October 15, 2004

Deconstructing Deconstructionism

Chomsky is right! Hey, it happens once in a while.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 15, 2004 11:22 PM

My very brief eulogy of Derrida with links here.

In brief, if you are reading this sentence and believe you can understand my meaning, then Derrida was wrong.

I can't believe I agree with Chomsky.

Posted by: spc67 at October 16, 2004 12:33 AM

You know, I'd slammed you pretty hard when I first read you, Mike. The first thing I'd ever read was a silly post you'd written about the term progressive, which was pretty bad and entirely wrong on many levels. I thought it was an indicator of not only dishonesty, but stupidity. Usually, when someone makes a mistake of the kind you did, it was an indicator of the systemic in your personality and character and intellect. I now think it was merely a lapse.

For the first time ever in my political life, I have been completely wrong about someone. You don't really care because you don't know me, but suffice to say I've been wrong about people fewer times than I can count on one hand. You've been consistantly impressive since the first day I've read you, and you're possibly one of the smartest people with standard left-liberal politics writing at the moment. Not that you care, but kudos from the enemy.

Posted by: James Versluys at October 16, 2004 12:43 AM

Chompsky was right about something? I'm going to go outside and check for rains of blood and the sky boiling, because I'm pretty sure that those are the other signs of the apocalypse.

Seriously, when it comes to linguistics Chompsky is actually very good. It's just when it comes to politics that his judgement leaves something to be desired.

Posted by: sam at October 16, 2004 02:01 AM

Wow. James has seen the light, it seems. But are these really "left-liberal" politics? Michael has got some left-leaning tendencies (kind of like myself) but he's seen too much and he's way too smart to swallow alot of it. Can a radidly independent non-partisan REALLY be "left-liberal"?

Posted by: Grant McEntire at October 16, 2004 02:05 AM

"I can't believe I agree with Chomsky."

Amen. Oh well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Posted by: David Thomson at October 16, 2004 02:45 AM

Put away your straw man. Derrida never claimed that shared understanding is impossible. That's the most common misapprehension of deconstruction, which doesn't claim there is no such thing as meaning or communication, only that meaning is always provisional, subject to a temporary (but not essential) agreement. Because of the figurative nature of language (that is, its multiplicity of possible meanings), this agreement requires the erasure of differences and errors which undermine it, but which a deconstructive 'reading' excavates, but does not claim to produce, since they are 'always already' there in the first place.

To take an example: the last sentence of your post says: "I can't believe I agree with Chomsky". Rhetorically or figuratively, you are saying "I am astonished to find myself agreeing with Chomsky" which implies, but does not explicitly state "I almost never agree with Chomsky". A grammatical or literal reading, however, produces the exact opposite meaning: if, as you say, you "can't believe", we should disregard your subsequent testimony as unreliable, seeing as how you can't even convince yourself. In other words, you must not actually agree with Chomsky - in fact, you think Derrida is just fine.

How can you resolve that apparent contradiction without an appeal to some grounding in intention, which we cannot verify, or context, which must also be 'read' and understood in the same way as your statements?

Now, I'm making a rather technical point here - after all we can infer what you probably meant and the consequences of misunderstanding are very small - but Derrida was applying this problem of undecidability to a whole system of language, around which Western philosophy is structured, that depended on the arbitrary privilege of certain terms over others (e.g. philosophy over literature, male over female, white over black, Christian over Jew, inside over outside, God over man, etc.), yet saw these privileges as essential rather than grounded in linguistics and rhetoric.

Posted by: Jon Ihle at October 16, 2004 03:16 AM


Can a radidly independent non-partisan REALLY be "left-liberal"?

Of course. There are two choices for real liberals (as opposed to the socialists we confuse with liberals these days). A left-leaning liberal will have no choice but to be non-partisan. A right-leaning liberal can be a neo-con Republican.

The better question is whether partisan leftists can really be liberal, or if they to swallow the anti-liberal socialist Democratic agenda.

