There comes a time in any profession where the old guard becomes decadent, or can no longer function at peak capacity, and must loosen the reigns to let the younger generations have a kick at the can, for better or for worse. This happened to the Soviets in the 80s, where every week was a state funeral for some such old revolutionary commissar, and the new regime simply couldn’t hack it. In pro wrestling for example (as I am the master at relating everything analogously to wrestling, like Harry Potter fans…well you catch my drift) the old time legends must hand things over to the newer faces (and heels), and step down graciously out of the lime light, to educate the up and comers, and hope that their legacies live on in them… but, when this “turning of the guard” does not happen, very disastrous consequences tend to follow. So naturally, let me relate the old dinosaurs of Academia (and their retrograde worldview) with the dying days of WCW.
There are many reasons why World Championship Wrestling went belly-up, but a main one being that the top stars of yesteryear held all the power, could make and break booking decisions, and pushed all of the younger wrestlers in the mid-card rankings down to nothing, wasting an abysmal amount of talent WCW had. Hulk Hogan and the NWO could do anything, costing Turner Broadcasting millions in poorly-negotiated contracts, even having a number of “creative control” clauses (essentially wrestlers booking their own finishes, like wolf packs guarding hen houses) which allowed fading older stars at the top to bury and never “put over” younger talent. Hogan infamously gave the “ain’t gonna work for me BROTHER” lines to both Brett Hart and Booker T at crucial moments. Eventually the contradictions of the whole system, along with numerous terrible business and booking decisions, led to the demise of WCW, which was then bought out for pennies on the dollar by Vince McMahon in 2001 (which lead to another disastrously fumbled invasion angle story line, but that is a side note).
How does this in any way relate to academia and the name in this article’s title, Chomsky himself? Well, it is plainly, even simplistically obvious….the old guard academic system is like WCW, and Chomsky is the “hero public intellectual” equivalent of Hulk Hogan.
A recent interview Chomsky did was quite revealing in terms of how the old guard really thinks, and how this does not match up with the current enforced ideologies, and ways of doing things in Cathedral networks. Granted the two interviewing him are quite, without sounding harsh, “first year poli-sci undergrads” in their approach to interviewing one of the last truly mainstream public intellectuals. Even Foucault predicted the demise of the public intellectual, as they are merely functionaries in the managerial class, legitimizing talking heads within the superstructure social realm, to modern Power’s base. They have become micro-grievance mongers, focusing not on grand and totalizing visions for the future, but specific compartmentalized “experts”, devolving into expert-narcissism even. Being an academic in many ways now has become like being in a corporate wagie position, which can destroy any romantic ideals young grad students have of the waning profession. As it is, in public life, people simply don’t respect academics or find them useful, and frankly they in large part did it to themselves.
Before I go further, let me make it clear that I disagree with aspects of his libertarian socialist schema, but a lot of Chomsky’s work is quite useful and provocative, especially for the time it was written in. When it comes to the American empire’s foreign policy initiatives around the world, and certain analyses of the way info-media apparatuses work, few come close to his insights and critiques; but there are hard truths one must take seriously with any thinker’s corpus, so fanboyism must be murdered inside one’s self in order to see things clearly. This piece isn’t trying to be the typical conservapunit game of “leftists say the darnedest things”, if you know what I mean.
Chomsky is asked about Jordan Peterson, admitting that he really does not read nor care about his work, never the less scolds JBP for vilifying and scandalizing the academic system. I have my own critiques of JBP, but let us bracket that for now… Chomsky states things that even moderate left-wingers would take to being a slap-dash misreading of the current situation in academia, namely that “Actually (“Akshully”!) the universities are not left wing but right wing, its only because Peterson is to the Right of Attila the Hun that he thinks otherwise“.
Yes you heard that correctly, but in fairness, Chomsky means “right wing” in the sense that universities have adopted corporatized market models of operation, treading the academy as either a vocational school for the global corporatocracy and NGO/bureaucratic classes, or as consumer choice vanity schools. In this sense he is correct, but only someone deeply enmeshed in the fundamental distortions of political ideological terminology, as the categories of partisan politics are in North American liberalism are, can come up with such jumbled assertions. The economics of the university are neoliberal, the social-cultural politics of academia are not, and this is obvious. One thing Peterson is not is someone on “the far right” as an individualist liberal, and certainly not of the monarchical-absolutist variety as Attila the Hun.
Chomsky then goes on to, like all old school tenured rebels, defend the ivory tower from contemporary attacks, stating it is the only place that “presents unique opportunities for creative freedom“, and so fourth. This seems jarring to say the least, but an understandable response from the king of the Generation gaps between 60s radicals and their gen-x/millennial children. Now a victim of an ever wider chasm between the generations, his 60s idealism about academia as the beating (bleeding) heart of all dissident and radical ideas-production has been left behind; it is understandable because as a tenured radical, a creature of, yet ghost dancer against “the system”, there is a psychological need to not only defend one’s home and seat of power, but to mask any contradictions that arise as time goes on. Rage Against the Machines quoted Chomsky, and both are seen as the decadent and out of touch leftists rebels of a former time.
