Friday, June 09, 2006

Noam Chomsky: I just watched Noam Chomsky on "Charlie Rose" and discovered he is exactly what the Left hates: he is an extreme genetic determinist. While I'm not as radical as all that, he provides me an excellent example of how to believe in genes and yet thrive in academia: just don't allow your beliefs about evolution have a whiff of influence on your thinking about anything, at least in the area of politics. Just convince yourself that genes are everything except that they are nothing. He has a knack for this kind of thinking: we need to shrink the government to nothing by first making it much, much bigger.


  1. Ron,

    I don't get Charlie Rose in my neck of the woods, so I don't know what the segment was about. Could you possibly elaborate on you observation with a little more context?

  2. "Charlie Rose" is Larry King Live for PBS people. Chomsky was asked about many of his views--mostly about the war--but he was also asked if learning plays any role in how children turn out, and he said no, it's genetic. According to him, current science has completely discredited learning theories like Skinner's.

  3. Well, Skinner definitely was wrong about most of the things he talked about. Chomsky's views aren't that different from what most liberal biologists would say -- genes matter, but race differences & recent human evolution affecting the brain are negligible if at all present.

    Despite this, lots of people who study human nature have a story about how they got interested in it b/c of something Chomsky said. Steven Pinker is a good example. I was the same, and I now believe in race diffs in intelligence & personality that are partly heritable, and that human evolution has chugged along after the transition to agriculture. Pretty far from where I started!

    Chomsky is a gateway drug that way. Not all who experience his effects will stray any farther, but some will, and that's "some" too many for the anti-bio brigades.

  4. Classic: Ali G interviews Noam Chomsky.

  5. Anonymous2:47 PM

    Ouch! Somebody's been boning up on 20th century intellectual history. Tell me more about that liberal biology, college boy. And more, much more, about where you started, & where you'll end up. (Forgive my tone, insufferable twits are taking over my neighborhood.)

  6. Thanks, Agnostic--I watched it, and it was hilarious. "How many languages do you speak if your "cunnilingual"? Why do all these really smart people always get suckered by Ali G, Daily Show, etc? I'd like to think I would sniff out the joke, but maybe it's not so easy. They are not good enough actors to just be playing along. Did you see the one with Andy Rooney--he was such an ass. Ali G's con reveals how nice someone is--Chomsky is a pretty nice guy.

  7. Anonymous3:09 PM

    It's true what Ron says, Ali is a bit of a test, & yes, Andy Rooney is an asshole. On the other hand, we kinda knew that going in. But he does have 50 books on the English language, way more than Chomsky.

  8. Thanks for the tip Ron, the interview you are speaking of is online here:

    Skinner is at 15:00, children are at 17:00.

    Money quote ["you raised three kids, didn't you reward and punish them to promote desired behaviors?"]:

    Chomsky: ". . . To the extent that people do it, it has, at most, a marginal effect on the children. . .for their growth and development, it largely takes place on the basis of the outgrowth of their innate capacities. That's true in every domain we know of: it's true in language, it's true in moral development, it's true in anything that's been studied carefully. . . by now these are almost truisms in the sciences."

  9. Anonymous2:33 AM

    Chomsky is wrong about universality. It is not, in fact, "elementary". Much less, applying "more stringent" rules to one's self. Else he would condescend to interrogate and criticize some of the more psychotic positions that he himself has taken over the years.

  10. Anonymous: Exactly. How can a person who believes so strongly in nature over nurture so easily accept "universality" as a realistic principle?

  11. Anonymous12:53 PM

    Chomsky could, at the very least, bother himself by raising his eyebrow at those who denounce Guantanamo while wearing a Che T-shirt.

    He does not bother them. He does not believe in universality.

  12. Anonymous10:07 PM

    How can he take a genetically determinist view while maintaining that race does not exist? There are huge differences in behavior. Further, there are huge changes within populations, like the balooning of the black illegitimacy rate from ~25% in the 60's to 66% today.

    Genetic determinism is an inapt term. Taken at face value, it is extreme and arouses distaste among most. I prefer to think of it as genetic probabilism; clearly genes cannot make you murder, only more prone to do so.


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