Anonymous asked in Politics & GovernmentPolitics · 10 years ago

How does Noam Chomsky always slaughter his opponents in debates?

I was watching the famous Noam Chomsky debates on youtube today (they have more than a million views combined) with Dershowitz, Pearle, etc. and wondering what rhetorical devices Chomsky uses to make his opponents look like veritable fools! how does he do it? how can one man know so much?


Scaerd: LOL, now you're just being libelous. I'm a grad student in math and we're certainly not reticent with Chomsky-ian proofs. He hasn't revolutionized linguistics, as one commenter put it, but philosophy itself.

Update 2:

Scaerd: Is it true that Chomsky quiets opposing linguists? I've only had one class that dealt with linguistics, Language and Power with Professor Kramsch at Berkeley, and she said she was run out of MIT by Chomsky!

4 Answers

  • 10 years ago
    Best Answer

    Simle answer: he doesn't, any more than stage magicians make bunnies disappear. He just creates the illusion that he has mastery over the topic of the debate. He looks impressive, but that is the benefit from being able to get all of one's facts from Noam Chomskyland. The rest of us mere mortals have to do research, and rely on sources that are not just ourselves (if you've ever read a Noam Chomsky paper, you would know what I mean. If the man cites references at all, 9 times out of 10, it is to a paper that he wrote. In the 10% of instances when the reference is not to himself, 9 times out of ten, it is to someone who has been his lackey for a while). This creates a situation where Noam emphatically and passionately lectures the audience about a world that exists in his head, and his opponent is forced to do what he can with a world that has to be objectively verified.

    Additionally, he's a big fan of ad hominem attacks on his opponent, which are compelling, but illogical, particularly when they cannot be substantiated or warranted in the debate (I've already pointed out that the Noam is really not a fan of substantaitable claims). He's a lot less impressive if you do follow up fact-checking research after a debate. There is also the part where he comes off as deeply profound by spurting out strange 'factoids' that definately have no correspondence or realistic consequence in a ponderous tone, typically using big words and conflating concepts that have no place being together (eg, his perrenial argument that the demand that Israel be recognized as a state is the same thing as insisting that Palestine not be...this is only true if you take the 'with me or against me' line that most anti-Israel lectures tend to take--projecting their bigotry onto Israel) He does the same thing in linguistics (my field of study).



    To correct another poster: I think that Halle did more for GTs than Chomsky (he's the one credited with delivering the killing blow to Structuralism), and John McCarthy did much more to revolutionize mordern linguistics with his work on nonconcatenative morphology and his expansion of optamality theory. I don't know why the Noam is as adored as he is in psycholinguistics--it hardly takes a sleuth to point out that Skinner's book was moronic, and he generally opposes (usually by misrepresenting) theories that are supported by cognative research (optamality theory, especially). I think that psycholinguists blind adoration of the man has severely impaired their field (for example, it's only in the past 10-20 years that any research has been done on multilingual children). Many other theories of linguistics (lexical phonology, most famously), were created just to keep the Noam from being too academically irresponsible (there is no such thing as an underlying velar fricative in an English word, and Japanese is a real language, exc...). Noam just makes a lot of noise---he's probably done a lot of damage to the field, by disparaging field research (basically, all his theories belie the belief that every human language is secretly English...and not just English, some wierd dialect of American English that is in his head and has grammatical rules that can convieniently change to reflect any point that the Noam wants to make...) and discourse linguistics. The field is only now starting to be more accepting of cultural roles in the development of languages.


    I'm not being libelious--you asked for my opinion, and I gave it, based on my experiences in my field, reading his works, and in watching him "debate". I already provided you with ample theories that Chomsky opposes that have revolutionized modern linguistics, and evidence that he is academically irresponsible (ie, proposing an underlying velar fricative for some English words, simply to force them to fit his theories, like a troublesome puzzlepieces). If this were a debate, I would come with more complete citations...including a very rude e-mail he sent to one of my professors who asked him for some clarification on one of his ideas. His responses to theories he doesn't like is to misrepresent them, then say that they are stupid. For example, his reaction to OT theories was to conflate various proposed cognative mechanisms, and then say that the 'theory' made no sense. Indeed, OT theories that have those proposed mechanisms conflated do not make sense---that is why traditional OT theories do not conflate them.

