Chomsky takes down Hitchens

Luke Weiger lweiger at
Mon Oct 1 00:28:24 PDT 2001

Justin writes:
> I'm not so sure it's an absurd bit of wisdom. Self-righteousness can be
> pretty lethal. In any case, the law generally doesn't care much about our
> intentions, at least ex ante. It modifies our behavior by giving us
> incentives and disintentives. Don't deal drugs because you will go to jail
> for a long time. Don't discriminate or you will have to pay a lot of money
> at least defending a lawsuit, as well as putting out compensatory and
> punitive damages. So the way we operate belies your idea that you need to
> care a lot about intentions to modify people's behavior. Politics is like
> that too. It's best to assume that most pols are opportunistic slimebags
> can be made to behave only by threats of losing elections, facing public
> embarassment, or having to deal with public disorder.

You raised a number if good points that I'll address later. For now, though, I'll say only this: operant conditioning, despite what B.F. Skinner may've thought, works by altering the mental states of the agents involved. For instance, I can't think of a case of an "unwitting" drug dealer who didn't really "mean" to push heroin. The fact that intentions and the behaviors that ensue change due to extrinsic sanction is hardly a shock to even a naif like myself.

-- Luke

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list