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Posts Tagged ‘Noam Chomsky’

What Crisis? Law as the Marriage of Science and the Humanities

In Academia, Arts & Letters, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy, News and Current Events, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Philosophy, Scholarship, The Academy on March 12, 2014 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This week the Association for the Study of Law, Culture & the Humanities convened to consider this question: “How will law and humanities scholarship fare against the pressure of the science and technology paradigm that has now permeated the institutional frameworks of academia?”  The question implies an adversarial relationship between science and the humanities, or law-and-humanities.  The division between science and the humanities as academic disciplines, however, is not yet 150 years old; it is misguided to pit “law-and-humanities” (a signifier that did not exist a few decades ago) against the “science and technology paradigm that has now permeated the institutional frameworks of academia” (another quotation from the conference program).  We do not have to go back to Plato or Aristotle or Galileo or Descartes or Spinoza or Da Vinci or Locke or Hume or Rousseau or Kant or Newton or Adam Smith or Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson or Thoreau to see that what we call the humanities has not, traditionally, been divorced from the sciences—that, in fact, the humanities and the sciences are mutually illuminating, not mutually exclusive.

In America, more recently, the classical pragmatists—in particular C.S. Peirce and William James—sought to make philosophy more scientific, and in this endeavor they were mimicking the logical positivists in Britain.  Some of the most famous minds of the 20th century worked at the intersection of the humanities and science: Freud, Einstein, Michael Polanyi, Karl Popper, Jacques Lacan, F. A. Hayek, and Noam Chomsky, to name a few.  Lately we have seen scientific thinkers as wide-ranging as Steven Pinker, E. O. Wilson, Jared Diamond, and Leon Kass celebrate or draw from the humanities.

A review of the conference abstracts suggests that most presenters will be considering this question from the political left, but their concerns are shared by many on the right, such as Roger Scruton, who recently took to the pages of The New Atlantis to address this topic in his article “Scientism in the Arts and Humanities.”  Nevertheless, forcing the separation of science and the humanities does not strike me as prudent.

By encouraging the humanities to recognize its scientific heritage and to recover its scientific methodologies, the academy would be correcting decades of wandering.  Science is indispensable to the humanities, and vice versa; the two work in concert.  The findings in one influence the findings in the other.  Evidence of this reciprocity in the context of legal studies is especially striking in America during the late 19th and early 20th century, when the law often was associated with scientific disciplines rather than with the humanities.  At this time, the theories of Charles Darwin and his progeny helped to explain the common law tradition while influencing the way that law was taught in law schools and examined by judges and most notably by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The scientific paradigms in vogue among legal thinkers at the turn of that century were neither uniform nor monolithic.  For instance, Christopher Columbus Langdell’s push to make legal education more scientific was different from Holmes’s use of Darwinism to describe the common law.  Rather than teasing out the distinctions between various scientific approaches to the law during the late 19th and early 20th century America, however, I would look at these scientific approaches as part of the same general project and as a reminder of how the humanities and the sciences can participate to bring about theoretical and practical insights.  It might be that, of all disciplines, law is the most revealing of the participatory nature of science and the humanities and, therefore, provides the best justification for instrumental and scientific approaches to humane studies.

There are groups within the humanities that resent the scientific disciplines for the funding and privilege those disciplines enjoy in the academic marketplace, but at least part of this resentment is misplaced.  The fault lies partially with the scientists who mistake merit for value: it is not that the sciences enjoy more funding and privilege because they have more merit—the academy is not a meritocracy—but it is that they have more value to consumers and the public writ large.  It may well be that the humanities have more merit, but unless consumers begin to value merit, the meritorious will not necessarily prevail in the market.  


This is What Happens When You Write About Chomsky and Dershowitz

In Arts & Letters, Communication, News and Current Events, News Release, Politics, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication on August 18, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Allen Mendenhall

In May, I published an article on the most recent spat between Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, with whom President Obama will meet this week.  What follows are some emails I received in response to the piece (I’ve removed any personally identifying information).

