Chomsky vs. Žižek recap: Quotes and links

Chomsky on Žižek [☜ click]:


What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential.

Žižek on Chomsky [☜ click]:


My first point is that Chomsky who always emphasises how one has to be empirical, accurate, not just some crazy Lacanian speculations and so on… well I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong in his descriptions in his whatever! Let’s look… I remember when he defended this demonisation of Khmer Rouge. And he wrote a couple of texts claiming: “no this is western propaganda. Khmer Rouge are not as horrible as that.” And when later he was compelled to admit that Khmer Rouge were not the nicest guys in the universe and so on, his defence was quite shocking for me. It was that “no, with the data that we had at that point, I was right. At that point we didn’t yet know enough, so… you know” but I totally reject this line of reasoning. For example, concerning Stalinism. The point is not that you have to know, you have to photo evidence of gulag or whatever. My god you just have to listen to the public discourse of Stalinism, of Khmer Rouge, to get it that something terrifyingly pathological is going on there.
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Next point about Chomsky [...]. His idea is today that cynicism of those in power is so open that we dont need any critique of ideology, you reach automatically between the lines, everything is cynically openly admitted, we just have to bring out the facts of people. Like ‘this company is profiting in Iraq’ and so on and so on. Here I violently disagree. First, more than ever today, our daily life is ideology. [...] cynicists are those who are most prone to fall in to illusions. Cynicists are not people who see things the way they really are and so on.
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And as to popularity, I get a little bit annoyed with this idea that we with our deep sophisms are really hegemonic in humanities. Are people crazy? I mean we are always marginal. No, what is for me real academic hegemony: its brutal, who can get academic posts? Who can get grants, foundations, as so on? We are totally marginalised here. [...] remember, the large majority of academia are these grey either cognitivists or historians blah blah… and you don’t see them but they are the power. They are the power.

Chomsky on Žižek (again) [☜ click]:



Žižek finds nothing, literally nothing, that is empirically wrong. That’s hardly a surprise. Anyone who claims to find empirical errors, and is minimally serious, will at the very least provide a few particles of evidence – some quotes, references, at least something. But there is nothing here – which, I’m afraid, doesn’t surprise me either. I’ve come across instances of Žižek’s concept of empirical fact and reasoned argument. For example, in the Winter 2008 issue of the German cultural journal Lettre International, Žižek attributed to me a racist comment on Obama by Silvio Berlusconi. I ignored it. Žižek said he was basing the attribution on something he had read in a Slovenian magazine. A marvelous source, if it even exists. And anyway, he continued, attributing to me a racist comment about Obama is not a criticism, because I should have made such remarks as “a fully admissible characterization in our political and ideological struggle.” I leave it others to decode.
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In fact, he provides us with a good example of his practice in these comments. According to him, I claim that “we don’t need any critique of ideology” – that is, we don’t need what I’ve devoted enormous efforts to for many years. His evidence? He heard that from some people who talked to me. Sheer fantasy
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[On the Khmer Rouge argument:] Žižek cites nothing, but he is presumably referring to joint work of mine with Edward Herman [...]. The two prime examples on which we focused were Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge [KR] and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor [ET] in the same years [...] Victims of the Khmer Rouge are “worthy victims,” whose fate can be blamed on an enemy. The Timorese are “unworthy victims,” because we [the US] are responsible for their fate: the Indonesian invasion [of ET] was approved by Washington and fully supported right through the worst atrocities, labeled “genocidal” by a later UN investigation, but with ample evidence right at the time, as we documented. We showed that in both cases there was extraordinary lying, on a scale that would have impressed Stalin, but in opposite directions: in the case of the KR vast fabrication of alleged crimes, recycling of charges after they were conceded to be false, ignoring of the most credible evidence, etc. In the case of ET, in contrast, mostly silence, or else denial.
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As the reader can easily determine, Žižek provides not the slightest evidence to support his charges, but simply repeats what he has probably heard – or perhaps read in a Slovenian journal. No less interesting is Žižek’s shock that we used the data that were available. He “totally rejects” this procedure. There is no need to comment on a remark that gives irrationality a bad name. The remainder of Žižek’s comments have no relation to anything I’ve said or written, so I will ignore them. A question remains as to why such performances are taken seriously, but I’ll put that aside as well.

