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Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky

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A major new collection from "arguably the most important intellectual alive" (The New York Times). Noam Chomsky is universally accepted as one of the preeminent public intellectuals of the modern era. Over the past thirty years, broadly diverse audiences have gathered to attend his sold-out lectures. Now, in Understanding Power, Peter Mitchell and John Schoeffel have assembled the best of Chomsky's recent talks on the past, present, and future of the politics of power. In a series of enlightening and wide-ranging discussions, all published here for the first time, Chomsky radically reinterprets the events of the past three decades, covering topics from foreign policy during Vietnam to the decline of welfare under the Clinton administration. And as he elucidates the connection between America's imperialistic foreign policy and the decline of domestic social services, Chomsky also discerns the necessary steps to take toward social change. With an eye to political activism and the media's role in popular struggle, as well as U.S. foreign and domestic policy, Understanding Power offers a sweeping critique of the world around us and is definitive Chomsky. Characterized by Chomsky's accessible and informative style, this is the ideal book for those new to his work as well as for those who have been listening for years.

416 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 2002

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About the author

Noam Chomsky

976 books14.3k followers
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chomsky is credited with the creation of the theory of generative grammar, considered to be one of the most significant contributions to the field of linguistics made in the 20th century. He also helped spark the cognitive revolution in psychology through his review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior, in which he challenged the behaviorist approach to the study of behavior and language dominant in the 1950s. His naturalistic approach to the study of language has affected the philosophy of language and mind. He is also credited with the establishment of the Chomsky hierarchy, a classification of formal languages in terms of their generative power. Beginning with his critique of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Chomsky has become more widely known for his media criticism and political activism, and for his criticism of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments.

According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar during the 1980–1992 time period, and was the eighth-most cited scholar in any time period.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 636 reviews
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
July 14, 2018
This really is the indispensable Chomsky. It's a summary of his views on just about everything.

Many of Noam's views are very left wing, progressive, anti-American policy, anti-Israel policy ... so a lot of people care not much for him. He is to me the most rational, truth seeking person I've read.

The book is not "writings" of Chomsky's. Rather it is edited transcriptions of Q&A sessions from a great number of teach-ins and college talks that he has given over the years. The editing has been done to add foot-notes, and of course to make both questions and answers read better and be more succinct in their wording and give greater depth to the answers (I would guess) than was done on the fly. In that sense, they are closer to writings than most Q&A transcriptions would be.

Ch 1. Weekend Teach-In: Opening Session (primarily Rowe Mass., April 1989)
Ch 2. Teach in: Over Coffee (ditto)
Ch 3. Teach-In: Evening (ditto)
Ch 4. Colloquy (primarily Fort Collins CO, April 1990)
Ch 5. Ruling the World (discussions in NY, MA, MD, CO, IL and Ontario, 1990 and 93-96)
Ch 6. Community Activists (discussions in British Columbia, MA, IL, MD and WY, 1989 and 93-96)
Ch 7. Intellectuals and Social Change (discussions at Woods Hole and Rowe MA, 93-96)
Ch 8. Popular Struggle (discussions in MA, MD, Ontario, CA and WY, 1989, '94 & '94)
Ch 9. Movement Organizing (discussions at Woods Hole MA, 93-96)
Ch. 10. Turning Point (discussions in IL, NJ, MA, NY and MD, 94-96 & '99)

Each of these chapters is in turn divided into 10-20 subtopics (all given in the TOC)

For example, Chapter 7 has the following subtopics:
- The Leninist/Capitalist Intelligentsia
- Marxist "Theory" and Intellectual Fakery
- Ideological Control in the Sciences and Humanities
- The Function of the Schools
- Subtler Methods of Control
- Cruder Methods of Control
- Forging Working-Class Culture
- The Fraud of Modern Economics
- The Real Market
- Automation
- A Revolutionary Change in Moral Values

The footnotes are not in the book itself. They are downloadable from a web-site as a PDF document. This I have done. It is 1.7 MB, 450 pages long - the footnotes. These footnotes are not only references but additional explanatory information.

The book has a pretty good index.

The book is more wide ranging than many of Chomsky's other publications, hence is not what you want if you only want his views on Media, or U.S. Foreign Policy. But making up for this, it probably gives a pretty good sample of his views on a full range of topics.

I use the word "views" here to try to be non-argumentative. But for a vast amount of this stuff, the evidence that Chomsky present qualifies the positions he outlines not as simply his views, but as flat out the truth. But it's a truth that the average American (unlike in many cases the average European) has no idea about - because the mainstream U.S. Media just refuses to print factual news which runs contrary to the U.S. exceptionalist view which we have of ourselves - news which commonly appears in the British, French, German, even Israeli press.

Rather than try to give any sort of summary of Chomsky's insights (there, a better word than "views"), I'll just conclude by quoting a paragraph from the back cover of the book.
In a series of enlightening and wide-ranging discussions ... Chomsky radically reinterprets the events of the past three decades [the last decades of the 20th century] covering topis from foreign policy during the Vietnam War to the decline of welfare under the Clinton administration. And as he elucidates the connection between America's imperialistic foreign policy and social inequalities at home, Chomsky also discerns the necessary steps to take toward social change. With an eye to political activism and the media's role in popular struggle, as well as U.S. foreign and domestic policy, (the book) is definitive Chomsky.

That it is.
Profile Image for David M.
444 reviews389 followers
December 8, 2016
First read Chomsky as a teenager. At first I couldn't believe what he was saying.

I never wanted to be a radical; it's just that when I started checking the footnotes I couldn't stop.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book860 followers
July 23, 2020
Apart from his scientific work on linguistics (notably his groundbreaking generative grammar theory), Noam Chomsky has always been quite outspoken about his political views, ever since his criticism of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He also contributed quite substantially to media studies and the questioning of propaganda in America (see Manufacturing Consent). Today, albeit in his 90s, Chomsky is still quite combative and a towering — in fact, a rock-star-like — figure in left-libertarian and anarcho-syndicalist academic circles.

This book is a sort of fix-up (with abundant footnotes) of several talks Chomsky gave in the U.S. around the 1990s (during the Clinton/Bush administrations). Essentially, Chomsky provides answers to questions from his audience. And although most of these questions were dealing with current affairs at the time (now a bit outdated, obviously), the essence of Chomsky’s answers is still quite relevant some twenty-odd years later.

He covers everything from media manipulation by corporate interests to freedom of speech, religious fanaticism and terrorism, state capitalism vs. communal libertarianism, the military-industrial complex and the nuclear threat, the Middle-East conflict, the Gulf War, the situation in East-Timor, climate change, activism and resistance and the charlatanism of post-modern thinkers (worth watching in hindsight: his 1971 debate with Michel Foucault on human nature, at the height of the antagonism between “continental” and “analytic” philosophy).

