When you listen to people across the ‘political spectrum’, from the left (meaning legitimate left, like Noam Chomsky, not the American DNC ‘left’) to the right, there seems to be a very clear and distinct difference in the way they communicate. Not just that, but also in the legitimacy of the arguments they put forward when debating or advocating for something. What you tend to find, when you compare certain people on a particular topic, is that one side (the left) comes off as intelligent, while the other (the right) delves into an arrogant sense of perceived intelligence.
There are countless examples one could use to justify this, both in media and in academia. The first, most certainly, is Chomsky himself. The man is essentially a walking library, but it’s not merely his expansive knowledge that places him in such high regard. His ability to so flawlessly analyse and explain any given scenario is, thus far (I’m yet to see a competitor), unparalleled. Logic and reason dictate his every word, and to find fault in his arguments, whether you agree with him or not, is nigh on impossible.
Now take the other side, with popular ‘intellectuals’ like Ben Shapiro or talking heads on Murdoch news channels like Fox. Where Chomsky will lay out all the facts and base his conclusions on a sound analysis of them, people like Shapiro have a particular narrative they are melded with and have trouble perceiving any deviations as plausible. Shapiro, in many of his speeches and debates I’ve seen, picks out specific points that conform with his view of the world. In turn, unsurprisingly, those who wish to have their own narrow opinion validated subscribe to him as a reputable source, as an ‘intellectual’.
Probably two of the greatest topics you could compare Chomsky and Shapiro on are socialism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the latter is quite interesting as they are both ethnically Jewish. In regard to socialism, what Shapiro does is instantly shuts it down – he is an incredibly vehement capitalist. But there are two problems with how he approaches this. The first is his rudimentary knowledge (he’d probably disagree) of socialism. The second is his own bizarre definition of capitalism and how he believes it is the system we in the West live under. What makes it so bizarre is that he inadvertently seems to suggest something more socialist in nature.
In one particular talk he did, he referred to socialism and communism as the cause of hundreds of millions of deaths and many more imprisonments (although his nervous stutter while trying to claim ‘billions of people’ are imprisoned in China, a country of under 1.5 billion people, almost instantly cast him as dubious). But, one thing that any rational person can deduce is that the governments he called ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ were by no means socialist or communist.
The Soviet Union was totalitarian – North Korea is one of the most totalitarian states in history – China today is not only increasingly totalitarian as time goes on, but is actually very capitalist (in the US sense) in its domestic and international pursuit of wealth and imperialist dominance. Trying to portray those nations as socialist or communist is a mistake made by those who take calculated Cold War propaganda at face value.
For example, as Chomsky explains, the US wanted to paint the USSR as socialist because it killed any potential desire for socialist ideas to be considered positively in the US itself – which worked remarkably. The USSR, in turn, referred to itself as socialist because in doing so, at the time, it attached what many around the world knew to be socialism to its cause. People sympathised with the Soviet Union because, at face value, they believed it to be socialist. What you end up with, therefore, is two global superpowers dictating what nations were socialist to either garner support or hatred towards it, but with few actually understanding what it is.
So that is Shapiro’s first mistake – blindly following the propaganda of the Cold War era without doing any real study of what true socialism is supposed to entail. I’m sure Marx would have been devastated with Lenin’s hijacking of the Russian Revolution after 1917.
Shapiro’s next mistake is how he believes capitalism works in the West. His explanation is that the labour you put into your work, and the product of that labour, belongs to you and no one else. In contrast, socialism, to him, is the opposite of freedom, where your labour and the product of that labour does not belong to you. It’s actually the other way around, in my knowledge and experience.
In a capitalist system, the overwhelming majority work for wages – something many (now and historically) considered hardly better than slavery, even earning the phrase wage slavery. Your labour no longer belongs to you, but to your employer, and the products of your labour do not belong to you either – they belong to the company you work for, and the profits do not go to you – you are a pesky cost. I am sure the factory workers in third world countries feel free when making products for multimillion-dollar companies for pennies; I bet they feel free when they are threatened if they try to do anything even remotely like unionising or requesting better working conditions.
Ironically, Shapiro’s definition of capitalism, that one owns their own labour and the products of that labour, is actually how Chomsky defines socialism. “Those who work the factories ought to own them.” A phrase with a couple of hundred years of history, the concept is simple, and in fact covers what Shapiro believes in. Where he tries to muddy the waters by trying to introduce the state as a tyrannical power (while seemingly ignoring the same tyranny from corporate powers) in socialism, in reality the idea is that workers have direct control over what they do. The workers own their own labour and therefore the product of it; there is no state or corporate control.
At my previous job, I earned a reasonable hourly rate, but I was under no illusion that I owned my labour. Profit made by the store went upwards through the company, and ultimately, we were shut down because not enough profit was being generated – a decision not made by anyone who physically worked there. If we, meaning all the staff at the restaurant, owned it collectively, not only would our labour and the products and services we provided have belonged to us, but all that profit would have stayed with us as well. In that scenario, we would have been a thriving venture.
To tie all of this back to the title of the piece, Chomsky goes back in history to define what socialism truly meant, whereas Shapiro belittles it and uses invalid and incorrect ‘facts’ to try and bolster his argument. His own bubble of thought is so contradictory that he actually defines socialism instead of capitalism when referring to freedom and ownership of one’s own labour, and (obviously swapping the state with corporate power) defines capitalism when ranting about tyranny and a lack of ownership over one’s own labour.
What Shapiro does is present his ideas as incontestable fact and then belittles any person or idea that seems to disagree with his viewpoint. The USSR was socialist, so therefore socialism is immediately synonymous with tyranny – capitalism, as the ‘opposite’ must then be synonymous with freedom. Conclusions and ‘facts’ presented without a shred of evidence to justify them.
Chomsky, meanwhile, may also consider his own ideas as right and incontestable, but takes it upon himself to thoroughly prove that what he believes is indeed right. And the results are a remarkable contrast. Chomsky’s use of analysis and fact are testaments to his intelligence, whereas Shapiro’s generalisations, contradictions, and outright falsehoods combined with ad hominem attacks on those who disagree reveal an arrogant and rather entitled nature.
Liked this? Read A Sense of Collectivism in a Capitalist System
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