Missed Opportunities: The Way Progressives Lose
I'm not sure, but the argument seems to be something like the Butterfly Effect: if Senator Kerry can shake his little wings, that may change weather patterns in Iraq.
Missed Opportunities: The Way Progressives Lose
By Gary Corseri
Mar 27, 2004, 19:00
In 1968, I was a 22-year old graduate student studying transformational grammar at Harvard. In that year when it seemed the very foundations of the world itself could be transformed, our professor invited Noam Chomsky to come and talk to us. Our professor had been a protégé of Chomsky's at M.I.T., and after weeks of laboring with "deep structures" and other models, we were high-keyed to meet the man who had started the linguistic revolution.
Soon after he entered the room, it was clear that Dr. Chomsky, a small, trim, intense but amiable man, had matters weightier than grammar on his mind. This was 1968, after all: the year of the Tet Offensive, police riots at the Chicago Democratic convention, the King and RFK assassinations, student and worker insurrections in Paris, hell and highwater. Bob Dylan had sung that the times they were a-changing, and the promise of it, of a new dawn following the agonies of re-birthing the world, drifted about our young heads like pheromones and was irresistable.
Noam Chomsky spoke about politics, and he spoke brilliantly and inspiringly about our own choices and responsibilities, but the thing I remember the most was his answer to a question at the end of his talk when someone asked him about the upcoming election. Having spent about an hour staking out clearly liberal positions (and "liberal" was not a dirty word then), Dr. Chomsky responded that, in the contest between Democrat Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and Republican former VP Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon was likely to be the better candidate because he would have more options available to him; more options for ending the war, improving race relations, etc.
In the course of that prodigious year, Nixon was indeed elected. And there followed tens of thousands more American deaths and millions more Vietnamese and Cambodian deaths; Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war; light at the end of an endless tunnel; destroying villages to save them; deteriorating race relations; drug-drenching escapism; Watergate; the threat of impeachment; our ignomineous departure from a country we had ravaged; Tricky Dicky's final wave good-bye.
I thought then, in 1968, and I believe now, that Noam Chomsky was wrong in his assessment. Being smart is one thing, being a seer is another, and the good Doctor's venture into soothsaying might be forgiven, were it not for the fact that he's doing it again.
In an interview given to the UK Guardian on March 20 this year, asked about the differences between Bush and Kerry, Dr. Chomsky holds forth thus: "Despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. And in this system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes."
I'm not sure, but the argument seems to be something like the Butterfly Effect: if Senator Kerry can shake his little wings, that may change weather patterns in Iraq. Before his liberal (now a dirty word) credentials tarnish too badly, Dr. Chomsky throws in a good word for two political knights-errant:
"My feeling is pretty much the way it was in the year 2000. I admire Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich very much, and insofar as they bring up issues and carry out an educational and organisational function—that's important, and fine, and I support it." Then he reverts to his "deep structure" meanings:
"However, when it comes to the choice between the two factions of the business party, it does sometimes, in this case as in 2000, make a difference."
At more length, Dr. Chomsky cinches his argument for Kerry by citing the way the two parties look at health care, and condemning the present administration as one that is "devoted to a narrow sector of wealth and power."
Perhaps it's just as well for his arguments that he allows international affairs to slide under the table. President-manque Kerry's most recent thoughts about the war on Iraq is that Bush has mishandled the whole affair not because he lied about WMD, but because he didn't send enough troops! Light-at-the-tunnel's- end Kerry believes another 40,000 should be about right.
In the dismissive way he treats Dennish Kucinich and Ralph Nader, the two individuals who have been bravest and most forthright in challenging the assumptions of our two-party, stamp-for-approval, winner-take-all electoral system, Dr. Chomsky appears to have become more comfortable with the mantle of the publican than the patched-elbow tweed of the teacher.
Does he "support" the "educational and organizational function" of the Kucinich and Nader campaigns? How? To what extent?
Had the "educational" and "organizational" functions of dissidents met with a little more respect, elucidation and follow-through back in 1968, we might not be in the predicament in which we find ourselves today with, once again, two awful, but, we are told, viable, choices.
It must seem to Dr. Chomsky that he has for years been one of those voices in the wilderness trying to educate and organize a culture and society malleted into shape by a moribund public education and a many-tentacled Big Government-Big Media axis of alienation. He has had a resonant voice; but the struggle is hardly over; in fact, it has hardly begun. Past mistakes need accounting, present errors need redress.
Eight months ago, I moved back to the Boston-Cambridge area, this time for the sake of my wife, so that she could make a mid-career change and earn a second Master's. As the anniversary of the Iraq War approached, I felt certain I would see signs leading me to a Boston demonstration; as I passed through Harvard Square, each day I expected to be handed a flyer announcing the meeting place, the time. But nothing came. Nor could I find information in the local papers, the local news broadcasts. And finally, as the days narrowed, and I could fully wrest myself from mundane concerns, I searched the Internet and the great voice of the Internet came back with news of bus trips to New York City, to take part in the demonstration there—and nothing else.
In this great metropolis of 5.7 million people, twenty four adamantine souls protested their government's perfidy in Copley Square in downtown Boston. I am chagrined to say I was not among them. I never could find out where or when they were meeting.
These aren't just "scary times" (a la Billy Crystal at the Academy Awards); America is passing thru one of its paranoid-schizophrenic periods that date back to the Salem witch trials, Jonathan Edwards, and move periodically forward through the spasms of the Revolution, the Civil War, genocide against the tribal peoples, slavery, the Gilded Age, and on and on to McCarthyism, Vietnam, and now the Terror Wars.
The best thing we no-longer-ponies can do is pass on a little wisdom to the young. There are ways to survive these times without losing life, limb, sanity and integrity. But don't think it's going to be easy. Think hard. Think that the struggle will be very hard. And out of the pressure of eons, carbon transforms into diamonds.
Organizing people in the Boston/Cambridge area to go demonstrate in NYC lacks educative value. People need to see demonstrations where they live. The young need to see their elders and each other on their own streets, in their own neighborhoods. They can hold signs, bang pots or march. I don't advocate a 1960s' "Days of Rage" campaign because that would be self-defeating and antagonize those who are already fearful, cowed,or simply unconvinced.
New York City can take care of itself--must, in fact. It also sends the wrong message to be wasting fuel on bus trips when much of the Terror Wars has to do with wasting fuel. "Think globally, act locally" is a bumper sticker I used to see a lot, but not so much now. In the age of Imposed Globalism and the reactions/opposition to that imposition, it still makes good sense.
"Rogue states that are internally free-and the United States is at the outer limits in this respect-must rely on the willingness of the educated classes to produce accolades and to tolerate or deny crimes, " Noam Chomsky wrote some time back. He was right then. We can no longer afford to award accolades and legitimacy to presidential candidates who mimic and out-joust one another. Nor can we tolerate the crimes of mendacity that take nations to war, that kill and maim in the name of security while creating a terrified insecurity, that pervert justice itself in the name of justice.
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