In short, the whole thing is an analysis, from different angles, of the U.S. Totalitarian Empire State. It is indeed a fascinating book, although some of what Chomsky says sounds quite a bit like a conspiracy theory. It is also perplexing that he hasn’t been much intimidated by the oppressive system he has been denouncing for so many years. Quite indispensable nonetheless.
Profile Image for Todd.
4 reviews3 followers
April 9, 2009
Want to understanding international politics? Want to know how to read between the lines of the days headlines? Want to know where to start with Noam Chomsky? The answer to all those questions is: Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky.
Profile Image for Thomas Ray.
1,004 reviews323 followers
January 31, 2019
Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, 2002, based on talks he gave 1989–1999. 401 pages. isbn 1565847032. 449 pages of footnotes at understandingpower.com

Real power is not in the political system. It’s in the private economy: that’s where the decisions are made about what’s produced, how much is produced, what’s consumed, where investment takes place, who has jobs. Political changes can make only a minor difference. So long as power remains privately concentrated, everybody has to make sure the rich are happy. If they’re happy, they’ll invest, the economy will work, things will function, maybe something will trickle down to you. If they’re not happy, everything grinds to a halt.

Suppose Massachusetts were to increase business taxes. Most of the population is in favor of it. Business would run a public relations campaign, saying, truthfully, “Raise taxes on us, capital will flow elsewhere, you’ll have no jobs, you’ll have nothing. You make us happy or you’ll have nothing. You live here, but we own the place.” [p. 63]

For me, this is the indispensable insight Chomsky clearly states and illustrates in this book. Understanding it, we lose our unrealistic expectations of politicians.

Until there’s popular control of industry—workers’ control, community control, extending democracy to economic power—unless that happens, political power will be feeble. [p. 64] Real democracy will require that corporate capitalism be dismantled. You have to build up alternative popular institutions, which could allow control over society’s investment decisions to be moved to working people and communities. A participatory economy. [p. 140] [The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, usworker.coop is a few people making a start. Very few. As of 2016, the Democracy at Work Institute counts just 7,000 co-op workers in the entire U.S., in 350 worker co-ops, working for an average of $25,000/year per worker. goodreads.com/review/show/2000479083]

Build community. Organize. When people get together, all sorts of things are possible. If you’re isolated, you’re going to break. [pp. 121, 185]

If you could get to the point where a reformist candidate had a chance, you’d already have won; you’d already have done the main thing—build mass support. [p. 139] Power was never in popular hands. [p. 267] But there’s progress. Keep fighting. [p. 268]

And yet—a century ago, governments were revoking corporate charters when corporations didn’t live up to the public interest. [p. 347]

Every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, has to prove that it’s justified. [p. 201]

States are not moral agents. They’re vehicles of power, working in the interests of particular internal power structures in their societies. [p. 163]

The product of the media is audiences! Their market is advertisers! [p. 14] “I asked an editor why coverage of Palestine is so awful. He laughed, ‘How many Arab advertisers do you think we have?’” [p. 22] Mainstream press portrays a uniformly pro-corporate world. A New York Times columnist says angrily, “Nobody tells me what to write!” True. He already knew what to write. That’s why he’s a New York Times columnist. [p. 112] Warner Communications closed a publisher to keep a Chomsky book from being distributed. [p. 209] Universities, corporate-funded, select for obedience and conformity, punish independence. [pp. 236, 265] Chomsky can teach in any department except political science. [p. 244]

In communities with listener-supported community radio and other alternative media, the mood is strikingly different. [p. 180]

In economically weak countries around the world, the U.S. prevents the rise of independent governments—to keep siphoning wealth from the global poor to the global rich—through corporate control of land and resources, low wages, industry-friendly policies. [p. 64] The United States arms foreign militaries, so they can and do overthrow their own governments that don’t pursue the welfare of multinational corporations. [p. 7] Noriega was our thug in 1985. In 1989 he was getting independent. [p. 152] Around the world, the countries that developed economically are those that weren’t colonized by the West. [p. 65] The U.S. government spends some $10 billion a year to maintain U.S. domination of Central America—probably exceeds the profits banks and corporations plunder there. [p. 67]

Free-market capitalism led to the Great Depression. Every economically successful country is near-fascist—massive government intervention in the economy. Every industrial economy has a massive state sector. In the U.S. it’s mainly through the military. The government funds corporate research and development; if something profitable comes out of it, the corporations take the profit. The parts of the American economy that are competitive internationally get massive government subsidies: agriculture, high-tech, pharmaceuticals. The U.S. prevents third-world countries from doing as we’ve done. [pp. 72–73] Military spending goes to the rich. Social spending goes to the poor. The rich have the power, so that’s where we spend it.

Violence or its threat empowers authoritarianism. [pp. 11, 70, 90]

Cuba’s “crime” is successfully caring for its people: a virus that could spread, and interfere with corporate plunder. [p. 149] Vietnam was fought to prevent Vietnam from becoming a successful model of economic and social development for the third world. So far we’ve won. [p. 91]

Chomsky is, I think, wrong about some things:

Chomsky is right that mostly, the boot of wealth is on everyone’s neck. Mostly. “Pursuit of self-interest helps everybody” is mostly a lie. But since owners haven’t yet vacuumed up all wealth and power, they sometimes have to give some of the rest of us something for their gains in wealth.

So it’s not enough to simply destroy capitalism, have all business decisions made by worker co-ops. Permitting people to make a profit, when it also benefits the nonwealthy, can be a good thing.

Chomsky’s right that wealth will always fight hard to eat our lunch. We have to win that fight, muzzle not kill the beast. With progressive taxation of corporate and individual wealth and income; regulation; and, public-interest research-and-lobbying groups on every issue that wealth lobbies on (in the Citizens’ Utility Board mold).

Chomsky is right that, to curb wholesale environmental destruction, enserfment, and rampant authoritarianism, the power of the rich to get richer at everyone’s cost must be destroyed. It’s true that worker co-ops replace dictatorial owner power, serving wealth concentration—at any cost to workers and community—with workplace democracy, with goals of business survival, decent pay, and service to community. Yet majority rule doesn’t mean fairness. (Ask any minority!) Longtime co-op workers vote themselves higher pay for the same work as newcomers—far above any claimed greater productivity. A co-op can degenerate to rule by popular clique.

Chomsky is a bit of a free speech fundamentalist. You can forgive him, in that, if public opinion had not shifted so fast and strongly to antiwar in 1968, Chomsky would have been sentenced to many years in prison for criticizing the government’s prosecution of the war.

But there must be limits on speech. Not just “you don’t have the right to yell fire in a crowded theater,” but also:

You have no right to say, “Do what I want or I will hurt you.” That’s felony assault or felony extortion.

You have no right to say to a public official, “I bought you. I own you. You work for me.” That’s graft.

You have no right to say, “Here, try this!” when “this” will harm you and take away your ability to choose not to do it. In my view, advertising is the only truly criminal act of the illegal drug trade. And neither should nicotine, alcohol, and gambling advertising be permitted. (John Warren Kindt, "College and Amateur Sports Gambling: Gambling away our Youth" online here (33 pages):
Legal gambling's socioeconomic costs, including addictions, crime, corruption, and bankruptcies, exceed costs of illegal drugs.)

