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Examination of Logic:

Ralph Nader VS. Noam Chomsky

By Nozomi Hayase

Al-Jazeerah,, May 17, 2010

In examining complex issues that affect our lives, there are different ways of understanding the reasons behind events. Logic is one tool used to examine the validity of an argument. It determines what is reasonable and what is faulty in that reasoning. Webster’s English dictionary defines logic as “The science of the formal principles of reasoning.” Logic is a form of critical thinking that is portrayed as an objective process for grasping reality. The ability to discern reality from fantasy or daydream is regarded by many scientists an important capacity and those who exhibit this ability are seen as reasonable, logical and intelligent. So what is logic, really? What happens when logic is solely relied upon to guide society into the future?
In the US, mainstream discussions of important issues such as war, economic crises and ecological catastrophes are often framed by politicians and pundits in a way that flies in the face of logic. Hypocrisy, fear mongering, divisiveness and outright lies are used daily by those embedded in positions of power to advance some agenda.
Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader are both influential figures widely seen as dissidents who call into question the power structure of this country’s political system. Noam Chomsky is a world-renowned scholar in linguistics and foreign policy. His political analysis, especially on US foreign policy and the control of media is particularly astute and illuminates core problems that emanate from this country. Ralph Nader is a lawyer, three-time presidential candidate and a public advocate, who regards himself as a full time citizen. His relentless work taking on corporate power and fighting for ordinary people has had a significant effect on the American people’s quality of life over the years.
These two have been on the same page regarding critical analysis of some of the systemic ills within American democracy. Ralph Nader (2004) has been keen to point to the creeping corporate control and dominance over every aspect of our lives:
Our country and its principles are abandoned by the very economic powers that control our destiny. Autocratic global corporations are deep into strategic planning. They openly and confidently strive to control our jobs; our environment; our political and educational institutions; our foods, drugs, and other consumptions; our savings; our childhoods; our culture; even our genetic futures. (p. 3)
Chomsky also shares Nader’s analysis, describing corporate influence on US politics. “The United States effectively has a one party system, the business party, with two faction, Republicans and Democrats” (as cited in Spiegel Online, 2008). Both of them have described the United States in it’s current trajectory, not as a democracy, but instead moving in the direction of an oligarchic fascist state that regularly commits war crimes abroad. It is their shared logical grasp and vocalizing of the destructive forces behind society that has led them to being basically exiled from the mainstream media. Chomsky’s political views and work has been blacked out from the US corporate media, as have Nader’s efforts in the electoral arena. Both of them are highly respected by those who seek alternative views, especially progressives in the US and abroad.
There are also many differences that separate these two men. One thing that sets them apart is how they apply their understanding of political reality in practice. Their perspectives and actions in the electoral arena diverged greatly in the recent presidential elections. Nader chose to step forward as presidential candidate. Chomsky, ever the professor, shared through lectures his analysis of the political process. Nader offered an opportunity for people to vote their conscience while Chomsky called for a strategic approach to voting for president. Nader’s run for president has been widely criticized, primarily by Democrats and the mainstream media. It was not only Nader, but those who support his presidential bids that have been characterized as feel-good voters or too pure. On the other hand, Chomsky publicly justified the approach of voting for the lesser of the two evils. He gave what he claimed as the logical argument that this is the only practical and realistic approach for countering the fascist direction of the country. Implicit in Chomsky’s push to vote strategically is an acceptance that the two party system is something that cannot be meaningfully challenged.
There is no question that Chomsky is well informed about many important issues in this country, particularly in relation to ongoing criminal activities in foreign policy, with either Democrat or Republican administrations. Yet, when he was asked about independent and third party efforts such as Nader’s run for president, he took a firm stance that his logic was backed up by realism. The question arises, how realistic is his logic and what effect does this strategic voting have in the end? After a lecture Chomsky gave at Binghamton University he voiced his opinion about people voting for Nader. In his view it was not a smart move or good strategy. With assertive demeanor Chomsky claimed how Nader “does not make a contribution to political democracy” (March 8, 2006).
What does he mean when he said how Nader does not contribute to a political democracy?  After repeating his words in my mind, I gradually began to see Chomsky’s perspective. Chomsky might be right. Politics in this country are so corrupt and it has become a game that is divorced from democracy. There is nothing in this system that Nader can contribute to unless the system changes.
If we accept the current reality of corporate controlled dirty politics, Chomsky’s point makes sense along with his advice on how to play this political power game. From this perspective Nader’s contribution lies in exposing the truth, to reveal the state of this corrupted democracy. His contribution really has nothing to do with the politics that has over the years come to generally serve only corporate interests.
Then what is Nader’s contribution? What is his logic? His efforts in the electoral arena provided people a choice. Yet it is not simply another choice, but a new way of thinking. He invited others to critically examine the system itself and for a time be free from the passively downloaded corporate program in their heads. His effort lies in transforming dirty politics, changing the rigged rules so it can truly become a vehicle for democracy. If  Nader has a contribution here, it is one that goes beyond politics.
Nader does not contribute to political games but he contributes significantly to democracy. This would have been a more accurate remark. Chomsky could have said this to paint a fuller picture: Those who want to move toward democracy consider voting for Nader, and those who want to contribute to political games that are business as usual, go for the two parties. Reasonable logic of process should lead one to make the following link: If Nader’s contribution is to democracy and not to politics, then in this case politics has little to do with democracy. What it comes down to is a choice between the spirit of democracy or the illusion of democracy that is in actuality strangled by corporate power.  Those who value their own significance and count themselves in to the democratic process might choose something different than this political game of Russian roulette. The answer may appear to be rather simple and straightforward.
