Noam Chomsky has responded to Žižek’s response:
Žižek finds nothing, literally nothing, that is empirically wrong. That’s hardly a surprise. Anyone who claims to find empirical errors, and is minimally serious, will at the very least provide a few particles of evidence – some quotes, references, at least something. But there is nothing here – which, I’m afraid, doesn’t surprise me either. I’ve come across instances of Žižek’s concept of empirical fact and reasoned argument.
For example, in the Winter 2008 issue of the German cultural journal Lettre International, Žižek attributed to me a racist comment on Obama by Silvio Berlusconi. I ignored it. Anyone who strays from ideological orthodoxy is used to this kind of treatment. However, an editor of Harper’s magazine, Sam Stark, was interested and followed it up. In the January 2009 issue he reports the result of his investigation. Žižek said he was basing the attribution on something he had read in a Slovenian magazine. A marvelous source, if it even exists.
The Guardian provides a summary for those just tuning in:
Noam Chomsky, the professional contrarian, has accused Slavoj Žižek, the professional heretic, of posturing in the place of theory. This is an accusation often levelled at Žižek from within the Anglo-Saxon empirical tradition. Even those like Chomsky who are on the proto-anarchist left of this tradition like to maintain that their theories are empirically verifiable and rooted in reality.
Žižek has countered with the side-swipe that nobody had been so empirically wrong throughout his life as Chomsky. He brought up Chomsky’s supposed support for the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and Chomsky’s later self-justification that there hadn’t been empirical evidence at the time of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. It has all got rather heated and intemperate, but then, debates on the left are like that. More time is spent ripping flesh out of each other than it is trying to find a common cause against an apparently invisible and impregnable enemy. But terms have to be defined, ground has to be laid out.
- A minor war of words has emerged between two of my favorite public intellectuals: Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek. Late last month Open Culture posted audio of an interview with Chomsky (apparently from 2012). The interviewer asked for Chomsky’s thoughts on Žižek (along with Derrida and Lacan) in light of Chomsky’s views on the use of theory. In part, Chomsky responded:
What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential.
- Open Culture published a follow-up post last week with Žižek’s response. The post has the full audio of Žižek’s comments, along with a transcription of the pertinent section:
What is that about, again, the academy and Chomsky and so on? Well with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my first point is that Chomsky, who always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurate, not just some crazy Lacanian speculations and so on… well I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong in his descriptions in his whatever! Let’s look… I remember when he defended this demonstration of Khmer Rouge. And he wrote a couple of texts claiming: No, this is Western propaganda. Khmer Rouge are not as horrible as that.” And when later he was compelled to admit that Khmer Rouge were not the nicest guys in the Universe and so on, his defense was quite shocking for me. It was that “No, with the data that we had at that point, I was right. At that point we didn’t yet know enough, so… you know.” But I totally reject this line of reasoning.
- Chomsky certainly isn’t the first person to accuse of Žižek of substanceless sophistry, but to my knowledge he’s the most prominent so far.
- Microsoft is opening a research lab in New York City staffed by A-list sociologists, computational scientists, and network theorists among others.
The NYC lab recruits bring in mathematical and computation tools that could work magic with existing social media research already underway at Microsoft Research, led by folks like Gen-fluxer danah boyd. “I would say that the highly simplified version of what happens is that data scientists do patterns and ethnographers tell stories,” boyd tells Fast Company. While Microsoft Research New England has strengths in qualitative social science, empirical economics, machine learning, and mathematics, “We’ve long noted the need for data science types who can bridge between us,” boyd explained in a blog post announcing the NYC labs.
- Noam Chomsky’s latest publication is a “pamphlet” on the Occupy Wall Street movements that was released on May Day. Chomsky answered occupy-related questions for the Guardian, and wrote an op-ed for Salon:
So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1 percent and the 99 percent. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.
If it does, the historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long, hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories. And there are a lot of things that can be done.
- An article at the Atlantic poses the question: Are LOLCats making us smart? The article quotes Kate Miltner who wrote her dissertation on LOLCat memes:
According to Miltner, “When it came to LOLCats, sharing and creating were often different means to the same end: making meaningful connections with others.” At their core LOLCats weren’t about those funny captions, the weird grammar, or the cute kitties, but people employed those qualities in service of that primary goal of human connection.
- A Forbes contributor asks, What if we tossed out the advertising model? The article is largely a response to a book by Doc Searls called The Intention Economy.