Žižek on Chomsky (again) [☜ click]:


Chomsky’s remark that I “cite nothing” to justify my claim about his inaccuracies is thus ridiculous—how could I have done it in an improvised reply to an unexpected question?
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[On Chomsky reminder of his misquoting about Obama, Žižek quotes in extenso his previously published apology and defense of the argument:] "In attributing to Noam Chomsky the statement that Obama is a white guy who took some sun-tanning sessions, I repeated an untrue claim which appeared in Slovene media, so I can only offer my unreserved and unconditional apology. [...] I would like to add that, even if the statement I falsely attributed to Chomsky were to be truly made by him, I would not consider it a patronizingly racist slur, but a fully admissible characterization in our political and ideological struggle. [...] [T]he remark I falsely attributed to Chomsky, if accurate, would point towards the ambiguous way Obama’s blackness can be instrumentalized to obfuscate our crucial political and economic struggles".
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I find it a little bit mysterious why Chomsky dwells on this event [the misquoting on Obama] which, if anything, proves my respect for empirical facts, i.e., my readiness to admit a mistake when I am empirically wrong!
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[On the whole debate:] the problem is here a very rational one: everything hinges on how we define “ideology.” [...] Chomsky is doing in his political writings is very important, I have great admiration and respect for it, but it is emphatically not critique of ideology.
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[After quoting Chomsky's and Herman's 1977 text on Khmer Rouge:] I think the quoted passage confirms that my improvised resume of Chomsky's position about Khmer Rouge atrocities (“No, this is Western propaganda. Khmer Rouge are not as horrible as that.”) is a correct one. [Although] I do not agree in any way with those who accuse Chomsky of sympathizing with Khmer Rouge, [...] the bias of his own description is obvious: his sympathies lies with those who try to minimize and relativize Khmer Rouge atrocities. This bias is ideology —a set of explicit and implicit, even unspoken, ethico-political and other positions, decision, choices, etc., which predetermine our perception of facts, what we tend to emphasize or to ignore, how we organize facts into a consistent whole of a narrative or a theory. [...] There is a thin line that separates justified doubt about media reports from comfortable skepticism which allows us to ignore or downplay atrocities.
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[A]n ideology is never a simple mystification obfuscating the hidden reality of domination and exploitation [...] [I]n order to explain how people often remain within their ideology even when they are forced to admit facts, one has to supplement investigation and disclosure of facts by the analysis of ideology which not only makes people blind to the full horror of facts but also enables them to participate in activities which generate these atrocious facts while maintaining the appearance of human dignity.
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I agree with the general thrust of his argument which is that one should analyze the depoliticized humanitarian politics of “Human Rights” as the ideology of military interventionism serving specific economico-political purposes. [...] My disagreement with Chomsky’s political analyses lies elsewhere: his neglect of how ideology works, as well as the problematic nature of his biased dealing with facts which often leads him to do what he accuses his opponents of doing. But I think that that the differences in our political positions are so minimal that they cannot really account for the thoroughly dismissive tone of Chomsky’s attack on me. Our conflict is really about something else —it is simply a new chapter in the endless gigantomachy between so-called continental philosophy and the Anglo-Saxon empiricist tradition.
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I think one can convincingly show that the continental tradition in philosophy, although often difficult to decode, and sometimes —I am the first to admit this— defiled by fancy jargon, remains in its core a mode of thinking which has its own rationality, inclusive of respect for empirical data. And I furthermore think that, in order to grasp the difficult predicament we are in today, to get an adequate cognitive mapping of our situation, one should not shirk the resorts of the continental tradition in all its guises, from the Hegelian dialectics to the French “deconstruction.” Chomsky obviously doesn’t agree with me here. So what if —just another fancy idea of mine— what if Chomsky cannot find anything in my work that goes “beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old because” because, when he deals with continental thought, it is his mind which functions as the mind of a twelve-year-old, the mind which is unable to distinguish serious philosophical reflection from empty posturing and playing with empty words?