The Past Future Tense and The Last Totalitarian
At the Belmont Club, Richard Fernandez links to a fascinating piece by George Will, who does something the more JournoList-conflicted members of his paper likely would never research. Will follows up on the doomsday predictions of the enviro-left over the years. And, as Richard writes, "They missed a lot else:"
What went wrong was the mistaken application ceteris paribus — the idea that initial assumptions would not change over time. The environmentalists took man out of the equation, discounting both the effects of his genius and the equally limitless possibilities of his stupidity. The result is that the predicted future looked nothing like the actual past as seen in hindsight.
George Will flips through the other doomsday predictions and compares it to the results. A “population bomb” was going to overpopulate Europe, according to Paul Erlich. In actuality the Europeans are having to import people to make up for the lack of a replacement workforce. And so forth and so on. Time after time the environmentalists called out a result like a wannabee Babe Ruth. Time after time they struck out, their credibility saved only by the media’s inability to keep score and inexplicable tendency to give them one more turn at bat.
Still the Greens got some things right. They predicted a day when “the furnaces of Pittsburgh are cold; the assembly lines of Detroit are still. In Los Angeles, a few gaunt survivors of a plague desperately till freeway center strips . . . Fantastic?” No. In actual fact, these came true, at least in part. As Victor Davis Hanson reminds us, parts of California are actually reverting to 3rd world status, but not for the reasons the Greens predicted. It was not a lack of raw materials or famine which blighted them but policies that were at least partly caused by the environmentalists themselves.
As David Gelernter writes in America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats), intellectuals "are subject to a dangerous occupational hazard—dangerous to the rest of the world, that is. The hazard is to study theories instead of facts. Facts are messy and sticky and ugly, the half-sucked lollipops of Fate. Theories are simpler and sometimes beautiful."
Zombie's latest photo essay illustrates what is actually one of the more benign end results of a leftist theory in action: Solyndra goes bust, the taxpayers are out over $500 million, and -- and this is perfect --the glass tubes from the company's solar panels have finally turned up, Zombie writes, "in a modern art exhibit at U.C. Berkeley."
Then there's the totalitarian left. Regarding that group, PJM alumnus Michael Totten interviews Benjamin Kerstein, the author of Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite. Kerstein describes Noam Chomsky as "a master of the argument in bad faith:"
He will say anything in order to get people to believe him. Even worse, he will say anything in order to shut people up who disagree with him. And I’m not necessarily talking about his public critics. If you've ever seen how he acts with ordinary students who question what he says, it's quite horrifying. He simply abuses them in a manner I can only describe as sadistic. That is, he clearly enjoys doing it. I don't think anyone ought to be allowed to get away with that kind of behavior.
Second, Chomsky is immensely important to the radical left. When it comes to American foreign policy he isn't just influential, he's basically all they have. Almost any argument made about foreign affairs by the radical left can be traced back to him. That wasn't the case when he started out back in the late '60s, but it is now.
Third, he is essentially the last totalitarian. Despite his claims otherwise, he's more or less the last survivor of a group of intellectuals who thought systemic political violence and totalitarian control were essentially good things. He babbles about human rights all the time, but when you look at the regimes and groups he's supported, it’s a very bloody list indeed.
Communism and fascism are obviously dead as the proverbial doornail, but I doubt the totalitarian temptation will ever go away. The desire for unity and a kind of beautiful tyranny seems to spring from somewhere deep in the human psyche.
But is Chomsky "The Last Totalitarian," as Michael's piece is titled? Notice that Kerstein quickly pulls up from that provocative statement once he utters it. And as Gelernter writes in America-Lite: the modern-day academy is dominated by intellectuals and airheads:
Intellectuals invent theories and teach them to Airheads. Airheads learn them and believe them. In an intellectual’s classroom, some students become disciples—intellectuals in their own right. Some reject the whole nonsense and become realists. The vast middle group, Airheads-to-be, simply sunbathe and, without making any special effort, absorb a great deal of radiant theoretical wisdom.
Intellectuals don’t think; they have already thought. They have figured things out once and for all, and see the world through the delicate pink cotton candy of the theories they have spun. Airheads, on the other hand, never need to think at all. Theories and doctrines are laid out for them, like clothing for a young child by a thoughtful mother. They slip right into their nice neat clothes every morning and head forth to romp. See how happy the president looks in his!
Leftist airheads will keep Chomsky's ideas in play for quite some time to come; Chomsky may be the most celebrated, but he's far from the only wannabe totalitarian inside the academy bullying ideas into his students.
But hey, what could go wrong?