Sunday, March 19, 2006

Recommended reading: Oliver Kamm

I think I know my way around the blogosphere, but I keep making new discoveries--new, that is, to me. The latest is Oliver Kamm, a self-described leftist who blogs here.

Kamm--whom I found via Austin Bay's link to this Guardian article of Kamm's on the reasons why, despite flaws in execution, he still supports the Iraq war--is what Norman Geras would call a "principled leftist" and what Kamm himself calls a "tough liberal." Kamm is also the author of an intriguing-sounding book (although I couldn't find it on Amazon) entitled: Anti-Totalitarianism: the Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy.

But what Kamm really is is smart, smart, smart, as well as being a writer of great clarity and graceful style. I'm sure there are points on which we disagree, but my hat is off to anyone who can wade through much of Noam Chomsky's work and patiently demolish it, as Kamm has. This guy is good (Kamm that is, not Chomsky).

A great deal of Kamm's Chomsky oeuvre has been reproduced here, at David Horowitz's Frontpage. Kamm vibrates with the righteous anger of a leftist outraged by the likes of Chomsky. Kamm pulls no punches in this article when it comes to his own dislike of Nixon and his policies, but he shreds Chomsky's own shredding of the man (keep clicking on the links at the end of each article to read the whole series):

It would be tempting to attribute the use Chomsky makes of this material to intellectual idleness and incompetence, but I fear this is too generous a judgement. There's a pattern and a method here. Chomsky's rhetorical attacks on the western democracies, and especially the United States, increasingly outdo anything else to be found in the adversary culture of far-Left politics...

Kamm goes on to give a detailed analysis of Chomsky's methods, with typical examples. At the conclusion, he explains how it is that Chomsky (an incredibly popular writer and speaker) appeals to the susceptible and ignorant:

...Chomsky goes out of his way to omit the context that allows reasoned conclusions to be drawn. All that those readers have to go on is Chomsky's ex cathedra judgements and the appearance of scholarship generated by innumerable foot-notes. Examine those foot-notes more closely and the careful reader will find (as in the absence of page references in the citation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's memoirs) that the appearance is misleading. To those without background in the subjects covered, the argument may well appear convincing, and because the method of misdirection is to take things out of context it is not a quick and easy task to refute Chomsky; one has first to put back the material that Chomsky has taken out.

Chomsky's methods remind me of those of another so-called "historian," David Irving. Great lying minds must think alike, although of course Chomsky's politics and field of "expertise" certainly differs with that of Irving.

Kamm is a self-identified leftist, as I said, although I haven't read enough of his work to see what tenets of the left he believes in. One thing in which he clearly does believe is the importance of truth in history, whatever the political persuasion. I second the motion.

31 Comments:

At 3:30 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

I've read Kamm on and off. Your description of him as "vibrates with ... righteous anger" is apt, but I don't consider that style to be persuasive.

Truth in history is tough, especially when there are so many parameters involved. You can right or wrong about a specific fact (e.g., what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin), but that's a minuscule part of what we perceive as history. Much more important are the issues of causes and consequences.

Actually we had something like that the other day, pertaining to Rome: everyone agrees that "Rome Fell", but that's actually an interpretation itself and there's a big argument over at Wikipedia about it. Then there are the reasons why: and sure enough, as for any historical event, there are a dozen or more possible or reasonable causes. So then the question is, WHICH cause was MORE important, or DECISIVE, or what have you. And that is a judgement call, it is not a factual call.

Then there's the argument about the consequences of an event, which basically says that such and such an event "caused" some other event. Again, it's really an interpretation and there's a lot of judgment involved.

Take Global Warming. The evidence seems clear that temps are rising. But why? The fact that emissions have increased _may_ have something to do with it, but it also _may_ just be a post hoc ergo propter hoc. These kinds of issues come up all the time in history.

To take a concrete case from Kamm himself, read his article on why it was right to go into Iraq. He pulls no punches in ID'ing many of the of defects of the postwar period, for which this conservative is grateful.

On the other hand he still justifies the invasion on the basis of projections that are clearly judgmental, and therefore, not factual. Further any future projection cannot be objective, because you can't test whether something in the future will or will not happen.

A lot of the time when I hear people say "truth in history" what they really mean is that they have an entire interpretation of history, the meaning of history, and the lessons of history, and that shouldn't be challenged or changed.

As for Chomsky, who cares. I don't even know if his linguistics add up, but he was a star 40 years ago in his field. People can get mad at the stuff he writes, but, I seriously doubt if people like him or Ward Churchill have sufficient influence for people to get that mad at them.

