Noam Chomsky. Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies (Massey Lecture) [ABRIDGED]

Posted By: synapsedkb

The Massey Lectures given by Noam Chomsky were aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) from November 28 - December 2, 1988. Chomsky's book Necessary Illusions (South End Press, 1989) is based on those talks. The Massey Lectures are a prestigious annual event in Canada, in which a noted Canadian or international scholar gives a week-long series of lectures on a political, cultural or philosophical topic. Some of the most famous Massey Lecturers have included Northrop Frye, Michael Ignatieff, Noam Chomsky, Jane Jacobs, John Ralston Saul and Martin Luther King, Jr. They were created in 1961 to honour Vincent Massey, Governor General of Canada.

Beginning with his critique of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Chomsky has become more widely known - especially internationally - for his media criticism and radical politics than for his linguistic theories. He is generally considered to be a key intellectual figure within the left wing of United States politics. According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, between 1980 and 1992 Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar, and the eighth most cited scholar overall. Chomsky is widely known for his political activism, and for his criticism of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments. Chomsky describes himself as a libertarian socialist and a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism (he is a member of the IWW).

Chomsky has acquired many critics from both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. Despite his Jewish heritage he has been accused of "anti-semitism" for his views on Israel's foreign policy and his involvement in the Faurisson affair, among other issues. Chomsky has argued that his actions in the Faurisson affair were limited to a defense of the rights of free expression of someone he disagrees with, and that critics subsequently subjected this limited defence to various interpretations. His critics contend that Chomsky went further than a defence of free speech, effectively protecting the character of a holocaust denier as well as supporting the legitimacy of his research.

Necessary Illusions is very persuasive. Most members of the public should not be surprised that media manipulation occurs. The same old faces appear on “The News Hour”. Client states (e.g., Samosa or Saddam Hussein) are hardly what they appear to be. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp continues to spread and brazenly follows its own interests (e.g., attempts to quash Chris Patton’s book on Hong Kong to avoid offending the Chinese government and loosing Murdoch’s large television market). The real surprise comes in seeing the scope of media manipulation in stark black and white.

The next question is why has it happened and what can be done about it. The answers are the cause for Chomsky’s unsatisfying proposal. Most people are quite happy to have their opinions formed for them, especially if they are content economically and socially. Others ignore the issue out of cynicism. This suggests little success for Chomsky’s proposal to change the social order. Chomsky wrote Necessary Illusions in 1989. I wonder what he thinks about talk shows, the Internet, and The Drudge Report, or the fact that I found a ‘pirate’ Web Page exposing the evils of Rupert Murdoch?