Chomsky details

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Noam Chomsky is extremely well-known worldwide. In September 2007, a translation of Usama Bin Laden's first video release includes this: Among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic (or war in Iraq) and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky. Dr. Chomsky travels all over the world to speak. A few of his major speaking engagements are listed in the Academic achievements, awards and honors section of his Wikipedia page. Some of his mystique derives from his philosophical positions, which few other Americans will speak out loud. This is best illustrated by some examples. The cited page numbers (e.g. [399]) are from Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky.


Here is the complete paragraph from which the Lessig "Corruption" home page quote was extracted:

  • I think that the United States has been in kind of a pre-fascist mood for years -- and we've been very lucky that every leader who's come along has been a crook. See, people should always be very much in favor of corruption -- I'm not kidding about that. Corruption's a very good thing, because it undermines power. I mean, if we get some Jim Bakker coming along -- you know, this preacher who was caught sleeping with everybody and defrauding his followers -- those guys are fine: all they want is money and sex and ripping people off, so they're never going to cause much trouble. Or take Nixon, say: an obvious crook, he's ultimately not going to cause that much of a problem. But if somebody shows up who's kind of a Hitler-type -- just wants power, no corruption, straight, makes it all sound appealing, and says, "We want power" -- well, then we'll all be in very bad trouble. [399]

Regarding Vietnam and the Soviet Union:

  • The Vietnam War was fought to prevent Vietnam from becoming a successful model of economic and social development for the Third World. [91]
  • The Soviet Union was basically a capitalist system. The first thing that Lenin and Trotsky did when they took power in October 1917, remember, was to destroy all of the forms of socialist initiative that had developed in Russia since the start of the Russian Revolution. [141]

Education and academics:

  • If they have the capacity to think freely and understand these types of things, they're going to be kept out by a very complicated filtering system -- which actually starts in kindergarten, I think. In fact, the whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who don't know how to be submissive, and so on -- because they're dysfunctional to the institutions.
  • So if by "intellectual" you mean people who are using their minds, then it's all over the society. If by "intellectual" you mean people who are a special class who are in the business of imposing thoughts, and framing ideas for people in power, and telling everyone what they should believe, and so on, well, yeah, that's different. Those people are called "intellectuals" -- but they're really more a kind of secular priesthood, whose task is to uphold the doctrinal truths of the society. And the population should be anti-intellectual in that respect, I think that's a healthy reaction. [96]

Escaping Indoctrination:

  • The trick is not to be isolated -- if you're isolated, like Winston Smith in 1984, then sooner or later you're going to break, as he finally broke. that was the point of Orwell's story. In fact, the whole tradition of popular control has been exactly that: to keep people isolated, because if you can keep them isolated enough, you can get them to believe anything. But when people get together, all sorts of things are possible. [121]

The Future of History:

  • If the U.S. public remains marginalized, there isn't going to be much history left to worry about. We're not living in the eighteenth century anymore. The problem may be sort of similar, but they're quite different in scale, and the problems now have to do with human survival. So if the general population in the most powerful country in the world remains marginalized, we aren't going to have to worry very much about history, because there isn't going to be any. And that's not very far away at this point. [400]


Chomsky's biographer Robert F. Barsky describes Noam's political philosophy as anarchosyndicalist. Chomsky believes there are all sorts of people struggling very hard to make the world -- if not "good," then a little better. And they desperately need help. Chomsky's early education in the 1930s was at a "progressive" school from age 2 to 12 in which no grades were given. He says: I got into high school and discovered that I was getting all A's and that was supposed to be a big deal. He then moved to the University of Pennsylvania, about which he says: I really never went to college. I did finally get a Ph.D., and I did go through the first two years of college, but after that, I did not really attend college in the normal manner. It was specific people, their personalities, and their interests that kept him "in college" after the first two years.


Chomsky's description of his college experience demonstrates that he was not "following orders" even then. His description of his hiring by MIT is similar. While he was being interviewed by laboratory director Jerome Weisner for the position, Chomsky stated that the project had "no intellectual interest and was also pointless." Perhaps due to his candor, but also because Wiesner thought that his ideas were intriguing, Chomsky was hired as a full-time faculty member ...

