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Insane Ideology vs. Tolkien

Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky try to grasp The Lord of the Rings.  Train wreck results:

Zinn: I’m much more suspicious of Frodo than you are. I’ve always viewed him as one of the most malevolent actors in this drama, precisely because of how he abets people like Gandalf. He uses a fake name, Mr. Underhill, just as Gandalf goes by several names: Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, the White Rider. Strider is also Aragorn, is also Estel, is also Elessar, is also Dunadan. He has all these identities.

Chomsky: We call those aliases today.

Zinn: But is Sauron ever anything but Sauron? Is Saruman ever anything but Saruman?

Also not to be missed, the reduction of the whole conflict to the socioeconomics of pipeweed. Very funny satire.

Unlike most conservatives, I do not instantly dismiss everything Chomsky has to say.  This is partly because, as somebody familiar with language, I think we owe him a debt for destroying B.F. Skinner’s grip on the psychology of learning with his demonstrations that it is impossible to account for human language (and human thought) with a Skinnerian behavioralist model.  The human race should be grateful for that because Skinner was fixed to poison an *awful* lot of our educational system before Chomsky mopped the floor with him.  And, as Chesterton observed, guys like Chomsky and Zinn are, like all revolutionaries, often prescient in their analyses of what is wrong with the current regime.  The dude was talking about Manufacturing Consent and the way in which our media serve the Ruling Class and manipulate us years ago.  We ignored that at our peril and now look where we are.

However, as Chesterton also observes, the problem of the revolutionary is that he typically has no clear sense of what it right and so he tends to substitute one crazy ideology for another.  “Chomsky’s” and “Zinn’s” (and real life doctrinaire Marxists) utter inability to grasp the goodness at the heart of The Lord of the Rings is a result of their stone blindness to Tolkien’s fundamentally Catholic vision.  If they could sweep away all that they (rightly) hate about our crony corporate Ruling Class of Mammon and Moloch and replace it with whatever it is they want, it would be just as oppressive a nightmare because, at the end of the day, they want the One Ring.

It doesn’t matter which secular ideology you choose to save you, because the other word for ideology is “heresy”.

  • Sue Sims

    Er – I think that Chomsky and Zinn are enjoying themselves by indulging in a bit of satire: something that you’re no stranger to yourself, Mr Shea. I still treasure your source-critical analysis of Lord of the Rings.

  • http://moonbase.rydia.net MenTaLguY

    Mark, please look at your sources closely. McSweeny’s is a humor site and that’s not actually Chomsky or Zinn writing.

    • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com/ Beadgirl

      Right, it absolutely is satire, written by Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell. And it’s brilliant.

      If you want a non-satirical version, look up the “The Last Ring-Bearer” by Kirill Yeskov, which was intended to be a revisionist re-telling of LOTR from Mordor’s perspective. I wrote about it here (the concept of a revision of LOTR, not the actual book, which I have not read), and included links to Yeskov’s justification and a positive review of the book: http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com/2011/02/good-and-evil-and-lord-of-rings.html

    • A Philosopher

      On the other hand, 3:20 of this is genuine Noam.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    But is Sauron ever anything but Sauron? Is Saruman ever anything but Saruman?

    Um, yes? Saruman is The White Wizard (before Gandalf is), and Sauron is The Dark Lord, the All Seeing Eye, and the Necromancer.

    • meunke

      Also the ‘Lord of Werewolves’

    • dbp

      Not to mention, according to Wikipedia, the following:

      Mairon
      Tar-Mairon
      Thauron
      Annatar
      Aulendil
      Artano
      Gorthaur
      Zigûr
      Plus additional titles in the common tongue. Some of those are kinda-sorta descriptive, but so are the ones in the examples. Now I just need to get around to actually reading some of the non-LotR stories, because I didn’t know any of those…..

    • Marta L.

      FWIW, Saruman had a name in Valinor became he became a wizard. Curunir + Curumo, I believe, though now that I think of it that may just be translations of the same basic name into different tongues. He definitely was called Sharkey by the Hobbits of the Shire, and that seems like a genuine alias rather than just a new name.

  • ivan_the_mad

    Heh, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s satire (but even so there’s a bit of truth to be gleaned). But I very much agree regarding your assessment of Chomsky; I would add that computer science also owes him a very large debt in the field of formal languages, which contributed directly to the advancement of compiler construction.

  • Dave G.

    Unlike most conservatives? Gee Mark, it must have killed you to have to leave your parents back on Krypton. I didn’t have time to read the link, but I think this was an interesting piece overall and you make good points, but it could do without that little assumption of being the yardstick against which others should be measured.

    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

      Seriously. Especially when I, Jon W, am that yardstick.

      • Dave G.

        Jon W. 1. Dave G. 0. :)

  • jacobus

    Uh… that’s a humor website. It’s like quoting from the Onion. cf. http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/microsoft-word-problems

    • jacobus

      oh yeah, Mark even writes “Very funny satire.”

      Who bothers to read anymore? Not me.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Me neither! Yay!

  • sbark

    I thought this was hilarious. It’s not clear (to me at least) whether this was really written by Zinn and Chomsky but it’s great satire.

    Regarding your comments about Chomsky: I thought his work in his field of competence (language) was brilliant. I’ve always thought his political stuff was a bit daffy.


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