 
At 3:31 PM, March 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

His address is http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/

 
At 4:55 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...

"it is not a quick and easy task to refute Chomsky; one has first to put back the material that Chomsky has taken out.

Holy smokes is Chomsky influential! His methodology has been copied by so many...

 
At 6:20 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Chommie is still influential. Just read Dialy Kos. They actually mention him in the manner someone would refer to their mentor.

Most classical liberals support the Iraq War. And perhaps most of them still like to say they are liberals.

Does anyone know why anon posted a link that Neo had already posted...?

Concerning Chomsky, he is really the reason the ancient Greeks and their philosophy did not define the virtue honesty, as saying the truth all the time (Washington apple tree). Since honesty isn't just about telling the truth, i.e. the facts, only. Honest is actually about avoiding deception, of yourself and others.

And deception, does not require that you tell lies.

Demagogues are not influential because they believe in what they say, oh no, what makes them influential is that what he says is seen as influential and truthful by others. And it is truthful, just not to the extent that people believe.

You cannot then, say that what he said isn't the truth, you can only say that it was "out of context" and then outline the context. because that is a defense, and not an attack, it is far less effective in a propaganda war.

He who is on the attack sets the pace, and when you defend against his attacks, you submit your reactions to his actions. Hence, you will always need to be faster and sharper, to defend in time.

The same principles that apply to a guerrila warfare incident about Al Qaeda and terrorism, also applies to people like Chomsky. Why should that surprise anyone, that those who use the same tactics can be defeated by the same counter-tactic?

 
At 6:31 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6:40 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Neo, what is your response to what Kamm wrote here?

These are not a new form of journalism, but new packaging for a venerable part of a newspaper. Even the best blogs are parasitic on what their practitioners contemptuously call the “mainstream media”. Without a story to comment on or an editorial to rubbish, they would have nothing to say.

Most blogs have nothing to say even then. Without editorial control, they are unconstrained by sense, proportion or grammar. Almost by definition, they are the preserve of those with time on their hands. Blogs have a few successes in harrying miscreant politicians or newspapers, but they are a vehicle for perpetuating myths as much as correcting them. In Mrs Huffington the preposterous term “blogosphere” has a worthy champion.


Mever mind, now I see Neo's link was spelled typed.

 
At 8:07 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Ymarsakar: My response is that Kamm has been reading too much Kos, and not enough neo-neocon :-).

More seriously, though, it really does depend on the blogs one reads, and I doubt that Kamm has read all that many; he probably has neither the time nor the inclination. However, if he hasn't, he shouldn't generalize so much, but stick to criticizing specific blogs.

It's a bit like writing, "The Greek chorus, without a story to comment on, would have nothing to say." Duh!

 
At 8:14 PM, March 19, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

I think I remember seeing comments from Kamm at Harry's Place. Might have been some other British guy though.

 
At 9:57 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Thanks for quenching my curiosity, Neo.

 
At 10:28 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Brad said...

I've been reading Kamm for quite a while, and, as usual, Steve is wrong. It's an excellent site.

Steve said:
"As for Chomsky, who cares. I don't even know if his linguistics add up, but he was a star 40 years ago in his field. People can get mad at the stuff he writes, but, I seriously doubt if people like him or Ward Churchill have sufficient influence for people to get that mad at them."

Steve, your wrong. Chomsky has enormous influence on young minds; hs appearances at campuses might as well be he second coming.
Brad

 
At 11:06 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Brad: I agree. Ward Churchill is a piker. But Chomsky is considered a sage by very many young people. He also has a great deal of influence abroad (the latter is also true--or used to be--of Michael Moore, by the way).

 
At 11:27 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Chomsky is the spiritual leader, so things should not be that surprising.

Cindy Sheehan was also a spiritual leader... for a time.

 
At 11:39 PM, March 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamm does have a point about blogs; it's not likely that he hasn't read enough blogs, or the right blogs, but that he has read far too many.

Honestly, blogs like neo-neo's are in the top 99th percentile as far as blogs go, and Daily Kos, as stupid as it is, is still in the 90th percentile simply by including complete sentences.

Any honest blogger who's been around the blogosphere would realize that Kamm is actually being overly kind in his assessment. Thankfully, hyperlinks and search engines make it very easy to find the pearls in the dungpile of the blogosphere. And that, I think, really is transforming the nature of the media in general, and investigative journalism in particular.

 
At 11:45 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

All I can say is that I'm surprised that anyone would, or could, take Chomsky's broad brush commentary seriously. Maybe I should get out more ....

