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The market for propaganda

A short book by Noam Chomsky, expounding his views on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, is selling extremely well, the New York Times tells us.

It's scary to think that Chomsky's rather skewed and only seemingly subtle brand of anti-American propaganda should find a large readership, but at the same time almost reassuring, in a way. Part of Chomsky's message — that power is very, very dangerous — is indeed important, especially in times like now, when the United States is both more ready to use its power and risks less (from outside opposition, at least) by doing so than ever before.

It's also reassuring that, at a time when the political majority has successfully stifled almost all substantive dissent or even open discussion about the wisdom of its agenda, the market has shown that the voters that majority represents aren't quite so closed-minded.

Political diatribe isn't the best way to educate, but the fact that there's a market for it is just as much a given as the fact that it will be one-sided and misleading, and generally do a disservice to readers interested in gaining an actual understanding of the issues. Better, then, that it reflect multiple viewpoints, and not just one.

May 5, 2002 1:16 AM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

The reaction to Chomsky used to amaze me me but now it has ceased even to surprise me. "Intellectuals" will always veil their attacks in some begrudging praise, but the net reaction always can be distilled to an obvious voice of political enmity and haughty dismissal of "dangerous thinking."

Interestingly, I don't think Chomsky is (or at least was not until very recently) a "political" person at core. His main body of politically-based work is profoundly aimed at deconstructing and accurately desrcibing the "process" by which facts (always amply documented) become nationalistic "truth", and by which any real effort to re-examine that "truth" in an effort to get back to the facts is effectively stifled or marginalized. I think he naively believed that the facts themselves, once revealed in the proper lumination, would stand by themselves as self-evident, and that the real lesson people would learn was how they had been manipulated. (If Pavlov's dog had been enlightened to the "rules" that Pavlov has created and imposed, I think the dog may have found a few other ways to get the treats.)

However, really looking at the facts and the process is not for the faint-hearted. First, there is a certain strength required to look at the new, uglier image in the mirror and be able to say "that's me." Next, there is the admirable inclination in all of us to recognize that once we know the truth, our actions really ought to correspond (or at least to acknowledge that we are informed by the truth even though are actions remained uniformed). This requires a level of moral courage that very few posess, but it does not detract from the truth of this exchange.

Based on the reviews I've read of this most recent book, I think Chomsky is finally growing tired. After so many years of intellectually disciplined and dispassionate examination and explanation of his greatest passion (which is in and of itself a Herculean effort, no matter the topic) -- and the apparent realization that the end result will be just some modest elevation of dialogue -- perhaps he has taken some shortcuts to more "political diatribe." I don't know.

I only know that branding Chomsky's body of work as "anti-American propaganda" in a seemingly open-minded and relative educated forum simply proves his point about the power of the "machine'. As does the fact that his work is called "one-sided" (which of course any solo work is, but it is used as a perjorative one would not ascribe to here-much-revered the New York Times) and misleading.

But the insinuation I truly cannot accept is that his work has provided a "disservice" to "readers interested in gaining an actual understanding of the issues". I think the tragic lesson of Chomsky's effort is that he labors precisely to provide a window to such understanding, but remains confronted by readers who have been so successfully drawn into Archie's bunker that they are incapable of recognizing that they are afraid to understand.

Ironically, as the world gets scarier and scarier, no one is more important or less effective than Noam Chomsky.

Posted by Les on May 7, 2002 7:42 PM

Matthew,

Have you read the book?

Posted by Judi on May 7, 2002 8:54 PM

Haven't read the book; it (as the Times article describes) is mostly a compilation of remarks published elsewhere, though. Also, I've been, I think, fairly consistent in condemning any and all politically motivated agendas, in my writings here.

But take, for instance, a quote cited in that article: Chomsky calling the United States "a leading terrorist state."

This characterization contributes nothing toward understanding what happened, or how to address it. I'm not trying to "insinuate" that this does interested readers a disservice, I'm rather deliberate in saying that. But I'd welcome an actual argument against that view.

I do not mean to dismiss Chomsky; as I say, I believe he has an important message. But that message is more than a little obscured by his bullying style and his refusal to discuss the possibility that the terrorists might be responsible for the terrorism.

Chomsky wishes to focus only on the ways in which the United States can be seen as responsible for the attacks against it. Surely there is something to be said for that view, but so long as it fails to consider the possibility that evidence or reason might show it to be wrong, it remains a purely political one, and one that serves its promoter's goals above that of its readers. Like all politically motivated agendas -- propaganda -- it does them a disservice.

Posted by M on May 7, 2002 10:00 PM

"Welcome to the machine." One might examine your own political agenda, best of all you. Chomsky has spent the latter part of his life describing (and indeed predicting, if one reads even narrowly between the lines) America's direct and indirect actions which could indeed be seen as responsibility for the conditions and anti-Amercian sentiment that could precipitate a self-righteous (but not necessarily "just" if all killing is bad) terrorist attack on this country. I believe he has spent more than his share of time considering that "evidence or reason might show his views wrong", if for no other reason than the consequences he has faced for his views. How much time, in your estimation, have you given to the consideration that evidence or reason may show him correct? And before you ritually dismiss characterizing the U.S. as a terrorist state, you better spend more than a little time coming to a definition of terrorism you can morally accept. You clearly have not read Chomsky with the same energy and openess of mind you would gladly devote to the New York Times. I sincerely hope that you can still find some reason to bother. I believe you will be forced to challenge some assumptions you may not even have recognized as such. This is always a good idea, and I would welcome the opportunity to challenge my own based on a well-considered discussion.

Posted by Les on May 8, 2002 10:06 PM

What, pray tell, do you take my political agenda to be? I haven't spoken in support of any political activity here, nor have I even attempted to defend the United States' actions against Chomsky's arguments in any way. I haven't materially disagreed with anything Chomsky says, here -- just the way he says it.

Posted by M on May 9, 2002 1:13 AM

has anybody read "The hypocrisy of Noam Chomsky by Keith Windschuttle for The New Criterion
http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/21/may03/chomsky.htm

Posted by there's something about noam that bothers me on September 15, 2003 3:40 PM


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