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(en) Noam Chomsky: Propaganda and Indoctrination, Part 1

From ralf@anarch.free.de (Ralf Landmesser)
Date Tue, 12 Dec 2000 04:18:05 -0500 (EST)


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Propaganda and Indoctrination
By Noam Chomsky

     This is the first of three Chomsky
     Commentaries I will send this month...
     each answers one or more queries from
     David Barsamian (DB) and all are
     excerpted from a still to be published
     interview...

DB: Lets talk about a theme that we return to periodically, and that is
propaganda and indoctrination. As a teacher, how do you get people to think
for themselves? Can you in fact impart tools that will enable that?

I think you learn by doing. I'm a Deweyite from way back, from childhood
experience and reading. You learn by doing, and you figure out how to do
things by watching other people do them. That's the way you learn to be a
good carpenter, for example, and the way you learn to be a good physicist.
Nobody can train you on how to do physics. You don't teach methodology
courses in the natural sciences. You may in the social sciences. In any
field that has significant intellectual content, you don't teach
methodology. You just watch people doing it and participate with them in
doing it. So a typical, say, graduate seminar in a science course would be
just people working together, not all that different from an artisan picking
up a craft and working with someone who's supposedly good at it. I think the
same is true of these things. I don't try to persuade people, at least not
consciously. Maybe I do. If so, its a mistake. The right way to do things is
not to try to persuade people you're right but to challenge them to think it
through for themselves. There's nothing in human affairs of which we can
speak with very great confidence, even in the hard natural sciences that's
largely true. In complicated areas, like human affairs, we don't have an
extremely high level of confidence, and often a very low level. In the case
of human affairs, international affairs, family relations, whatever it may
be, you can compile evidence and you can put things together and look at
them from a certain way. The right approach, putting aside what one or
another person does, is simply to encourage people to do that. The way you
do it is by trying to do it yourself, and in particular trying to show,
although its not all that difficult, the chasm that separates standard
versions of what goes on in the world from what the evidence of the senses
and peoples inquiries will show them as soon as they start to look at it. A
common response that I get, even on things like chat networks, is, I cant
believe anything you're saying. Its totally in conflict with what I've
learned and always believed, and I don't have time to look up all those
footnotes. How do I know what you're saying is true? That's a plausible
reaction. I tell people its the right reaction. You shouldn't believe what I
say is true. The footnotes are there, so you can find out if you feel like
it, but if you don't want to bother, nothing can be done. Nobody is going to
pour truth into your brain. Its something you have to find out for yourself.

DB: Another comment I hear in talking about this issue is that people say,
I'm no Noam Chomsky. I don't have his resources. I work at Logan Airport
from 9 to 5. I've got a mortgage to pay. I don't have the access and the
ability. Does it take special brains?

It doesn't take special brains, but it takes special privilege. Those people
are right. You have to have special privilege, which we have. Its unfair,
but we've got it. To have the resources, training, time, the control over
your own life. Maybe I work a hundred hours a week, but its a hundred I
choose. That's a rare luxury. Only a tiny sector of the population can enjoy
that, let alone the resources and the training. Its extremely hard to do it
by yourself. However, we shouldn't exaggerate. Many of the people who do
this best are people who lack privilege, for one thing because they have
several advantages. Not having undergone a good education, not being
subjected to the huge flow of indoctrination, of which an education largely
is, and also not having participated by taking part in the system of
indoctrination and control, so that you internalize it. By indoctrination I
mean from kindergarten up through professional life. Not being part of that,
you're somewhat more free. So there are advantages also to being outside of
the system of privilege and domination. But its true that the person who's
working fifty hours a week to put food on the table does not have the luxury
we do. That's why people get together. That's what unions were about, for
workers education, which often came out of the unions in the workers
movement. These were ways for people to get together to encourage one
another, to learn from one another, to find out about the world. Over quite
a range, in fact: literature, history, science, mathematics. Some of the
great books on science and mathematics for the public (for the millions)
were written by left-oriented specialists, and such topics found their way
into workers education, often union-based, sometimes offshoots. There's
things you can do in groups you cant do by yourself. In fact, that's true of
the most advanced sciences. Very little is done individually. Its usually
done in groups by collective action and interchange and critique and
challenge, with students typically playing an active and often critical
role. The same is true here. Part of the genius of the system of domination
and control is to separate people from one another so that doesn't happen.
We cant consult our neighbors, as one of my favorite Wobbly singers once put
it back in the 1930s. As long as we cant consult our neighbors, well believe
that there are good times. Its important to make sure that people don't
consult their neighbors.

DB: Who was that singer?

T-Bone Slim.

DB: You were listening to T-Bone Slim?

I read these things. I'm not attuned to the auditory world.


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