Meeting Chomsky, by @miguelsantos12

Happier times
Happier times

(A guest post by economist Miguel Ángel Santos – follow him on Twitter)

The first time I heard of Noam Chomsky was in the early nineties. During my senior year in college I was assigned to read a small book, “The true thinkers of our time(1989), a gallery of interviews with a select group of scientists from a wide array of disciplines. The author, a French journalist named Guy Sorman, had chosen them using three simple criteria: 1) once they showed up in their corresponding disciplines it became impossible to keep on thinking about it in the same way; 2) they had to be alive; and 3) they were willing to talk to him.

The book covered a wide spectrum, from the origins of the universe all the way to modern economic thinking. Each section presented two or three opposing views on the same topic, which were fiercely discussed and smartly presented, allowing amateurs to grasp the frontiers of human knowledge.

Chomsky had made his way into the group deservedly. He had revolutionized the field of linguistics, posing a theory that conceived language as a biological capacity. He identified common patterns to all languages (i.e. all made up plurals by adding characters in the end, none at the beginning) and hypothesized that while the environment allows our linguistic capacity to develop, it falls short of explaining its extraordinary complexity.

I mention this to highlight the thinker, the man working alone and facing the problems and puzzles of his time through a sheer exercise of athletic thought and intelligence. The fame and scientific status he earned by making his most relevant contributions early in his life (all date from around his thirties) would be applied later to bring the world’s attention on a set of political causes, most of them left-winged, all rooted in the United States plethora of foreign policy wreckages. He became an outcast, a role he obviously feels very comfortable with, always pointing towards the elephant in the room.

This latter version of Chomsky is the one most people are familiar with.

It is hard to conceive that there are not two or three Chomskys, but just one containing all these different roles. As I follow his fatigued footsteps on the way to his office, I cannot help but think that at 85 years old he is the only living figure of that gallery of thinkers. It has been three months since I first thought about the possibility of talking to him. To that purpose, I had carefully drafted an email, stating that I had followed with interest “the evolution of his views on Venezuela” and would liked to discuss his perspective of the post-Chavez era with him.

For the uninformed readers I would just highlight four data points. In 2006 Hugo Chavez waved a copy of Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance during his (in)famous speech at the United Nations. The book immediately became a public sensation. In 2009 Chomsky showed up accompanying Hugo Chavez in a public rally in Caracas. He looks disgruntled in the video, even a bit surprised when receiving the microphone and having Chavez himself adjust it to his height. “It is easy to write and talk about peace and barriers to peace. But what is so exciting about visiting Venezuela is to see how a new world is actually being created, and talk to the one that inspired it”. In 2010 Chomsky lobbied the Venezuelan government in support for the release of judge Maria Afiuni, a single mother with cancer who had spent a year in jail after freeing Eligio Cedeno, a banker accused of corruption charges. During her confinement, she had been repeatedly assaulted by other prisoners while jail authorities ignored her pleas and looked elsewhere. “Judge Afiuni has suffered enough… She has been subject to acts of violence and humiliations to undermine her human dignity. I am convinced that she must be set free.”

At last, in 2011, Chomsky gave an interview to The Guardian where he criticized Chavez for amassing too much power and making an assault on Venezuela’s democracy. “Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary and for specific circumstances, such as fighting World War II, is an assault on democracy. You can debate whether Venezuela’s circumstances require it. But my own judgment in that debate is that it does not”. On that same interview, he reflected again on the Afiuni case: “I’m skeptical that she could receive a fair trial. It’s striking that, as far as I understand, other judges have not come out in support of her … that suggests an atmosphere of intimidation.” Last year Maria Afiuni was finally freed, although she is forbidden from speaking to the media.

My reference to the “evolution of his views” has not pleased Chomsky, who responded a day later. “Just to clarify, I’ve written and spoken a good deal about Latin America, sometimes with direct involvement, but not Venezuela.  I’ve hardly written or said a word about Venezuela, though there are many rumors about my alleged views.  About my only involvement has been in quite prominent protests about human rights violations”. Even though this exchange occurred months ago, it is fresh in his mind and comes up even before I have the chance to sit. “What is it that you say you have read? You could not have read anything, because I have never written anything in support of Hugo Chavez”.

I am a bit shaken. It is just a small taster of what is to come. I have the impression that Chomsky got himself caught in a picture he would now rather not to be in. Questions on Venezuela and his support of Hugo Chavez keep on showing up on all of his lectures, no matter how unrelated to the topic or the venue may be.

I mention the hyperbole I have described above, and also a conference he held two weeks ago at MIT with Yale students, where he devoted a significant amount of time to praise Hugo Chavez’s achievements on poverty and inequality. “Yes. I did say that. Isn’t it true? Wasn’t poverty reduced and inequality brought down sharply?” He speaks fast but in short bursts. Before I have the chance to respond he turns to context, certainly a key idea one needs to keep in mind when analyzing Chomsky’s statements. “There was a time when Hugo Chavez became the scapegoat of the United States. They made every possible effort to present him as our big enemy; they compared him to Hitler and made all sorts of absurd and disproportionate accusations. He became a mechanism to divert attention from our incapacity to address our own issues and recognize our own failures. It was in that context that I made those statements. You cannot isolate the statements from the context”.

The conversation immediately plunges into the legacy of Hugo Chavez: a divided and violent country, one of the most dangerous in the world, at the brink of becoming a failed state.

He ignores my references to crime and turns his attention to division, asking rhetorically: Why is it divided? What is the source of the division? I make an effort to avoid his provocation and focus instead on Chavez’s strategy to reduce poverty. In essence, it is a matter of inducing a consumption boom based on the oil windfall and foreign debt, which quintupled in the previous six years. Since the regime at the same time strangled the private sector, the only way to fuel consumption was through massive imports. The vehicles by which the government distributed money were much less important than money itself. Literate people were paid to (re) learn to read, teenagers were paid to attend newly created universities that granted degrees in record time (two to three years). Education, one of Chavez’ most prominent flags, is just a big scam. People have not learned anything worthy, and in any case there is no market to demand their capabilities. Instead, they turned on to the state, whose payroll kept on growing not only at the central government level but also through its massive web of expropriated business unit (the Venezuelan Observatory of Property stopped counting at 853).

Chomsky strikes back. “I agree the way they have done this is not sustainable… but then why do they keep on winning elections? Why do so many people still support the government? What are the chavistas telling them that you are not? You know what it is? They have a compelling story. For many years Venezuela was dominated by elites that turned their back on the poor, harvested all the benefits from the oil bonanzas while marginalizing the poor… Chavez came up against that, gave them recognition, legitimacy. That is something the opposition has not been able to offer… That is not to speak about the US sponsored coup against Chavez…

Chomsky follows the same strategy of the Venezuelan regime, which is to put away criticism and respond to any reference to their incompetence by blaming the previous elite and resuscitating the one-night coup occurred more than ten years ago. We need to move out from there. There has to be an expiration date for blaming our present issues on previous generations of politicians. It has been fifteen years!

He circumscribes the Venezuelan case within a wider framework. After all, it is hard to abstract from the fact that Chavez’s ideas have propagated fast across Latin America… According to him, the elites of Latin America monopolized power, captured and concentrated all the wealth flowing from the exploitation of natural resources, while excluding the vast majority of people from the benefits of modern life. They went on to create a system that granted the exercise of some basic freedoms, but not enough as to threaten the status quo. They milked domestic economies and hoarded resources abroad by massive capital flight. The debt crisis of the eighties and the failure of IMF-sponsored policy packages in the nineties overflowed the dam. It is always about eliminating poverty or eliminating democracy.

I acknowledge the framework may be right, but stress that in the case of Venezuela the previously ruling elite was succeeded by another one, much more incompetent, populated by the military instead of civilians, and much less comfortable with the previous degree of freedom. As a result, basic liberties such as freedom of speech, economic freedom, property, have been trimmed down drastically. Now, how do we get out of here?

