[This essay is best read after having worked through the published email exchange between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky– or having tried to work through it, as the case may be.  That exchange can be found here: Harris-Chomsky.  Though it centers on the specifics of that exchange, the aim here is to raise a broader point, one that  contextualizes their disagreement within broader ‘problems’ endemic to the public intellectual ‘profession’, namely, its distorting incentives and the effect of those distortions on the consumption of public intellectual ‘goods.’   At the end, a half-jest proposal to alleviate the distortions and increase the reliability of those ‘goods’ is suggested.]


Like most heated exchanges between public intellectuals, the disagreement (to put it mildly) between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky centers on an intellectual issue, but it is animated by emotional qualities that only heat the disagreement.  It also bears the hallmark that neither party quite sees exactly where this disagreement lies—or perhaps better put, where the disagreement lies to someone from an outsider’s point of view.  Furthermore, what is so unusual about this particular exchange is precisely how usual it is: it occurs in print, despite the fact that print, as a medium, fosters the kind of detachment affording a more balanced, reflective view, especially on inherently difficult topics.  Yet in this case, this balanced reflection does not happen, which raises a question: why not?  Why does the exchange take the shape it does—a heated exchange where both parties more or less argue past one another, without either being very clear on what is at the heart of the dispute?  In a statement relevant to the answer, Harris notes that in person the exchange probably would have been quite different, meaning that it probably would have been less tendentious and more productive.  Even more relevantly, Harris entitles the exchange “The Limits of Discourse, as Demonstrated by Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky.”  On one level, this is an admirable mea culpa, but on another level it is misleading, and it misleads in a way that raises an interesting question: does the exchange reflect the limits of discourse as such, or does it reflect just the all-too-human limits of two public intellectuals—a difference, admittedly, that is not initially clear, but one that seems worth developing.  In any case, that difference is the lesson this reader draws from their exchange.  It is examined in some detail in what follows.

First, the intellectual centerpiece of the disagreement.

Essentially, Harris and Chomsky differ on the relative weight assignable to intentions or consequences in making moral judgments.  For Harris, “where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything” (emphasis added).  Intentions, not consequences, distinguish moral from immoral acts, and to this point he offers two hypothetical examples where identical consequences obtain for the same act, but the intentions behind the act differ, making the intention alone enough to distinguish one act as good and the other as evil, despite the identical outcomes.  Chomsky, for his part, claims the proper moral measure of an act lies at least as much in its consequences as its intentions, and even where two acts can be distinguished morally by intent, benign intentions are so often used to justify heinous crimes that they carry “no information” (emphasis added) for evaluating a given act.  For Chomsky, consequences are thus de facto everything, even though he appears to recognize—without making an argument to this effect, and in fact arguing as through the contrary were true—that intentions can matter (in other words, Chomsky argues that as though acts with identical consequences—if not morally equivalent in a technical sense—are nonetheless morally equivalent in a comparable, effective sense, whatever the intention behind them).[1]  In any case, the disagreement between the two, as far as its intellectual centerpiece goes, hinges on the relative weights assignable to intentions and consequences.  For Harris, intentions are everything and consequences are (apparently) nothing, whereas for Chomsky, intentions are (apparently) nothing and consequences are everything.   It is noted here that the emphasis is added only to reflect what the parties’ themselves emphasize in their argument.  It notes the movement of the debate as it occurs between them.  While both may not intend what ‘emphasis’ usually means, both write as though the other believes in the emphasis, even though, paradoxically, almost certainly neither do.

Now, assuming the clarity and accuracy of this reduction, why don’t both parties see the rather obvious problems with either view—“problems” in the sense that both views, by implication, lead to positions neither Chomsky nor Harris would likely hold in any other context—positions they would reject as a matter of course?  In other words, given the obvious defect in both their planted flags, as those flags operate in this exchange, what accounts for them both writing as though the other held the positions as emphasized, along with each writing as though they actually held the emphasized position?  What causes them to get caught up in a vicious circle of imputation, acrimony and innuendo that blinds them both to the obvious defects in the false dichotomy of intentions and consequences being everything or nothing?  Again, it is almost certain neither Harris nor Chomsky actually believes this dichotomy, but it is equally certain that they both write as if the other does, even as each plants a flag for himself on one side of it.  How is it that neither can see the problems with this dynamic that both perpetuate between them?