thank you allen for the your piece on dershowitz

he truly is as bad as limbaugh and the fox-tv gang

san jose, ca
Bravo! A tour de force analysis. But…I think that Chomsky was very good on Cambodia especially in light of East Timor. His position was also supported by some recent work in the specialist literature. I also don’t find his remarks on the Indian names as tenuous as you do, considering that we did at least as much to decimate the Indians, and it is in many ways ongoing (denial of oil royalties, failure to pardon the imprisoned AIM guy etc). But I do agree that it is provocative and tendentious. It is farther than I would go, but I am not Chomsky.
The bin Laden episode is disturbing already: why did they lie about it, why kill instead of capture when capture was readily available, why transport the body to the sea and dump it? It stinks to high heaven.
Thanks for a great piece.
hello alen porter,
i read your article on chomsky and the lawyer dershowitz.
while what chomsky observes is generally valid perceptions of the american minset, perhaps because of his title, the professor, that what he says reaches out only unto the eager ears of those who sit in front of him a students, or beside and behind him as his colleagues.  and there it does not make any difference whether the professor is a law professor, a philosophy professor, ecology or social-political professor.  his audience listens with an eagerness to be pleased.  but unlike the vocational training classroom, where even a dullest student still has to actually do it no matter how badly, the ivy league students are required only to memorize words, without ever having to wonder whether what one hears from the podium or pulpit is so for fact.
trained thus, the learned simply route for their favorite orator, whether a barack obama or george bush or nom chomsky or anybody else.
it leaves the doers free to do whatever it pleases them: create israel, invade panama or iraq, outsource jobs, or outsell russians in weapons, and so on.
the counterpunch writers are all thus materially comfortably situated in the middle class created by those doers whom they only verbally criticize.
i have an article on language in the web:  click on ink-quest, and then or current article.
NAME REDACTED. 13 may, 2011.
and i paste bellow a letter i sent to barack obama earlier.
Mr. Mendenhall,you wrote:
Chomsky does call bin Laden an “unarmed victim,” and after an overlong
consultation with the Oxford English Dictionary, I must concede that Dershowitz
has a point here, at least insofar as bin Laden doesn’t seem, to this writer at
least,…I am surprised, and amused, that you did not understand what Chomsky meant and
needed a long detour through the hallowed OED. Common sense and the OED reference did not mix in this
case.UBL was unarmed when shot (no weapon in his hands, no threatening capability
from an old man who is not a martial art expert, no defensive move of any kind
reported, etc…).He was shot when he could have been captured and taken away. No self-defense
was invoked by the shooter. UBL is therefore technically the victim of
an assassination squad. Period.
Obama did not really deny that he wanted him definitely-dead-and-not-alive (you
seem to value the use of
hyphenations), as opposed to “Dead or Alive”. If UBL had been tried in absentia,
convicted and sentenced to death, in this manner ( of law then “victim” would be debatle.

A reader.

Dear Allen,
Thank you so much for this article:
It is so refreshing to stumble upon a fair, objective, unbiased analysis of these recent events/interpretations.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s so rare to come across something even remotely resembling the type of approach you took your article, that it warrants a random, and sincere, thanks.
I wish we all realized it’s not about deciding what “dog” to side with in whichever “fight,” but that we’re all on the same team as humans. I really like your objectivity, and hope to read more of your articles.

Allen,It is nice for once to read a piece by a writer who apparently has a grasp of NC’s work and yet refuses to indulge in bashing or revering him.  Obviously Dershowitz, having come unhinged some time ago (childhood?) grabbed your attention in this instance.But you do say Dershowitz offers valid criticisms of Chomsky’s positions on the Cambodian genocide.  I’m curious to know if you could provide specific evidence of NC denying the KR killings.  By that I mean can you quote him as saying it didn’t happen?  (I’ll assume you too are ignoring Dershowitz’s drivel about NC “admiring” them)  I have read “After the Cataclysm…” from which I’m sure is the main source for the gross distortions of Chomsky’s and Ed Herman’s work on Cambodia.  My take on it is they were focused on how the western imperial powers used the KR killings as a means to rebuild imperial ideology (subtitle of book) by changing the subject from the three million corpses still rotting in the region in the wake of the US’ thirteen year romp. They did painstaking work showing how rumor and hearsay evidence about KR atrocities got front page treatment in the west while solid evidence that might refute such killings was ignored.  This is standard practice continuing to this day: trumpet official enemies’ crimes while ignoring or suppressing our own.  They wrote the book when things were very fluid in Cambodia.  They admit there were massacres by the KR.  And their numbers ended up being lower than most subsequent work by wide range of scholars.  They have written at length since the publication of that book updating their research.  But it is a disingenuous to suggest they deliberately suppressed or denied KR atrocities.Anything you could provide that might enlighten me on the subject would be greatly appreciated.




I just read your piece on the Abominable Dershowitz. FYI, here’s something about another …witz (which in German means joke), namely David Horowitz. When Howard Zinn died January 27 2010 (incidentally: almost exactly a year later popular uprisings started a revolution in Tunesia of the kind Howard told us was irrepressible) NPR had Horowitz on to talk ill of him. Below is my letter to my NPR station which had just sent me a fundraising letter. It’s relevant because Horowitz actually depicted Chomsky as Bin Laden, just months after 9/11 in what looked to me like an invitation for right wing nutters to assassinate Chomsky.
An aside: I just recorded an interview for a documentary with Noam on Saturday; he’s in good health all things considered but he would’t win the Boston Marathon 🙂

Dear Jim East,

I will not to contribute in this fundraiser, for the following reason:
Notable and beloved historian Howard Zinn just died and NPR saw it fit to invite a right wing demagogue without credentials, David Horowitz, to slander his memory.
Is NPR turning into Fox News?
Horowitz has made a career to instigate irrational hatred against progressives. For illustration, Horowitz distributed a pamphlet on college campuses depicting Howard Zinn’s colleague and friend Noam Chomsky as Osama Bin Laden with a photoshopped image on the front page. I picked one up while at Brandeis University in March 2002. The contents of this rant were virtually indistinguishable from Nazi propaganda.
Distributing this rubbish just months after the September 11 attacks looked like a calculated call to assassinate Prof. Chomsky.
Horowitz’ next move was a McCarthy witch hunt campaign encouraging students to denounce and defame liberal professors to create fear.
This disgusting figure has no credibility whatsoever. Furthermore, has identified his dubious funding sources.
A judicious editor would be well advised to ignore lying propagandists like Horowitz, in fact, it is the responsible thing to do.
But there is no excuse for defaming the recently departed.
Shame on you. Call me when the responsible news editor found a new job and NPR made a commitment against slandering those who have dedicated their lives to create a more just and peaceful world.
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