A basic introduction to the teachings of Chomsky

Chomsky For Beginners - David Cogswell

I have this DVD about Noam Chomsky in which he laughs whenever everybody quotes the New York Times as saying that he is 'arguably the most important intellectual alive' and true to fashion he then goes to point out the context in which that statement was made. This is the defining character of Noam Chomsky in that he is an expert on language and on the use of language. I can't actually remember what the context of this article was, but the one thing that Chomsky is recognised for is his contribution to the science of linguistics in creating a formula in which all languages can be connected.

However, many of us on the left, while acknowledging this aspect of Chomsky, tend to look beyond that to his contributions to the realm of political science. He is, in his own words, an 'Anarco-Syndicalist' which is basically an anarchist, but with some form of government where decisions can be made for the benefit of the people. He is also a strong critic of US foreign policy, and most of his works tend to focus on foreign policy decisions, particularly in relation to the US-Israel alliance, as well as mass media and its role in controlling the popular debate.

Language is Chomsky's speciality, and while many of us simply see language as a means to communicate, Chomsky sees is as a means of control and obfuscation. This is not new since Orwell went into details in 1984 regarding the use of 'double-speak', namely a way of using language to portray an idea that is in fact completely the opposite. It is also a way of numbing the mind and turning the population into sheep that can be pacified so that the ruling elite may attempt to push their agenda with our consent.

In reality, the ruling elite hate democracy, just in the same way that corporate CEOs hate having to rock up to an annual general meeting of retail shareholders every year. While the AGM is pretty much something that is a part of a process, democracy means that the people get to chose their leaders and if a leader does not meet their approval, they can remove them (or her). They have got around this problem by creating a party that openly supports their position, and a party that appears to oppose it, but in reality supports it. They are able to create a base from certain segments of society by either using what are termed 'political hot potatoes' (such as abortion and gay marriage), and by constantly bringing these issues into the light they are able to distract people from what they are really doing.

Another method that they use is the demonisation of certain philosophies, such as anarchism and socialism. Anarchism is the classic example in that many of us today consider anarchy as the complete breakdown in social order. Based on the Greek root word that is partially true. However, if we consider the word closely 'an-archos' actually means 'no ruler' (archos means ruler or leader, and the prefix a, or an, makes it an opposite). Thus, by claiming to be an anarcho-syndicalist, Chomsky is by no means claiming that he is seeking the breakdown in social order (in the same way that the anarchists of 19th century Russia were not seeking the breakdown of social order) but rather he is looking for a system where the rule is actually by the people as opposed to by the elite.

Another word that has been thrown into the public mind is the concept of revolution. Many of us, when we think of revolution we think of blood on the streets and a complete breakdown of order which then brings about a new system. However, this is not always the case as some will argue that revolution brings about a complete change which, in some cases, returns us to the position we were in before (as per Russia and France), rather a process which brings about a significant change. Many of us view a revolution as a good thing because it means that we throw out the old and bring in the new (albeit violently), however the ruling elite once again obfuscates that fact. For instance, the 'education revolution' that the Australian Labour Party enacted was not necessarily something that was new, but rather forced education backwards by privatising schools and by setting teachers against each other through competitiveness. Further, by introducing standardised testing, upon which schools and teachers would receive performance pay based on the results, the whole concept of education as a means of encouraging people to think is undermined and instead the system creates a world of Orwellian drones.

As for this book, this is a very good introduction to the philosophy and writings of Noam Chomsky. As I have mentioned previously, Chomsky does tend to continue to rehash many of his previous points in the books that he writes. It is best to read only a few of Chomsky's books, maybe some of the older, and some of the newer, ones otherwise you end up going over a lot old ground. I have commented on the Chomsky books that I have read, and maybe if you are interesting in exploring his thoughts further, you can look at them.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/437762744