Noam Chomsky on propaganda

In “Imperial Ambitions: Conversations With Noam Chomsky On The Post-9/11 World“, David Barsamian interviews Noam Chomsky. Here’s a brilliant piece on propaganda:

How does one recognize propaganda? What are some techniques to resist it?

There are no techniques, just ordinary common sense. If you hear that Iraq is a threat to our existence, but Kuwait doesn’t seem to regard it as a threat to its existence and nobody else in the world does, any sane person will begin to ask, where is the evidence? As soon as you ask this, the argument collapses. But you have to be willing to develop an attitude of critical examination toward whatever is presented to you. Of course, the whole educational system and the whole media system have the opposite goal. You’re taught to be a passive, obedient follower. Unless you can break out of those habits, you’re likely to be a victim of propaganda. But it’s not that hard to break out.

On May 1, 1985, Reagan declared a national emergency in the United States because of the threat to the security of the United States posed by the government of Nicaragua, which was two days’ drive from Harlingen, Texas, and was planning to take over the hemisphere. If you take a look at that Executive Order, which was renewed annually as a way of building up support for the U.S. war in Nicaragua, it has almost the same wording as the October 2002 congressional declaration on Iraq*. Just replace Nicaragua with Iraq. How much critical intelligence does it take to determine how much of a threat Nicaragua was to the United States? Again, people outside just look at this in wonder and don’t understand it. Right through the 1980s, the tourist industry in Europe collapsed every few years because Americans were so frightened as a result of some spike in media coverage of terrorism that they thought, if we go to Europe there will be some Arab there who is going to try to kill us. Europeans don’t know what to make of this. How can a country be so completely frightened of something completely nonexistent that they’re afraid to travel to Europe?

That’s happening again right now.

Yes, it’s happening again. But in answer to the question “How do you break out of this?” just use your ordinary intelligence. There are no special techniques. Just be willing to examine what’s presented to you with ordinary common sense, sceptical intelligence. Read what’s presented to you the same way you would read Iraqi propaganda. Do you have to have special techniques for deciding that the minister of information in Iraq isn’t to be trusted? Look at yourself the same way. If you’re willing to apply to yourself the same standards you apply to others, you’ve won. From then on it’s easy.

*=Executive Order 12513, Prohibiting Trade And Certain Other Transactions Involving Nicaragua, See also New York Times, 2 May 1985; and Noam Chomsky, Turning The Tide (South End Press, 1986), p. 144, for more detail.

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One Response to “Noam Chomsky on propaganda”

  1. Niklas’ blog » Blog Archive » The best of 2006 (plus a little more than that) Says:

    […] Of course, the continued invasion of Iraq, helping to further arm the world and increase disease. I’ll let Noam Chomsky have a few last indirect words on that. […]

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