Like with most heated arguments, it is suggested here that the emotional valences of the issue blinded both parties to the intellectual merits dividing them—merits they would easily recognize in another context; merits that could have been developed in a productive exchange, but in this case weren’t.  Specifically, the source of this heat seems to be the relative outrage, or lack thereof, over both 9-11 and what is euphemistically called (as Harris notes) “collateral damage.”  At least as much as on the intellectual merits—and almost certainly more—Chomsky and Harris differ on the emotional valences  surrounding these issues, and more than the intellectual priorities separating these two obviously intelligent men, these valences separate them in what Harris has labelled ‘the limits of discourse.’  The nature of these valences bears even more examination than the intellectual arguments, for the difference could not be more asymmetrical and hazardous.

Regarding these emotional valences, Harris, for his part, comes across as outraged by 9-11, but he does not appear to be similarly outraged by “collateral damage” in US actions in the War on Terror.  Chomsky, for his part, comes across as not at all outraged by 9-11, but he is clearly very outraged by the so-called “collateral damage” in US policies abroad, particularly those in the War on Terror.  Without implying one iota of justification or lack thereof to either quality, and without implying actual emotions they might or might not have felt, these respective “outrages”—or lack thereof—are indicated in the arguments both present, and in the rhetorical devices they use to color them.  Since this hazardous asymmetry is so operative in the exchange, the details are crucial.

For his part, Harris imputes that Chomsky is not outraged enough by 9-11, and that his interpretation of the event is totally inappropriate both in substance and timing.  This implied rebuke is indicated by his remark that Chomsky’s response occurs “with the rubble of the World Trade Center still piled high and smoldering.”  Besides evincing comparative outrage, what other purpose would such a rhetorical device serve?  What other reason is there to highlight the recency of the wound, but to emphasize the wound itself and inappropriateness of timing?  In any case, by contrast, when it comes to the question of “collateral damage,” no such rhetorical flourishes appear; collateral damage gets a simple, neutral qualifier—“unavoidable.”  In fact, Harris’ apparent and relative insouciance on this topic—whether actually feels it or not—is nonetheless indicated—again, actually intended or not—by the rather astonishing argument that “collateral damage” is like assuming the risk of using, or allowing the use of, “automobiles, airplanes, antibiotics, surgical procedures and window glass,” as though being killed by someone else carrying out an intention is somehow comparable to assuming the negligible risk of dying while carrying out one’s own, simply because in both cases some deaths are “unavoidable.”  Absent evincing a near complete lack of outrage, how could such an absurd comparison even be made?  If we shouldn’t be raising moral eyebrows over accidental deaths on roller coasters and from surgical procedures (never mind that we do; we look for possible moral and legal culpability for both), why, it’s implied, should we be raising moral eyebrows over “collateral damage”?  Whatever his actual feelings might be, given the rhetorical and argumentative indicators, Harris comes across as being completely unbothered by collateral damage, even as he comes across as being totally outraged by 9-11.  For him, by implication, 9-11 is an outrageous atrocity—a pure evil—whereas “collateral damage” is an unfortunate and unavoidable routine adjustment of imperfect means for unquestionably good ends. What, he seems to ask, is there to get morally up in arms about?

For his part, given his strong-left political leanings, Chomsky unsurprisingly suffers none of this, and his dismissive, sneering contempt throughout the entire exchange almost certainly stems, in its own apparent quality, from attributing to Harris just such priorities as those asserted here.  Clearly, Chomsky himself is not at all outraged by 9-11, but he is most certainly outraged by the “collateral damage” as a direct result of US foreign policies, especially those geared toward preventing something like 9-11 from ever happening again.  Speaking to this lack of outrage, while Chomsky doesn’t go so far as to say America had 9-11 coming, he comes about as close as one can to by saying, right after the event happened: “for the first time in modern history, Europe and its offshoots were subjected, on home soil, to the kind of atrocity they have routinely carried out elsewhere.”  Why else make a comparison like thus but to diminish one by leveling it to another?  Elsewhere Chomsky also notes that 9-11 was the direct consequence of American foreign policy, and he notes that as an “understatement,” in terms of human cost, 9-11 was actually no worse than the US bombing of the Al-Shafia pharmaceutical plant, thus making 9-11 little more than another volley in an exchange of volleys from one “terrorist state” (the US) to another, assuming in the first place that the victims of US meddling  can even be called “terrorist states”—an irrelevant distinction in any case for Chomsky, since he invariably describes US intervention as immoral and the intervened as victims.  Now, whether true or not, merely making the statements, when he makes them, indicates, minimally, a lack of outrage, just as telling a grieving spouse her husband was really a douchebag to begin with, only that she didn’t know it, indicates complete a lack of tact and gravity at a funeral, even if the statement is true.  Given the timing, context, and content of his statements, Chomsky clearly saves his outrage for the victims of acts like the Al-Shafia bombing, but he leaves virtually none on the table for 9-11.  For him, by implication, former is truly an atrocity, while the latter is little more than what one should expect, given one’s own immoral behavior.

