Propaganda and the Public Mind
Conversations with Noam Chomsky
interviews by David Barsamian
South End Press, 2001, paper
The Reagan administration was the most anti-market administration
in modern American history. They virtually doubled barriers to
imports in order to try to save U.S. industry. If they had opened
up markets in the 1980s, superior Japanese products would have
flooded the automotive industry, steel, and semiconductors. The
main industrial base of the U.S. would have been wiped out. So
the Reagan administration just barred imports. What's more, it
poured public funds into industry.
Anyone who has had any dealings with children knows that they're
curious and creative. They want to explore things and figure out
what's happening. A good bit of schooling is an effort to drive
this out of them and to fit them into a mold, make them behave,
stop thinking, not cause any trouble. It goes right from kindergarten
up ... People are supposed to be obedient producers, do what they're
told, and the rest of your life is supposed to be passive consuming.
Don't think about things. Don't know about things ... Just do
what you're told, pay attention to something else and maximize
your consumption. That's the role of the public.
When the world's only superpower [the US], which has essentially
a monopoly of force, announces openly, We will use force and violence
as we choose and if you don't like it get out of the way, there's
a reason why that should frighten people.
The U.S. achieved its major war ends. Its major concern was to
ensure that Vietnam would not take off on a course of independent
development that, horror of horrors, might even be a model for
others, what is called a virus. That goal was achieved. When you've
destroyed a country, it's not going to follow a course of independence.
And it's certainly going to be no model for others.
... But the U.S. didn't achieve its highest
aim. It didn't turn Vietnam into the Philippines, a colony. So
that's called a loss. But in fact it achieved its major aim. And
now we go home. The attitude has been quite astonishing. Jimmy
Carter, for example, in what must count as one of the most incredible
comments from any head of state anywhere, told a news conference
that we owe no debt to Vietnam because "the destruction was
States are not moral agents. They do not engage in the use of
force for humanitarian ends, although that's always claimed.
... Bertrand Russell, who by any standard is one of the leading
intellectual figures of the twentieth century. He was one of the
very few leading intellectuals who opposed World War I. He was
vilified, and in fact ended up in jail, like his counterparts
in Germany. From the 1950s, particularly in the United States,
he was bitterly denounced and attacked as a crazy old man who
was anti-American. Why? Because he was standing up for the principles
that other intellectuals also accepted, but he was doing something
For example, Bertrand Russell and Albert
Einstein, to take another leading intellectual, essentially agreed
on things like nuclear weapons. They thought nuclear weapons might
well destroy the species. They signed similar statements, I think
even joint statements. But then they reacted differently. Einstein
went back to his office in the Institute for Advanced Studies
at Princeton and worked on unified field theories. Russell, on
the other hand, went out in the streets. He was part of the demonstrations
against nuclear weapons. He became quite active in opposing the
Vietnam War early on, at a time when there was virtually no public
opposition. He also tried to do something about that, including
demonstrations and organizing a tribunal. So he was bitterly denounced.
On the other hand, Einstein was a saintly
figure. They essentially had the same positions, but Einstein
didn't rattle too many cages. That's pretty common. Russell was
viciously attacked in the New York Times and by Secretary of State
Dean Rusk and others in the 196Os. He wasn't counted as a public
intellectual, just a crazy old man. There's a good book on this
called Bertrand Russell's America.
A standard technique of belief formation is to do something in
your own interest and then to construct a framework in which that's
the right thing to do.
... if you want to be praised and have your books reviewed and
told how brilliant you are and get great jobs, it's not advisable
to be a dissident. It's not impossible, and in fact the system
has enough looseness in it so that it can be done, but it is not
easy. Both of us can name plenty of people who were simply cut
out of the system because their work was too honest. That blocks
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