The Harris-Chomsky Affair

The recent exchange which occurred between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky was both shocking and revelatory of the latter’s intellectual conceit, particularly on matters which Chomsky regularly invites peers and scholars to challenge him on- and is generally an invitation of discussion which is very edible for readers on both sides of the political spectrum.  Indeed, Sam Harris cordially extended an olive branch to Chomsky, so they could discuss terrorism, state imperialism, etc., only to have it stomped on by the professor.  Throughout most of the exchange, in some approximation to the hostility Harris was subjected to last year on Bill Maher’s show, Chomsky was just denigrating Harris and getting excited, sometimes contradicting himself, and losing sight of what Harris was actually inquiring about.

This behavior was quite unexpected, because over the years Chomsky has projected himself as a humble, wise, and tempered stoic who is unfazed by the polemical distractions normative to our culture of discourse and only interested in objective, impersonal, and fruitful dialogue.  The correspondence which unfolded between Chomsky and Harris completely spoiled that image Chomsky has curated of himself for so long.  As the article I am posting now additionally reveals, this isn’t the first time Chomsky has been pompous towards his inquisitors (including those who strongly support his views).

I am only posting this because I was looking forward to a healthy debate (or discussion) between these intellectual giants- especially since Chomsky has such a felt influence in the circle of anti-imperialist politics- however I feel Chomsky’s self-righteousness entirely undermined any possibility of such a conversation ever taking place.  Perhaps by spreading awareness of this failed encounter, it may persuade Chomsky to reconsider his stubborn attitude in the interest of future discourse on these very important subjects.

Intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris engaged in a rather nasty email spat that has been doing the rounds on the interwebs over the past few days after Harris made the exchange public on his website. Harris summed up the purpose of the exchange on his site:

“Last week, I did my best to engineer a public conversation with Chomsky about the ethics of war, terrorism, state surveillance, and related topics. As readers of the following email exchange will discover, I failed. I’ve decided to publish this private correspondence, with Chomsky’s permission, as a cautionary tale. Clearly, he and I have drawn different lessons from what was, unfortunately, an unpleasant and fruitless encounter. I will let readers draw lessons of their own.”

What transpired was a truly ugly encounter that saw Harris attempt to engage Chomsky in good faith, only to be rebuffed with relentlessly high handed dismissals and an astonishing refusal to engage Harris on some important issues that would have been enlightening for admirers of both men.


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