Speaking of which, I thought it was odd to find a putdown of the blogosphere on Kamm's passport photo vanity site. I mean, who is he, really? Just another blogger.

 
At 1:16 AM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's Chomsky's response to Kamm's "against" position in the for/against Chomsky cover story from the November 2005 Prospect magazine.

 
At 2:13 AM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

I've found that intelligent leftists tend to dismiss the blogosphere, because, let's face it, left blogs are not terrifically impressive, even if one is sympathetic to the left.

Maybe this is due to intelligent leftists already enjoying all sorts of platforms for expressing themselves, while the blogophsere provides an outlet that intelligent liberals like us would not otherwise enjoy.

 
At 7:13 AM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why anon posted a link that Neo had already posted...?

Because she got the address wrong the first time around. She's since corrected it.

 
At 11:20 AM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can find Kamm's book
"Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy" on amazon.co.uk

 
At 11:34 AM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous m.vitruvius@gmail.com said...

Okay, am I blind, or is there no obvious RSS feed at that site to add to my aggregator?

 
At 12:21 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Here's Kamm's For and Against Prospect article.

To Tom, I updated the post to include the link. I hadn't noticed yet that it was missing until I tried to find it. Though if you google Ghandi Option it appeared first on google, so that was precipitous for me.

I did read Chomsky's works, and they were interesting. Not in the way Chomsk intended it of course.

I posted my thoughts here.

One of the interesting things about Chomsky is how he creates a sort of space-time warp and uses it as the vehicle for his arguments.

For example. When Kamm said Chomsky had no evidence of the US purposefully starving Afghanistanis, Chomsky said that Kamm had ignored the evidence he had offered up in the NYTimes. Except... if you really think about it, how can anything be "evidence" if their prediction didn't hold up?

The variables are almost incalculable. And so are the variations.

Chomsky has much to teach concerning deception. He is very clear in what he writes, and so I find it easier to learn his techniques than I would say, when reading Daily Kos.

 
At 5:09 PM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"All I can say is that I'm surprised that anyone would, or could, take Chomsky's broad brush commentary seriously. Maybe I should get out more ...."

There's a saying out there that X theory is so absurd that only an intellectual would believe it.

The intelligencia don't champion ideas because they're well thought out or well proven--they choose them because they're the diametric opposite of what that wretched Middle America thinks.

Or because they artfully debunk what was popular in academia five years ago. Whatever.

It's just a game for them. You can't expect to learn the truth from people who deny that such a thing as truth exists. Nor can you expect them to be on anything resembling a search for it.

 
At 5:49 PM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Jim said...

For a trteatment of Chomsky's influence and importance in Linguistics, you can start with The Linguist Wars. Basically Chomsky comes off as a dishonest bully and whatever good has come out of his work is the result of other people's efforts to refute his crap. He takes delight in simply being the clever contrarian when it comes to any kind of solid work.

On political issues he is basically Manichaen.

 
At 7:16 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Brad said...

What Anon 5:09 said!

Also, to elaborate on Chomsky: I've seen him speak twice in person in university lecture halls (2 different venues) that were filled, over filled, with closed circuit tv in the nearby hallways, as well as a couple times on CSPAN; I've also read 3 or 4 of his books. What makes his rhetoric so appealing to a 20-year-old mind is the appalling reductionism of his cant. I have to put up with ignorant department heads and deans on a daily basis, but at least they don’t publish their stupidity. Here is a link to an excellent analysis of one of his books:
http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tburke1/Readings%20and%20Rereadings/readings1.html

 
At 7:16 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Brad said...

What Anon 5:09 said!

Also, to elaborate on Chomsky: I've seen him speak twice in person in university lecture halls (2 different venues) that were filled, over filled, with closed circuit tv in the nearby hallways, as well as a couple times on CSPAN; I've also read 3 or 4 of his books. What makes his rhetoric so appealing to a 20-year-old mind is the appalling reductionism of his cant. I have to put up with ignorant department heads and deans on a daily basis, but at least they don’t publish their stupidity. Here is a link to an excellent analysis of one of his books:
http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tburke1/Readings%20and%20Rereadings/readings1.html

 
At 5:41 AM, March 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a pretty good essay here, which demolishes most of what Kamm wrote in that article. It's a bit long but very well researched.

http://manyangrygerbils.typepad.com/many_angry_gerbils/2006/03/oliver_kamm_the.html

Maggs

 
At 2:32 AM, March 23, 2006, Blogger T J Olson said...

