Engels and indigenous peoples

Greg Schofield gschofield at SPAMone.net.au
Mon May 7 02:51:51 MDT 2001

Brian politically Chomsky can claim what he likes, if he has truly
discovered something (I do not know enough to be definitive) then that is
that - he would not be the first who discovered something knew and then
went about drawing all sorts of crazy implications from the discovery. In
fact, it could have been crazy ideas that lead to the discovery, but a
discovery it still remains.

Assuming Chomsky 100% right in his hard-wired grammar proposal - so who
cares that he bases a whole fantasy framework on  top. Einstien's marxism
did not appear that well developed, and his support for Israel is well
known but how does either effect his theory of relativity. Hegel was a
conservative, Engels a manufacturer, Morgan a Christian, Darwin attended
church regularly. The work stands above the "man", the "man" does not
define the work.

I liked Charlton Heston in the 10 Commandments, John Wayne in The Cowboys
and Stage Coach - and both are political reprobates - but when they work
well they work well. It is all the same, the contribution stands beyond the

In the context of the discussion in this thread about deep grammar - I
cannot see Chomsky's position ever emerging. The idea of the grammar I have
found interesting, but it has only been in this discussion about Engels,
that my opinion has changed and made what was interesting into something of
a logical necessity.

"Interesting" is tag I use for lots of things that I consider not rubbish
but of questionable usefulness and reality. If something interesting, a
topic or view, becomes logically necessary to understand some aspect of
reality - it may be far from perfect but it comes inside whatever its
heritage. I think, if not Chomsky's hard-wiring, then some hard-wiring has
to come into the picture. I believe Charles is right in stressing the
social part of social labour as logically prior to labour itself and I am
afraid this, in evolutionary terms, presupposes the mental ability to deal
with symbols - hard wired by necessity (for the society that would bring
social context to this ability can only be a product of this primitive

Brian I know this might not be a satisfactory way of dealing with Chomsky,
I don't pretend it is, but given that he appears the only one that has
covered the possibility then for want of anything better I concede it a
chomskian subject matter (the starting point that is).

On closer inspection Chomsky may have got some parts wrong or all wrong,
but he has claimed the right to the territory and rightly things should be
referred to his theory (my assumption being that no one else has done this
to his degree).

If what Chomsky is doing is drawing from this the idea that we have other
things hard-wired into us - well I think this is extremely wrong headed. If
he is trying to say because of this symbolic grammar being there somehow
supports some political viewpoint - then he is crack-brained. Both seem to
be operating. Neither however means the original insight is without virtue.

If the article below is a fair summation of Chomsky's political reasoning -
then he is being somewhat foolish, more likely he could not grasp
dialectical thought (something of a common trend amongst scientists), does
not understand historical movement (even more common among academics at
large) and perhaps is a little carried away with the idea that thoughts
have force of their own(it may be naive but there are far worse things in
the world and is not uncommon failing of intellectuals).

I dare say that my feelings about Chomsky's political views are probably,
on greater exposure, exactly the same as yours. My view, for the sake of
argument and not based on definitive knowledge, is that his hard-wired
thesis is fine and what he attempts to make of it is not, he is not the
first to fall into this type of grand theorising based on a particular
insight and he will not be the last.

I know this sound a bit perfunctory and dismissive, but I would have to
have had it demonstrated that this hard-wired thesis inevitable led to his
political conclusions and was therefore effectively derived from this
prejudice. Otherwise I would just shrug my shoulders at another gifted
expert who is also a political featherwieght - they simply are not rare, in
fact if you talk to a fair sampling of genetic engineers (I know of just
two personally) you will find that some of their political ideas will make
your hair stand on end (concentrating so much on genes does not give them a
balanced view on other things - knowning a lot about genes does not stop
them speculating on correcting criminal behaviour by gene manipulation -
and they believe it which is the really scary part).

I also enjoyed reading the quote below - it confirmed something of what I
had heard on the grape vine, but I would have to know Chomsky a little
better to pass judgement (I had one of his political works about for ages
but just could not get into it which I always suspect is because it was not

Brian I am not trying to justify Chomsky, but something he is about appears
to be true, a different argument about human evolution would be persuasive
but as this is a recent thing with me I am in no position to defend
hard-wired grammars beyond this simple level of asserting that it seems
presumed by other things.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

At 12:46  7/05/01 -0700, you wrote:
> > 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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