Saturday, February 17, 2007

They Just Don't Make Evil Toadies Like They Used To

Via the often good Aaronovitch Watch site, I came across this new addition to my blog-roll: Indecent Left. While I don't agree with everything written there - for example the author seems at one point to diminish the suffering of the Iraqi Kurds - it's well worth a read for its thorough fisking of things Decent.

Particularly fun is the trashing given to the ever tedious Oliver Kamm. And Oliver's patently disingenuous quest to discredit Noam Chomsky.

What's especially delicious about Indecent Left's Kamm-watching is that it hoists Kamm high upon his own petard. Kamm (who, if his not infrequent boasts are to be believed, has read essentially everything Chomsky has ever written) endlessly repeats several purported examples of Chomsky either excusing indefensible regimes or incorrectly/dishonestly citing other people's work. As Indecent Left shows, however, Chomsky's isn't guilty of the exculpations that Kamm alleges. And the only way that Kamm can make it look like he is, is to...wait for it...dishonestly cite Chomsky (and other's) work.

Now this isn't to say that Chomsky's never got it wrong in citing people but - for crying out loud - the man has written shelves full of books and articles, and given hundreds of interviews over his life. And has been submitted to extensive scrutiny not just from Kamm. I doubt that there's one politically engaged academic on Earth whose track record would be completely unblemished after all this. (Indeed, given the apparent obsessiveness with which Kamm has read Chomsky's work, the fact that he ends up relying on the same few examples time and time again in my opinion ends up proving much the opposite of that which Kamm sets out to.)

Kamm, on the other hand, has one book, his columns in the Times, some articles elsewhere, and his blog. And, as Indecent Left so clearly shows, even limiting oneself to the smaller subset of this corpus (the Chomsky files) it's fairly easy to find errors and distortions in his work.

Given that the sub-text of Kamm's fact checking of Chomsky appears to be that Chomsky's work is not worthy of consideration, what conclusions should we draw taking into account his own shoddy 'scholarship'?

None of this, I might add, should indicate that I am an uncritical fan of Chomsky - his world of black and white frustrates me, as does his apparent (and occasionally, but unconvincingly, disavowed) inability to appreciate that there are real differences within the American political mainstream. But, nevertheless, Chomsky remains essential in my opinion, simply because he has shed much light over the years on the unfashionable subject of the crimes of our own side. And Chomsky remains admirable to me because this task, by its very nature, is a thankless one.

Kamm, on the other hand, appears to have Chomsky's nose for power, but rather than seeking to hold it to account prefers, apparently, return with fervor it's rewarding embrace.

In short, while he does write the odd useful thing on people like Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir, he's a toadie. And, as Indecent Left shows, a pretty inept one at that.

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