You may be right, that happens often. Look at South Africa; look at what Mandela has done… He rebelled against a system and then let all his people down by maintaining the same economic structures but changing the color of the people in power… But there are successful cases too. Look at Nicaragua! The living standards there have risen dramatically, they are so much better today than in the Somoza years…

I find it ironic that he mentions Nicaragua. First, a great deal of Daniel Ortega’s success can be explained by the massive oil subsidy granted by Venezuela. Now, Ortega is no fool. He has created a private company, a joint venture between Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA and a private Nicaraguan partner. This company concentrates all transactions, and accumulates the net debt arising from the difference between oil shipping received and agricultural products exported back. In the case of political change in Venezuela, he can declare the company in bankruptcy, freeing the treasury of Nicaragua from any obligations.

Second, and most importantly, Ortega maintains the rant against the United States, capitalism and the private sector in his public speeches, but in the backstage deals with all of them smoothly, and even works hard to improve the conditions in which multinational companies and domestic private entrepreneurs operate. In any case, it is also ironic that all of Chomsky’s political theories end up requiring an illuminated elite as the only means for sustainable progress.

Leaving the past behind and considering the issues from a more practical standpoint, I found more common ground with Chomsky than I would have thought. In the end, he even volunteered his ideas on the political strategy of the Venezuelan opposition. I understand the conditions are harsh, but you are not facing one of those fascist regimes of the fifties (he might be increasingly wrong on this account); why don´t you do more grass roots work? What is preventing you from doing that? I have followed loosely the presidential elections, and as I recall it Capriles presented himself as an improved version of Hugo Chavez. Where are you going with that? You need to find your own message...

Chomsky’s super-efficient assistant has just walked in to indicate that time is up. Venezuela is obviously a topic that resonates with Chomsky, as he lingers on at the table, talking consciously without looking at the door. I am a bit surprised on how little information on Venezuela he had when he decided to volunteer support to Hugo Chavez. I have been trying for some time to do some evaluation on Chavez social programs… but there is not enough information. Do you have something on that?

It is impossible to do a cost-benefit analysis of the Misiones, and it will always be so. The administration purposefully broke the national budget into four or five pieces and made public expenditure impossible to audit. I respond that during the presidential campaigns of 2012 the opposition team gathered some statistics on coverage. Forward me anything you may have, I am very interested.

As I walk out I realize that my desire to see him again at a better time is as strong as it is unlikely. It´s Noam Chomsky, and with all his faults, he remains one of the true thinkers of our time.

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  1. Ideas generated by someone who doesn’t live in Venezuela and spews uninformed ideas based on nebulous facts.

    The world out there is full of them.

    • You’re being too kind. There’s nothing ‘uninformed’ about him. He does KNOW. Chomsky is a political enabler, little different than what Alfred Rosenberg was to the Nazi’s. After the cataclysm they stare into the abyss they help create and then declare, “that’s not what I meant….” The word ‘evil’ only just begins to describe Noam Chomsky.

  2. Brilliant piece. Thanks. I actually had been thinking about writing to Chomsky one day.

    I started to see his work a long time ago first in formal linguistics and then in the nineties in algorithms, compiler stuff. Some of his developments are still now part of the basis for
    modern linguistics and computer theory. The guy’s work on generative grammar, on formal language theory, has been significant for the development of compilers, for natural language processing and so on. His contributions in science technology are influencing us still now.

    But he is really stubborn like a donkey and on the ideological side tends to be Manichaeistic.

    Santos is very right to say it is surprising how Chomsky got involved into this while knowing so very little about Venezuela. It seems for him it all just started – like for the others – in 1998.

    A couple of comments

    1) It is not true Chomsky has just mentioned Chávez on a couple of occasions. If you peruse through several of his latest political books you will see references to Venezuela’s case.
    One of the things he keeps mentioning is this famous poll whereby Venezuelans came out as some of the happiest on Earth. I was appalled a scientist like him even considered worth mentioning such a thing. Even if polls were reliable – I’m not even getting into that, it’s not worth it, but just consider it for the sake of argument – there were no comparable polls before that.
    I am sure Venezuelans would have come up in the same rank in 1998, in 1988, in 1588. So it is absolutely abstruse that he thinks that is worth considering as an argument for Chavismo’s effectiveness.

    2) It hasn’t helped that he has seldom if ever been in debates where the other person is not
    a conservative or something like that – an easy one then as there are two completely parallel monologues going on. In most cases it is not him who chooses his debate contenders.
    Some other people do it for him and most of the time they think that by putting a big right winger they would make the debate more interesting. It is not.

    I have always found those on the extreme fear the ones in the middle the most – and specially the ones who might know from inside or from nearby the credo of the other and the signals and the symbols. Not for nothing the Soviets when deciding about their support to German movements and their policy to Germany of the Weimar and initial Nazi period decided to classify the German social democrats as more of a threat than the Nazis – because they were in direct competition but also because they knew “the talk”…at least those in Germany back then (we cannot say that much now in Venezuela where everybody treads thinly on the theoretical side).

    If Miguel Santos is interested, I can forward him a set of questions, remarks and data that might be interesting for Chomsky and a couple of questions that he might want to answer.

    What Chomsky and others forget is that this Chavez parlance about the poor is not new at all, even if the socialist symbolism and massive use of the media for propaganda is unique. We saw that during CAP I. Basically Chavismo is CAP I on steroids – because it’s possible, because China needs oil-, and with an authoritarian stench that became overpowering long time ago.
    If he ever again uses the mantra of the elections, you need to remind him of Putin, who by all means is far more popular and accepted in Russia today than Chavismo in Venezuela. Putin is far a better manager – my Russian friends would be shocked to hear this but it’s true- and nowadays even a wee bit more respectful of the rule of law than anything we see in Venezuela.
    And yet even Chomsky would see more issues with Putin.

    I say this all the time: world oil price evolution is the Alpha and Omega of Venezuelan politics. If you even intend to talk, to even think about Venezuelan politics you need to examine the evolution of oil prices throughout the decades.

    Miguel Santos: I can send some data on previous social programmes and the like.

    • I basically agree with you, Kepler. The only detail:

      “Basically Chavismo is CAP I on steroids – because it’s possible, because China needs oil-, and with an authoritarian stench that became overpowering long time ago.”

      I think of Chavismo not so much as CAP I’s heirs but rather as the heirs of Lusinchismo (on steroids). Almost everything there is to hate about Chavismo, happened before during the Lusinchi administration but mildly: currency control corruption, suppression of media through currency control, almost closing down RCTV, using state resources for political campaigns, partisan sectarianism (Lusinchi was the first puntofijista president to appoint all regional secretaries from his party as governors), his preferred tool to deal with inflation were price controls, scarcity was rife and blamed on hoarding, private stores were routinely audited under suspicion of hoarding and usury, etc.

        • They were presidentially appointed. In a similar fashion as heads of Capital District Government, Corpozulia, Corpomiranda, Corpocentro, Corpoamazonas, Corpolara, etc. are appointed today.

          But before Lusinchi, so far as I have read, they used to be chosen from a pool of prominent locals, or community leaders. And were agreed upon by puntofijista parties, instead of unilaterally imposed .

      • Yes, but CAP I is a more apt comparison because of the oil revenue windfall. I still remember the motorcycle factory, the price controls and huge subsidies, the “Guia para el Consumidor…” If anything, Lusinchi was a pale rethread of CAP I.

    • Thanks for your comment Kepler. I would definitively be interested on any information you may have on evaluations of Misiones (with at least some type of methodological rigor). You can send it to me: [email protected].
      I agree with you that listening to the other side is often interpreted by our allies as a sign of weakness or even plain “saltando la talanquera, ¿no?”. This is in part due to our own insecurity of falling into a pond we may not be able to catch ourselves out. We need to overcome that. Not for the sake of the chavistas in power, though at some point it may be handy, but for the sake of understanding better those who still support them.

  3. He himself admits his knowledge of the specifics of Venezuelan politics is rather poor, but still goes on to talk seriously about it (arrogance, while appalling in lesser minds, is somewhat amusing in the true genius), however he also shows he actually gets the meollo del asunto:

    “Why do so many people still support the government? What are the chavistas telling them that you are not? You know what it is? They have a compelling story.”