You have no right to present lies as news.

Chomsky feels we can’t trust the government to censor speech. He has good reason to feel that way. Yet we have to trust the government to evaluate safe foods and drugs, keep snake-oil salesmen from making false ads.

“Too much competition” Chomsky sees as a very bad thing—and it is, for the profiteers. For the rest of us, “too much competition” is the Econ 101 world, “many buyers, many sellers, no one has control over price”—and if anyone who wants to produce and sell, can do so, then the best anyone can do is recover long-run marginal cost—and if they do, they can stay in business forever, all the employees, supervisors, managers, and suppliers getting paid, the customers getting a fair price. The only people who don’t get paid are the investors, and why should they? Why should they expect to keep getting more and more wealth, for doing nothing, merely because they started with more money than they needed to spend?

But Chomsky is wrong that “excess competition” causes depressions. What causes depressions is insufficient aggregate demand—which happens when many people, who need lots of stuff, have too little money and can’t buy it—because a few people, who already have everything they could use and then some, have hoarded all the wealth. [pp. 72, 74]

Chomsky thinks boycotts are not much use. [p. 337] To the contrary, as Howard Zinn said, to live, today, as we think people should live, is itself a great victory. As much as we can deny exploiters profit by our participation in their system, we should.

Chomsky thinks there’s no evidence the CIA isn’t under White House control. [p. 349] To the contrary. The CIA does what the CIA wants. Sometimes that’s the same as what the white house wants. Sometimes not. Thoroughly documented in, for example, Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner, and JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass.

Chomsky cites many worthwhile authors, including:

Mishel, Lawrence
Rothstein, Richard
Carnoy, Martin
Bivens, Josh
McQuaig, Linda
Sellers, Charles Grier
Noble, David F.
Ware, Norman
Sklar, Holly
Medoff, Peter
Collins, Chuck
Stockwell, John
Hertsgaard, Mark
Parenti, Michael
Bagdikian, Ben H.
Herman, Ed
Postman, Neil

Mishel, Lawrence
Rothstein, Richard
Carnoy, Martin
Bivens, Josh
McQuaig, Linda
Sellers, Charles Grier
Noble, David F.
Ware, Norman
Sklar, Holly
Medoff, Peter
Collins, Chuck
Stockwell, John
Hertsgaard, Mark
Parenti, Michael
Bagdikian, Ben H.
Herman, Ed
Postman, Neil

Mishel, Lawrence
Rothstein, Richard
Carnoy, Martin
Bivens, Josh
McQuaig, Linda
Sellers, Charles Grier
Noble, David F.
Ware, Norman
Sklar, Holly
Medoff, Peter
Collins, Chuck
Stockwell, John
Hertsgaard, Mark
Parenti, Michael
Bagdikian, Ben H.
Herman, Ed
Postman, Neil

And if you’ve ever seen a video of him speaking, you know it’s almost all without notes. Chomsky is mind-bogglingly well-informed about precisely the things the powers that be don’t want us to know. Thank you, Noam.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,713 reviews1,242 followers
December 24, 2018

Chomsky is a national and international treasure. It saddens me that his life won't go on for another 50 years.

There's so much good content here so I'll just pick one passage. Chomsky is speaking no later than 1999:

Actually, I think that the United States has been in kind of a pre-fascist mood for years--and we've been 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. Now, we haven't had the right person yet in the United States, but sooner or later somebody's going to fill that position--and if so, it will be highly dangerous.

So our saving grace may be that Trump is a corrupt grifter.
Profile Image for Kevin.
277 reviews741 followers
March 3, 2020
The Good:
--From reading Chomsky to watching his lectures, this superbly edited volume of his lectures (in particular his Q&As with audiences) is the most concise.
--Another brilliant intro to pair this with is on “the Economy”: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works - and How It Fails
--The essential Chomsky: power must always prove its legitimate uses, media propaganda model, depoliticized public, power in international affairs/foreign policy, history and changes in activism/labor, people’s movements (as opposed to great man theory), separating public opinion from propaganda, Military Industrial Complex, State capitalism (R&D, infrastructure, property rights, protectionism), the corporation, worker self-management, democracy and its enemies, intellectual elitism, etc. etc.
--Of particular interest is the changes in activism. How mild the anti-war movement was during the war on Vietnam (i.e. "we should stop because we are losing") and how it progressed and forced the US elite to rely on its own clandestine terror agencies, funding other mercenary states/groups, and replacing the draft with a mercenary army.
--Since this is a collection from 1989 to 1999, it misses the War On Terror and beyond. However, the foresight demonstrated throughout the topics further cements the methodology/conclusions (including a good bit setting up the election of Trump!).

The Questionable:
1) On Marxism/Leninism/real-world socialism: while I still don't mind Chomsky's quips about not knowing what “dialectics” and “praxis” are, his one-liners like "the USSR was a dungeon" (maybe not from this volume but you'll hear it if you follow his lectures) seem counter-productive for an American audience already struggling with Red Scare omissions of historical context. I much prefer:
-Michael Parenti:
-Vijay Prashad:

2) There was a strange bit about capitalism being against racism. Here is how it went: race is a human construction. Capitalism is anti-human, in that it wants humans to be reduced to interchangeable cogs. Now, in the short-term, racism may be advantageous, but in the long-term capitalism will work against racism.
...Now, I find such grand philosophic musings to be arbitrary. I would say there are strong examples throughout history to today where various forms of racism seem like direct social constructs from capitalist divisions of labor/rule. I do not see how one can classify short-term versus long-term implications here.
...Consider Gerald Horne on American racism from slavery to the Alt-Right: https://youtu.be/GkYZtfxj0RM
...Also related: capitalism and sexism, i.e. the externality of "social reproduction" (had to throw in a Marxian term):
-Silvia Federici: Wages Against Housework
-Nancy Folbre: The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values
Profile Image for Eric.
131 reviews29 followers
June 1, 2010
I'm always afraid of reading political things (A) because I'm scared of it being completely over my head and (B) because I'm aware that I have a tendency to uncritically accept what people say [which makes for a lot of fun if you read different points of views because everything everybody says (even the contradictory stuff) sounds 100% right:].

This book was very conversational (partly due to format, transcribed Q&A sessions and I imagine partly due to Chomsky's dislike of the idea of an 'intellectual' class apart from common folks), so it didn't run into the over my head problem.

