After completing my last Communications course, I decided to take a break to complete some self-directed learning. Noam Chomsky piqued my interest because of his anti-conformist approach to communication, literature, and cultural studies, so I downloaded his eBook Language and Responsibility. The book is actually a translation from a French-English interview-style lecture, that was then translated to French, then the original recordings were lost so a translator worked with Noam Chomsky to create the English version (3).
The first chapter’s discussion is focused on how language and politics are interconnected in three main areas: intellectuality, the dangers of homogenous ideology, and democracy requires mind control to be successful.
First, Your brainpower does not impede your ability to identify propaganda. Chomsky describes “intelligentsia” as the smart elites of society that are often seen as the primary actors in politics, yet he thinks the average person is fully capable of smelling bullshit (6). Those intellectuals are often so deeply indoctrinated, often working in institutions that are running with unopposed ideologies, that being politically smart might be rather meaningless to seeking truth (16). However, the average person needs to face institutions, like the mass media and police, designed to reinforce the dominant ideology that makes it challenging to see the “divergence” between interpretation and facts (6, 7). In addition, your perception of worth might be a result of a broken society. Chomsky highlights the disenfranchisement with the higher education system that started in the 1960s when hardworking graduates could not find jobs beyond driving a taxi or working a coffee shop (21). To conclude, Chomsky thinks the average person could, and should, fight against dominant ideologies to separate manufactured political fiction from reality.
Second, homogenous ideology is dangerous. The word homogenous is more accurate than dominant in some respects because the voices of opposition simply do not exist within political institutions and all major disciplines in the United States since the 1960s (15). Chomsky draws direct parallels between the recent actions of the FBI and CIA with the Nazi secret police (25-32). Today people reflect openly on the atrocities committed during the Nazi regime, yet Chomsky points to the actions of the United States “political police” being censored from the mass media. For example, William Colby is the former head of the CIA and is responsible for “killing forty thousand civilians within two years,” yet he is a welcomed lecturer on University campuses without a peep about his previous atrocities (32). As a second example, Chomsky points to the differences between political science and mathematics. With no mathematical credentials, Chomsky has been invited to speak at a mathematics conference, yet Chomsky has been refused book publications and interviews on political science topics of which he holds many credentials (10-11). His point? “The richer the intellectual substance of a field, the less there is a concern for credentials, and the greater is the concern for content (10-11). In summary, the malice, deception, and censorship of institutional systems run beneath the surface we see on the news.
Third, democracy is limiting thought to an acceptable range. In a totalitarian system, people are told what to think and if they do not comply they are punished. In a democratic system, according to Chomsky, propaganda is used to “set the bonds for possible thought” (42). In other words, Chomsky is alluding to democracies functioning successfully on the ability to control free thought. Chomsky uses the example of the New York Times omitting the possibility of the Vietnam war having a peaceful outcome by comparing two positions that fit within the dominant ideology, or in other words, the Times “simply excluded from consideration” the ideas that are too radical for the public to consider (41). Chomsky also indicates this is not a question of right or wrong, but the dominant ideology rejects the thoughts as “unthinkable, inexpressible” (41). In summary, Chomsky sees a successful democracy as one that can control its populous with words and not a whip.
The words people use to express political thought carry a weight that is often invisible. The words we say are often repeating a politized source, even in Canada. Do you feel immune to mind control because you are a free-thinking liberal living in Kitchener, Ontario or maybe you take a conservative approach, “we don’t need so much government” living in Calgary, Alberta? If you are on the political spectrum, you are susceptible to mind control because it is an indication of our democracy working. If you are radical, how radical can you be before the system identifies you as a threat? Ultimately, we should seek the truth and demystify propaganda that hides immoral actions.
Chomsky, Noam. Language and Responsibility. The New Press, 7 Feb. 2017. www.amazon.ca/Language-Chomskys-Classic-Responsibility-Reflections-ebook/dp/B006PHUC50/ref=sr_1_1?crid=14YLXJ4LSAH79&dchild=1&keywords=language+and+responsibility&qid=1609273548&sprefix=language+and+re%2Caps%2C185&sr=8-1