    A compelling story. That’s what this has always been about. I disagree with Kepler’s postulate of oil prices being the great explanation for the Chávez phenomenon. It is an economic argument, a rational one based on hard evidence, and that’s why I think it’s wrong. It ignores the emotional dynamics present. Oil revenue is the enabler for men like Chávez, the reason they can last for so long, but it’s not the reason they exist. Caudillismo would still be a problem in Venezuela without oil. Indeed, it dates back to a long time before oil came into play. Chávez made himself a hero (in the Joseph Campbell sense of that word) in the minds of millions of Venezuelans, and that had little to do with oil.

    • Certainly Chávez is more than oil but oil enabled him to consolidate power as no one could have done right at the right moment. Our short memory span also helped.

      Of course Caudillismo has been a major factor in Venezuela even before the Independence. As I have said many times, Venezuela has always been a profoundly feudal country. The social mobility that did exist time and again existed mostly based on political turbulences (actually, it also existed in different feudal times as the feudal system was more varied than what we learnt at school). The one mobile system we started to build in the XX century through schooling and universities was not based on an economically sound, sustainable plan – the system became utterly ineffective and most fell through it. Above all, the people we got could mostly prosper by other means than production – they went into functionary jobs, they became importers or people maintaining foreign machines.

      There is also the discourse issue. The simple fact one of the most serious blogs on Venezuela is written in English and not in the language of Venezuelans – Spanish – is quite telling. It always has reminded me of the Russian intelligentsia during Nabokov’s times.
      The fact the vast majority of expat Venezuelans who are most vocal abroad come from the better-off part of the capital, where 10% of Venezuelans live, is also a sign of what went wrong – no real education across the regions.

      Chávez also understood there was not one Venezuela but many and I don’t mean socially only but at the cultural-regional level.

      I still find today that a lot of elite Venezuelans living in Caracas have less knowledge of or interest in Guárico or even the Southernmost regions of neighbouring Miranda than many New Yorkers about Alabama or Ohio or many Berliners about Southern Germany.

      There have been attempts to overcome this but they haven’t been enough. And the oil situation and the power of it does not help.

      • The drafting of a “compelling story” is the clincher for chavismo’s persistence. If power were just about understanding the workings of homo economicus, chavismo would have faded long ago. Chomsky appears manichaean because his arguments are not grounded in principles of economics. His concern is egalitarianism, and he sees chavismo as an attempt at this. I am not sure to what extent he really understands economics or the social, economic or political reality of Venezuela. At least he seems embarrassed to have been a pawn of Chavez.

        The reference to Nicaragua here and the ongoing posts discussing the Venezuelan violence epidemic have made me think of Peru under Fujimori. There is someone (a populist from the elite!) who by many accounts really transformed his country for the better and brought a culture of violence under control. But politics in south america is extremely unforgiving and the current winners rewrite the history books. Wonder what Chomsky would have to say about that.

  4. The statistics about raising the level of the poor are largely crap. Some of it comes from fiddling with the definitions, some comes from straight-out lying. Anyone who spends a month in Venezuela can see that, on the ground, half, or two-thirds, of poverty has not been eradicated.

    Chomsky has always cobbled his world-view together from press clippings. Older people like me remember how he denied the Khmer Rouge genocide in his writings about Cambodia. One big reason was that he never visited Cambodia, didn’t speak or read Cambodian, and, in his published work, did not claim to ever have met a Cambodian.

    Abstractions and ideology sound convincing, but lead to grave error.

    • I disagree. The statistics on poverty are true, because they are based on income per day. Thanks to the generous subsidies, misiones, etc., it’s hard to argue that many people’s income hasn’t risen (well, at least up until 2012, then everything started going to crap). It doesn’t mean people are less poor, or that they are middle class, it means that they have more cash in their pockets, and they can afford a little bit higher standard of living … por ahora. And since poverty statistics are measured in terms of the proportion of people whose daily income is less than $X, then violá.

      The problem is what Miguel Angel pointed out – it’s not sustainable. It’s simply based on cash transfers from an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime oil boom that we are wasting away on free gas, misiones, and Cadivi.

      As Quico once said, the secret to Chávenomics is simple: have a lot of stuff under the ground that the world really really wants, sell it at outrageously high prices, and spend it all away. That model is already coming crashing down.

      • Indeed. The other point is this: although the poor do have more cash now than they did have in the nineties, I am not so sure their purchasing power, particularly compared to that of the average, might be better now than it was in 1970-1985…but that is far far far away in time for most everybody.

      • juan i agree w jeffrey house, income is defined as a regular reception of money produced by work or investment not gifts or subsidies. there is an obvious semantics angle on those poverty studies.

        • Juan, this very blog published gini coefficient numbers showing that inequality was slightly higher at the end of Chavez’ reign than in the Fourth Republic. This very blog also published comparisons which showed that Brazil, for example, was doing better at overcoming inequality than Venezuela was. I think that was true of Peru, too.

          The methodology behind the usual claims: “He cut poverty in half and extreme poverty by seventy per cent!” does not bear examination. It simply involves adjusting the poverty line in keeping with inflation, but lying about the rate of inflation. That way, it looks like incomes have risen at double the rate of inflation when in fact they have stagnated when compared to the true rate.

          It’s not even junk science; it’s GIGO.

      • Juan, I have a doubt regarding this issue, and please correct me if I’m wrong:

        As far as I understand, regarding poverty statistics Venezuela’s government reports the income per day in USD, but it pays the subsidies in BsF. Given that the same government has set a ridiculous low price for the USD vs. BsF, it is not this severely distorting the statistics, making the poor look a lot wealthier than what they really are?.

    • I think Chomsky would agree about the economic progress not being very effective, but that the poor are now more involved politically, and that they might now feel they are part of the political process and designing the future is important.

    • Strongly disagree. As Juan points out below, it is a fact, the problem is sustainability. By the end of 2013, an average Venezuelan consumes 51% more PER CAPITA than in 1998. Distributing that per strata is more tricky, but I would assume that due to 1) low base and 2) strong redistribution policies, that number is higher at the bottom of the pyramid.

  5. Chomsky whatever his accomplishments in the field of linguistics is an intellectual vedette , a latter day Sartre, someone superficial, and basically ignorant of subjects outside his field of expertise, who loves to come up with showy unconventional views because he loves the attention he gets as a ‘radical’ public intellectual . He is the iconic heroe of left wing anti american press , feeding them with lines that because of his academic fame can become pseudo news and put in the headlines. Much more attention worthy are the views of someone like Fukuyama or the recently defunct Judt or Joseph Stiglitz. He can give you a phrase that reveals insight but not a proper credible in depth analysis . For instance the reference to Chavez appealing narrative (however right clever Kepler is in pointing out the importance of increased oil revenues in consolidating Chavez image as the peoples champion ).

    • What he did also helped in computer science. The field of compilers and thus computer languages and thus software production clearly benefited from his work on formal grammars.

      • He may be many things but one thing he is not is someone who has any idea of where we come from or what venezuela is about or what it takes to make a half decent government , in that respect he is just another musiu pendejo who capitalizes on the desire of the radical glitterati to be fed lines that pander to their ‘morally righteous’ vanity to gain their applause and admiration . About the narrative bit , Hitler also had a narrative that made the germans of his time go wild as did Mussolini in Italy . His reference to the continuing popularity of Chavez after so many years is a sign that we are a country with many fools , not that there is anything worthy of admiration in Chavez . Its like admiring Don Juan because of his ability to seduce stupid women !!

    • I agree here. He is an expert and a genius in the field of linguistics. Which granted him a prestigious place in MIT. From there he started making opinions in policy and politics, where he is not an expert nor a significant player. The left media loved him because that “genius” status/MIT professor legitimized what he said, regardless of the quality of the arguments.

  6. Caveat: the guy is old. And his main concern might be to polish his legacy and play coverup. Don’t want to end up the Joe Paterno of politics, that’s no way to go.

  7. Several years ago Alek Boyd communicated with Chomsky. Too bad I cannot find the related account. In both this earlier account and the one above Chomsky comes out as a weasel. Before Venezuela I also followed him on his views on the Middle East where I resided then, also a weasel on that one. It gives me the impression this chap simply cannot stand to be wrong. As the above article implies, Chomsky’s useful contribution was when he was in his 30s.