Again—since in examinations like this it must be always stated—none of this analysis imputes actual emotions to either Chomsky or Harris. Nor is it to impute validity or invalidity to any argument because said emotions.  Instead, these emotional qualities, such as they are, are imputable by the placement of their specific arguments, the rhetorical devices that color them, and the logic of the most of the arguments themselves.  Intended or not, Harris assumes the position of the outraged over 9-11, and Chomsky assumes the positon of the outraged over the victims of “collateral damage,” with each reciprocally lacking outrage on the issue the other is outraged about.  And even more to the point, whether either actually feels this way or not, to an outside observer both Harris and Chomsky seem to be imputing these argumentative positions to each other.  That is, far more than any intellectual disagreement, they impute to one another emotional qualities that drive the failure of civility, if not railroad mutual, productive understanding entirely.  In any case, it should go without saying that noting these qualities in their arguments has no bearing on the intellectual merits (or not) of the arguments themselves.  It is to note instead only that as emotional valences they almost certainly direct and drive those arguments.  In other words, these nuances speak to the fuel in the engine of the disagreement, not to the validity of its moving parts.

So much for the intellectual centerpiece of the debate, the emotional nuances surrounding it, and the fuel heating the exchange.  What now about the blindness each shows to weaknesses in their own positions, even as they focus on the appropriate weakness in the other’s?  What about those weaknesses?  What about the problematic positioning of their planted flags, positions that both interlocutors would almost certainly never endorse in a different context?  To get to these weaknesses, a simple, sanitized thought experiment should suffice, one that certainly could happen in real life, and one which almost certainly has happened in kind, if not also somewhere in some of the specifics.  The sole purpose of this thought experiment is to decontextualize the debate from 9-11, collateral damage, and the War on Terror, and to replicate the moral stakes in an ordinary, everyday context that contains the essential logic of that heated issue.

As a thought experiment, consider a cop pursuing an armed suspect known to have committed a quadruple homicide.  Assume too that one of the victims is in fact a fellow police officer killed while trying to apprehend him.  The fugitive is, say, about 40 meters ahead, and he is headed straight for a crowded throng in a busy park, where people are milling around, walking dogs and otherwise going about their business.  The cop sees the fugitive about to blend into this crowd, and he realizes, correctly, that once the fugitive gets into it, he will almost certainly escape.  For the sake of argument, assume that this is true; why it is true is immaterial; once he makes it into the crowd, he will evade capture for now.  The cop is thus faced with a choice: he can’t catch up to him, but he can’t stop him either, unless he tries to shoot him.  So what should he do?  Assume in the moment he shoots, but he misses and hits a bystander.  He shoots again and this time he hits the fugitive, stopping him.  Question: is the cop morally culpable for killing the innocent bystander?  Does it matter for this culpability that he tried a second time and actually stopped the fugitive?  Would it be different if he failed the second time and killed yet another bystander, then the fugitive got away anyway?

Now, strictly speaking, solely in terms of the principles and arguments as presented in their exchange, Harris and Chomsky are committed to answers to these questions, answers both would almost certainly never hold.  That is, both would be committed to a position that would be patently absurd, once the logic of the argument each uses against the other was applied to this real life situation—a  situation that is immunized from, but analogous to, the heated context of 9-11 and collateral damage.  Both positions bear separate examination.