Chomsky is well-known for his dissenting theories of linguistics, but he is much more widely known for his political dissents. From his perspective, focused primarily on the U.S., the educational institutions have the objective of indoctrination, not education. The mass media accept only those who have been thoroughly indoctrinated. The "institutions" are in control, and treat the general population as "wage slaves."


Reading Chomsky literature (much of it is written or edited by others) is like studying with a Zen roshi. Understanding Power is an illustration of this. It consists of short questions by anonymous participants at one of his lectures or workshops, followed by a few paragraphs or pages of response by Chomsky. Noam has a particular mindstate, and the objective of these writings is to pass this mindstate on to the participants.

A major problem discussed throughout all Chomsky's writings is behavior of institutions that causes harm to the "little people." In a religious nation, it might be called evil or immoral. (Chomsky is not a fan of religion, to put it mildly.) In a nation of laws, it would be called illegal or corrupt. Curiously, among the three Chomsky books listed in the bibliography, "corruption" appears only once in any of the three indices. It refers to the first quote above.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Chomsky's writings is the similarity to current writings from the conservative or "right" perspective. Chomsky acknowledges his socialist background. From that perspective, he criticizes the educational establishment, other institutions, and especially the U.S. Government.

Compare current conservative thinking. The conservatives are pulling their children out of public schools for home-schooling. The conservatives have written books about the bias, misinformation and disinformation in the mass media. Both liberals and conservatives are outspoken in their criticism of the U.S. Government.

A major remedy proposed in Chomsky's writings is that the weak should band together to challenge, if not overthrow, the strong. This appears to be the intent of both the left and the right in U.S. politics today. The means of communication to facilitate that banding together are at this time becoming widely available.


Disclosures: The author of this review has perused three Chomsky books, listed here. He has made no effort to independently verify any of the claims made in them. His purpose was to get a sense of Chomsky's viewpoint and objectives. If this material helps the reader to determine whether he wishes to delve into Chomsky's material, this objective has been accomplished.

  1. Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (New York: The New Press, 2002), ISBN 1-56584-703-2.
  2. The Chomsky Reader, edited by James Peck (New York: Pantheon, 1987), ISBN 0-394-75173-6.
  3. Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, by Robert F. Barsky (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1997), ISBN 0-262-02418-7.

Here are some sources from the conservative "right" that seem consistent with Chomsky's views:

  1. The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom
  2. Stop the Presses!
  3. Whoever Controls the Schools Rules the World


Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, is unique, like its subject.

  • Amazon carries a paperback version, ISBN-10: 1565847032, ISBN-13: 978-1565847033, 416 pp. + xiii. There are numbered footnotes in the text, but no citations to match the numbers.
    • The matching footnote citations are available at the Understanding Power website. The complete PDF version runs 449 pages! As an illustration, footnote 3 in Chapter 7 begins 3. For Lenin's and Trotsky's thoughts on how Russia should be developed, see for example ... and then continues over 6 pages.
    • The PDF file is 1.6 MB, not much if you have a broadband connection, but is is also available by individual chapter in both PDF and HTML in case you don't.
  • Amazon also lists a hardcover version, ISBN-10: 0143029916, ISBN-13: 978-0143029915, "432 pages." Amazon also says:
    • Publisher: Penguin Books,India (September 30, 2003)
    • Availability: Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock.

The hardback page count clearly could not include the footnotes. It approximately matches the body plus the front material. One might notice that Chomsky seems to have gone through a number of publishers. It is possible that he is not the easiest author to deal with.

Considering the major influence Chomsky has had on the public, he is remarkably easy to find. His MIT phone number and email from directory lookup are here and his home page is here. His own list of references is here, and it misses at least one (in Computing) that the compiler of his Wikipedia entry included.

If you are willing to pay a bit of money monthly, you can ask him questions on his Blog. It is hosted by Z Communications whose motto is: The Spirit of Resistance Lives.

I sincerely hope that by the time you have reached this point, you are able to decide whether you want to know more of Noam Chomsky.