  8. GREAT in mayúsculas. I’ve visited some talks of our local (german) aficionados of Chavismo. Though these people clearly don’t play at the level of Chomsky, this articles states very well many … well lets say… problems I have, trying to understand them.
    I like very much the attitude of the author, honestly trying to understand ‘pendejos sin fronteras’. I can imagine, that this is really hard for a Venezuelan who believes that Chavismo damages the future of your country, as I do, not being Venezuelan. It won’t help, as they’re not really interested in discussion, but it always good to understand the motivations of those who think different from one.

  9. Touching the part about the discourse:
    It is obviously that Chávez was a master story teller compared to the rest. This also shows how weak the general education is. Although Chávez didn’t even know mankind is more than 20 centuries old, he had a sound command of Spanish syntax and he knew how to keep sentences well built throughout a long discourse. This is related to rhetorical training but also to quite some reading – in his case very random and inconsistent but reading nonetheless.

    I have the impression Manuel Rosales – a lawyer – never read a book in his whole life.
    I also have the impression Capriles has never read books beyond those he had to go through for his degree. This shows. And this takes away a lot of the power of his words when he simply repeats we need more education, education, education, schools and not give-aways.

    I think every single person who really wants to get into politics in Venezuela now should read Cicero’s De Oratore.

    Still, again: never forget oil prices, though.

    • Now this is an interesting point. I remember being surprised years ago by how educated people like Capriles, Borges, and Machado were vs. how much it actually showed in their discourse. Whereas Chávez, who was significantly more ignorant (I consider “military education” an oxymoron), came across as almost an intellectual to many.

      Maybe the MUD fellas should get some of those “in a nutshell” versions of classic books high school students use for their exams?

      • I thought the same. Once, someone I knew from the UCV found my email and wrote to me to see how I was doing in Europe. She then started to talk about the “advances of El Proceso”. She then mentioned how well-read Chávez was. I couldn’t believe it: although I didn’t know her as a particularly good student or someone who would read, I thought amazing she, who graduated from a university, would say that. But then I hadn’t thought too much about the general level of most university graduates in Venezuela. There is a huge variance there.

        Although “number of books read” is not a very good measurement, it is better than nothing. I recently started to ask as many people I knew who are living in Venezuela but who are not among my closest university friends how many books they have read in the last year – beyond their studies or work-.

        Do that experiment. Compare that with numbers in Europe or in North America.
        Newspapers don’t help much for rhetorical purposes…specially as newspapers in countries such as Venezuela are written by people who only read newspapers.

        There are lots of non-readers everywhere, but if you analyse our “elite”, you would be amazed.

        One detail: in Bogotá and other Colombian cities there have been many public libraries being built in the last decade or so. In my city, Valencia, with over 1.2 million people, the really one really open public library we have has probably as many books as the public library in a town of 35000 people in Europe.

        • I’m not sure how far you are taking the readers vs non readers comparison in reaching conclusions, but I’m reminded of a manager who was fired for firing employees who were not good at chess.

          • I don’t understand what you mean.
            I said reading is just one aspect and the sheer number of books read a very poor indicator but still one we might use.
            If you have someone who doesn’t have a bloody clue about world history,
            if that person, in spite of having the resources, never read a book beyond what he had to read for becoming an “expert in tax law” chances are that person won’t have
            a rich vocabulary.
            Also, all things being equal, someone who has read nothing will be more likely than someone else to have trouble trying to concatenate ideas. He will be more likely to fail when it comes to using anaphoric elements, for instance.

            When you listen to Maduro or Capriles you very often hear them uttering a few words without a verb, then the verb, which is not in agreement with the things they just said but refer to something they thought about but didn’t say…you understand after a second or so but you know they are not linking phrases, you know they have no command on syntactic structure. Chávez did have such a command.

            You can produced well formulated sentences without having read anything in your whole life, but reading does help, specially if you are telling a story or describing a complex vision.

          • Being well-read might be valuable when communicating with others who are well-read. I’m not sure if it helps communication with those who are not well-read. Certainly, having common experiences is a channel for communication, especially with the majority of the electorate who have not gone to college.

          • Chávez wasn’t well-read but better read than Capriles and much more so than Rosales or Maduro.

            Chávez’s reading was hazardous, at best. He still thought mankind was just 20 centuries old, which is really depressing, especially considering he studied bachillerato.
            He most likely never finished most of the books he talked about.

            He must have read a few of the usual popular pseudo-history books we
            have in Venezuela while he was at the military. He must have read El Conde de Montecristo, at least on an abridged version, and Les Miserables…an abridged version of Don Quixote and with that he probably read more fiction than most politicians in Venezuela right now. He must have read pieces of commie crap – the short ones-
            and quite some books of military guys. He probably read some basic stuff about native Americans in Venezuela (secondary school-level). He must have read quite some books about Venezuelan folklore.

            And that helped him with a greater vocabulary and that helped him when it came to producing long sentences and quickly choosing the right pronoun and for building proper subordinate sentences. He actually did that quite well.

            And above all: he had stories about the Gayones and the Jirajaras and the Waraos and the Chaimas. Less than 2% of the population are native American but a large part of those living in Monagas do have some remembrance of the Chaimas and so do some in Yaracuy about the Jirajaras and so on.

            Most of those stories were crap but they showed he knew a tiny bit more than the usual Caraqueno/Valenciano/Maracucho about the concrete area he was visiting. During his Alo Presidente he actually visited almost every municipio and he had stories about those areas. And that made people from those areas feel in awe with him, at least some of them.

            He actually used to get digested pieces of readings from a group of people he had to look for “cool” quotes. That would complement his story telling. He would get them surreptitiously during Aló Presidente and look at them and then pretend he remembered something. Even without those prompts he obviously had read more about socio-cultural stuff than most politicians now in Venezuela, at least in Spanish.

          • Kepler,
            When I was in medical school, there was a commonly repeated aphorism: “The patient need to know that you care before he cares what you know.” Does being well-read help people see that you care about them? Somehow, Chavez had something that persuaded many Venezuelans that he cared for them.

          • Hi Kepler,

            It would be great if you posted some videos to compare their syntactic ability. I’m quite curios to look at specific examples. Thanks!

          • Kepler, Like I said I’m not sure how far you take it. Note that your statement “reading is just one aspect and the sheer number of books read a very poor indicator but still one we might use” could translate to what that manager I mentioned may have said: “lousy chessplay is just an indicator we might use to fire people”…

          • Extorres,
            Pretty much not. The correlation between chess playing and “doing well any job” is non existent.

            On the other hand: it’s a no brainer that reading helps your rhetorical skills. It is by far not enough but it definitely helps, especially in politics – all other things being equal-.
            Books – on average – have quite a different syntax than the rather limited one you find in newspapers, and another style for story telling.

            I won’t waste a single second to try to convince you of that. You can as well ask someone else why reading is good.

          • Kepler, for someone on the flagship of education in general, and reading skills in particular, you are:
            A) claiming no correlation between the decision process of chess and the decision process at a job, and
            B) assuming that I would need you to explain to me the advantages of reading books in attaining improved skills in rhetoric, especially in politics.

            The question is how far you would take the knowledge of someone’s reading history in making decisions regarding their aptness for government candidacy.

          • Sigh…
            chamo, quién está hablando aquí de gobernabilidad?
            La discusión no es sobre ello. De cajón que leer historia no tiene que ver con tu capacidad de gerenciar una nación. Tu pregunta es demasiado tonta o te haces el tonto.
            Comenzamos a hablar del debate general, a la capacidad de capturar el interés de las masas. Pero aun así: una persona que quiera manejar un país en tiempos de crisis necesita ser más que un tecnócrata (y ni eso parece que tenemos): si quiere que no le quiten el poder los milicos o guerrilleros en un santiamén, tiene que tener la capacidad para comunicar a las masas y para eso se requiere de un mínimo de retórica y de cultural general (al menos comparativamente …repito: comparativamente).

            Si tienes a un tipo que no puede expresarse para nada y a uno que puede expresarse mal que bien pero lo suficientemente bien para capturar la imaginación de la mayoría, el primero no tendrá chance de llegar al poder.

            Primero léete el libro que recomendé anteriormente de Cicerón, siquiera el primer capítulo.

