Engels and indigenous peoples

Brian James hillbily at SPAMintergate.ca
Mon May 7 01:35:07 MDT 2001

> I have never been convinced by
> criticisms of this idea by Chomsky, which does not necessarily imply,
> in my own view, an idealist ideology. I think that this idea may in
> fact be deeply materialist.

> Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
> gorojovsky at arnet.com.ar

Chomsky's Generative Grammar is certainly materialist, in that it is
supposedly hard wired in the brain, genetic, etc. But what are the
social implications? Chomsky claims that his politics is derived from
his view of human nature which is supported by his grammar theory. This
raises certain theoretical questions (see article below).

Brian James


Anarchism as unwitting support of the market

On the anarchist outlook of Noam Chomsky

by Mark, Detroit



 Human nature: Chomsky's ultimate explanation of society

. As much as Chomsky chides the historical materialism of Marxism for
"grand pronouncements" on social evolution, Chomsky has his own "laws"
and puts forward his own opinion of the fundamental force underlying
society. Since he considers society itself to be too complex to have any
coherent explanation, he resorts to speculating about "largely
genetically-determined" "human nature." This is supposed to be the root
cause of an innate moral system since

"we can't reasonably doubt that moral values are rooted in our nature, I
don't think." Chomsky goes on to argue that "our fixed internal nature"
is mainly responsible for explaining why, according to him, the same
moral values basically exist in every culture.(25)

No wonder Chomsky rejects laws of societal development. If we take this
idea seriously, there has been no development!

. Yet it turns out that Chomsky has to abandon his theory of an eternal,
unchanging, universal culture when confronted by those who argue the
present capitalist system is consistent with human nature. Then he
raises the correct point that in fact there have been cultures where
there was a different morality and pattern of behavior. Indeed, his
discourses on human nation are none too consistent. For instance,
sometimes he answers the question of the relation of society to human
nature not by referring to human nature itself, but what people's
opinions of human nature are. So he'll argue that people are guided by
their understanding of what human nature is. But if there is some
innate, unchanging human nature as Chomsky supposes, what people think
human nature is may have nothing to do with what is actually guiding
their thinking. But let's get back to Chomsky's own view of what human
nature is.

. According to Chomsky, human nature is good, bad and everything in
between. In short, it's basically any behavior that exists and nothing
in particular. As he puts it:

. "Doubtless there is a rich and complex human nature, and doubtless
it's largely genetically determined, like everything else. But we don't
know what it is."(26)

At the same time, Chomsky holds that society determines which
manifestations of human nature are prevalent. But how did this fixed
entity, "human nature", manage to create different societies? If human
nature determined the first form of human society, which in turn allowed
full expression to only some features of human society, why was this
society abandoned for another? Indeed, why was it that the first society
only exhibited certain traits of human nature and not others? Chomsky
can't explain this, and so his entire theory of human nature turns out
to explain nothing about societal evolution. At most he offers the
possibility that people will eventually learn more about their own human
nature so that "it can get more and more realized."(27) In other words,
all of history is supposed to be explained by a mysterious "human
nature" (about which we still know nothing) finally being understood and
then changed in accordance with it. That's heartening! But it
essentially is an admission that Chomsky hasn't the slightest idea of
how to explain historical change.

. Chomsky observes that society determines what aspects of human nature
come out. But if the origin of society lies in human nature, how is it
that human nature managed to display only certain aspects of itself,
while banning the other aspects? Aren't the varying attitudes that one
finds in different societies an indication that what is commonly called
human nature is really the product of the sum total of societal
relations existing at any given time? To illustrate this, let's look at
the views of the Enlightenment figures whose views Chomsky assures us
are superior to Marxist historical materialism. Like Chomsky, they
argued that the path to justice was to establish a system that was in
line with human nature. They assumed that if only everyone thought
rationally, they would agree on what constitutes this just society. But
what remedies did the Enlightenment figures prescribe to suit human
nature? Were they measures for human society in general, or were they
measures for one particular type of society? It turns out the measures
they recommended, such as free trade and limited government interference
in private property relations, were important for a specific set of
social relations, the relations of bourgeois society. Thus, the
Enlightenment figures mistakenly took one particular set of social
relations for general relations representing an eternal human nature.
Enlightenment philosophers saw that society affected what was considered
just and moral -- but only in the past. They imagined that what they
were in favor of was unaffected by their environment, but merely, at
long last, the society tailored to human nature itself. History has
proved them wrong, indicating it is not very likely that Chomsky's
efforts to found a society based on eternal "human nature" are going to
fare much better.

. Chomsky is sure that Marxist historical materialism is bankrupt. But
his argument is less than convincing when he can offer nothing but
speculation about so-called eternal human nature as an alternative.
Indeed, all Chomsky is really sure about is that we can hardly know
anything about social evolution. Therefore an examination of present
society can tell us nothing about what it will possible to do in the
future. Unable to anticipate the development of any basic societal
features, all Chomsky is left with is, as he puts it, "hopes" and
"intuition" about the future. He is not even sure whether anarchism is
even possible, since

"we do not know enough [about human nature -- Mark] to answer, one way
or the other."(28)

The more Chomsky addresses the issue of changing society, the less he
has to say!

. The problems with Chomsky's view reflect many of the basic problems of
anarchism as a whole. Anarchism promises deliverance from oppression and
exploitation. It curses the evil capitalist order. And no doubt many
followers of anarchism sincerely want revolutionary change. But when one
looks past the radical phrases, anarchism has no real alternative to the
market and has no understanding of what needs to be done to overcome
class oppression. It speaks in the name of the activity of the masses,
but runs from the organizational tasks necessary to build a strong
revolutionary movement. That's why anarchism cannot deliver on its
anti-capitalist promises. <>

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