A newer idea outgrowth of this is that information is so omnipresent and that consumers face so much of it that businesses are now in a completely different economy model fighting to get people’s attention. This Attentioneconomy has new rules based on how much time people are willing to spend paying attention to some piece of information and to their hopes the advertisements that may surround it. New tools are emerging to analyze not just what is talked about but also sentiment, audience demographics, and how quickly it spreads.
To push efficiency, the better way would be to be able the craft the message more accurately to specific people, not just a demographic: to me personally, not just to ‘people who live in that part of the city’. How would that be possible? It starts with trying to understand the intention of what people want, rather than trying to just grab their attention as they walk away. If we knew, or better yet, if the consumer each told us what they wanted and we could craft the message for each person as well as target exactly who would be interested, then the efficiency of that message suddenly shoots way up. It hinges on that dialogue with the consumer.
Another substantial topic of the book is just how incorrect most of the information collected about us actually is. And still this factually wrong data is used to select which advertisements are presented to you, in the hope that you’ll click through. Aside from how intrusive advertising is, is it any surprise that click-through rates are so low when the data used to target ads to viewers is so wildly off-base?
Searls also advocates strongly for Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) solutions to give to consumers the same kind of tracking and information collection about vendors that the vendors use against us. The point of VRM is not adversarial, according to Searls. Instead, it restores balance to the overall market and seeks to actively reward those companies that pay attention to individual intentions.
Due to end-of-the-semester activities posting has been slow the last couple of weeks. But my exams are finished and I’ve submitted grades so here’s a celebratory news roundup:
- Wired reported on Sergey Brin of Google: China, SOPA, Facebook Threaten the ‘Open Web’
In an interview published Sunday, Google’s co-founder cited a wide range of attacks on “the open internet,” including government censorship and interception of data, overzealous attempts to protect intellectual property, and new communication portals that use web technologies and the internet, but under restrictive corporate control.
There are “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world,” says Brin. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle.”
- From Gigaom: 3 key lessons from Facebook & Zynga’s shopping spree. Among the educational insights:
The post-social world is an “attention economy.” If you don’t have engagement, you don’t have attention and if you don’t have attention – well you don’t have anything really.
- Gizmodo asks Douglas Rushkoff about his geek origins (VIDEO).
- And another Douglas Rushkoff video, this one from Motherboard TV.
- Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges are two of the plaintiffs is a lawsuit filed over the National Defense Authorization Act.
- Danah Boyd wrote a piece for the Guardian: Whether the digital era improves society is up to its users – that’s us
In the 1970s, the scholar Herbert Simon argued that “in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”
His arguments give rise both to the notion of “information overload” but also to the “attention economy”. In the attention economy, people’s willingness to distribute their attention to various information stimuli create value for said stimuli. Indeed, the economic importance of advertisements is predicated on the notion that getting people to pay attention to something has value.
- UW professor and author of Castells and the Media Philip N. Howard: How to Predict Political Crisis With Your News Feed:
If one wanted to track three trends likely to have the most impact on international relations over the next decade, what three trends could help us anticipate global political crises? At the top of my news feed are items about who is in jail and why, rigged elections, and social media.
- Critical media theorist Douglas Kellner on school shootings:
School shootings and domestic terrorism have proliferated on a global level. In recent months there have been school shootings in Finland, Germany, Greece, and other countries as well as the United States. Although there may be stylistic differences, in all cases young men act out their rage through the use of guns and violence to create media spectacles and become celebrities-of-the-moment.
Class dismissed, have a great summer!
- I recently came across this Salon article by UMD doctoral student Nathan Jurgenson from last year where he argues that Noam Chomsky is wrong about Twitter. Both Chomsky’s and the author’s statements about new media forms are extremely interesting from a medium theory perspective. Jurgenson cites the role of social media in the Arab Spring protests as evidence that new media aren’t as shallow and superficial as Chomsky believes:
In fact, in the debate about whether rapid and social media really are inherently less deep than other media, there are compelling arguments for and against. Yes, any individual tweet might be superficial, but a stream of tweets from a political confrontation like Tahrir Square, a war zone like Gaza or a list of carefully-selected thinkers makes for a collection of expression that is anything but shallow. Social media is like radio: It all depends on how you tune it.
- Finally, Shelly Palmer at SYS-CON Media wrote an article titled Always On: Proof consumers are enslaved and the consequences for brands.
In responding to calls, emails, texts, social media, etc, our electronic devices play to a primitive impulse to react to immediate threats and dangers. Our responding to that call, email or social media post provokes excitement and stimulates the release of dopamine to the brain. Little by little, we become addicted to its small kick in regular, minute doses. In its absence, people feel bored.