Good interesting stuff, very grounded (it seems), very sane. This is extremely different from the sort of attitudes I got from socially conscious types I met at University. I'd always reacted a bit badly to them (while largely agreeing) because it felt like they were attacking Big Evil Names (I dunno, the IMF is EVIL or something) without putting things into perspective, seeing the big picture etc. Now it turns out that they were most likely the ones who knew what they were talking about and I was the ignorant one, but [and forgive me for committing this sin of stupid debating:] there was always something about their /tone/ that rubbed me the wrong way, something kind of well-meaning-but-stupid. Anyway point is that this sort of tone is totally absent from the book. Well-meaning-and-tremendously-well-informed (and now makes me feel a bit guilty for my negative reaction to the dreadlocked vegans of my past).

I particularly like the idea that it's not so much that certain individuals or organisations are evil, but about institutions that reinforce/encourage/perpetuate evil behaviours (eg. CEO of BP is probably a perfectly nice chap, but...). It's also a bit uncomfortable to see how clueless I am about the kind of stuff that goes on in the world. Oh well.

It'd be nice to see what happens when smart right wing friends read this.
Profile Image for Tara.
392 reviews19 followers
January 24, 2022
Understanding Power is quite brilliant. Chomsky is a damn intelligent and refreshingly frank human being; I simply can’t recommend this enough.

Here are some of the choicest points he made:

“Look, every government has a need to frighten its population, and one way of doing that is to shroud its workings in mystery. The idea that a government has to be shrouded in mystery is something that goes back to Herodotus [ancient Greek historian]. You read Herodotus, and he describes how the Medes and others won their freedom by struggle, and then they lost their freedom when the institution of royalty was invented to create a cloak of mystery around power. See, the idea behind royalty was that there’s this other species of individuals who are beyond the norm and who the people are not supposed understand. That’s the standard way you cloak and protect power: you make it look mysterious and secret, above the ordinary person—otherwise why should anyone accept it? Well, they’re willing to accept it out of fear that some great enemies are about to destroy them, and because of that they’ll cede their authority to the Lord, or the King, or the President or something, just to protect themselves. That’s the way governments work—that’s the way any system of power works—and the secrecy system is part of it.”

“Remember that the media have two basic functions. One is to indoctrinate the elites, to make sure they have the right ideas and know how to serve power. In fact, typically the elites are the most indoctrinated segment of a society, because they are the ones who are exposed to the most propaganda and actually take part in the decision-making process. For them you have the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and so on. But there’s also a mass media, whose main function is just to get rid of the rest of the population—to marginalize and eliminate them, so they don’t interfere with decision-making. And the press that’s designed for that purpose isn’t the New York Times and the Washington Post, it’s sitcoms on television, and the National Enquirer, and sex and violence, and babies with three heads, and football, all that kind of stuff.”

“...the qualifications that I have to speak on world affairs are exactly the same ones Henry Kissinger has, and Walt Rostow has, or anybody in the Political Science Department, professional historians—none, none that you don't have. The only difference is, I don't pretend to have qualifications, nor do I pretend that qualifications are needed. I mean, if somebody were to ask me to give a talk on quantum physics, I'd refuse—because I don't understand enough. But world affairs are trivial: there's nothing in the social sciences or history or whatever that is beyond the intellectual capacities of an ordinary fifteen-year-old. You have to do a little work, you have to do some reading, you have to be able to think but there's nothing deep—if there are any theories around that require some special kind of training to understand, then they've been kept a carefully guarded secret.
In fact, I think the idea that you’re supposed to have special qualifications to talk about world affairs is just another scam—it’s kind of like Leninism [position that socialist revolution should be led by a 'vanguard' party]: it’s just another technique for making the population feel that they don’t know anything, and they’d better just stay out of it and let us smart guys run it. In order to do that, what you pretend is that there’s some esoteric discipline, and you’ve got to have some letters after your name before you can say anything about it. The fact is, that’s a joke.”

“Look, part of the whole technique of disempowering people is to make sure that the real agents of change fall out of history, and are never recognized in the culture for what they are. So it's necessary to distort history and make it look as if Great Men did everything—that’s part of how you teach people they can't do anything, they're helpless, they just have to wait for some Great Man to come along and do it for them.”

“The job of mainstream intellectuals is to serve as a kind of secular priesthood, to ensure that the doctrinal faith is maintained. So if you go back to a period when the Church was dominant, the priesthood did it: they were the ones who watched out for heresy and went after it. And as societies became more secular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the same controls were needed: the institutions still had to defend themselves, after all, and if they couldn’t do it by burning people at the stake or sending them to inquisitions anymore, they had to find other ways. Well, over time that responsibility was transferred to the intellectual class—to be the guardians of the sacred political truths, hatchet-men of one sort or another.”

“So Marxism, Freudianism: any one of these things I think is an irrational cult. They're theology, so they're whatever you think of theology; I don't think much of it. In fact, in my view that's exactly the right analogy: notions like Marxism and Freudianism belong to the history of organized religion.”

“What’s valued here is the ability to work on an assembly line, even if it’s an intellectual assembly line. The important thing is to be able to obey orders, and to do what you’re told, and to be where you’re supposed to be. The values are, you’re going to be a factory worker somewhere – maybe they’ll call it a university – but you’re going to be following somebody else’s orders, and just doing your work in some prescribed way. And what matters is discipline, not figuring things out for yourself, or understanding things that interest you – those are kind of marginal: just make sure you meet the requirements of the factory.”

“Incidentally, part of the genius of this aspect of the higher education system is that it can get people to sell out even while they think they’re doing exactly the right thing. So some young person going into academia will say to themself, ’Look, I’m going to be a real radical here’—and you can be, as long as you adapt yourself to these categories which guarantee that you’ll never ask the right questions, and that you’ll never even look at the right questions. But you don’t feel like you’re selling out, you’re not saying, ‘I’m working for the ruling class’ or anything like that—you’re not, you’re being a Marxist economist or something. But the effect is, they’ve totally neutralized you.”

“Look, the ways in which issues are framed for us in the media and in the mainstream culture typically involve so many assumptions and presuppositions that you’re kind of trapped as soon as you get into a discussion of them—you’re trapped in a discussion you don’t want to be in. And I think you have to start by taking apart the assumptions.”

And here's an excellent actual review of the book:

March 23, 2019
The Future Of History

I believe this to be the ultimate way to understand and experience Chomskys work. It strikes the perfect balance. For those who find his lectures / talks too dry and dull, yet struggle with his written work due to its academic nature, this provides an excellent compromise. By transcribing many conversations the Professor has had over the years, we as readers are able to read - in a relatively informal language - dozens of topics discussed by the man.

My attention never wavered at any time reading the 401 pages of this book, and despite having listened to the Professor talk on YouTube many times (and once in person) I still came away having learned an incredible amount about the world we inhabit. What's more, despite the fact that the transcriptions in this text are between the 80's and 90's and no further, this could easily read as if it were printed today. Chomskys predictions of the future and mastery of knowledge about the past are uncanny (and slightly scary if im being honest), and make for an engrossing page turner.