For his part, for Harris, since intentions are everything and collateral killing is “unavoidable” because of imperfect weapons, the cop, having the morally justified intent of stopping a dangerous killer—nay, having the clear duty to have just such an intent toward that end—because of this intention and imperfect means, the cop would not be morally culpable for the death of the innocent bystander(s).  As Harris stated of the saboteurs of the American pharmaceutical industry who inadvertently kill potentially tens of thousands but who intended to save (and perhaps did save) millions from a harmful vaccine, this cop is someone “we want on our team.”  He had the right intention but an imperfect means for realizing it, so he did right by stopping the murderer (read “terrorist,” if you will) and preventing a clear and present danger to society from doing even more harm than he’d already done.  Under Harris’ account of intentions being everything, the cost of a civilian life, while regrettable, is not immoral.  Because of his fully justifiable intention, the cop gets a pass on the “collateral damage” he caused, for his intent offsets any moral culpability.

For his part, for Chomsky, since intentions carry no information about the morality of an act, given the consequences, the cop—whatever intent he professes—at the end of the day killed an innocent bystander; thus he is guilty of murder.  By Chomsky’s account, stated intentions carry no information, thus the consequences alone decide: the innocent bystander is just as dead as though the cop intended to kill him, and in any case, since intentions are non-decisive and the likelihood of a civilian death is so great in a situation like this (almost inevitable, even), the cop may as well have intended to kill the bystander because were it not for his dubious “good intentions,” the atrocity never would have happened in the first place.  In line with Chomsky’s equivalency between Hitler, Stalin and Clinton, murderers always justify their killings with good intentions, so why take any of them seriously?  The cop is morally just as culpable as a murderer.

Of course, these two positions—surely not endorsable by either party but drawn directly from their examples and arguments—are so problematic (if not outright stupid) that it is difficult to attribute them even in the hypothetical.  Anyone who watches Law and Order knows that better alternatives exist.  Stated another way, these conclusions—such as they are—follow so directly from the application of the examples, reasoning and the logic used in their exchange that something must be amiss.  Some factor besides intelligence must be driving their disagreement, some factor related to what Harris has called “a failure of discourse.”  What intelligent person, one has to ask, would ever hold either that the cop gets a free pass for killing the innocent bystander(s) because intentions are everything, or that he is morally comparable to a murderer because intentions reveal nothing?   Taken at face value and argued as both Chomsky and Harris argue them against each other, neither position illuminates the moral dimensions of the cop’s decision to shoot, much less the moral culpability for the harm that decision caused.  As a statement of fact, generations of common law and moral deliberation long ago decided what Harris and Chomsky apparently still wrangle over, namely that moral and legal culpability attaches to consequent harms through differing degrees of intent and foresight; that moral culpability is a matter of both intent and consequences, not an either/or, all or nothing affair.

Recurring again to the example—and by analogy to the cases Harris and Chomsky use in their argument, with added dimensions, to be sure—whatever its eventual nature, that moral culpability attaches to the decision to fire is as obvious as the ambiguity surrounding what that culpability ultimately is, much less what that culpability might be on a case by case basis.  Instead of determining that culpability here, all that is asserted is that the position Harris holds as his argument against Chomsky—that collateral damage is a moral freebie—and the position Chomsky holds as his argument against Harris—that unintentional death is the same as intentional murder—do nothing to the flesh out the cop’s moral culpability for “collateral damage.”  And as with the instant example, so with releasing a computer virus to stop the distribution of a defective vaccine, and so with a cruise missile destroying a pharmaceutical plant suspected of supplying chemical weapons to terrorists: intentions matter, consequences matter, but neither are either everything or nothing.  Almost certainly in a different context both Harris and Chomsky would agree to this, but in their exchange neither concedes the point nor plants their respective flags on it.  Again, given their intelligence and obvious abilities, this raises the question: why not?  What prevents them both from appreciating, much less addressing, the true moral ambiguity of the issue dividing them?  What makes them mutually miss what virtually any intelligent and disinterested outsider can appreciate, to wit: that the culpability for something as morally ambiguous as “collateral damage” rests on both intentions and consequences, the nexus of which is gets fleshed out case by case using concepts like necessity, negligence and foreseeable harm?

Without claiming a definitive answer to the moral ambiguity that is collateral damage, it can be pointed out that in their argument, both Harris and Chomsky exchange and impute moral strawmen, and with these strawmen in play, the underlying problem and the conceptual tools for its prospective solution simply slide right past both of them, with neither party recognizing the passing view.  Why does this occur?