It's "The Linguistics Wars" by Randy Allen, not "Linguist Wars" as Jim truncates it.

And a review of Kamm's "Anti-totalitarianism" appears here: http://www.newstatesman.com/Bookshop/300000108168

 
At 5:14 PM, March 23, 2006, Anonymous grackle said...

I read the article that Anon 5:41 linked to. In the criticized article Kamm points out that many of the dire predictions from anti-warriors before the war haven’t panned out. The author writes of one such example:

The only charge of any real substance involves Charles Kennedy’s warning that an invasion would lead to a refugee crisis. This was disproven by the Iraqi people, according to Kamm, who, by ‘staying put’ demonstrated that they grasped that the attack was a ‘war on tyranny’ rather than a war on them.

The author then goes on at length to speculate on possible reasons, other than a lack of fear of Coalition forces, that the Iraqis did not go into a refugee mode during the war. But isn’t it clear now, especially to those who read the milblogs, that the ordinary Iraqi citizen had no fear & still has no fear of Coalition forces? It must upset the author that the Iraqis did not & do not fear Coalition soldiers because that perception tends to promote an image of Coalition & American benevolence, all the more potent because it was & is an assumption by the very citizens of the country of the despot being toppled. Besides, Kamm’s main point, that the predicted refugee crisis never materialized, is irrefutable.

It must be tough for some anti-warriors, the ones who are not totally emotionally invested in keeping the Iraq war from being successful. There was the capture of Saddam, just when they were ready to accord him legend status. There were the elections attended by overwhelming numbers & the constitution written by the Iraqis. There’s the low casualties. There’s the high morale of the American troops in Iraq. The Iraqi army steadily grows in strength & competence. There’s the fading hope of civil war that is taking too long to happen. And there's the fact that most Americans, despite some impatience with the war, still seem reluctant to pull out of Iraq peremptorily. There also may be the slowly dawning realization that Bush has no intention of withdrawing no matter how low his poll numbers, that apparently Bush’s actions are not governed by the constraints of most politicians. There must be a small voice, if they are not too full of hatred of Bush, almost inaudible but definitely speaking in their mind’s ear, muttering, “You are wrong.”

 
At 2:47 PM, March 24, 2006, Anonymous ElMondoHummus - finally back in the US! said...

You just now found Oliver Kamm? Shoot, I'm sorry; I've thought about referencing him several times in previous comments, but I always ended up editing it out (or in too many cases, not posting at all). I (as well as many others here) could've introduced you to his site quite a while ago. My apologies for not bringing him up sooner.

The only aggravating thing is that his site doesn't do RSS, so my aggragator won't pick it up.

At any rate: Sometimes Kamm writings are a bit circumlocutory, but I forgive him for that on the basis that he's thoughtful and principled. I also temper that criticism with the fact that Chomsky's rhetoric is nothing but circumlocution, in both text and references, in combination with advanced selectivity in facts. He's really a surgeon, I must admit, in how he manages to excise facts from context so cleanly; a plastic surgeon couldn't hide extraction scars so well. Kamm's writings on Chomsky's various hatchet jobs on Senator Patrick Moynihan's quotes (whew!) really illuminates the degree that Chomsky goes to in order to twist facts in his arguments (example link). In that, Kamm provides a valuable service.

Example (taken from link above):
..."note the trickery involved in Chomsky’s remark, "A sign of the success [Moynihan] adds, is that within a year, 'the subject disappeared from the press.'" Moynihan says nothing at all about a disappearance of press coverage being "a sign of success". Chomsky has taken a genuine quotation, wrenched it out of context, and provided a new context that clearly conveys to the reader that the words "a sign of success" are an accurate paraphrase of what is to be found in the book. They are not: Chomsky is lying."

I don't agree with everything that Kamm stands for -- he's very much a leftist, through and through -- but I respect the hell out of him for sticking to the truth in the face of all the abuse the Chomsky followers heap on him. Even where we differ, I have respect for him. I say it again: His writings are a valuable service to correct the misapprehensions that Chomsky delivers.

 
At 8:03 PM, March 30, 2006, Anonymous Make said...

Hi Blogger,

You cannot see me, but I shall visit your blog often from now on. It is very fun that I think it is the best I can accept.

Regards,
make extra money

 
At 1:01 AM, April 01, 2006, Anonymous Online said...

Comment

 
At 4:58 AM, April 08, 2006, Blogger Greg said...

books worth money

 

Post a Comment

<< Home


Powered by Blogger