    I am a graduate student in linguistics (one who actually does field research and will be expected to do more than cite hypothetical varieties of "American English" in my dissertation)--which means that I have taken quite a few classes on theoretical linguistics. I can't speak for all philosophy, but I can happily second your claim that he has not revolutionized my field. Nowadays, most linguists ignore him, except for older American ones--typically on the east coast. I have read many of his papers trying to smear other theories of linguistics---neo-Wharvian ones (even though I am the first one to admit that Daniel Everett of Piraha-number fame is an obstinant asshole himself--but he's a brilliant obstinant asshole who bases his work on an actual language and actively invites other academics to come down to the Amazon and check out his theories), Optimality Theory, and field research in general. Typically in a university where professors do actual field research, especially on tiny, dying languages, you will hardly find anyone who really likes Noam Chomsky. Talk about him in countries where virtually all linguists ARE field researchers, and you would get a flat stare. And yes, MIT is known as the Generative stronghold of linguistics, trapped in the 60s by Chomsky's grasp. The only linguist that I can cite off the top of my head who came from there and was not willing to be a Chomsky flunkie is John McCarthy, who I have already cited as amazing (largely, because he is able to recognize where his theories need to be tweaked).

    Additionally---I don't know why mathematicians would like the Noam--I have yet to meet a comp sci grad who doesn't hate the guy.

  • 10 years ago

    Funny, I didn't find him convincing & found his opponents much more effective.

    Maybe because I'm not a die hard fan of nonsense views on politics & false arguments.

    It's a well known fact in arguing --- if you aren't trying for real truth, & only aiming to "win" & make others look foolish, you can appear more effective. Truth & taking total views into account & aiming for solutions, can be a real obstacle in an argument.

    Pay close attention to dictators who were voted in originally... it's very much their style (this aim to win, ignore the truth).

    It's always easy to "put holes" in arguments... it's much harder to have real ideas & solutions. That's why it's a different game to campaign for office, than to run the office. It's why Chomsky manipulates well, but anyone skilled or intelligent is quickly put off by his arguments... unless they have an axe to grind with Israel or whatever & don't fact check or care about reality.


    Chomsky - isn't so brillant & many feel that way. He's self congratulatory - a different concept. So Chomsky runs off people (MIT) -- that's generally the sign of an egomanic who's threatened because his work isn't all there... and needs to have control instead. Any one in math research will tell you, the greatly skilled folks have no trouble working together - even if they see things differently. It's only the facade ones that play games.


    I'm a math graduate -- which is why I can see through the manipulation & lack of logic in Chomsky's comments. Including even in linguistics. When you have to use "large" words & overly complicate explanations, you're blowing smoke screens every time.... which was obvious when I persisted through to the core.

  • Chains
    Lv 4
    10 years ago

    All you have to have to be an excellent debater is an excellent memory. However, bear something in mind. Winning a debate has nothing to do with whether or not your opinion or position on the topic is correct. You can be quite wrong about a subject or policy and still win in a debate on it. Debating is a political device, and as such, cannot be mistaken in any way for a respectable scientific or logical process. For instance, no matter how many debates Chomsky wins, nothing changes the fact that both communism AND socialism are the least effective and least fair systems that have been employed in the modern era to govern people. The list of nations that fall under the category of governments that Chomsky would approve of has some rather notorious names on it. Cuba, Soviet Union, China, N Korea, Venezuela, just for a few examples. Now no one needs me to explain how parts of these countries' systems are "unfair" or "misguided".

    So back to the original point......Chomsky may win a debate with a lesser political opponent or speaker surely, but Chomsky cannot change the very nature of the reality of the implications that his agendas hold for the majority of the planet. The most sinister thing about Chomsky's political idealism is he knows full well that a significant quantity of people exist that want no part in his "system", yet he continues to push and support the philosophy knowing full well that many of these people will be forced into submission by the very governmental systems his agenda frequently supports. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for Chomsky to express any regret or remorse on the failures of communism or socialism, particularly in the area of human rights. That is the other problem with most of these political debaters. They tend to be quite arrogant, and the very nature associated with being a good debater essentially precludes the possibility of ever catching any of them admitting when they are wrong.

  • 10 years ago

    For starters, he revolutionized the study of linguistics.

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