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Noam Chomsky Criticizes Postmodernism

Professor Noam Chomsky, one of the greatest linguists in the XXth century, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist criticizes postmodernism which is infiltrating humanities (literature, discourse analysis, etc.) since the 70s-80s and up to now.

Postmodernism as a General Idea

In all of this compilation of videos, Chomsky prefers to discuss the negative effect of postmodernism as a general idea rather than the current developing work which is difficult to follow. He describes postmodern researches using different adjectives like Arcane, Private Lingo, Nonesense, Something that is difficult to follow – He admits that he’s unable to follow the current developing work and believes that nobody, at least in his area of expertise is able to follow them.
For him, most of what postmodernists express in polysyllabic words and very complicated constructions turn out to be truisms that anybody can observe and express in monosyllabic words.

It’s perfectly true that when you look at scientists in the West, they’re mostly men, it’s perfectly true that women have a hard time breaking into the scientific fields, and it’s perfectly true that there are institutional factors determining how science proceeds that reflect power structures. All of these can be described literally in monosyllables, and it turns out to be truisms.

He thinks that if they choose to express their truisms in ordinary language, they will not be rewarded across universities and it is one of the reasons behind their efforts of copying scientists from other departments such as physicists by making theories, talking incomprehensively, drawing far-reaching conclusions, etc.

The Effect of Postmodernism

The effect of such philosophy for him is clear:

They [postmodernists] are dissociated from anything that is happening for many reasons… [one of them is that] nobody can actually understand a word of what they say.

He thinks that while such nonsense doesn’t matter a lot in the first world, its effect in the third world is grotesque. In this latter, intellectuals are badly needed in popular movements in order to make real contributions.

Postmodernism Truths

When it comes to what they call “truths“, Chomsky describes their stances as radical:

“…[They] can beat people over the head with perfect self-confidence that there’s no reality anywhere, it’s just their narrative and your narrative.”

Postmodernists Views on Science

He describes their views on science as so embarrassing. In that respect, he backs his argument by referring to a book that exposes their nonsense about science, written by two physicists, Allan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, called “Fashionable Nonsense:  Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science.

The Historical and Cultural Background of Postmodernism

In the third and fourth videos, Chomsky describes some of the historical and cultural circumstances in which postmodernism developed. He thinks that French intellectuals who were behind the ideas of postmodernism were the last dedicated Stalinists and Maoists, then in a few years later, when it became difficult to uphold that position, they became the first to have discovered the Gulag – which was already known in the world:

I remember going there [To France] and hearing from the leading intellectuals things I knew when I was 10 years old.

This shows him clearly one of the particular features of France. He describes it as an “insular culture, [and] it always has been”.

Another feature, he adds, is that French intellectuals tend to be Vedette (media stars):

They were taken seriously and were on the front pages of Le Monde and so on”… “And in order to be on the front pages of Le Monde and so on, they had to come up with exciting new ideas. [but because it’s difficult to come up with new ideas], they had to come up with crazy ideas.

He adds:

…One of the ways to have exciting new ideas is to tear everything into shreds, to say everything is wrong, the enlightenment was wrong…“.

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