            No estoy justificando en lo más mínimo a Chávez. Estoy explicando cómo, aparte de su chequera, pudo capturar la atención de millones y aún no hemos conseguido a alguien que haga algo semejante por nuestro lado.

            End of discussion.

          • Kepler, it’s not a discussion. I’m not countering anything regarding varied reading leading to greater vocabulary and verbal skills, which tends to lead to greater communication skills, which tends to greater rhetoric. You have read no argument from me against any of that.

            From my first intervention I have been pointing out the vagueness of your comments in determining how far one can the knowledge regarding someone’s reading history in reaching conclusions. You specifically mentioned the “use” of the reading level knowledge, without clarifying to what “use” you were referring.

            Talk about the irony of your lack of reading comprehension…

        • Ok One: he went to the same school as I did. do not mes with that education side. I am younger that him but we share same teachers, and believe me there are lots og great people that attended that school.
          Two: How many books Chavez read? God I knew one guy that his job was make summaries of books (and on e of those that make the mistake Chavez said about Chomsky being dead) If Capriles has not oratory skills is one thing.
          The other thing is that why a person that speaks 60 hours a day is a good speaker? orador? it is not…it is a story teller, entertainer…nothing else. That Venezuelans like that instead of thinking about programs…well

          • Lili,
            I mentioned I knew there was a guy who wrote summaries for Chávez. Rory Carroll explains in his book in detail how the guy had a whole team working on quotation search for Chávez all the time. Chávez would get those quotations during Aló Presidente, read them and pretend to remember something. That is true.
            Still, that doesn’t take the fact that he could speak much better than Capriles, whether you or I like or not.
            He might not be our orator, just like Hitler’s speeches would make me puke…but he could speak for the masses, he was an orator.
            And an orator IS a story teller, among other things.
            You should read Cicero’s De Oratore to get to a feeling of what I am saying (if you like reading, that is).

            We all make mistakes of that kind, we always cut sentences in the middle, start again.
            Still, the average of badly assigned anaphora and unfinished sentences, the amount of errors with regards to verbal coordination, differs from person to person. And Chávez was much better there than the average Venezuelan. Anyone who has read a little bit about rhetorical skills and who has observed people who are said to be good at speaking will know reading, even if done as randomly as the way Chávez did, is
            much better than not reading, all other things being equal.

            In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Venezuela is notorious for being a nation of non-readers.
            As I said repeatedly: Chávez had huge education deficits. He even thought mankind was 20 centuries old. But you would be surprised to see what Capriles ignores if one were to start asking him such things.
            Is that important for the actual job of managing a country?
            Read De Oratore by Cicero…if you like reading, that is. 🙂

          • There are two tests for scoring a persons oratorical skill , first , whether he is able to draw and retain the attention of his audience and second the kind of audience he attracts. A clown might be held to have great oratorical skills if he is able to hold enthralled an audience of children and yet be unable to attract or retain the attention of an audience of adults ,
            Personally I found listening to Chavez boorish and unsufferable , most people I know had the same response .
            Same thing happened to me listening to Reagan , to my ears his intonation was cloying and affected ( whatever respect his views might have deserved ) . There is a neurological disease that makes people not understand spoken speech except by paying close attention to the intonation . Oliver Sacks tells in one of his books of hearing loud laughter in the hospital hall were people with this disease gathered and of discovering that their laughter was caused by hearing President Reagan speaking on TV.
            Capriles is no great natural orator, but he is capable of holding his audience interested simply because of what he is saying , and the clarity with which he speaks .!! I dont know the intellectual calibre of his education , but then some gifted political leaders in history were barely possesed of any intellectual literacy. LBJ comes to mind !! Hitler had great oratorical gifts, was able to mesmerize the germans of his time and yet he was absolutely devoid of any serious education .
            In the opposition many people find MCM’s oratory spell binding and persuasive , Weve all seen how sometimes even Diosdado appears in awe as he hears her speak . But leaderhip is a quality that although aided by great oratorical skills sometimes functions fine without the leader being superbly eloquent provided he is good at making himself understood.

      • Did you know Chavez pursued a Masters Degree in Political Science from USB? Granted, he didn’t finish it before the 4F coup, and never resumed it.

          • Oh more than disdained, he fucked over USB.

            Took IDEA from USB, along with roughly half of the land, refused to allow USB to exercise its Caldera-approved autonomy by blocking the enactment of the autonomic charter (voted by the students and professors), pushed it to dismantle (not so successfully) the admission tests, strangled it economically (along with the autonomous universities), etc.

    • Chavez was above all an entertainer , good for making basically stupid people laugh and applaud and get rowdy and merry and fill themselves full of BS. He was also cunning and aptly duplicious , but undoubtedly an intellectual illiterate , like most people in Venezuela and lots of other countries:
      I sometimes feel envy on hearing tv interviews or exchanges of prominent people from the US , Europe or other latin american countries and note the high intellectual quality of their interventions and the depth and acumen of their thoughts . I wish we had people like that !! I sometimes get a breath of fresh air on reading some Venezuelan sites like Prodavinci , but generally few of our countrymen are possesed of even minimal intellectual literacy , that doenst mean they are not smart and capable in many other ways , but their understanding of things is in general so superficial and primitive. including so called professionals .
      Few people are well read , even less people have really reflected on what they read or tried going beyond what they read with their own thoughts.
      Dont know if Capriles and other of the big Oppo leaders are intellectually literate but they dont sound like they are . Of course to be a succesful political leader you dont have to be, but at least you must have some people arround you that can translate whts happening in the world of ideas for them to guide their actions .

      • “I sometimes feel envy on hearing tv interviews or exchanges of prominent people from the US , Europe or other latin american countries and note the high intellectual quality of their interventions and the depth and acumen of their thoughts ”

        What TV interviews are you watching from US? There are some good programs, particularly on NPR or C-SPAN I enjoy, but don’t really know of anything else in the interview format I would say has high intellectual quality. (Maybe I just dont the right channels)

        • On German ZDF or ARD there are sometimes quite some interesting programmes, sometimes they are just rubbish.
          The main anchor on ZDF at 21:45 studied economics and foreign policy and she grills politicians well enough. It’s kind of funny, sometimes I feel sorry even for politicians I usually find disgusting…and poor if the politician or big figure does not want to be grilled – she says it and people notice.
          One thing I like which is customary on public German TV:
          you actually get high level figures from several parties – not just two – debating.
          Like that you have a minister from the conservatives, a deputy from the German liberals (now almost extinct), on the centre to left-centre side the social democrats and the ecologists and on the very left, one from the Linke (Chávez’s lovers).
          In that way you don’t have so often preposterous discussions about why a social democrat is a communist or a conservative a Nazi.

          Most German correspondents abroad for ZDF/ARD that I am aware of actually speak the languages of the places where they work, be it Pashto in Afghanistan, Russian in Russia, Spanish in Mexico or Arab in Egypt. That helps a bit. And you see they have some decent background on the local history.
          Of course, they can afford that, they have the dosh. There have been a couple of times where the ZDF did say the elections in Venezuela were between “socialists and conservatives”. I sent them an email to explain how wrong they were. I think they noticed.

        • You re right Rory , it doesnt happen every day and but then every so often you hear someone give an insightful or subtle comment right out of the blue , something that you have to be alert in order to understand in its ultimate meaning . Some interviews in Charlie Rose for example , in BBC , In Colombian television , even in usually very poor quality Argentine TV ( Alejandro Katz can be splendid) . You find British and Colombian officials who when they talk ,know their stuff , speak with common sense , have a clear understanding of what they are talking about in absolute contrast to Govt officials in Venezuela who just spout slogans, insults , threats and hollow rethorical lines . Some of the comments that have impressed me come from historical authors or studious journalists or from people who having held high positions in US government maybe have lost their popularity because of some mistake but who when talking dispassionatelly about their experiences reveal nuggets of wisdom that people dont hear because they dislike the character or his politics. Ive read a whole lot for a long long time and have become finnicky about the sort of thing that impresses me . and yet ……intellectual literacy while admirable doesnt always make an effective public leader , compare the intellectual literacy of JFK and that of LBJ ,LBJ to judge from Cantors biography was a political giant even if his intellectual literacy wasnt the highest. or Woodrow Wilson and Reagan , even FDR was said by Oliver Wendells Holmes to have had a ´First class temperament and a second rate mind´. Politics is a weird business and while a certain level of intellectual literacy is necessary , other attainments and talents can make up for a surfeit of the latter.