Simply put, the world of today is not the world Chomsky envisions, the 60s radicals are the bourgeois controllers of society, academia is not this mythical place of generative, vibrant new ideas that influence society, etc. One could argue (and many have) that academia is the place where new ideas go to die, or get ripped into ribbons by critique, or are outright barred from finding the light of day under the weight of specialization and the corrupted peer review journal system. Some of the most noteworthy philosophic, political, artistic and cultural ideas/movements within the last few decades have sprung fourth outside of the ivory tower, to only then find academics later appropriating and scrambling up their original vitalities. Chomsky is thus wedded to a very retrograde analysis of the current sociopolitical environment that is dangerously close to being outright willfully ignorant, or purposefully blind. Perhaps it is not malicious, but a need to see the world in a certain way, or rather, to re-live a powerful vision of the tenured-yet-outsider 60s radical, a forced meme that still manages to influence the collective unconscious drives of millennials’ leftist “campus radicals”.
One must remember the (for his standards) shorter Moldbug polemical piece entitled “Noam Chomsky Killed Aaron Swartz“. Chomsky gives the “blue pill” of being this romanticized vision of an activist/rebel engaging in civil disobedience against “the man” of about half a century ago or more. The power structure no longer exists, but Chomsky retains a level of safety in the modern Cathedral system. The Right wing equivalent would be like wignat E-celebs goading young, naive right wing Zoomers into fed-posting and “overdosing on red pills” to display their “authenticity” to the “movement” (but with less overt and life-altering consequences on the left of course), because, as Moldbug states:
“Aaron, born one of humanity’s natural nobles, grows up in a century cleansed by military force of its own cultural heritage, in which all surviving noble ideals are leftist ideals. No one ever had a chance to tell him that his only honorable option was to live in the past”.
“The truth is that the weapons of “activism” are not weapons which the weak can use against the strong. They are weapons the strong can use against the weak. When the weak try to use them against the strong, the outcome is… well… suicidal”.
So here we have the Chomskyites giving in to the weight of their own romanticism, and like most contemporary leftists, must fuel this lie (a lie so effective it might as well be the “truth”, since it certainly has operational-idealization power in the minds of most) that they are the eternal “underdog” fighting those omnipotent eternal Nazi fascists: Those evil Right-wing corporations that (somehow, they never explain this) color their logos with rainbow flags every LGBT pride month(s) and promote woke neoliberal ideology as corporate PR-HR policy world wide. The government bureaucratic class oppressors who managed to give the left every significant social victory they asked for in the past 4 decades. The horrendously Far-Right mainstream media (are you laughing as hard as I am right now?) etc. And like all bad wrestling booking decisions that fail to win over the marks in the stands, just Kayfabe these unpleasant contradictions hard enough and maybe they just might buy it.
I do not find any enjoyment in picking apart Chomsky’s anachronistic weltanschauung, he is growing long in the tooth after all, and his ideas are growing old with him. Another curious aspect to this would be that Chomsky, being an old school socialist activist-writer, has an utter disdain for postmodernism , the minutia of its different fields and ever-elaborating arcana within academia. Numerous times Chomsky has gone on record as saying these ideas are just useless “language games“. He states that they are even more radical than he is, but their “effect” on the real world is minimal, and “nobody can understand what they are saying“.
This is a point that generally conservatives and people on the Right (folks on the Right? shall we appropriate this woke term of “folk” or is this cringe?) have totally neglected. The classical liberal conservatives commit to a fundamental misreading of the current situation on the Left by introducing and promoting the term “cultural Marxism”, perhaps in a bit to throw people off the scent of liberalism itself leading to the current political Geist. They do not see the virtual war that has been going on for decades now between the classical Marxists, socialists, certain elements of critical theory and activists vs. the postmodern academics. Chomsky himself not only lambasts the “obscurantism” of Pomo, but its inability (or so he thought at the time) to translate its byzantine and labyrinthine philosophies into actual political praxis. A far-stretched example he uses is the “fissures of opinion” present among whites in South-Africa that led to the end of the apartheid system, how a disregard for “objective truth” is nonsensical in the face of real-world injustices.
This of course comes off just as simplistic as any mainstream conservative put-down of Pomo, but in here lies a curious facet of the cult of Chomsky, and the contemporary left as a whole. They never really took Pomo that seriously, for they stand atop the same old foundations in Anglo-sphere post-enlightenment Whig liberalism as the activists and thinkers who came before them. They merely appropriated this or that critique generated by postmodern thinkers who largely came after the foundational philosophers, critical theorists in micro-niches and the like. Chomsky obviously sees something hostile in Pomo to the aims and moralism of the radical left. Dare I say that Pomo hides the seeds of insights and critiques into the foundations of modernist humanism, the modernism that created the very the tenants of the numerous universalist leftist projects, ones that Chomsky champions, that (in a given light and without enough cajoling) verge on being “reactionary”.
But in conclusion, Kayfabe in wrestling is dead, and the Kayfabe of tenured activists pretending to still be outsider, underdog rebels is starting to head along down the road of the same fate. Chomsky stating plainly what he thinks the state of modern academia is helped aid the psychic death of the romantic 60s left-dissident ideal along just a bit more, call this interview his “curtain call” (only hardcore wrestling fans will get the reference).