Free: Hear 24 Hours of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures & Talks on the Powers That Subvert Our Democracies

Noam Chom­sky is opti­mistic. Yes, the world seems to teeter on the brink of… well, name your dystopi­an sce­nario, but Noam Chom­sky is opti­mistic. The same Chom­sky who, for decades, has sought to show the myr­i­ad ways our most revered insti­tu­tions are large­ly sham oper­a­tions behind which pow­er­ful elites con­duct secret wars, pro­pa­gan­da cam­paigns, envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion, and con­cert­ed efforts to defraud the peo­ple and dis­able demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es… well, he tells us, in a recent inter­view with James Resnick, that we too “can be very opti­mistic. Things like this have hap­pened before and they’ve been over­come.”

By “things like this,” the renowned lin­guist and anar­chist polit­i­cal philoso­pher specif­i­cal­ly means astound­ing lev­els of wealth inequal­i­ty and the ascen­den­cy, once again, of far-right extrem­ism in Europe and the U.S., a phe­nom­e­non he first observed in the years pri­or to World War II. Chom­sky began his career of social and polit­i­cal cri­tique in 1938 at the age of 10, “writ­ing arti­cles for the school news­pa­per on the rise of fas­cism in Europe and the threats to the world as I saw them.”

He went on to com­plete­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ize the field of lin­guis­tics, an achieve­ment that, stun­ning­ly, can seem sec­ondary to his polit­i­cal writ­ing and activism, giv­en the sheer num­ber of his books, essays, inter­views, and speech­es crit­i­cal of state pow­er, war, and media manip­u­la­tion over the past sev­er­al decades. (Some of his books you can read free online here.) I sup­pose if Chom­sky weren’t some­thing of an opti­mist, he would have giv­en up a long time ago. He tells Resnik what keeps him going:

The things I con­sid­er inspir­ing is see­ing peo­ple strug­gling: poor suf­fer­ing peo­ple, with lim­it­ed resources, strug­gling to real­ly achieve any­thing. Some of them are very inspir­ing. For exam­ple, a remote very poor vil­lage in south­ern Colom­bia orga­niz­ing to try to pre­vent a Cana­di­an gold-min­ing oper­a­tion from destroy­ing their water sup­ply and the envi­ron­ment; mean­while, fend­ing off para-mil­i­tary and mil­i­tary vio­lence and so on. That kind of thing which you see all over the world is very inspir­ing.

Are you inspired? Maybe it depends on how many of these grass­roots strug­gles you’ve wit­nessed. The world­wide, ground-lev­el resis­tance Chom­sky describes—and refers to again and again in his polit­i­cal work—is large­ly hid­den from us, by a mass media that sees no dol­lar val­ue in it, or per­haps obscures it for more sin­is­ter rea­sons. As Chom­sky has argued since the sixties—most com­pre­hen­sive­ly in his 1988 Man­u­fac­tur­ing Con­sent with Edward S. Herman—the cam­paigns of war and eco­nom­ic depre­da­tion con­duct­ed by the West against minori­ties, indige­nous peo­ple, and small nations around the world most­ly occur with the con­sent of West­ern peo­ple: a con­sent man­u­fac­tured by a mas­sive pro­pa­gan­da oper­a­tion called the Free Press.

His posi­tion should not sound espe­cial­ly con­tro­ver­sial to any­one who has paid the least bit of atten­tion in the last few years. The seem­ing col­lu­sion of respect­ed news orga­ni­za­tions like The Wash­ing­ton Post and The New York Times in the push for the sec­ond Iraq War led to well over a decade of post-hoc intro­spec­tion by jour­nal­ists. Recent months have seen those same organs—for per­haps more bald­ly prof­it-seek­ing motives—provide a cou­ple of bil­lion dol­lars-worth of free PR for Don­ald Trump, a can­di­date who has on mul­ti­ple occa­sions threat­ened to retal­i­ate against the press for any crit­i­cism, and who recent­ly revoked the Post’s cre­den­tials to cov­er his events. (A recent Har­vard study con­clud­ed that dur­ing this pro­tract­ed, ugly pri­ma­ry sea­son, “the press became [Trump’s] depend­able if unwit­ting ally.”)

