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Far-left, i.e., rational and open-minded

A Chomskian classic

[Old notes from my journal.] A lot of mainstream people would criticize me for immersing myself in leftist scholarship and journalism, which they would say is a closed-minded or partisan thing to do. They would say I should expose myself to all kinds of writing, not only the leftist variety. Actually, such a criticism is silly because I do read writings from a variety of viewpoints. In my courses, for example, I have to read mainstream scholarship, and every day when I peruse the internet or read my roommate’s copy of The Economist I’m exposed to mainstream and conservative journalism.[1] Aside from this, however, the fact is that among leftist writing there is a greater proportion of good stuff, honest and critical stuff, than among mainstream and conservative writing. That judgment has nothing to do with my “ideology”; it is simply a fact. Nor is the explanation hard to think of. For one thing, journalists and commentators in the mainstream usually do not have to carefully give a lot of evidence to establish their claims, because it is relatively rare that anyone will challenge them (or their narrative framework, at least). If what you say is consistent with the dominant narratives propagated all over society by power-centers, most of your audience will simply take what you say for granted. If, on the other hand, you are challenging conventional narratives, people will demand evidence.[2] Thus, taking an oppositional stance to the mainstream, or to power-centers, itself tends to foster a mindset of intellectual integrity -- because that’s the only way you can even get a word in.

Related to this is the fact that, because most people and institutions everywhere are constantly trafficking in mainstream ideologies and perspectives, it is relatively easy to do the same yourself. A scholar or journalist in the center or on the right usually does not have to dig deep, uncover hidden truths and think critically about his intellectual framework. An author on the left, however, does. His whole project is to put forward views and uncover stories that are being ignored or no one knows about. All the better that these tend to be the human stories, the concrete, factual stories, stories about workers striking against corporations, people protesting wars, billions living in sprawling slums, public services breaking down everywhere, women being sold into sex slavery, governments colluding with corporations, arms being shipped from the U.S. to governments that use them to suppress labor movements, governments ignoring the popular will (demonstrable from polls), economic polarization reaching new heights every year, or democracy and the middle class historically being born from the efforts largely of the working class and the labor movement, etc. All this and much more is true; the writings of a Milton or Thomas Friedman, or an Arthur Schlesinger Jr., or a William F. Buckley, are transparently superficial and partisan, if not dishonest.

Ironic that it’s the leftists who have always been accused of being ideological and biased! They’re doing little but reporting facts and putting self-evident interpretations on them;[3] it’s the centrists and conservatives who are ideological and biased.

[1] Some of which is pretty good. Much of the business press has good, factual reporting (the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times -- though less often the Economist, which is ideological pablum) -- but often such reporting, even in the business press, is precisely leftist in its implications and orientation. More leftist than anything you’ll read in the New York Times. Some of it could appear in ZMag or Dollars & Sense.

[2] On the other hand, if you’re Chomsky, your careful citing of masses of evidence will be ridiculed as intellectual bullying or as “his customary blizzard of citations” or something like that. Ultimately, the only way you can satisfy the guardians of mainstream orthodoxy is by espousing their own conventional ideologies.

[3] I don’t mean all leftists.


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