This chapter is presented in a Q&A format between French Linguist, Mitsou Ronat(MR) and Noam Chomsky(NC). MR asks most of the questions and NC often presents an elaborate answer. It starts off with a question on the link between NC’s scientific activities and political activities. According to NC, social science generally, and above all analysis of contemporary affairs, are quite accessible to anyone who wants to take an interest in these matters. And the alleged depth and expertise is an illusion created by the system to exercise thought control. Whereas scientific topics do require special training and technique.
“In the analysis of social and political issues it is sufficient to face the facts and to be willing to follow a rational line of argument … beyond that no esoteric knowledge is required.”
When a political event occurs in the world, mass media turn on experts to explain it to the common man. The rationale is that “you don’t ask the man in the street to build a bridge similarly you don’t ask the man in the street whether the US should intervene in Angola”. The assumption is that people like us, who are outsiders from a professional viewpoint are not entitled to speak on such things. They will question your credential. It will be more evident when our opinion is far from the accepted frame of reference. This is an unusual but effective way the United States exercises “ideological control”.
The reliance on “professional expertise” will ensure that views and analyses that depart from orthodoxy will rarely be expressed.
NC presents various examples of the press, liberal press, subservience to the government position during the Vietnam war. He cites a study that indicates a remarkable degree of conformity to dominant ideology among the informed critics of government policy.
“.. in the US, political discourse and debate has often been less diversified even than in certain Facsist countries …such a degree of ideological conformity in a country which does not have a secret police or concentration camp is quite remarkable”
The student movements during the Vietnam war era mounted a challenge to this “thought control” and unsurprisingly generated a hostile reaction from the “intelligentsia elites”. But when the “new left” developed within student movements, it could not associate with any broader social movement, rooted in any important segment of the population. So it naturally fell off.
“Students form a social group that is marginal and transitory”
We do not see such movements in the new generation. The economic stagnation and recession have a lot do with student attitudes.
NC’s description of accounts and incidents from the Watergate era is quite revealing. After reading the account of the Fred Hampton incident, one would wonder whether Netflix’s “The Trail of Chicago 7” scratches just the surface of the problem.
After the Vietnam War or Watergate scandal, the government had to restore its credibility. The liberal elites and media use politically neutral terms like “stupid” or “error” to describe the events rather than attempting to uncover true motives.
The war with good intentions transmuted into bad policies.
Take a look at this editorial in the New York Times
According to NC, they don't even mention the third possibility — that the US did not have the right, either the legal or the moral right, to intervene. This is a marvelous illustration of the functioning of propaganda in a democracy. What the system attempts to do is to fix the limit of possible thought: supporters of doctrine at one end, and the critics — vigorous and courageous and much admired — at the other. The hawks and the doves. The hawks and the doves subscribe to this frame of reference — remarkable “idealogy control”. It is more effective when it sets boundaries rather than forcing a doctrine to parrot. It allows vigorous debates as long as it is within the boundary and entirely subservient to the basic principle.