Tom Foolery wrote:It all hinges on "might", doesn't it? :)
Well, what you call a lack of follow through I call a misapprehension of how we really function. Our general view of ourselves based on psychology, psychiatry (to a lesser degree) and philosophy relies heavily on the concept of a unitary individual consciousness or personality. I say psychiatry to a lesser degree because they do admit - albeit only in what they see as pathological cases - that unitary personalities are not necessarily the case in all of us. But, anyway, that's probably best left for another day.
As for intentions, I agree they have something to tell us but I don't think they're as predictive as you seem to. Not to get too Hume-ian about it, but there's no logical or necessary connection between what I might want to do and what I can do. That's all down to means and circumstances. I can intend to fly to Jupiter on a broomstick all I like, afterall. When matching means to ends there's always the possibility that the means end up perverting the ends, sometimes even becoming their opposites.
Though above you seemed to agree with Chomsky's position regarding stated intentions, and yet seem to pull back here in your examples. I think Chomsky is right to declare stated intentions on the part of political actors to be usually quite empty of meaningful information. In fact, in Harris' case this is a key part of what Chomsky calls his religious fanaticism for the state. "They said their intentions are good, so they must be." Moreover, someone with your understanding of history and politics knows that it's very much part of the game to say one thing and do another quite deliberately.
I think this is a bit wide of the mark here ... largely because I think you are a bit too focused on the individual
. Chomsky is right to hold skepticism of stated intentions, particularly when those stated intentions are used to justify "bad" behavior. Thus, why
someone did something is not nearly as important as Harris makes it out to be. Beyond that, no matter how good intentions may be, they should not excuse horrific consequence no matter what ... which is often the case with Harris, it seems.
Harris, however, does have a point when he states that stated intent is important insofar as it helps us predict future behavior. I, for example, have a good idea of how a neoconservative ideologue would prosecute US foreign policy ... I have a good idea how Netanyahu and his current government will behave relative to Palestine ... I have a good idea how Islamic terrorists are likely to behave in the future ... It's important to recognize that this is a conversation not about actors wishing to fly to Jupiter on a broomstick, but actors with the means to follow through on most, if not all of their stated intentions. Indeed, that's a key element to Chomsky's dismissal of Harris' example in the email chain, it is simple not plausible that Clinton and his WH team were unaware of the consequences of bombing the factory. They did it anyway.
As for the last paragraph, I'm not sure I believe that. The unpredictability of the future plays a large role in the actions of political actors. George W. Bush intended to have a much different presidency than the one he did, for example. That being said, political actors often carry with them--and within the institutions they control--paradigms that to a large extent define the decisions that they make. [Note: I literally wrote a dissertation chapter entirely focused on how the career and cultural background of a British minister from the 1760s-80s primed him to prefer imperial strategy in the 1790s.] To take matters to a less morally troublesome arena, political actors (in the US, at least) tend to follow through on campaign promises to a large degree ... so, stated intent matters in that sense.
As a final point, I would have to read more of Chomsky's thoughts on this, but I'm not sure he would equate his critique of "benign intentions" to your phrasing of "quite empty of meaningful information." As I read him, that's a critique of using stated intentions to justify horrific consequence, but I'm not sure that is the same thing as an outright dismissal of intentions ... just an acknowledgment that CYA rhetoric operates at all levels.