The answer is dismayingly simple, and it speaks to the dispositions of would-be “rational” public intellectuals instead of “the limits of discourse” as such—or to put it alternatively, it speaks to the limitations public intellectuals bring to their discourses, ones that inhibit its intrinsic potential; it does not speak to any limits to discourse itself.  Specifically, in the Harris-Chomsky case, in real-time, despite the artificial time permitted by print, both were apparently too invested in their respective positions to see its full implications, and instead of noting these implications in themselves, they only clearly saw the shortcomings in the positions each attributed to the other—valid shortcomings, to be sure, but paradoxically ones perfectly analogous to those of their own.   In another context, both Harris and Chomsky would almost certainly recognize that their mutual implications are in fact unhelpful strawmen (or if “strawman” is not the proper word, then perhaps “hyperbole” suits, since Harris deploys “everything and Chomsky deploys “no informationto describe the role of intentions).  In any case, to note that so much disagreement can hinge on a single hyperbole and the blindness it causes is neither original nor rocket science, but what remains to be asked is the ‘how so’ of that blindness in this case.  That is, why does it occur in this case in a medium that offers more time and distance for reflection, more time for cooler heads to prevail—more time, at least, than face-to-face exchange, wherein emotional qualities, hyperbolic arguments, and uncivility unfold in the immediacy of real time?   Harris at least once notes that the exchange probably wouldn’t have been as uncivil had it occurred face-to-face (he also notes, strangely enough, the he would have welcomed Chomsky as his angriest in actual debate).  He also notes at the beginning of the email exchange his preference for this more direct format, and in the middle he attributes the obviously arising failure to agree to the inherent limits of the email medium.  But really, those limits, such as they are, are immaterial—or they should be.  That is, as far as rationality goes, there is little substantive difference between face-to-face conversation and the printed word, except perhaps the immediate costs and consequences of being a dick—and both Harris and Chomsky score points for being prickly in this exchange (justification, of course, aside).  So again, why, despite the opportunity for detachment and reflection not offered in face-to-face exchange, didn’t more civility occur, and more mutual productivity ensue?  Is there something about face-to-face conversation over printed correspondence that speaks to the limits of discourse, and by extension to Harris’ laudable goal of starting difficult conversations on controversial topics because ‘conversation is all we have’ for resolving our disputes peacefully?

Probably not, at least not beyond the preferences of Sam Harris for a medium in which he particularly excels, and one in which he has an even track record of resolving animosity that began in print (Haidt and Dennett on the success side, Namazie and Aziz on the fail side).  But despite not offering any lessons about the medium for rational conversation, its failure in this case is still instructive.  For perhaps as well as any other failure, this conversation shows that public intellectuals, by their nature as public intellectuals, are all too often over-invested in the positons they hold, and not invested enough in how often—simply given the laws of probability and the nature of inquiry itself—being wrong is bound to occur.  Given the mixed incentives of public life, what else is to be expected?  That is, what public intellectual would garner respect, an audience, and a hearing among her peers if she spent most of her time being wrong on many, most or all of the important issues?  No doubt in virtually all cases public intellectuals sincerely believe they are right; they may be, to the best of their ability, intellectually honest.  But in light of the frequency with which they admit to being wrong (and who can relate more than one account among them, if even one?), and absent imputing a lack of intelligence among them, there is almost certainly an offsetting dearth of sincere, detached, and balanced reflection because everyone is always right—or at least each thinks so.  Any appreciator of public intellectual work is forced to wonder, how can so many who act as though they are right (a universal trait) in fact be right, if on any controversial problem there is a right and wrong solution, and all parties proposing it are equally convinced they have it?  What information about the problems public intellectuals purport to solve can be gleaned from their attempts to solve them, given such one-sided and ultimately self-serving partisanship?  This outsider has no answer, but he does have a “modest proposal” that might offset the force of the question for the audience of fellow outside consumers, as the presumptive beneficiaries of public intellectual work.  In effect, if there is an information problem in the “rational” conversations among public intellectuals—meaning, if there is a problem determining which one is rational without having the rational solution oneself; and if the kind of balanced, detached reflection necessary for rational appraisal is going to be possible in real-time; then something about the incentives endemic to public intellectuals needs to be adjusted.  For absent this adjustment, how else are rational consumers of public intellectual work going to have faith that what they consume offers something more than grist for the mill of a cheerleading confirmation bias—what de facto happens among most, if not all, public intellectual fame?

