“We now have to decide within a couple of decades whether the human experiment is going to continue or whether it’ll go down in glorious disaster,” says Noam Chomsky in a new interview on economist Tyler Cowen’s podcast Conversations with Tyler. “That’s what we’re facing. We know answers, at least possible answers to all of the problems that face us. We’re not pursuing them.” This came in response to one of Cowen’s standard questions, about the guest’s “production function”: that is, the methods or systems the guest uses to remain productive in their work. Such a line of inquiry is especially pertinent in Chomsky’s case, given the famously intense work schedule he maintains as a public intellectual at the age of 94.
Recently, that schedule has also involved shooting a Masterclass on Independent Thinking and the Media’s Invisible Powers, whose trailer appears above. In the course\, Chomsky “explores the dark side of media,” teaching us “to cut through propaganda, defend against manipulation, and control what you consume.”
Propaganda, manipulation, and consumption are major themes of his work (one forgets that he first became well-known as a linguist), and he became popularly associated with them thanks in large part to Manufacturing Consent, the 1988 book he co-wrote with Edward S. Herman. Of course, the media landscape looked quite different 35 years ago, and this Masterclass — a class of product scarcely imaginable back then — offers him an opportunity to bring his views into the twenty-twenties.
“Social media tends to drive people into self-reinforcing bubbles,” Chomsky says in the trailer. “It’s driving people even to more extreme views.” This is the kind of lament one now hears aired three or four times before breakfast, but seldom from a figure who’s been theorizing about the underlying forces as long as Chomsky has. Social media may offer an avenue of freedom from the standard suite of top-down mainstream narratives, but it may also constitute just another “power system,” which by its very nature seeks only “control and domination.” Encouraging the habits of critical thinking needed to resist such control and domination has long been essential to Chomsky’s project. And the stakes of that project, as he’ll surely never stop seeking platforms from which to tell the world, could hardly be higher. Explore Noam Chomsky Teaches Independent Thinking and the Media’s Invisible Powers here.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.