I hope, fellow book lovers, that even if you haven't heard of Chomsky before, you pick this up (or other more recent transcripts like Who Rules The World or Global Discontents) and really give it a go. Once you've opened your eyes to how our societies function, you'll really struggle to close them again.
December 20, 2019
ক্ষমতা মূলত কীভাবে কাজ করে, জনতাকে রাষ্ট্রীয় মতাদর্শের ঘোল গিলিয়ে নিষ্ক্রিয় রাখার প্রক্রিয়ার আদ্যপান্ত জানা যায় 'Understanding Power:The Indispensable Chomsky' শীর্ষক গ্রন্থটি পড়ে। এটি চমস্কির দেওয়া সাক্ষাৎকারসংকলন৷ আশির দশক থেকে নব্বইয়ের দশকের শেষাবধি দেওয়া অনেকগুলো দীর্ঘ কথোপকথনকে মলাটবদ্ধ করা হয়েছে এই বইতে৷

চট করে পড়ে ফেলবার মতো বই নয়৷ ধীরেধীরে পড়েছি৷ চমস্কির কথাগুলো বুঝবার চেষ্টা করেছি। যেখানে তিনি অনেক প্রচলিত তথ্যকে একেবারেই ভিন্ন দৃষ্টিকোণ থেকে দেখেছেন৷ পাঠককে ভাবতে বাধ্য করবে চমস্কির কথোপকথন।

নোয়াম চমস্কি তো যুক্তরাষ্ট্রের কট্টর সমালোচক। বেশিরভাগ ক্ষেত্রেই তিনি ইউএসের চণ্ডানীতির বিরুদ্ধে কথা বলে থাকেন৷ তাহলে কী তিনি এই বইতেও নিজেকে যুক্তরাষ্ট্রের কুকীর্তিগুলো স্মরণ করিয়ে দেওয়ার মধ্যই সীমাবদ্ধ রেখেছেন? উত্তরটি হবে, না৷ শুধু মার্কিনদেশই নয়, বিশ্বরাজনীতি, অর্থনীতি, গণমাধ্যমব্যবস্থা এবং নব্যসাম্রাজ্যবাদের মতো ইস্যু নিয়ে নিজস্ব ভঙিতে কথা বলেছেন নোয়াম চমস্কি। সবচেয়ে বেশি জোর দিয়েছেন সরকার জনতাকে আই ওয়াশ ও ব্রেন ওয়াশ করে অন্ধ এবং বধির করে রাখবার প্রক্রিয়া নিয়ে৷

চমস্কির নিজের বইগুলের ভাষা যথেষ্ট উঁচুমানের হয়ে থাকে৷ তাই কোনো কোনো ক্ষেত্রে আমার মতো নাদান পাঠকের তা বুঝতে কষ্ট হয়৷ কিন্তু সাক্ষাৎকারে চমস্কি একেবারেই ভিন্ন মানুষ৷ সহজভাবে কঠিন ও জটিল বিষয়গুলো নিয়ে কথা বলে পাঠককে আলোকিত হওয়ার সুযোগ দিয়েছেন চমস্কি। অবশ্য পাঠ্য একটি গ্রন্থ।
Profile Image for Mat.
82 reviews30 followers
July 27, 2012
This book is a feat of editing. It condenses aspects of Chomsky's talks from across decades and references them at a separate website, understandingpower.com. Here are some favourite quotes:

You should not expect an institution to say, "Help me destroy myself," that's not the way institutions function. And if anybody inside the institution tried to do that, they wouldn't be inside it much longer.

If you're getting accepted in elite circles, chances are very strong that you're doing something wrong - I mean, for very simple reasons. Why should they have any respect for people who are trying to undermine their power? It doesn't make any sense.

Part of the whole technique of disempowering people is to make sure that the real agents of change fall out of history, and are never recognized in the culture for what they are. So it's necessary to distort history and make it look as if Great Men did everything - that's part of how you teach people they can't do anything, they're helpless, they just have to wait for some Great Man to come along and do it for them.

If power is actually rooted in large parts of the population - if people can actually participate in social planning - then they will presumably do so in terms of their own interests, and you can expect the decisions to reflect those interests. Well, the interest of the general population is to preserve human life; the interest of corporations is to make profits-those are fundamentally different interests.

Either control over these matters is left in the hands of existing power interests and the rest of the population just abdicates, goes to the beach and hopes that somehow their children will survive - or else people will become sufficiently organized to break down the entire system of exploitation, and finally start putting it under participatory control. One possibility will mean complete disaster;
the other, you can imagine all kinds of things. For example, even
profitability would no longer be all that important - what would be important is living in a decent way.

As the first Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, put the matter very plainly back in 1948, he said: "The word to use is not 'subsidy,' the word to use is 'security.'

The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It's a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power.

If you look at the results of human nature, you see everything:
you see enormous self-sacrifice, you see tremendous courage, you see integrity, you see destructiveness, you see anything you want. That doesn't tell you much.

When someone comes along claiming a scientific basis for some
social policy or anything else having to do with human beings, I'd be very skeptical if I were you.

For people to have the opportunity to live full and rewarding lives they have to be in control of what they do, even if that happens
to be economically less efficient.

The idea of developing the kind of society that Orwell saw and described in I think his greatest work, Homage to Catalonia - with popular control over all the institutions of society - okay, that's the right direction in which to move, I think.

The ones who are ruthless and brutal and harsh enough to seize
power are the ones who are going to survive. The ones who try to associate themselves with popular organizations and help the general population itself become organized, who try to assist popular movements in that kind of way, they're just not going to survive under these situations of concentrated power.

Notions like Marxism and Freudianism belong to the history of organized religion. So part of my problem is just its existence: it seems to me that even to discuss something like "Marxism" is already making a mistake. Like, we don't discuss "Planckism." Why not? Because it would be crazy.

It's extremely rare, outside of the natural sciences, to find things
that can't be said in monosyllables.

Eighty percent of Americans literally believe in religious
miracles. Half the population thinks the world was created a couple
thousand years ago and that fossils were put here to mislead people or
something - half the population. You just don't find things like that in other industrial societies.

If we ever had a popular reform candidate who actually achieved some formal level of power: there would be disinvestment, capital strike, a grinding down of the economy. And the reason is quite simple. In our society, real power does not happen to lie in the political system, it lies in the private economy: that's where the decisions are made about what's produced, how much is produced, what's consumed, where investment takes place, who has jobs, who controls the resources, and so on and so forth. And as long as that remains the case, changes inside the political system can make some difference - I don't want
to say it's zero - but the differences are going to be very slight.

Look, G.A.T.T. is something of major significance. The idea that it's going to be rammed through Congress on a fast track without public discussion just shows that anything resembling democracy in the United States has completely collapsed.

There is never any point in getting some person into office unless you can continue forcing them to be your representative, and they will only continue to be your representative as long as you are active and threatening enough to make them do what you want, otherwise they're going to stop being your representative.

