Because, in this day and age, it isn’t about finding the truth; it’s about winning the news cycle. This attitude is pristinely reflected in a review of the book in Canada’s Globe and Mail.
“Wolfe is a reporter and an entertainer, an opinionated raconteur rather than a scientist, and that is why we will always report on his jocular provocations. And if they serve as an excuse to explain what universal grammar was in the first place – as it has done – then Chomsky should be thrilled.”
Right. Because what could thrill Chomsky more than to have the media fraudulently misrepresent his theory using a facts-be-damned line of anti-intellectual argumentation that exoticizes another human culture? Chomsky must be “thrilled” about that, because, my God, his whole life he has been complaining that the media is too serious and too concerned with getting the facts right, when it should be, you know, writing about the Kardashians and otherwise using misinformation to bring eyeballs to advertisers. THRILLED I tell you!
Now, we warned you he wasn’t happy.
And here we are. We’ve had our laughs at the expense of Wolfe and Everett and the journalists that fawn over them, but if you think about it, it really isn’t funny.
Yes it is. Things can be serious and funny at the same time.
One of the greatest scientists of our lifetime has embarked upon a fascinating research program. The program is exploring a property of human nature – the language faculty – and he is attempting to show how a half-century of research by thousands of linguists from around the world can be grounded in low-level mathematical and biophysical properties of our world. And whether that program is successful or not, it is a vision of remarkable beauty – the recursive patterns of our languages and their variety and complexity could be understood perhaps as well as we now understand the spiral patterns in the nautilus shell or the recursive patterns of the snowflake.
Well, if the program of fully naturalist interpretations of mind and consciousness is not clearly successful, why is Chomsky to be reverenced beyond question?
He came to us with that gift. He did not ask us to believe him, nor did he insist that we engage in that project ourselves. He simply told us what his project was and invited us to join him. And all we as a culture could do in our upscale magazines and newspapers and blogs was shit all over the man and clog the conversation with an endless stream of transparent gibberish from obvious charlatans. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Actually, Chomsky was not noted for being gentle with critics.
I’m not worried about Chomsky, however, no more than I’m worried about Darwin’s position in future histories of science. Chomsky’s position too will be just fine. I do worry about how we will look in those histories, however. Because from where I sit the rampant anti-intellectual responses and the failures to distinguish nonsense from solid science in the attacks on Chomsky’s work look more like harbingers of a new dark age, one that rejects thoughtful scientific probes into human nature and levels charges of a new kind of apostasy– the apostasy of using one’s mind instead of gut instinct. And I suspect that, from the perspective of future intellectual historians, Chomsky’s ability to produce this last great piece of work against the backdrop of our new dark age will make his achievements seem all the more impressive.More.
A new dark age? Just because Wolfe skewers Chomsky’s pretensions and those of the Darwinians? My, my, we are getting very fragile already.
We are informed, by way of bio, that E. J.Spode “know his shit!” and a lingering sense of social decency forbids us to question whether he knows it or not.
See also: Tom Wolfe on Evolution as a Theory of Everything
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