectual in the world, some of which Edemariam cites, I'd say that there is no living political writer who has more radically changed how more people think in more parts of the world about political issues than he. If you accept the premise (as I do) that the key to political change is to convince people of pervasive injustice and the need to act, then it's virtually laughable to depict him as inconsequential. Washington power-brokers and their media courtiers do not discuss him, and he does not make frequent (or any) appearances on US cable news outlets, but outside of those narrow and insular corridors - meaning around the world - few if any political thinkers are as well-known, influential or admired (to its credit, the Guardian, like some US liberal outlets, does periodically publish Chomsky's essays).
 Glenn concludes by saying and I quote:
"But what is at play here is this destructive dynamic that the more one dissents from political orthodoxies, the more personalized, style-focused and substance-free the attacks become. That's because once someone becomes sufficiently critical of establishment pieties, the goal is not merely to dispute their claims but to silence them. That's accomplished by demonizing the person on personality and style grounds to the point where huge numbers of people decide that nothing they say should even be considered, let alone accepted. It's a sorry and anti-intellectual tactic, to be sure, but a brutally effective one." [Emphasis mine]
 In that, to be sure, as an avatar, I should know.