        • On DirecTV in Venezuela you can check out the Charlie Rose interviews. The hey day of interview programs in the US was in the 50s. The general state of television content in the US is abysmal – dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.

  10. “Chomsky follows the same strategy of the Venezuelan regime, which is to put away criticism and respond to any reference to their incompetence by blaming the previous elite”

    I think you got that one wrong, he’s telling you how the people who vote for Chavismo sees the whole thing, which is the reason why Chavismo wins elections.

  11. Chomsky is a lying communist apologist and propagandist. Most of what comes out of his mouth is twisted spin and utter, unsubstantiated lies. Yet they try to pass this jackass off as an “intellectual” and one of the great theorists of the left. For instance, “later evidence” proves that only 10,000 people were massacred in Cambodia according to him, (this later evidence is never revealed and the UN places the number a 1.7 million) and then he immediately launches into the typical tirade about the millions being killed by capitalism daily. Just more typical Marxist dogma bullshit from the college professor elitists who always live in western democracies and have tenure.

  12. It is so easy to think “great ideas” far away from the real “macoy”. I will give Chomsky a month in Venezuela living in San Martin, la Candelaria, Petare, o better yet in a small town away from Caracas…

  13. I came into and out of love with Chomsky in the late 90’s. I do however, bristle at those who attack his credentials or intent to drive a narrative set in principle and the consciousness of his own convictions. I have come to disagree with the vigorously, and this article deftly sums up that trait in the Chomskyan character of debating once own case (which although a human very human one, ultimately concedes that he is a sum of flawed parts). The most compelling bit of this interview was his insistence that his views ought to be contextualized within a suitable framework, while his arguments completely decontextualized the rhizome that is the topic he is addressing. It is ultimately the sin of those very bright and gifted individuals who think of topics far away removed from their own experience.

    • The way Santos presents it, Chomsky seems to be trying to survive the interview with his prestige more or less unscathed. Instead of presenting well reasoned arguments or admitting he was wrong to endorse chavismo, he is playing defense.

  14. Miguel Angel Santos, great piece. I like and agree with most of your arguments. Though you replied very directly to the second part of the paragraph beginning with “Chomsky strikes back”, I was left wanting to read your response to the first part:

    “but then why do they keep on winning elections? Why do so many people still support the government? What are the chavistas telling them that you are not? You know what it is? They have a compelling story.”

    If you have a chance, I’d really like to know your perspective.

    • Yes, the story is compelling, particularly when told by a great Bull-S—— like Chavez was, but it never would have been so compelling or lasting had oil remained at $10/barrel. Winning of Venezuelan elections is far more about threats/intimidation by an abusive Petrostate electoral machine than it is about true ideological conviction.

      • Net., so your perspective boils down to “the compelling story of chavistas that they are telling the supporters that the opposition is not, and the reason chavistas keep on winning elections is money buying thugs and votes”?

        • A BS story of helping the poor is not so compelling, much less lasting, if the money to accomplish this is not there (as is happening now, with oil topped out at $100 a few years ago, going down recently, and the ability to massively borrow virtually exhausted). Chavistas have been winning elections lately due to massive utillization of State resources, fraudulent in any civilized Western democracy, and a State government payroll of some 3 million jobholders, plus millions more of Mision/Pension/Comuna monthly funds receivers, plus their families, who are threatened/intimidated , directly or indirectly, to vote for the Government candidates in order to keep their miserable largely minimum wage monthly income (one of the lowest in the world on a free market valuation comparison basis).

          • NET., I get that you think chavistas are winning by using the money to do all those things, but Chomsky’s premise is that chavistas are winning elections by telling voters a compelling story, which you think is a BS story.

            To what you are not replying is that, whether the spending is sustainable or not, the spending has many supporters convinced that chavismo is being good for them. And because it is being good for them, they want to believe the story telling them that chavismo will continue to be good for their future. Can you really explain away the numbers that lined up to see the coffin with intimidation? I don’t think so. So the question remains, what’s the story?

          • I don’t think 6 million lined up to see the coffin, which is the minimum to win a presidential election in Venezuela. The story is, “We will help you poor, you vote for us”–good as long as the money/freebies hold out, and they are already running thin today, as many Mercals, even in 23 de Enero, have still not opened since yearend for lack of foddstuffs.

          • For all the Chavez/Chumpskyesque demogoguery/ideology, still, in the immortal words of that great philosopher Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, Stupid” that wins elections.

          • NET., wait, so now you are saying there is a compelling story, and that it is “We will help you poor, you vote for us”? Assuming that is correct, the question then becomes how to counter that.

          • When you don’t control the electoral machinery/threats/intimidation/mass media, it is very difficult to counter thiat. What will counter it is when the goodies offered by the “Revolution” run too thin to satisfy the basic needs of the broad populace, as in the case of the Soviet Union, and as in beginning in Venezuela, where, with oil topped out/decreasing, $52 billion of unpaid debts to international suppliers of all types, not including $30 billion in oil to China, inability practically to further indebt much in the international bond markets, and where even many Mercals (the breadbaskets of the poor) are still not open since yearend. My 75-year-old sister-in-law, for example, who stood in line for many hours to see the coffin, now says with her friends that “Maduro esta en salsa”. “Dignification” of the poor doesn’t go far on an empty stomach. What’s holding back change in Venezuela, for now, is the terribly pernicious influence of the Cubans, who are trying to achieve the same recipe they applied in their homeland: radical Communist ideology implemented via corrupt upper military control of civilian institutions. The recipe works as long as the money holds out (only barely now), the “Bravo Pueblo” (not) remains cowered (the hampa “curfews” are important here-don’t expect substantive change), and the middle-lower military ranks remain controlled by Cuban intelligence. All of this dynamic can change at any time–all that is needed is a spark.

          • Net., Thinking that there is no way to counter that is too depressing. I mean, basically relinquishing the nation’s future to petrol prices going down… Think UCT as a powerful counter.

          • E. T., oil prices don’t even have to go down, they just have to stop going up, with further large international indebtedness difficult- to- impossible, and rampant corruption/mis-management continuing to gut the economy, as is happening now. Of course I agree with you that, ideally, the oil dividend distributive concept is the way to go–I even, when Rosales first championed the “Negrita”, told a very well-plugged-in/informed friend of mind, reader of this Blog, I presume, that it was an election game-changer–to which he, wiser than me in this regard, correctly did not respond with any enthusiasm. What I fear is that, for the core Chavista audience, woefully un-/under-educated and unsophisticated, fighting a losing daily battle for mere economic survival, “mas vale un pajaro (Mercal pollo) en mano, que cien (la Negrita) volando.”

          • Well, don’t think your friend was entirely correct. Mi Negra was a game changer that would have achieved the victory if they A) hadn’t launched so late, just a few months before election, B) offered 100% of the oil revenue, not just 20%, C) made it unconditional to everyone, not just to some heads of family on a more than monthly basis, D) sounded like they meant it, not changing all the rules several times as if they hadn’t thought it through nor believed truly in the idea, E) explained that it was not a handout, but a right.

            The proof is that the rate at which people were signing up for it was growing steadily. The sell and implementation are what prevented that concept from giving fruit.

    • One of our failures has been the lack of a compelling narrative that de-anchor ourselves from that of chavismo, appeals to people, and manages to bring true hope. We are trapped in Chavez narrative, we do not want to say this word “because then they will accuse us of…”, and don’t mention that, “because then they will say that you are a…”: That means – in essence – that we are trapped in their narrative.So when you do not see a comment of mine is because I didn´t have any.

