Guest Writings
10/10/04 An Unconscionable Outcome: Chomsky and the Hopelessness of Lesser Evilism by Kim Petersen

www.dissidentvoice.org/Oct04/Petersen1009.htm
October 9-10, 2004

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky is a much respected figure within the progressive world, and deservedly so. He is one of the ten most cited figures in the humanities and The Nation magazine opined that to not have read Chomsky “is to court genuine ignorance.” The New York Times showered heady praise on Chomsky: “Arguably the most important intellectual alive.” The New Statesman labeled him: “The conscience of the American people.” Therefore, even though marginalized by the monopoly media, when Chomsky makes a pronouncement on issues he draws attention.

Chomsky came out in favor of casting votes for Democratic Senator John Kerry where the race for US president is deemed to be tight. Chomsky, although having admitted the distinctions between Kerry and the incumbent president George Bush are miniscule, considered that these differences could “translate into large outcomes.” One might wonder about the epistemological meaning assigned to these hypothetical “large outcomes” that could be anticipated.

Chomsky even voiced a stand that some might describe as anti-democratic when he warned against a vote for a progressive alternative: “No one should delude themselves into believing that they are taking a stand on principle if they help grant another mandate to the radical statist reactionaries around Bush — unless the principle they adhere to is dismantling what remains of the progressive achievements of a century of popular struggle at home, and consequences internationally and for the future that we don’t have to dwell on.” Odd because Kerry was one of the characters voting for the dismantling of hard fought-for civil rights.

All progressives agree that Bush is anathema and most surely agree that everyone will be better off with Bush’s ouster. But it was discomfiting to read a progressive admonishing others for a vote straying from Chomsky’s anointed choice.

In June Chomsky was interviewed by David Barsamian. Chomsky insightfully exposed the imperialist agenda of the US and the criminal media collaboration in hiding the truth from Americans. When asked about the upcoming election and to expand on his support for Kerry, Chomsky focused on the domestic agenda where he found potential for a “fairly significant difference.”

Chomsky stated that Kerry’s people “have to appeal somehow to working people, women, minorities, and others, and that makes a difference.” But Kerry is an avowed non-liberal and his statements do not hold out much hope for a turn around. The atheistic Chomsky is in essence asking for a faith-based difference that requires Kerry pulling a volte-face.

Chomsky reissued a caution for those Americans insouciant to the notion of a second Bush term:

These may not look like huge differences, but they translate into quite big effects for the lives of people. Anyone who says “I don’t care if Bush gets elected” is basically telling poor and working people in the country, “I don’t care if your lives are destroyed. I don’t care whether you are going to have a little money to help your disabled mother. I just don’t care, because from my elevated point of view I don’t see much difference between them.” That’s a way of saying, “Pay no attention to me, because I don’t care about you.” Apart from its being wrong, it’s a recipe for disaster if you’re hoping to ever develop a popular movement and a political alternative.

Insofar as the characterization extends only to the apathetic voter the criticism is fair. However, the principled vote for, presumably, candidate Ralph Nader that Chomsky cautioned against falls outside the scope of this criticism. A vote for Kerry though can hardly be construed as a vote for building a progressive movement.

Curious is that Chomsky implicitly acknowledged the cyclicality of the electoral choice between the lesser of two evils.

But why focus on the domestic agenda? It is Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Haitians, Columbians, Bolivians, Cubans, Venezuelans, and people in other countries that are under US or US-backed military threat. Do the rights of Americans take moral precedence over the lives of civilians in the developing world? 

It seems one could therefore state: Any supporter of Kerry who says “I don’t care if there are progressive alternatives” is basically telling poor and oppressed people in developing countries, “I don’t care if your lives are destroyed. I don’t care whether you are going to live. I just don’t care, because from my elevated point of view I don’t see Nader having a chance.” That’s a way of saying, “Pay no attention to me, because I don’t care about you.” Apart from its being wrong, it’s a recipe for disaster if you’re hoping to ever develop a popular movement and a political alternative.

Chomsky correctly emphasizes the need for building a progressive movement. But a progressive society is highly unlikely to arise from the farcical so-called democratic system now in place. Solidarizing among dispossessed workers, the disenfranchised, and marginalized peoples is the key to forwarding the societal revolution. That is where the emphasis belongs: on bringing about a system where lesser evilism is not a choice.

Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: kimpete@start.no.

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