There is no room for real liberals in the contemporary socialist Democratic party. If you are a liberal, but don't support the Democratic agenda of using the coercive power of government to seize property from the wealthy and redistributing this wealth as the government sees fit, you are a heretic. There is no room for you.

The purpose of the Democratic party's obsession with government programs is not to achieve justice, peace or equitable outcomes. Only the starry-eyed utopians believe that. The real world results over the last 40 years have shown that government programs only make thingss worse most of the time.

Real liberals like Daniel Moynihan who predicted this back in the 60's were villified. But time has proven him right. And a real liberal today would recognize that social problems are best addressed by rolling back government programs. That is what Bill Clinton did with welfare reform and it has proven a tremendous success.

The only reason that the Democratic leadership supports government programs in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they fail is because they create a dependency among the citizenry on the government. This enables the Democrats to concentrate power in the government which they can then exploit. Dependency is the best tool of tyrants.

Posted by: HA at October 16, 2004 04:44 AM

“Put away your straw man. Derrida never claimed that shared understanding is impossible.”

That’s simply false. Derrida did indeed contend that human beings cannot adequately communicate with each other. Civilization is therefore ultimately impossible and only a dictator can interpret our words; the ability to kick some rear end is far more important than the ability to reason things out.

Derrida is a second rate mediocrity. It is shameful that such a moron is praised by allegedly well educated people.

Posted by: David Thomson at October 16, 2004 07:04 AM

The fact that a stopped clock is right twice a day does not make it any less useless.

Posted by: triticale at October 16, 2004 08:31 AM

So Chomsky is willing to acknowledge that the Left is descending into nihilism, nothingness and shit?

I can only conclude that Chomsky is concerned that this nihilism can't properly be harnessed for the purposes of his Leftwing war on the U.S. and the West. Nothingness is hardly a motivator for action.

Posted by: David at October 16, 2004 08:49 AM

> Chomsky is right! Hey, it happens once
> in a while.

We shouldn't count on it.

Posted by: Cridland at October 16, 2004 01:22 PM

> Now, I'm making a rather technical point here...

No, just a long-winded one: Your last sentence has 92 words in it. Professional, academic post-structuralists kill trees at taxpayer expense. Their blog-reading enthusiasts consume only pixels.

I suppose this is progress.

Posted by: Cridland at October 16, 2004 01:28 PM

> The fact that a stopped clock is right twice
> a day does not make it any less useless.

That's a brilliant line. I'm going to use it, but probably won't give you credit!

Posted by: Cridland at October 16, 2004 01:42 PM


Short enough for you?

Posted by: Jon Ihle at October 16, 2004 02:49 PM

Um, I hate to be a nit-picker here, but given the absolute shock of finding myself in agreement, does anyone have a cite for this quote? I looked at Michael's link, but they don't have comments there, and I wasn't able to find a link to an original source.

It's much less that I think it was manufactured, but when I am seeing eye-to-eye with Chomsky on something like this, I want to make sure that I am actually seeing eye-to-eye.


Posted by: Bravo Romeo Delta at October 16, 2004 03:35 PM


I hadn't noticed the absence of a link. If it helps, be aware that the post was written by Johann Hari, a professional journalist who writes for Britain's Independent.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 16, 2004 03:46 PM

This link might be of value:


Posted by: David Thomson at October 16, 2004 04:11 PM

The whole article is here:

Through David's link I also see it at:

Posted by: YetAnotherRick at October 16, 2004 06:54 PM

read the whole thing:


Posted by: Jeff Hartley at October 16, 2004 10:25 PM

The sort of inpenetrability that Derrida is accused of is not limited to him. Feynman has a funny account of sitting in on a discussion of a Whitehead book and asking for the definition of a word they were using, and the people at the meeting could not agree on the definition, even though it had been key to the discussion. Fairly common to philosophy I think.

Posted by: Pat at October 17, 2004 09:25 AM

Well, there's such a thing as being right for the wrong reasons. And I'll give Chomsky some props for being right twice a day in the era of digital clocks.

1) He's never liked Derrida or Deconstructionism or PostModernism. But not liking POMO horse hockey isn't a sign of intellectual honesty in-and-of-itself. His critics, however, may say that he just doesn't like the competition.