      • bilAl simulador, a diferencia del mentiroso, la verdad lo tiene sin cuidado y, por ello, su discurso es lo que en inglés se denomina bullshit : cháchara, palabrería, charlatanería. Al simulador no le interesa mentir respecto de algo en particular (las

        Found an article by Alejandro Katz on the nature of the Kirtchernista discourse which may remind us of Maduros discourse in present day Venezuela :Al simulador, a diferencia del mentiroso, la verdad lo tiene sin cuidado y, por ello, su discurso es lo que en inglés se denomina bullshit : cháchara, palabrería, charlatanería. Al simulador no le interesa mentir respecto de algo en particular (las cifras de la inflación, por ejemplo, o su heroico pasado revolucionario). Le interesa satisfacer sus objetivos y, para eso aspira a manipular las opiniones y actitudes de su público, sin poner ninguna atención a la relación entre su discurso y la verdad. Se trata, como escribió Harry Frankfurt en un ensayo ya clásico sobre el concepto de bullshit , “de un discurso vacío, que no tiene ni sustancia ni contenido”. Cuando el discurso del Gobierno se construye con una sucesión de mentiras, lo importante no es que intenta engañar respecto de cada una de las cosas que tergiversa, sino que intenta engañar respecto de las intenciones de lo que hace. El problema del Gobierno no es informar la verdad ni ocultarla. Decir la verdad o falsearla exige tener una idea de qué es verdadero, y tomar la decisión de decir algo verdadero y ser honesto o de decir algo falso y ser un mentiroso. Pero para el Gobierno éstas no son las opciones: el kirchnerismo no está del lado de la verdad ni del lado de lo falso. Su mirada no está para nada dirigida a los hechos, no le importa si las cosas que dice describen la realidad correctamente: sólo las elige o las inventa a fin de que le sirvan para satisfacer sus objetivos.

        ¿Por qué, entonces, un gobierno con semejante discurso persuade a tanta gente para que lo vote? En tiempos en que las pertenencias partidarias y las identidades ideológicas son frágiles, y en que las personas actúan cada vez más como consumidores y menos como ciudadanos; en tiempos en los que el abismo entre la riqueza privada y la pobreza de los bienes públicos no deja de aumentar, en los que el voto se decide, mayoritariamente, por la coyuntura de la economía, el simulacro sirve al poder como un almacén de coartadas al que sus votantes acuden para elegir los argumentos que justifican su elección.

        Infinito repertorio de frases hechas y lugares comunes, clasificados en grandes estanterías bajo nombres que resultan pomposos porque han perdido su sentido -inclusión social, soberanía, poderes fácticos, modelo, matriz productiva diversificada, derechos humanos, democratización de la palabra, derechos de las minorías, democratización de la Justicia, proyecto nacional-, el simulacro con el que el Gobierno ha sustituido lo real permite disfrutar de los beneficios inmediatos del presente sin por ello sentir traicionados los principios.

        El simulacro produce votos para el Gobierno, al mismo tiempo que crea una zona de confort para sus votantes. Zona de confort que se extiende también a quienes no lo votan, porque, así como para muchos resulta cómodo permanecer bajo la hueca burbuja de la retórica gubernamental, muchos otros también hallan ventajas en colocar en el Gobierno la fuente de todo mal y de toda desgracia. Las responsabilidades colectivas se desvanecen en la autocomplacencia: el simulacro ha resultado exitoso para el Gobierno porque ha resultado útil a la sociedad.

        El simulacro kirchnerista es adecuado para una sociedad que vive el presente sin querer enterarse de que lo hace consumiendo futuro. Pero el éxito del simulacro anticipa el fin de lo social, porque el bullshit corrompe las bases mismas de existencia de la sociedad: el idioma común. Al haber destruido toda relación con la verdad y, más aún, con la realidad, ese idioma está muerto. El simulacro es impune, porque su promesa no puede nunca ser medida contra las evidencias de la realidad: las aguas en las que se hunde el futuro de ciudadanos que están más allá de toda esperanza no tienen la capacidad de ahogar el discurso vacío que produce el poder. Así, el simulacro instala un presente perpetuo, un presente que cancela -muchas veces, de las que hay tristes evidencias, de forma literal- toda promesa de porvenir. Continuar viviendo bajo el simulacro es condenarse a no tener futuro.

        • bilAl simulador, a diferencia del mentiroso, la verdad lo tiene sin cuidado y, por ello, su discurso es lo que en inglés se denomina bullshit : cháchara, palabrería, charlatanería. Al simulador no le interesa mentir respecto de algo en particular (las

          The first few lines appeared by mistake , the posting begins further down , sorry!!

  15. Noam Chomsky is an intellectual midget. He may have revolutionized linguistics and even spouts an informed opinion or two on global politics. However, he suffers from the affliction of the idiot in that he refuses to reform an opinion that has been shown to be wrong. Truly intelligent people are not afraid to admit they were wrong at some point in the past. Quite a bit of the international left (or at least those not affiliated with Marxist currents) has bailed on Chavismot. At least in the US sympathizers are confined to dusty carrels in Latin American studies departments. Chomsky is sad in that he tries to stretch a four foot tarp over a ten foot gap and still argues it’s enough.

  16. I suppose that when building a bridge from both sides of a river, there is always a question of how they will meet at the center, aligned or not aligned. I think that communication is something like that as well, especially given the circumstances vis-a-vis this blog, where Chomsky is coming from a very sophisticated conceptual side, and the fray are coming from the hard facts of Venezuelan experience. I think from the Chomsky world view, it would have been so much better if Chavez, with his popularity, and the Old Boys of the conventional Venezuelan establishment could have somehow worked together, there might have been some synergy and new born progress on both sides… where on the practical side, the “greed” of capitalism is based more on creation of value, and the “altruism” of socialism is based more on idealism and common interests. History, as it repeats itself, capitalism tends to concentrate wealth and power, while socialism tends dissipate wealth and distribute poverty. The question is how to bring the two sides together in an effective manner.

    • From my own perspective, capitalism is best at creating the wealth that can enable socialism to actualize latent human potential. The ultimate goal for both sides should be the same, but each side believes that the other side is an obstacle or an enemy to its own goals and well-being.

  17. “There was a time when Hugo Chavez became the scapegoat of the United States. They made every possible effort to present him as our big enemy; they compared him to Hitler and made all sorts of absurd and disproportionate accusations. He became a mechanism to divert attention from our incapacity to address our own issues and recognize our own failures.”

    The psychological projection here is massive. AFAIK, there was no mention of Venezuela in any of the Presidential campaign debates in 2000, 2004, 2008, or 2012. Maybe in passing, but certainly no U.S. figure has ever tried to depict Chavez as “our big enemy”; at most he is a regional troublemaker.

    But did not Chavez, in nearly every cadena, include a denunciation of the U.S. as “the big enemy” of Venezuela and blame some Venezuelan problem on “the Empire”? As Chomsky does, whenever he discusses political and economic issues.

    • Yes, but Chomsky bases his thinking on U.S. history, especially through the experience of depression era and the influences of big capital. Chavez based his thinking as you said, scapegoating.

    • Seriously, where was this scapegoating. What problem was blamed on him? Between 9/11, Iraq, etc, Venezuela was way down the list of concerns and I honestly don’t recall Bush admin or Obama giving a speech about Venezuela or blaming anything on them. This is utter rubbish, and seriously discredits anything else Chomsky has to say on the subject.

      • Same here. Shoot, half of Americans don’t even have any idea where Venezuela is. Most of my friends just think of Chavez as the wacky president who called Bush a donkey and the devil. That’s something we all laughed about (and mostly agreed with).

  18. Chomsky’s linguistic theories are over-rated. Like Freud, he speculated on the workings of the human brain and developed theories based on minuscule amounts of hard data, i.e. he tried to run before the science could walk. Today, with slightly more data, neuroscientists are treading the same path. History is full of such ambitious speculators (in history, we have Toynbee and Spengler, in early chemistry the phlogiston theory). Chomsky’s work has produced no noticeable real-world benefits from linguistics, except that it bulks up the linguistics curriculum and makes it appear more exciting than it really is – helps keep the government grant money flowing. Chomsky’s over-reach towards sweeping conclusions from tiny samples of data is a noticeable feature of his political ideologies.

    • Mmm… you’re way off with “Chomsky’s work has produced no noticeable real-world benefits from linguistics[…]”

      I’m just gonna quote Kepler, because he said succinctly:

      “What he did also helped in computer science. The field of compilers and thus computer languages and thus software production clearly benefited from his work on formal grammars.”