There are parts of philosophy which I think I understand, and it's most
of classical philosophy. And there are things that I don't understand,
because they don't make any sense - and that's okay too, these are hard questions. I mean, it's not necessarily a criticism to say that something doesn't make sense: there are subjects that it's hard to talk sensibly about. But if I read, say, Russell, or analytic philosophy, or Wittgenstein and so on, I think I can come to understand what they're saying, and I can see why I think it's wrong, as I often do. But when I read, you know, Derrida, or Lacan, or AIthusser, or any of these - I just don't understand it. It's like words passing in front of my eyes: I can't follow the arguments, I don't see the arguments, anything that looks like a description of a fact looks wrong to me. So maybe I'm missing a gene or something, it's possible. But my honest opinion is, I think it's all fraud.

Anybody who wants to be President, you should right away say, "I don't
want to hear that guy any more." You should say, "I don't want to listen to that person any more." Anybody who wants to become your leader, you should say, "I don't want to follow." That's like a rule of thumb which almost never fails.

People should not be asking me or anyone else where to turn for an
accurate picture of things: they should be asking themselves that. So
someone can ask me what reflects my interpretation of the way things are, and I can tell them where they can get material that looks at the world the way I think it ought to be looked at - but then they have to decide whether or not that's accurate. Ultimately it's your own mind that has to be the arbiter: you've got to rely on your own common sense and intelligence, you can't rely on anyone else for the truth.

I think the smartest thing to do is to read everything you read - and that includes what I write, I would always tell people this - skeptically. And in fact, an honest writer will try to make it clear what his or her biases are and where the work is starting from, so that then readers can compensate - they can say, "This person's coming from over here, and that's the way she's looking at the world, now I can correct for what may well be her bias; I can decide for myself whether what she's telling me is accurate, because at least she's making her premises clear." And people should do that. You should start by being very skeptical about anything that comes to you from any sort of power system - and about everything else too. You should be skeptical about what I tell you - why should you believe a word of it? I got my
own ax to grind. So figure it out for yourself.
Profile Image for Keyur Prabhu.
10 reviews17 followers
May 26, 2021
This should definitely be your starting point for Chomsky if you are interested.
Profile Image for Clif.
443 reviews122 followers
November 3, 2020
This is a necessary, indispensable book for modern mankind. You must read it.

Noam Chomsky is now 91 years old. His voice has become faint and slow and I suspect he will not be with us much longer, but what a contribution he has made not only in his professional life studying language but in his private life as the premier critic of the American way of life and the American empire. The man is not simply a genius, but broadly so and of a kind beneficial to all of us. He holds the title at MIT of "Institute Professor" with the incredible privilege to teach a course in any department of the university and that includes both the sciences and the humanities.

This book is particularly appealing as it is a dialog. People attending lectures of Chomsky's over the years prior to 2000 pose questions to him and quite often follow up those questions when something Chomsky says is not clear or appears contradictory to the questioner. This makes for a free flowing text that ranges broadly over our modern situation.

Chomsky has always given intellectuals a good name, speaking clearly with a simple vocabulary and a wonderful droll sense of humor that any audience can appreciate. And audiences have been many as Chomsky has traveled the country and the world to present his incisive opinions that rely on his incredible ability to digest an immense amount of information and remember it in detail even over decades. He says he relies on others to send him clippings but there can be no doubt that his own readings have served him well. How many people do you know who have an Associate Press wire service in their homes? He speaks of facts only, his opinions tightly constrained by truth.

Knowing how easily despair can come, Chomsky doesn't allow it to stop him, though freely admitting that things can appear hopeless, he cites reasons for believing we can do something to help ourselves if we work as a group to act rather than to merely complain. He refuses to be prophetic and calls for organization in light of the fact that solitary action cannot produce more than very limited results. He states that things can change unexpectedly and very rapidly even when all looks very dark. For all that analysis can provide us, tomorrow is unknown.

At the same time, he is a socialist calling for democracy to rule the allocation of wealth. Capitalism in his view is, to the degree it is free to operate without intervention, a system that cannot last but will by the nature of calling for immediate and maximum profit destroy the civilization that hosts it.

Power is first of all dedicated to maintaining itself. Nationalism presents a false picture that we are good and they are evil. Leaders will deceive us as well as themselves. The relative few who hold power will act together to keep the many in ignorance and in a state of dependency allowing more or less complete control. More wealth will go to the top the only limitation being the degree to which the many will tolerate the theft.

There is no part of this book that is better than the rest or any of it that is not captivating reading particularly for Americans. The fact that it was published 20 years ago should not deter anyone from reading it. Time and again the truth of Chomsky's words come through, but there is one paragraph from the book that I feel bound to reproduce because the insight in it took my breath away. Chomsky writes of his travels in America, and keep in mind that this was written before 9/11 when Clinton was president:

...the country is very disturbed. You can see it in the polls and you can certainly see it traveling around - and I travel around a lot. There's complete disaffection about everything. People don't trust anyone, they think everyone's lying to them, everyone's working for somebody else. The whole civil society has broken down. And when you talk about the mood of the people - well, whether it's on right wing talk radio, or among students, or just among the general population, you get a very good reception these days for the kind of things I talk about. But it's scary, because if you came and told the people, "Clinton's organizing a UN army with aliens to come and carry out genocide, you'd better go to the hills." you'd get the same favorable response. That's the problem, you'd get the same favorable response. I mean you can go to the most reactionary parts of the country, or anywhere else and a thousand people will show up to listen and they'll be really excited about what you're saying - no matter what it is. That's the trouble: it's no matter what it is. Because people are so disillusioned by this point that they will believe almost anything.

I hate the thought that we will lose this man.
Profile Image for Robb Seaton.
39 reviews85 followers
April 5, 2014
Look, you don't need to read this book. Here's how Chomsky works:

1. Identify an authority.
2. Is it necessary? If not, dismantle it.

How do you identify an authority? Watch when someone gets fired, put in prison, forced to resign, etc. What aren't you allowed to say or do? What happens when you push something too far?

Now, I'm partial to this algorithm, but it's not at all obvious that it's a good idea, for all the same reasons that it's not obvious that it's a good idea to eradicate an unnecessary animal.

Plus, the book is decidedly useless when it comes to, you know, understanding power. "Because they're evil" is not analysis, and I wasn't at all impressed with Chomsky's scholarship, unlike many other reviewers. Chomsky draws almost no connections between his own narrative and work in other disciplines. Economists, he says, are brainwashed, so why listen to them? Very convenient.

If you're on the left and want to listen to someone agree with you, sure, then read this. Or if you're interested in the history of activism, read it -- that's essentially what Chomsky is, a historian specializing in activism. Otherwise, I'd recommend just watching the movie *Manufacturing Consent*.
Profile Image for Nikola Jankovic.
550 reviews109 followers
December 13, 2021
Sjajan Čomski. Otvara oči na svet. Em jedan od najpametnijih ljudi danas, em se slažem sa njegovim pogledima. A još bolje ga je čitati u vreme kad je aktivizam aktuelan, kao što je aktuelan ovih nedelja kod nas.