2) And this is where I give him the most credit, though it's surprisingly ignored by those you'd think would hang on his every word! His still-fashionable linguistics work (which can be as controversial in Linguistics as his colorful, if not tenuous, grip on reality) has been used to rightfully bodyslam "Look-Say" and the rest of the "Whole Language" Claptrap. (Chomsky's theories, like them or not [and I'm in the latter category], end at the spoken word and go no where near written languages, which you need to presume to carry Look-Say/Whole Langauge's water.) However, not having Chomsky smile on Whole Language has done nothing to keep it on the forward wave of the Hip, With-it, and Worthless.

Asside from that, he's a true mental explorer and has a militant following that make the Bush-Hitler/Bush-Moron/Bush-Halliburton crowd seem like a bevy of finishing school graduates at their debut cotilion.

Posted by: Bill at October 17, 2004 09:34 AM

Michael Turner,

Leave it to you and you alone to say accusations of genocide by the Khmer Rouge were politically motivated exagerations. Even Noam Chomsky doesn't believe that anymore.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2004 10:11 AM

I've seen raw census data from Holocaust deniers before, in "The Iron Curtain Over America" from the '50s. I've also seen similar demographics described (on paper pre-web) after catastrophic famines in Africa. It would seem, if this pattern is accurate, that it is human nature to breed aggressively toward the level the land will support and then switch to a sustainable birth rate. What you need to research is these various outliers.

Posted by: triticale at October 17, 2004 08:46 PM

Michael Turner,

Just letting you know that I have stopped reading your posts. There is no sense wasting your time arguing with me because I am not going to waste my time arguing with the likes of you.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2004 10:36 PM

In the above, I wrote Uganda where I meant Rwanda. Tired, typing fast, and reading too much about Uganda recently.

As for Michael Totten's refusal to read further, well, that happens to people emotionally entrenched in their positions when faced with inconvenient facts, doesn't it? Not just facts, but facts involving actual computations, and probabilities rather than certainties. And, y'know, research.

In other words, Totten likes Chomsky's approach to thinking about problems, except when that approach leads to conclusions that he doesn't like, which, politically seems to be most of the time. Chomsky trashes Derrida? Fine with him. Didn't require revising his opinion, opinion being all Totten deals in. Yeah, a real scientific rationalist for you.

Posted by: Michael turner at October 18, 2004 02:30 AM

HA -- as usual you are witty, passionate, articulate and full of shit.

I find particularly offensive your divination of the Democratic motives for supporting the various government programs that we do. We allegedly do so not because we believe in them but because we want to acquire and maintain political power through fostering public dependency on these programs.

I work in Washington, for a liberal political entity, and I have dreams and goals like everyone else. If all I really wanted was to acquire political power and get my bread buttered I would join the fucking Republican party and embrace your ideology. I'm a fool to remain a Democrat! I should join the party that is likely to control the House till January 2013, the Presidency till January 2009. I should align myself ideologically with the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the entire well-founded conservative policy making / propaganda dissemination apparatus that conservatives and their wealthy benefactors have put together (excellently delineated in The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge). I should align myself with the party and the ideology that provides a simple common-sense (or, I would say, simplistic and simple-minded) ideology that is easy to explain to a narrow but probably increasing majority of American voters and that most importantly tells them what they want to hear. A Machiavellian who joins or stays in the Democratic Party is a stupid Machiavellian. I suspect this will be even more the case on Novemeber 3, 2004.

I see now you referred to "Democratic leadership" not all Democrats. OK, who is this leadership and what evidence do you have that they hold their views out of expediency rather than principle? Perhaps the passionate speeches and the vote of the man you and I admire, Daniel Partick Moynihan AGAINST the 1996 welfare reform bill? (His fortunately unfounded fears about the possible negative impact that bill would have on CHILDREN were admirably seconded at that time by his close friend and mentee the conservative commentator George Will.)