As in these exam­ples, the role of the British press in spread­ing fear and mis­in­for­ma­tion pri­or to this month’s Brex­it vote has become its own sig­nif­i­cant sto­ry. We con­stant­ly see the press turn­ing in ago­nized cir­cles, try­ing to come to grips with its com­plic­i­ty in push­ing var­i­ous agen­das. Whether or not main­stream media orga­ni­za­tions take direct orders from gov­ern­ment bod­ies or eco­nom­ic elites, they accede to the inter­ests of the pow­er­ful all the same, and they wield enor­mous influ­ence over a vot­ing pub­lic who depend upon them for infor­ma­tion. The sit­u­a­tion presents a seri­ous prob­lem for the health of a func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy, which itself depends upon an informed and edu­cat­ed elec­torate.

But as Chom­sky has often argued—drawing as always on pri­ma­ry sources and direct­ly quot­ing the West’s most influ­en­tial polit­i­cal philoso­phers, pol­i­cy archi­tects, and busi­ness leaders—elites since the 17th and 18th cen­turies have inten­tion­al­ly thwart­ed the abil­i­ty of the pub­lic to make informed deci­sions, and have shut the pop­u­lace out of the most impor­tant deci­sion-mak­ing process­es. As he wrote in his 1999 cri­tique of Neolib­er­al­ism, Prof­it Over Peo­ple, “the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion must be exclud­ed entire­ly from the eco­nom­ic are­na, where what hap­pens in the soci­ety is large­ly deter­mined. Here the pub­lic is to have no role, accord­ing to pre­vail­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic the­o­ry.”

Chom­sky fol­lows this line of rea­son­ing in his talk “When Elites Fail,” at the top of the post, deliv­ered as the keynote address for the Eco­con­ver­gence Con­fer­ence in Port­land, Ore­gon in 2009. You can also hear this talk, along with 19 oth­ers, in the Spo­ti­fy playlist just above—a total of 24 hours of Chom­skyan social, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic analy­sis, deliv­ered by the man him­self in his calm, mea­sured, under­stat­ed way. (If you need Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.) Chom­sky address­es “The Tyran­ny of Cor­po­ra­tions,” the “U.S. Media as Pro­pa­gan­da Sys­tem,” “Pol­i­tics and Lan­guage,” “Iraq: The For­ev­er War,” and more—levying crit­i­cisms against the sys­tems of pow­er, whether Repub­li­can, Demo­c­ra­t­ic, or inter­na­tion­al, that dogged­ly seek to increase their domains and, in the approv­ing words of James Madi­son, to “pro­tect the minor­i­ty of the opu­lent against the major­i­ty.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky on Whether the Rise of Trump Resem­bles the Rise of Fas­cism in 1930s Ger­many

Clash of the Titans: Noam Chom­sky & Michel Fou­cault Debate Human Nature & Pow­er on Dutch TV, 1971

Read 9 Free Books By Noam Chom­sky Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Marcelo Negrini says:

    This senile per­son sup­ports the crim­i­nal clep­to­com­mu­nist Dil­ma Roussef, impeached from my coun­try’s (Brazil) pres­i­den­cy, just because she claimed to be left wing, while her mafia destroyed Brazil­ian econ­o­my and embezzeled BILLIONS of dol­lars.

  • Jacob says:

    Talk about biased.
    Against Trump, against Brex­it, against big cor­po­ra­tions.

    And then pro-Chom­sky, who is so far off to the left you can hard­ly see him from the mid­dle. Should have stuck with lin­guis­tics.

  • Thomas says:

    Man you’re igno­rant.

    Here’s a break­down from 1986 to 2012 of the wealth dis­tri­b­u­tion of the eco­nom­ic boom that the U.S. went through in that time (Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zuc­man, Nation­al Bureau of Eco­nom­ic Research, Octo­ber 2014)

    42% of the wealth went to the Top 0.1% of peo­ple
    26% went to the top 1 — 0.1% of peo­ple
    22% went to the top 5 — 1% of peo­ple
    9% went to the Top 10 — 5%
    1.1% went to the BOTTOM 90% of peo­ple.

    Real wages have stag­nat­ed since 1973. Read that year again… 1973.

    This isn’t about left Vs right. It’s about the state being seized by huge pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions and using this con­trol to direct the flow of wealth to the mega rich (see above).

  • Fernando says:

    Yes, Negri­ni. The Pope, the UN, Pepe Muji­ca and Noam Chom­sky are mis­taked, and you are the rare genius that’s right! Believe it…

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