In 2013, we documented the acrimonious exchange between Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek, which all started when Chomsky accused Žižek of “posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending [to] have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever.” To which Žižek responded: “Chomsky, … always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurate… well I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong in his descriptions…” And so it continued.
Two years later, Chomsky now finds himself in another fraught exchange — this time, with Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. It’s a little hard to pin down when the dust-up first began. But, it at least goes back to January, when Harris took Chomsky to task (hear an excerpt of a longer podcast above) for drawing a moral equivalence between U.S. military action and the violence committed by some of America’s historical foes (e.g., the Nazis during WWII and later Al-Qaeda).
Over the past week, Chomsky and Harris continued the debate, trading emails back and forth. Their correspondence runs some 10,000 words, but it only amounts to what Harris ultimately calls “an unpleasant and fruitless encounter” that demonstrates the “limits of discourse.” It’s an exchange that Chomsky seemingly preferred to keep private (his permission to print the emails was grudging at best), and Harris saw some virtue in making public. The final email by Harris reads:
May 1, 2015
From: Sam Harris
To: Noam Chomsky
I’ve now read our correspondence through and have decided to publish it (www.samharris.org). I understand your point about “exhibitionism,” but I disagree in this case.
You and I probably share a million readers who would have found a genuine conversation between us extremely useful. And I trust that they will be disappointed by our failure to produce one, as I am. However, if publishing this exchange helps anyone to better communicate about these topics in the future, our time won’t have been entirely wasted.
Whether Sam is right about that (is there something particularly instructive here?), you can decide. Here’s the entire exchange.
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