      Don’t believe it? check (

    • Aren’t you being a bit cynical? Don’t you think that what you call “over-reaching” is a critical part of scientific methodology, that observation, hypotheses and proof all play an important role? Much of Chomsky’s political thought are in the realm of “social sciences” which are too complex to be verified by experimentation, and the history of science is one of speculation and over-reaching, and politics. On the neuroscience front, only recently with the use of fMRI has there been the means to begin explaining the “how” and “why” of neuropsychological theories, and they have generally not been in “conflict” with those theories, but have actually been explaining them and using them to train computers to perform functions that were previously impossible, i.e. seeing objects, making decisions, etc.

      • Gordo,

        Chomsky, as I said, is really stubborn like an ass when it comes to politics and over-simplifies there and has no honesty to say he really screw it.

        Now, let’s recognise some stuff. When someone is programming in C++ or Java, when someone is trying to use regular expressions and combining that into very convoluted formulas for search, one is using quite some of Chomsky’s work. As I mentioned, compilers, a key element in computer science, need the kind of not trivial analysis he produced.

        Fifty seven years ago Chomsky was not so inclined to think about the power of probabilities and statistics for language analysis but even in Google Translation and in state-of-the-art speech recognition some of Chomsky’s thoughts are at play.

        • Chomsky has been lecturing a lot about the economics and politics, especially of the western industrialization era with emphasis on the conflicts of big capital, labor movements and slavery. If you google CSPAN + Chompsky, you will see numerous videos of his lectures

          As far as computer programming syntax is concerned, I’m not clear how his political philosophy is related to that. However, I find it very interesting and would like to know more!

        • Kepler,
          I had a roommate in college whose parents were members of the communist party. He could piss me off as well in much the same way. They seem a bit gullible quite often. It’s something like being stubborn, but not quite. It’s more like a kind of cultural blindness from certain forms of information that cannot seem to fit into their mental configuration or world view.

        • Kepler,
          Probabilities and statistics for language analysis? I’ve been out of that for a while, heuristics, fuzzy logic, inference engines, and optimization algorithms used to be the tools for that sort of stuff. However, my approach has always been to use whatever gets the job done. I think what you are saying is that Chomsky’s approach is what I would call a theoretical “purism” that condescends on pragmatism. Is that what you mean?

          • Language analysis as in automatic text analysis and natural language processing in general.
            What I said is that he simply didn’t see the power of probabilities coming to the real of natural language processing (NLP)at all, language being so diverse and utterances –
            he thought – just too varied to be learnt by some probabilistic mechanism (be it by humans or artificial systems). But then few did back then, also those coming from
            the more computational side.
            His approach was based on some set of inherent rules humans had in their brain product of evolution. That seems to be true – to some extent – but there is more to it. And stats do play a role to enhance or even construct said rules – in computers now and probably in humans in ways we are still trying to find out.

            We have had now for a couple of decades already stuff like parsers using Chomsky’s work on context-free grammars but running on probabilities, for instance. But the use of
            statistics in general in NLP is currently pretty much established everywhere.
            That is the case for Google MT system, of course.

            His work in linguistics by all means has been fruitful not only in linguistics but in applications we all deal with one way or the other these days. But that’s it…to use a “barómetro” of Venezuelan happiness as proof of how good Chávez was is beyond pale…the horror!

    • You are doing exactly what Chomsky has done with regards to Venezuela: talk about something you have no idea about.

      And by the way: if you are using a piece of software, which has been compiled or is being interpreted, that thing is running based on some principles Chomsky helped develop. If you go to computer science, you get a bit of Chomsky as well and not in the form of “‘cow’ is a noun”.

      I do not agree with Chomsky on several points of his postulates, but at least I have actually read what he wrote.

  19. Interesting article. Even brilliant people have their blind spots. Chomsky for me is a teacher- you (1) learn something from him, so (2) you can learn to think for yourself. But (2) is important.

    The really bad thing about Chomsky is not his fault. He has spawned millions of horrible imitators. I belong to a generation of liberal arts graduates in the english speaking world whose writing style was ruined by Chomsky and Michel Foucault. Keep your unhappy teens away from this stuff until they have read the entire works of George Orwell.

    • Chomsky is, outside linguistics and information science, a debate weasel.
      A scientific approach is not only lacking outside what he studied for,
      he is just dishonest. He is then a Manichaeistic person 100%.
      He would never ever ever say he really screw it up…unless it is to say he was
      not “strong enough” in stating what he already said.
      For me it is kind of sad to see what became out of him.

  20. Let’s keep it simple.

    The main problem with Chomsky is a problem with ‘ Academia’ in general.A successful academic who also lacks personal integrity can use his success to reach the general public on matters about which he is an idiot and knows nothing.

    • Picasso was considered a great painter and yet he was a dedicated communist who accepted the soviet Peace price , Neruda was a great poet and yet wrote poems in praise of ‘little father’ Stalin. There are dozens of men of artistic or intellectual accomplishment who being possesed of a romantic temper find great delight in cultivating a kind of theatrical moral snobism which has them appear as heroic rebellious hearts ,( one of romanticism’s oldest conceits) even if they have no qualifications whatsoever to dwell or pontificate on difficult economic and political questions . Chomsky is just another one of those snobish intellectuals who knowing little of Venezuela find a romantic appeal in endorsing ‘revolutionaries’ of Chavez ilk. We can applaud his academic accomplishments and at the same time condem his political flippancy .

  21. And again, we loose ourselves in the most beautiful debate of ideas, and what Venezuela needs is actions. Kudos to MAS, Kudos to Kico and Juan Nagel et alias, Kudos to Alek Boyd, Kudos to MCM and Ledezma, and Torrealba, and Capriles, and Lopez and all the other people who are doing something further than just debating ad nausea, and being keyboard warriors….
    Note to self. Do more.
    (My biggest Kudos to many friends and family who fight the every day life in Venezuela being loyal to the decent values this regime is targeting systematically, kudos to the families, the teachers, the journalists, and all who resist the communist onslaught to their minds)

    As MAS well expressed in an unrelated recent article, Anyone thinking on change for a better Venezuela, both living abroad and within are the real enemies of these thugs.

  22. Interesting Juan. Did you tell him (no, you didn’t, because he’s fast and tricky) about the GINI Index during the neoliberal government of CAP II? Does he know (he should), that the lowest Indexes, came during CAP II? That The Revolution needed about nine years of socialism, and extremely high oil prices, to match what a neoliberal, elitist government with much lower oil prices achieved in four? And yet, I have to agree with him when he says chavismo has a compelling message, and that “Capriles presented himself as an improved version of Hugo Chavez. Where are you going with that? You need to find your own message…” And he is always willing to talk.

  23. Maybe this joke explains it all:

    Werner Heisenberg, Kurt Goedel, and Noam Chomsky walk into a bar. Heisenberg turns to the other two and says, “Clearly this is a joke, but how can we figure out if it’s funny or not?”

    Goedel replies, “We can’t know that because we’re inside the joke.”

    Chomsky says, “Of course it’s funny. You’re just telling it wrong.”

    Chomsky believes that the ideal version is funny, even if the spoken version of the joke is not. He believes that there is a distinction between an ideal competently spoken version of the joke and the actually spoken version of the joke, and that the ideal version of the joke is the “real” version

  24. Somehow I get the sense that in western culture romantics made it chick to proudly advertise ones own noble soul’s weary dissattisfaction with authority and convention . part of the snobish ‘gown’ scorn of philistine ‘townies’ in XIX century german universities, Marx’s coinage of the word bourgoise as a term of disparagement is probably the result of this romantic superstition which makes some people feel morally superior and special , specially young people . I suspect that Chomsky quite apart from his academic merits became infected with this endemic conceit of western culture, and made himself an iconic figure by assumming the posture of outspoken moral critic of the US government and conventional US conservative values . Because Chavez made a theatrical stand of hating the US government and its representatives and spousing the noble cause of social justice for the emblematic oppressed poor of latin america , this made his endorsement of Chavez irresistible !! It has more to do with his ego and his standing as a noble moral figure before his followers than anything else .


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