In fact, the support of President Clinton for that bill, as well as the support of the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress for its key component -- a time limit on receiving benefits -- are strong evidence that Democrats have transcended the sterotypical vulgar liberalism that you would ascribe to us. Some of us have learned the hard way, kicking and screaming, but for the most part, today we recognize that "teaching a man to fish rather than just giving him a fish."

"The real world results over the last 40 years have shown that government programs only make thingss worse most of the time."

I agree that there are some government programs that wouldn't pass a cost-benefit analysis and deserve to be mothballed. Top of my list would be most agriculture subsidies, and a bunch of military weapons systems. Which ones are at the top of your list? The small business administration, perhaps? How about the Food and Drug Administration meat or pharmacuetical inspectors? The INS?

The fact is that the Bush Administration puts together its budget every year and goes through every single freaking line item in the federal government. It could easily propose to Congress, which has been Republican-majority for ten years now with the exception of 2001-02, that a whole bunch of the should be eliminated. But it seldom if ever does this.

This is because it knows that a lot of its free-market rhetoric is a crock. The vast majority of our economy is PRIVATIZED -- probably 70 % or GDP if one INCLUDES state and local government and schools. But most government programs have been instituted due to market failures of one sort or another that make it unlikely or impossible for the private sector to supply this or that NECCESSARY OR HIGHLY DESIRABLE PUBLIC GOOD. And evidence of market failures pop up again and again. The most recent one appears to be the flu vaccine situation, in all but two small US pharmaceutical companies have gotten out of the flu vaccine business for the honest and legitimate reason that it is not profitable -- even though 50,000 Americans are at high risk of death each year if they DO NOT get their shot.

Posted by: Markus Rose at October 18, 2004 08:33 AM

Michael Turner,

Since you insist on posting anyway, let me just remind you that I have already given you a troll warning and received plenty of complaints about your behavior over the past year. I was tempted to ban you from posting right now, but I'll be a nice guy and go through the formalities with you by first reminding you that you're on probation around here.

Insult me one more time and you're gone forever, bud. That's the rule. Don't like it? Lump it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 18, 2004 09:59 AM


My friend, to post an article starring Chmosky and Derrida is to invite the most passionate of arguments. I haven't seen Michael Turner be in the least bit trollish on this issue (he's been in the past, but not here). I humbly submit, that it is more your feelings on the topic, than his posts, which have galled you.

Your post was, at least, somewhat insulting. His post wasn't half as insulting as the ones I've been on the recieving end of by others who post here all the time.

Do as you will, my friend, but I'd count to 10 first.

Posted by: Ratatosk at October 18, 2004 10:13 AM

Michael T. -- I don't recall reading many of Michael Turner's previous posts but having seen your warning, I read his above posts and your response to them...I don't have the time to look into the details of his arguments, but aside from a little bit of arrogance at the end, they are clearly based on reason and (alleged) facts. I gotta say I don't understand your beef.

Posted by: markus rose at October 18, 2004 10:20 AM

Markus and Tosk,

Turner has been an asshole to me here and on other blogs. The fact that he showed up at all without first apologizing for past behavior pisses me off. We have a history. He's on probation and I have no patience.

You two also argue with me on a regular basis. The difference between you and him is that you are polite and worth my time. He isn't.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 18, 2004 12:52 PM


I know you to usually be fair minded, I only posted because of the current discussion underway here.

Its always your blog :)

Posted by: Ratatosk at October 18, 2004 01:01 PM

Michael Turner: The problem, of course, was the lossy blogspace citation of the kind Totten lazily prefers didn't have a link to that full context.

You're banned. I'm tired of this stupid meme of yours. I linked to a post by a professional journalist who has a lot more integrity than you will ever have.

Go somewhere else. I've put up with your insults for more than a year now. No more.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 18, 2004 09:41 PM

Just to clear up a few things...

Michael Turner: you could do some real research on Libya before you go


And maybe sell it to some outfit other than Tech Central Station

Also done.

Now goodbye.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 18, 2004 09:46 PM

What an incredible coward and hypocrite Totten is.

Posted by: ts at October 19, 2004 11:06 AM


You're banned. Goodbye.

Anyone else want to complain?

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