Bez obzira na masovnost nekih okupljanja, mnogo ljudi mi kaže "ne vredi, šta se može postići"? Zapravo mnogo, i to je jedna od stvari koje Čomski objašnjava kroz ovu zbirku predavanja. Aktivizam je naporan - počinje sa par ljudi u tvojoj dnevnoj sobi i to može da traje godinama. Ali kad dođe pravo vreme, stvari se ekstremno ubrzavaju. Ukidanje robovlasništva. Fministički pokret. Prava za tamnopute u Americi. Rat u Vijetnamu. Zaustavljanje genocida podržanog od SAD u Istočnom Timoru... Na kraju krajeva, reke Stare planine i Rio Tinto.

Na njegovim predavanjima ljudi se žale da smo postali suviše pasivni. Ovo je pisano 90-ih, ali je veoma aktuelno. Čomski poredi Ameriku 60-ih i 80-ih, i šta je postignuto takvim pasivnim pritiscima. Aktivista je naizgled manje, ali urađeno je mnogo - vlast ne može više direktno da ubija milione kao u Vijetnamu, mora da radi ispod radara, sa manjim operacijama u Nikaragvi, kratkim ratovima u Iraku i Gvatemali, bombardovanjem Jugoslavije umesto iskrcavanjem trupa. Koliko mrtvih bi bilo bez takvih pritisaka javnosti?

Čomski donosi i teorije zavere (fraza za koju on kaže da je postala "prljava reč"), ali na jednom drugom nivou. Nema tu priča o gušterima i (ne)pristajanju na Mesec, a te teorije često nisu potpuno skrivene. Čitanjem državnih dokumenata može se doći do istine - samo treba znati gde i šta čitati i razumećeš šta znači "pritisak na vlade koje rade protivno interesu nacije", "podrška američkom kapitalu" ili "saradnja sa tajnim službama država" (Izrael, Južna Afrika, Saudijska Arabija, koje Čomski naziva "plaćeničkim državama, koje za SAD obavljaju prljavi posao koji ova više ne može da obavlja sama - upravo zbog pritisaka aktivista"). Takva teorija zavere može na primer biti informacija da su za vreme raketne krize na Kubi 1962., SAD izvele seriju terorističkih napada protiv Kube, da su masovno potapali ribarske brodove ali i razneli fabriku na Kubi, pri čemu je poginulo 400 radnika.

Ako se pravilno čita, onda ti je jasno šta znači "containment operation against Soviet Union" ili "defensive operations in 1918", koje su ustvari bile slanje armije u novostvoreni SSSR. Odbrambene operacije na teritoriji strane države? Ovo je samo jedna od takvih operacija u američkom 20. veku.

A kao lingvista, Čomski se posvećuje i rečima i frazama. Pretražio je američke mejnstrim medije 60-ih i u nijednom se nije spomenulo da su SAD izvršile invaziju na Vijetnam. Amerikanci se uvek brane ili "podržavaju demokratiju". Mirovni proces - to je ono što SAD uvek podržava, po svaku cenu, makar i po cenu rata. New York Times, koji se smatra za predvodnika slobodne reči u SAD, je u svim (bukvalno, 100%) člancima od 1980. do 2000. SAD opisivao kao predvodnika mirovnog procesa.

Priča i o kapitalizmu, sistemu koji "radi na pohlepu". Nije to briga za druge ili za društvo - to je sistem u kom svi zajedno treba da se trudimo da bogati ostanu srećni. Ako ne budu srećni, povući će investicije, uložiti drugde i svi smo u problemu. A dok god privatni kapital ima takav uticaj na odlučivanje i politiku, tako će i da ostane.

Kao anarhista, Čomski se zalaže za potpuno ukidanje uticaja države. Zapravo za ukidanje države i institucija kao takvih. Žao mi je da se ovde nije više posvetio toj ideji. Šta uopšte znači ukidanje države? Gde su zakoni, policija, ko štiti slabije? Ko sprovodi zakone? Čomski to priznaje, pa iznosi pomalo čudnu kontratezu, gde se on kao anarhista zalaže za osnaživanje državnih institucija, što bi bila nekakva međufaza u oduzimanju moći korporacijama. Nakon toga - anarhija. Ali, kakva je to krajnja faza koju vidi za društvo?

Objašnjava i želju vlasti za depolitizacijom javnosti. Vlast (prema njemu - korporacije) se trudi da ljudi izgube interes za politiku. Vlast želi da ulaže u naoružanje (što po njegovom i nije toliko loše za pokretanje ekonomije), ne u društvene projekte. Ako ulažeš u škole, puteve, bolnice, onda se ljudi uključuju u politički proces. Počnu da se interesuju, istražuju, zato što je to nešto što ima uticaj na njihov život. Zašto se škola ne izgradi u njihovom kvartu? A interes javnosti nije dobar ni za jednu vlast - bolje je da ljudi ostanu pasivni, da moć zadrže "oni gore". Bolje je ulagati u nešto što ljude ne interesuje (npr. u novi nosač aviona), pa makar bilo potrebno da se zbog toga stalno stvaraju novi neprijatelji. A finansiranje vojne industrije je direktno finansiranje korporacija, ništa drugo osim toga.

Ali šta možemo da uradimo, s obzirom da će ti gore uraditi sve da se zadrže na vlasti i da sistem ostane nepromenjen? Da li treba samo da sedimo i udaljimo se? To su ljudi pričali i za feudalizam i za robovlasništvo, kaže Čomski. Ne treba da budemo izolovani, svako za sebe, treba da se udružimo i onda je sve moguće. (Sredinom 90-ih najavljuje i internet - koji je s jedne strane odličan za komunikaciju među aktivistima, ali koji će potpuno da otupi ljude i uzme im volju da se aktiviraju uživo, a bez toga nema aktivizma). Možda još nije vreme za pravi slobodni socijalizam ili za anarhizam, ali dugo nije bilo pravo vreme ni za ukidanje robovlasništva.

Za kraj - simpatičan mi je i u odbrani i u napadu na države koje su predstavljale "socijalizam" u dvadesetom veku. Najpre se pita, zbog čega se bogastvo Sovjetskog saveza poredi sa Zapadnom Evropom, pa da onda na osnovu toga zaključujemo da ta vrsta državne organizacije nije bila uspešna? Trebalo bi gledati države koje su bile slične SSSR u 1913., pa videti kako su se razvijale do 1990. Treba porediti Bugarsku i Gvatemalu, SSSR i Brazil, a ne SSSR i Veliku Britaniju. Ako uzmemo takva poređenja, pokazaće se da rezultati uopšte nisu toliko loši.

