Category Archives: fallacies

Mr. Greenwald Promises Transparency But Delivers Opaqueness

 

Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.  Wikipedia

Some four years ago I had the occasion to visit the northern German city of Lübeck, home to Thomas Mann and setting of his Buddenbrooks, where  I joined a sightseeing groups of German-speaking tourists.  Our guide explained various periods of the city’s history.  For WWII, he found only one event worth mentioning:  what he described as the barbarity of bombings by the RAF.  Indeed, it occurred to me while listening, the people of Lübeck had suffered.  But I also recalled something the guide did not mention, i.e. the Holocaust that had occurred  some kilometers further east.

Fast forward four years.  Within the last three weeks Mr. Glenn Greenwald and his Omidyar-financed website Intercept have thundered against Israel and Israel’s various putative barbarities in Gaza.  I found not one word, not a single one, that could be construed as criticism or even reservation concerning the actions of Hamas.  (I have blogged about one of these recent Greenwald anti-Israel broadsides.)

So one of Glenn Greenwald’s offenses against intellectual integrity — and there are a number of these  is cherry picking, as defined in my quotation above.  But the problem with the Omidyar-Greenwald website is actually much more extreme because it is not just some ordinary  propagandistic one-sidedness  that  can be detected by the observant reader.  I would call it a higher cherry picking, consisting of the total suppression of any information  that does not fit into the author’s ideology.

It is no secret that Greenwald has obtained the vast trove of US government secrets that were stoled by Edward Snowden.  Now, more than a year later, Greenwald and his collaborators dip into this trove and other stolen government documents from time to time, pick from them whatever they want to pick,  and present the result as a truthful representation of what the world is all about.  Since nobody outside of the Greenwald organization has access to these materials there is no way for Greenwald’s readers to know whether a) the particular document now “revealed” actually comes from US government sources;  whether b) if indeed it does, it is presented in its entirety;  and finally whether c) if it is, there are other documents in the collection that limit or contradict it.  In other words, a reader must accept, on faith alone, that the document exists and that it means what Greenwald says it means.

A typical example of the Greenwald method is his posting, just three days ago, of an article “Cash, Weapons and Surveillance:  the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack.”  The piece purports to tell a story, using Snowden documents, of secret US military, financial, and intelligence support of “Israel’s military assaults — such as the one in Gaza.”

First of all, there are publicly available materials that US assistance of this kind is routinely given to Arab countries as well, something Greenwald does not mention.  We know, for instance, that the US has provided Qatar, the ally of Hamas, with such cooperation. Moreover, as Cliff Kincaid has reported,  ” [Greenwald’s] own reporting [inadvertently] discloses that the NSA and the Israeli signals intelligence unit (ISNU) have shared information with the Palestinian Authority Security Forces.”

So much for Greenwald’s cherry picking, which, indeed, can be detected by diligent googling.  But there is the more insidious “higher cherry picking,” which consists of citing wholly opaque sources (the Snowden papers), not accessible to anyone but Greenwald himself, and which Greenwald expects his readers to accept on his sole say-so.

So here is my question to all those who see some value in Greenwald’s journalism:  since there is no way of verifying his assertions, and since, moreover, his record for veracity has never been established, what possible grounds can there be for defending his work ? Mr. Greenwald says that he favors “transparency” of government, but what he practices is total opaqueness.

 

Chomsky’s Followers: A Cult of Rancor

chomsky copy When I recently caught up on my pile of unread copies of the Times Literary Supplement,  I came across a piece of ill-natured polemic in the ostensibly technical field of linguistics.  Professor Kenneth Wexler of MIT, writing in the Letters columns of TLS (10/19/2012),  opined that a distinguished scholar with whom he disagrees  “lives in an alternative universe to the truth.”  The truth, according to Wexler, is the one established by Noam Chomsky, viz. that there is a Universal Grammar underlying all human language.

Concerning the scientific standing or otherwise of Chomskyan linguistics, see the recent work by Christina Behme, here and here.  Unlike Behme, I have not studied these issues in depth and can hardly claim to have an informed opinion.  But, as any Google search will readily confirm, I have a long-term interest in Chomsky’s hostility to Israel (and, I would say, to the Jewish people), and, when I once caught him in an outrageous lie,  I even had the honor of being labelled a “pathological liar” by him.

