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The Archangel Noam (1986)

Noam Chomsky and His Fans

He passed among us but briefly and then, as life and speaking tours would have it, he left, foretelling changing times and better things, starting with book sales. Yea, Noam Chomsky -whisper the name! - can continue to gladden the hearts of his disciples, shills and media limpets by tape and written word. Somehow, with therapy, they will continue a life denied further light from The Presence.

The Archangel Noam is, surprisingly enough, merely a professor of linguistics at that noted keep of huggy-bear humanities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A pedagogue of language from a technology institute enraptures Boulder as would, perhaps, a nuclear physics department head from Naropa; but since he is worshiped for holding the politically correct views on the CIA, Nicaragua and related matters, his academic background doesn't seem to matter.

Chomsky is beloved for debunking the Establishment, yet his fawning audience cherishes nothing more than his establishment credentials. He is employed, and by an awe-inspiring school. He is an auteur. He is a professor with a capital "P." And only recently, the ultimate title was bestowed by the utterest establishment mouthpiece of all. In a quote by an unnamed author from The New York Times, Chomsky has been elevated into a position once held by Timothy Leary but with a qualifying hesitation. In all apparent seriousness, Chomsky is now "arguably the most important intellectual alive."Suffer the sniveling plantlife to go unto him, but unto me give a break, will ya? At least, let us get a grip on ourselves. Aristotle was arguably the greatest intellectual of his time, and he was wrong about virtually everything.

The Archangel Noam, seen through the eyes of his Fans, seems to be a cross between Professor Irwin Corey (a comic who bills himself as The World's Foremost Authority! On what? Evidently anything.) and Dan Coffman's Mr. Science ("Remember, Mr. Science is smarter than you are!" He has a Master's Degree.) Most unfortunately, Chomsky isn't anywhere near as entertaining. Of the Left's assorted godheads who have been greeted with a near-sexual frenzy by Boulder in recent years (Michael Parenti, Daniel Sheehan, Alexander Cockburn), Chomsky is far and away the worst public speaker. This is of trifling importance to those willing to pay for basking in The Presence.

That 90 percent of a Chomsky audience is about as qualified to understand Pushtu descriptions of sheep shearing as to follow his trains of thought in either linguistics or foreign policy might be a given. They know all they need to know before they pay for the ticket. Chomsky is an "expert," according to many. (The needed litmus stain for experthood is this: Does the candidate reach my own comforting platitudes by impressive-sounding, convoluted avenues of thought? Does he provide good quotes I can appropriate in an argument?)

But while Chomsky tenders hypotheses and carefully climbs toward a buttressed conclusion, his audience is already waving hysterically from the battlements, urging him to hurry. They know what he is going to say. They just want to hear him say it. They are only there to have their own anthropoid thought processes blessed.

Chomsky is also periodically fitted for the mantle of Martyr, by which is meant that he is denied television time by networks controlled by the nuclear establishment of the World Anti-Communist League or Big-Business-Afraid-of-Communism. That Chomsky is simply a crushing bore could not be the reason. Visualized through his press clippings, one conjures up a seething engine of intellectual excitement and passion. When he opens his mouth, though, he is no longer an Archangel but a pedantic lecturer on recondite subjects. Chomsky has been blessed with a gift denied many: He can make the most interesting issues, the most inflammatory themes, the most crucial national decisions as dynamic and pulsating as a monograph about Etruscan verbals.

What, then, is at the base of his cult? What is it about Chomsky that inspires genuflection in Alexander Cockburn, an inspiring, witty and superior political mind? Simple decency? Is it possible that in the United States a man can rise solely on an oft-expressed belief that we should treat others with some respect, and that the infliction of freedom of choice (to choose our way...) upon other countries may be, well, flawed?

Naw. The Chomsky cult is something much smarmier. It is a dream of the American Left to be an aristocracy of merit in opposition. The ideal here is to be a success within the system, but despise it, and work to bring about a better world, one with prominent roles for themselves. The ideal way to realize this scenario is within academia, where superior minds are, allegedly, revered. Chomsky is simply an ultimate role model for the flaccid American Left. He has succeeded within the system; he retains the moral high ground in condemning its faults; he can return to it with no loss of face. The Archangel Noam is a Left-Wing beer commercial. He really does have it all, and it is a sort of envy that fills seats.

Like people who would like to have written a book, as opposed to actually writing one, Chomsky's followers take beautific satisfaction in attending lectures, buying books, sometimes getting through the books, and continue to threaten no more action than the dreaming ruminants that they are. In fact, they are nothing more than groupies, air guitarists of the intellect, imagining themselves writing letters to the editors. Weekday warriors, voicing concern at highly visible cafe tables; sheep, who mean well feebly, the very sort of effete progressives who brought up Lenin's lunch.