Understanding Chomsky: the absurdity of the just man

Cropped version of Noam chomsky.jpg.

Cropped version of Noam chomsky.jpg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want to understand writers like Noam Chomsky, it is best to return to Plato. Plato provides the context that explains his approach to justice. Chomsky fight for justice has remained consistently ineffective.

Plato teaches us the just man’s problem with opinion

Seth Benardete, in his book on Plato’s Republic, helps us to understand why. Chomsky embodies the just man who appears in the book’s sixth chapter Glaucon and Adimantus (357a1-368c3)

Glaucon does not notice the absurdity of the just man, whose opinion about what is justice is the same as everyone else’s, never coming to doubt his justice despite the opinion everyone has of him. He is stripped of everything except justice, to which neither he nor anyone else has any access. His justice is like Philocretes’ wound—a constant source of pain but about which nothing can be done: he stinks too much to have any friends, and all he can do is howl but not persuade. The strangeness of this disappears if Glaucon means without knowing it that the just man always lives in the light of opinion because there is no other way of relating to justice. (p.38-39) (Socrates’ Second Sailing: On Plato’s Republic 1989)

Chomsky knows what injustice is and that America is unjust. However, he cannot access his justice, which is why he cannot persuade the regime to change. He lives in the opinion that he has justice. He is a captive of opinion rather than the truth. His truth, his justice, is simply inaccessible to anyone else.

Life of opinion is easier than a life of philosophy

Once we see that Chomsky is captured by his opinion about justice, we understand his project. He has to live within the light of that opinion; he cannot leave it. His chance to philosophize, to find justice, would lead him away from that opinion and the way he relates to justice. He would have to accept that his opinion about justice, his justice, and the way he relates to it is only an opinion and not justice. The more that someone suggested he only has an opinion about justice, the harder he resists. He will insist that he is misread or misunderstood. Yet, that displaces the issue. He avoids his inability to access justice as he refuses to accept he relates to it through the light of opinion by claiming he is misread or misunderstood.

To rescue someone from opinion is to destroy their illusions

Those who would engage Chomsky, in the hope they can convince him that he only has an opinion about justice, find that the harder they struggle the harder he resists. They are in a double bind. They cannot convince him that he has an opinion about justice and they cannot access his justice. Were he or they to access his justice, they would find it an opinion. At that moment, Chomsky would understand that he lives in the light of opinion rather than truth. Such an effort would appear to him as the most horrific threat imaginable. It would literally strip his life and work of all meaning. All that remains is his belief in his knowledge of injustice and of America’s injustice.



About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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