What’s the Alternative

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Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky (1928 ) has had two careers—one as a distinguished theorist in the field of linguistic science, and another as a most brilliant, incisive, hard hitting, and extremist critic of American foreign policy.

His special emphasis has been on developing the theory of libertarian socialism (and/or anarchism) as an alternative to power politics of all sorts. Chomsky's most original and damaging critiques of the Establishment, however, deal with the role of the media, a running theme in all his social thought and the major topic of his Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies.

As Chomsky sees it, and documents at length, the media does not serve a "watchdog" role but usually acts as Ministry of Propaganda for the Establishment. This does not mean that he believes free speech and a free press does not exist; he merely argues that the spectrum of viewpoints presented to the public is increasingly narrow and many criticisms are marginalized to the extent that only those devoted to research can ever find them. (He has been marginalized in precisely that way for most of his career.)

The major media are owned by a few billionaires, and those who occupy managerial positions also belong to lower rungs of the same privileged elite. Statistically, the same perceptions, viewpoints, and attitudes become more and more dominant. Those with deviant perspectives are "weeded out." The public thus gets to see a small part of the actual political spectrum—from far right to middle of the road—and virtually never learns of alternatives, a process Chomsky calls the "manufacture of consent," a phrase borrowed ironically from conservative intellectual Walter Lippman, who in 1921 said, in effect, that tyrannies control people by force but democracies "manufacture" the "consent" of the governed. Chomsky regards all forms of manufactured consent as Orwellian mind control.