So it occurred to me that Wexler may be bound to Chomsky by more than theoretical linguistics.  Could it be that he also shares the animus toward Israel ?  We cannot know what is in a man’s heart, but, in these days of Google, we can know what he has chosen to put into the public record about his political commitments.  And, indeed, Professor Wexler is on record as an adversary of the State of Israel.  (See below).

Wexler’s dual ties to Chomskyanism, in and of itself, would not be greatly interesting.  But, as it happens, a check of the best-known linguistic supporters of Chomsky yields at least seven others, for a total of eight,  with such dual ties.  Here is the list:

John Collins, U. of East Anglia, 1/15/09

Norbert Hornstein, U. of Md. 2/24/09

Richard Kayne, NYU, 11/14/11 

David Pesetsky, MIT, 5/7/02

Luigi Rizzi, Siena, 11/14/11 

Tom Roeper, U. of Mass., 11/14/11 

Neil Smith, Univ. Coll., London, 1/15/09

Kenneth Wexler, MIT, 5/7/02

In each case, the date represent links to where the anti-Israel statements can be found.  Not all the statements are equally vitriolic or hostile, but the one of 1/15/09 gives an idea of the tenor of most of them:

Israel must lose. It is not enough to call for another ceasefire, or more humanitarian assistance. It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides. If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

There are at least some linguists associated with the Chomsky school who are not on record  against Israel, and, of course, there are many non-linguist academics who are.  On the other hand, not everyone who feels rancor and resentment against Israel will go on public record.  So my list is an indication of the very minimum of those so aligned.  Moreover, I  have not found a single case of a Chomsky-aligned linguist who is on record as supportive of Israel.  (My internet search was not exhaustive.)

All in all, these materials give  persuasive anecdotal grounds for believing that the Chomsky cult, in both linguistics and politics, is at least in part based on grounds that are neither rational nor scientific.  Neither reason nor science can account for the striking circumstance that so many who are committed to Universal Grammar also happen to be committed to opposition to Israel.

Addendum, Aug. 13, 2016

Here are two more Chomsky-supporting linguists who are also on record as opposed to Israel:

David Lightfoot

Marc D. Hauser

READ ALSO:  “The Marketing of Noam Chomsky,” by Jean-Charles Chebat. (In French.) 

 

How Smart Is Noam Chomsky ? The Art of Special Pleading


Just how smart are Chomsky’s pronouncements ? Just how smart is Noam Chomsky ?

Chomsky’s name is rarely absent from the mass media, but he has lately drawn even more than usual attention to himself for his opinion on Bin Laden’s death. In brief: 1) Chomsky condemns the US government action as “violating elementary norms of international law” (“elementary norms” is a favorite expression of his, especially in areas in which he has not background); and 2) he opines that, in any case, George W. Bush committed far greater crimes,”uncontroversially,” than the ones Bin Laden is alleged to have committed. Christopher Hitchens judges Chomsky’s statements to be “stupid and ignorant,” a judgement that’s hard to fault. Alan Dershowitz chides those who continue to give any credence whatsoever to this alleged sage of MIT.

Here is an excerpt from Chomsky’s piece on the Bin Laden affair:

… Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.

Chomsky’s argument here is one of analogy. Bin Laden’s believable, actual boast that he directed the 9/11 attack is like … what ? According to Chomsky, it is like a hypothetical, unbelievable boast by Chomsky, one he never made, that he won the Boston Marathon. So, Chomsky argues, since he himself could not have won the Boston Marathon, Bin Laden could not have carried out 9/11. Q.E.D. Is this a valid analogy ? Is it a smart argument ? Is it likely to influence an intelligent person ?

Chomsky oeuvre is replete with what we must consider, using Chomskyan terminology, violations of elementary logic. A very egregious example is his use of special pleading in claiming that the movement for Holocaust denial is free of anti-Semitism. His pronouncements here go back thirty years, but, despite numerous criticisms from others, he has never seen fit to modify his arguments.

