Professor Froward's Slough of Despond

Proud purveyor of flawed generalizations and vacuous tautologies.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Styles of Radical Schtick

The thing about making an ass of yourself in public is you constantly need fresh material, unless you're a comedian. Or Woody Allen.

Noam Chomsky's got a pretty good schtick going. He just picks up the Globe every morning, finds the worst thing on the front page, and makes up a reason to blame it on the US. He doesn't have to think of anything new, because he can go on forever applying that one silly idea to an inexhaustible supply of depressing news items. We have six billion people on this planet, every one of us is screwing up everything he can reach, 24/7, and it's all grist for the mill. On a slow news day, when the wellsprings of human idiocy run dry, he's got 229 years of old catastrophes to choose from. This is not unlike what Glenn Reynolds does, except that on slow news days Reynolds posts cat pictures. I prefer Reynolds, but then I'm fond of cats.

The people who get into trouble are the ones who haven't figured out the news gimmick, the ones who depend for novelty on breaking new theoretical ground rather than mechanically applying the same old theory the way ol' Noam does (heck, I don't believe Chomsky even admits to having a theory in any broad sense). Professional radicals can very easily get sucked into a radicalism arms race where "new product" requires saying something crazier than whatever they said last week (Ward Churchill, anyone?) — and crazier than whatever the guy in the next office is saying, too. Work smarter, guys, not harder. There's a reason why Chomsky is still cheerful and spry at an age when most professional lunatics have worried themselves into the grave: He's got a more efficient algorithm for generating hooey, and he's a happier man for it.