self-defense - read newspapers through a PRISM
By: Brendan Benedict - Asst. Marketplace Editor, Kara Kaminski - Marketplace Editor
Walking into the linguistics department at MIT was certainly a memorable experience for this editorial duo. The first of our interviews for the column "Great Thinkers" was Noam Chomsky. We waited outside his office with our pens and notebooks, watching the film crew exit before us. His desk was stacked high and wide with books on foreign policy. Our nerves were eased when the actual interview started. Chomsky sits back in his chair with the demeanor of a grandfather imparting his wisdom onto his grandchildren.
Our first topic of choice was a concept he mentioned in his Boston College lecture, the commoditization and branding of American politicians. "Candidates are chosen by funders," he said. He described how both Obama and McCain were funded by the same big names; they just supported Obama a bit more, and this could be interpreted as the reason for the win. Chomsky referenced Thomas Ferguson's "golden rule," or investment theory of politics. The fact that Obama won Advertising Age's marketer of the year for 2008, beating out Apple, is evidence to the extent politicians are products to the American public.
He went into greater detail on how the people of Bolivia triumphed in their recent election. "They focused on crucial issues like nationalization and elected one from their own ranks, a poor peasant," he said. The success of Bolivia's democracy was the focus on the issues rather than the candidate and the organizational success of the repressed, indigenous people, he further explained.
Chomsky spoke with us on what he refers to as the "doctrinal system," the cooperation between the government, media, and major academia when communicating to the masses. "It's nothing coercive, it's not a conspiracy; it's natural for the elite to cooperate and to share the same goals and interests," he said, in order to protect their own power. He added that not every member of those institutions is necessarily part of the doctrinal system. He noted Charles Derber and Juliet Schor, both professors in the Sociology department, as academics who have operated outside the doctrinal system.
It is a daunting task, then, for students wishing to stay informed to try and grapple with a media that is subject to an establishment bias. Chomsky said that he reads the same news sources as most, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal. But he has learned how to filter out the fiction from the facts. "It takes self-defense - it can be done if you read carefully, but you need to correct for the prism of ideology and doctrine," he said. He also relies on a variety of foreign sources. Chomsky mentioned a recent speech given by President Obama on the Israel-Palestine conflict in which Obama, while endorsing the League of Arab Nations' two-state solution, keenly omitted their statement that there would be a "peaceful resolution." This significant use of words was not found only in a South African newspaper.
Chomsky highlighted other important issues for students. "It's easiest to accept what everyone says - to take notes, regurgitate, and get an A," Chomsky said. To challenge the accuracy of a professor's lessons comes at a cost - more work for less grades - but ultimately allows one to take on the doctrinal system.
On activism, Chomsky believes students face the same difficulties. An easier life might be to "stay in goose-step," but to question and challenge the status quo comes at a price. "Fortunately, people do it, and the world improves," he said. "An African-American and a woman running for president were inconceivable in the 1960s, but that changed because of [young people]; it set in motion a civilized country. Because people don't accept authority, you get progress," he said.
We asked about whether the U.S. should be more or less engaged in foreign policy in the setting of the new administration. Chomsky's first response was that the rhetoric of the question was a product of the doctrinal system. "The U.S. is always engaged . the question is what is the nature of the engagement," he said.
Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is trying to reach a military solution in the region, according to Chomsky. "Karzai wants a timetable for withdrawal, but now he's vilified in the press, condemned as corrupt," he said, further underscoring the impact of the doctrinal system.
The students who flocked to Chomsky's recent lecture at BC should take his words with a grain of salt. Students should be wary of the power of the doctrinal system and strive for independent thinking that challenges the establishment.
In order to reach the full potential of American democracy, one should value ideas above money and marketing. Chomsky calls us to introspection - whether we prioritize our success above our own moral integrity.Stumble It!