Noam Chomsky Teaches a MasterClass on Critical Thinking & Media Literacy

“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.

Note: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Noam Chomsky’s Ground­break­ing Lin­guis­tic The­o­ries

Noam Chom­sky Defines What It Means to Be a Tru­ly Edu­cat­ed Per­son

Noam Chom­sky on Chat­G­PT: It’s “Basi­cal­ly High-Tech Pla­gia­rism” and “a Way of Avoid­ing Learn­ing”

Noam Chom­sky Explains the Best Way for Ordi­nary Peo­ple to Make Change in the World, Even When It Seems Daunt­ing

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Noam Chomsky’s Man­u­fac­tur­ing Con­sent and How the Media Cre­ates the Illu­sion of Democ­ra­cy

When Rage Against the Machine Inter­viewed Noam Chom­sky (1999)

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.

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