The world’s major Holocaust-denying organizations, both of which, by the way, sell Chomsky’s books and routinely use his various endorsements of their work, are also blatantly anti-Semitic; they blame world Jewry for the “lie” of the Holocaust and for genocide of the Palestinian people. They are the Institute for Historical Review in California, and AAARGH in Paris. Robert Faurisson (associated, by the way, with Chomsky for the last forty years) is a featured speaker at the events of both of these groups. Both organizations routinely praise Hitler and promote the most extreme anti-Semitic literature of the last 150 years, including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But Chomsky denies any “anti-Semitic implications” in this propaganda.

Here is Chomsky’s original statement on the topic:

I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust. Nor would there be anti-Semitic implications, per se, in the claim that the holocaust (whether one believes it took place or not) is being exploited, viciously so, by apologists for Israeli repression and violence. I see no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson’s work … (letter to W.D. Rubinstein, reported by the latter in Quadrant, October 1981, pp. 8-14. Discussed by me in my pamphlet on Chomsky)

Some time after writing to Rubenstein, Chomsky elucidated in a statement to Lawrence L. Kolodney that is now posted on the “official” Chomsky website:

In that context, I made a further point: even denial of the Holocaust would not prove that a person is an anti-Semite. I presume that that point too is not subject to contention. Thus if a person ignorant of modern history were told of the Holocaust and refused to believe that humans are capable of such monstrous acts, we would not conclude that he is an anti-Semite. That suffices to establish the point at issue.

“That,” for Chomsky, “suffices to establish the point at issue.”
Need I say that Chomsky here employs the fallacy “special pleading” ? This is the fallacy in which non-relevant, or, as in this case, non-existent special circumstances are posited to argue against the generality of a proposition. The general proposition — viz. that Holocaust-deniers are motivated by anti-Semitism — is here countered, in Chomsky’s logic, by an assertion that a “person ignorant of modern history” could deny the Holocaust without being an anti-Semite. Of course Robert Faurisson, the person at issue, was a university professor at the time, and could surely not have been so “ignorant of modern history.” Chomsky’s argument here is so puerile and ignorant that it is embarrassing to have to react to it. Is this an intelligent person speaking here ? Would an intelligent person be persuaded by this primitive special pleading ?

Excursus

Like Chomsky, I too have had contact with M. Faurisson. Some time after my pamphlet on Chomsky appeared, Faurisson was visiting Canada and contacted me by telephone. I owed some money to his organization, he insisted, for the pamphlets that they had sent to me. I had never ordered this material, and I therefore felt under no obligation to pay for it. But since I had him on the phone, I did tell him that I had lost uncles and aunts and cousins and a grandmother in the Holocaust, which, I said, surely happened. At this M. Faurisson turned sour and sarcastic. He wanted to know why I hadn’t reported the loss of my relatives to the International Red Cross. Furthermore, he promised that he would pay for the postage stamps. Not an anti-Semite, Professor Chomsky, this friend of yours ?

I should also mention that in his letter to Kolodney (see the link above) Chomsky accuses me of “total fabrication and absurdity” because I described his various acts of collaboration with the Holocaust deniers. He claims that I “never dared to respond to him” on these matters. He may have originally written that before he saw my reply, but these foolish accusations remain on his site as of today. In any case, my reply, with all the documents, has been on the web for ten years now.

Now, to come back to the question of Chomsky’s smarts. As these examples show, he often argues like an ignorant, petulant child. Who can listen to him without laughing out loud ? Nevertheless, we do know that there is a Chomsky claque of considerable noise, and I would assume that it will no doubt continue to be with us. The judgement that Chomsky is “arguably the most important living intellectual,” while of uncertain provenance, is repeated often enough, even in places where sense should prevail. One could speculate on why this should be so. But given the extraordinary power of hateful nonsense in the history of mankind, including its universities, can we be surprised ?

READ ALSO

1. Paul Bogdanor,  The Top 200 Chomsky Lies
  

2. My later take on the subject of Chomsky’s genius.

3. Nicholas Evans and Stephen Levinson: The Myth of Language Universals
(a thorough debunking of Chomskyan linguistics)

4. Alan Dershowitz on Chomsky’s wisdom