As just such an adjustment, this outsider suggests a new format for public debate, one that simultaneously reverses the distorting incentives of public intellectual work, while still insuring all the necessary features of publicly rational conversation.  Specifically, in any public “debate” or “exchange” aimed at a “rational conversation,” perhaps the two participating intellectuals should argue each other’s position as the alternative to their own.  In other words, as applied to this case, instead of Harris defending his position on intentions to Chomsky and Chomsky defending his on consequences to Harris, Chomsky would defend his inkling of Harris’s position as best as he can state it, and Harris would defend his inkling of Chomsky’s as best as he can state that, then both would ‘debate’ against one another.  The first obvious benefit to this reversal is that in the course of the debate, each would have as a near perfect collaborator the other party in the discussion, for whom better than the originator of a position to clarify it?  Also, in the course of the debate, both parties would have as their own best interest the best possible case of their interlocutor, and in this way both parties would have all the incentive in the world to present the strongest possible case for any position—something they should be doing anyway, but in fact rarely do.  Finally, switching the incentives in this way puts “being right” into its proper focus: it becomes something emergent in the eyes of the public (the true party to whom public intellectuals are obliged), and not something wrangled out of partisanship among the participants (for that just leads to cheerleading among the audience, fueled by confirmation bias).  As far as the ideal of rationality is concerned, it doesn’t matter one bit who defends what proposal; what matters is the scope and nature of the proposals themselves.  Thus compelling both parties to propose what their interlocutors would propose in the alternative insures that both parties completely understand all the alternatives—again, something required in all rational resolution of problems in any case.  Since solving a problem rationally requires comprehensive understanding, and since reversing the incentives of public intellectuals away from their own positions and towards the positions of those they “contest” minimally insures this—at least as far as the faith of the rational consumer is concerned—genuine rational conversation is more realistically approached under this ‘modest proposal’ than in the traditional partisan approach that public intellectuals de facto fall into.  In effect, this reversal of incentives saves public intellectuals from themselves, and rationality among them is genuinely approximated, if not achieved.  Stated rhetorically, what better way to insure that the strengths and weaknesses of their own positions is adequately explored—the failure so prominent in the Harris-Chomsky case—than by incentivizing the participants to explore them themselves?

Under this reversal of incentives, it seems unlikely that either Harris or Chomsky would have long maintained the strawman, hyperbole or caricature—simply pick the word that best fits—they ended up defending against each other in their attempts to flesh out the respective weight of intentions and consequences in moral culpability for collateral damage.  Had each been forced to see what they were saying coming from someone else’s point of view, presumably they would have detected the problems in their own positions rather quickly.  This reader certainly did.  But even if this would not happen; even if being forced into each other’s position would not bring about any intellectual clarity; minimally it almost certainly would have diffused the emotional valences fueling the heat in the exchange, and the subsequent volleys each shot at the other—in other words, it almost certainly would have eliminated the very aspects of public intellectual work that non-cheerleading consumers find so tedious and uninteresting, but public intellectuals apparently deem so necessary.   In any case, useful proposal or not, this intellectual anthropologist suspects that most rational readers who read the Harris-Chomsky exchange took a mental holiday long before getting through it, for it was, in its all it gruesome details, tendentious, tedious and unproductive in the extreme.  It was indeed a failure of discourse, but it was one that reveals the limits public intellectuals bring to discourse, not the limits of discourse itself.   Whatever other merits it might or might not have, this exchange at least brings that lesson to light, and for that reason alone it should have been published, if only to serve as an object lesson of what should not happen among public intellectuals, even in—and perhaps especially in—a hemi-demi private correspondence (for why not stay on one’s best behavior even when no one is really looking?).   For his part, Sam Harris has a proven track record of sincere attempts to bridge differences through conversation, no matter how extreme these differences, but he has a tendency to attribute failures more to the medium than is warranted, and to place unwarranted hopes in face-to-face conversation over other forms of rational exchange.  But as already indicated: true communication is medium independent, meaning that whenever, whatever and however the effort, the same lights should be on.  If in fact true communication is all we have as an alternative to violently settling disputes—and it almost certainly is—then we as a society are going to have to realize that, public intellectuals first among them.  For they lead by example.  To that end, it is hoped that this disinterested consumers’ thoughts on that necessary leadership contributes to the goal of rational public conversation, devoted though he is to remaining outside of it.

[1] Chomsky is so dismissive of and contemptuous that it’s hard to see what his really position actually is.  The sole reliance on consequences makes the most sense of how he argues.