This thought process that I just laid out feels like a simple mathematical logic. One might ask, where did this logic become shaky and perhaps muddled with something other than a pure objective thought process? This reveals something about our decision-making and what we often regard as logic, as the supposedly objective process of coming to understand something. French physicist, Blaise Pascal once said “Heart has reasons that reason cannot know” (as cited in, 1999). It might be possible to think that there are other factors beside reason that takes part in what we regard as objective and reasonable. Professor Robert Jensen spoke of rationality and chaos:
We usually think of our rational faculties as providing us with the ability to deal with the chaos of truth, to provide the order we need to live in a complex world. Conversely, our emotions are seen as a source of even greater chaos, an aspect of ourselves that is generally out of control. I want to argue just the opposite: The chaos of truth is a product of the rational, and whatever clarity of truth we can achieve is produced not in our minds but in our hearts. (as cited in Dahl, 2010)
I respect Chomsky’s brilliance and scholarship, but at the same time I find in him a refined example of the hidden trap of the intellectual. He is held back by his orthodox training of thought and there is something inside that prevents him from breaking out of the position of dispassionate observer and abstract analyst of human events. This only allows him to reflect on the phenomena, deduce causes and describe what has already been prescribed.
Chomsky is perhaps is a good example of the result of an academic training that is heavily invested in the development of the intellect, of the rational and logical way of thinking and forming opinions. Jensen challenged this mode of thought that is widely emphasized in journalism and academia. Journalism is “often constrained by illusory notions of neutrality and objectivity and I think if journalists thought of themselves as speaking prophetically it could produce a much more engaged and quite frankly, much more important journalism.” (as cited in Dahl, 2010).
In the logic of Chomsky, a kind of thinking activity arises that is a closed hermeneutic circle. It always relies on the past to inform the future and makes it difficult for one to imagine a future free from what came before. If one is not careful, this line of thought easily lead to a detached observer who remains distant. Jenson (as cited in Dahl, 2010) noted how, “The journalism that has been produced has been inadequate to democracy.” It promotes in citizens obedience to the status quo. Chomsky’s pattern of thought keeps one disconnected from the will. The intellect alone falls easily into fear of the unknown and into fighting defensively to protect their views. Courage is not required to stay in the safe place within what is already known and analyzed from on high. This is symbolized in the image of the Ivory Tower. Every established body of knowledge that arises from a linear cause and effect thinking is one where the past informs the future and tends to block the streaming creative force of imagination.
Through religiously following his trained thought patterns, Chomsky appears to be caught in an abstracted past, not able to participate in the activity of creating reality. He stands before reality, without claiming his own creative power inside. He accepts reality as given though he judges abusive power harshly. It seems when push comes to shove, democracy comes second, preaching a dogma of ‘realism’. On the other hand, Nader once said how “recognizing reality doesn’t mean you accept it” (as cited in American program Bure INC, Oct 12, 2008). Nader's approach is to passionately work to create the future that he can imagine rather than waiting for one to passively be given to him.
It is difficult to put into words what sets these two men apart, but it is something like an intelligence of the heart. In Nader, this manifests in his indignation over injustice, which fuels and motivates him to work for justice. It is this passion and care that ignite his will to actively participate in unfolding world events. Through the activity of thought that is accompanied by the heart’s engagement, one can awaken the will that serves to carry an impulse toward creation. Unlike the logic of the intellect which tends to leave one pessimistic and cynical, an intelligence of the heart urges one to act, at times calling for the courage to take risks.
Jensen proposed that journalists in the new century become active and carry prophetic voices rather than simply parroting the scripted discourse of power:
If the prophets were people in society who called out injustice, who reminded people of the gap between their ideals and their actions, if the prophets were folks who were willing to speak the truth and hold people accountable, that’s very similar to the job description of modern journalism. (as cited in Dahl, 2010)
What is true for journalists is also true for politicians and academics and most of all for each citizen. Intellectuals that stay safely in the position of reflective authority can only analyze and study the aftermath of creation with some limited analysis of cause and effect. A brilliant scholar like Chomsky records these events accurately as reality and analyzes their patterns in his books. He suggests realistic strategy to adapt ourselves to it with the best intentions, but does not indicate a way to transform it. Nader on the other hand, inspires people to join the lyrics of revolution being sung from out of the future. The former is the brilliant scholar, the latter the timeless prophet.
This examination of logic as it plays out in these two men illuminates real choices before us. Everyone is faced with a choice: whether to move through life with pessimistic minds or meet the challenges ahead with prophetic hearts. History has shown how it is always people following their heart that pave a new path into the future. 

American program Bure INC. (2008, Oct 12). Meet Ralph Nader. Retrieved May 10,
2010 from
Chomsky, N. (2006, March). Imminent Crises: Paths Toward Solutions. Unpublished
speech presented at Binghamton University. New York.
Dahl, D. (2010, May 9). ‘Journalism of neutrality is an illusion’ and inadequate to
democracy, says professor. The Raw Story. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from
Nader, R. (2004). The good fight: Declare your independence & close the democracy gap.
New York: HarperCollins.
Spiegel Online. (2008). Interview with Noam Chomsky: The United States has essentially
a one -party system. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from,1518,583454,00.html (1999). Blaise Pascal quotes. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from

Nozomi Hayase

Berkeley, CA U.S.A




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