S druge strane, nimalo ne simpatizira sa tim pogrešnim oblikom socijalizma i komunizma. Lenjin i Staljin uradili su sve što je protivno socijalizmu. Nakon Oktobarske revolucije, razorili su sovjete, ukinuli fabričke odbore osnovane u februarskoj revoluciji. Uveli su državni kapitalizam. Kažemo da "socijalizam nije uspeo i da ne treba da se vraća", a pri tome mislimo na socijalističke države poput Sovjetskog saveza ili one koje u svom nazivu imaju reč socijalizam. Zašto ne kažemo "demokratija nije uspela", kad imamo države poput Nemačke Demokratske Republike ili Demokratske Narodne Republike Koreje? Čomski tvrdi da je u onim državama sa "socijalizmom" u nazivu bilo otprilike toliko socijalizma, koliko je demokratije u ovima drugima.
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December 31, 2020
এই বছর ডিসেম্বরের ৭ তারিখে নোয়াম চমস্কি পালন করেছেন তার ৯২তম জন্মবার্ষিকি। বলা হয়ে থাকে তিনি বর্তমান বিশ্বের জীবিত মোস্ট সাইটেড স্কলার। অনেকের মতে তিনি হচ্ছেন, “the most important intellectual alive”। তিনি Massachusetts Institute of Technology-এর একজন Institute Professor Emeritus, কাজ করেন ভাষাতত্ত্ব, বিশ্লেষণমূলক দর্শন, কগনিটিভ সাইন্স ও রাজনীতি নিয়ে। চমস্কি ১৫০ এর উপরে লিখেছেন বই, দিয়েছেন শতশত পাবলিক স্পিচ, ১৬০ এর উপরে মুভি, টিভি সিরিজ ও ডকুমেন্টারিতে রয়েছে তার উপস্থিতি। তবে তার সবচেয়ে বড় পরিচয় হলো তিনি আমেরিকান পররাষ্ট্র নীতি, পুঁজিবাদ এবং মেইন্সট্রিম মিডিয়ার একজন বিশ্ববিখ্যাত সমালোচক।

তার “Understanding Power” বইটা পড়লাম, ২০০১ সালে প্রকাশিত ৪১৬ পৃষ্টার এই বইটি বিভিন্ন টকশোতে দেয়া তার বক্তব্যের একটি সংকলন। সবচেয়ে আশ্চর্য্যের বিষয়টি হলো, এই বইতে তিনি বলেছেন পাবলিক স্পিকিং ও টকশোর জন্য তার স্কেজিউল আগামী দুই বছরের জন্য বুকড। সেই সঙ্গে বুঝতে পারলাম কেন এই ব্যাক্তি আমেরিকায় বসবাস করে একসময় আমেরিকার মতো শক্তিশালী একটি দেশের প্রেসিডেন্টের এনিমিলিস্টের উপরের দিকে জায়গা করে নিয়েছিলেন।

যাই হোক, বইয়ের শুরুতেই চমস্কি সমালোচনা করেছেন গনতন্ত্রের নামে আমেরিকার আগ্রাসনকে এবং মার্কিন মূলুকের মানুষদের বোকা বানিয়ে রাখা (তার মতে) মেইন্সট্রিম মিডিয়াকে। তিনি বলেছেন, সাধারনত যেকোন দেশ, জাতি বা গোত্র কোন অসৎ উদ্দ্যেশ্য সাধনের জন্য ভাড়াটে সন্ত্রাসীর কোন একক ব্যাক্তি বা দলকে ভাড়া করে কিন্তু আমরা এতই বিত্তশালী যে আমরা এইসব কাজের জন্য ভাড়াটে সন্ত্রাসী রাষ্ট্রকে (তিনি ইসরাইল কে ইঙ্গিত করেছেন) ব্যাবহার করি। এক মহিলা রিপোর্টার চমস্কিকে প্রশ্ন করেছিলেন সত্য প্রকাশে মিডিয়ার কাছে আদর্শগত বাধা কোন জায়গায়? এর জবাবে তিনি বলেন, আমি Boston Globe-এর এডিটরকে একবার জিজ্ঞেস করেছিলাম আপনারা ইসরাইল/ফিলিস্তিন দ্বন্দ্বকে এত খারাপ ভাবে উপস্থাপন করেন কেন? উত্তরে ঐ এডিটর হাসলেন এবং বললেন, আমরা এটা করি কারন আমাদের কোন আরব এডভারটাইজার নাই।

চমস্কির মতে বর্তমানে আন্তর্জাতিক পরিসরে মানুষকে সবচেয়ে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ যে দুইটা জিনিস নিয়ে ভাবা উচিত তা হলো, এক. আন্তর্জাতিক অর্থনীতির পরিবর্তন এবং দুই. পরিবেশের উপর হুমকি। পুঁজিবাদ যেভাবে কাজ করে সেটা একটা সেলফ ডেস্ট্রাকশান মেথড। এই সিস্টেমের প্রকৃতি হ'ল লোভ দ্বারা চালিত হওয়া; কারও পক্ষে কারও জন্যই উদ্বিগ্ন হওয়ার কিছু নে��। পুঁজিবাদের চিন্তা ভাবনা হচ্ছে “Maximizing sort-term profit without concern for the long-term effect”, যেখানে প্রত্যেকটা এনটিটি হচ্ছে একেকটা লিথাল ওয়েপন। তাই আর যাইহোক পুজিবাদ দিয়ে পরিবেশকে বাচানো সম্ভব না। পরিবেশকে বাচানোর একটাই উপায় আর তা হলো সম্মিলিত সামাজিক পরিকল্পনা।

তাকে প্রশ্ন করা হয় এই যুদ্ধাস্ত্র প্রতিযোগিতার উদ্দ্যেশ্য কি? তিনি বলেন মনে রাখবেন একটি দেশের প্রাথমিক শত্রু হচ্ছে তার নিজের জনগন। যদি একবার আপনার নিজের দেশের মধ্যে পলিটিক্স ছড়িয়ে পড়ে তাহলে এটি একটি ম্যাসাকারে রূপ নিবে এবং জনগনকে বাধ্য রাখার সবচেয়ে কার্যকরী উপায় হলো International Conflict, যার মাধ্যমে জনগন ভয়ে তটস্থ থাকবে ও নিজের অধিকার ছেড়ে দিতে বাধ্য হবে। এই যুদ্ধাস্ত্র প্রতিযোগিতা একটি দেশের অর্থনীতিকে সঠিক ভাবে চালানোর জন্যে একটি গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ভূমিকা পালন করে, এই অসম প্রতিযোগিতার কারনেই হাই-টেক ইন্ডাস্ট্রিতে ভর্তুকি প্রদান সম্ভব হয়। যেমন, কোন পলটিশিয়ান যদি বলেন, আগামী বছর থেকে আপনারা বেশি ট্যাক্স পে করবেন যাতে আমরা IBM-কে একটি পঞ্চমপ্রজন্মের কম্পিউটার ও NASA-কে মঙ্গল অভিজানের জন্য ভর্তুকি দিতে পারি। দেশের কোন নাগরিকই এর সাথে একমত হবে না। কিন্তু আপনি যদি এইখানে International threat-কে নিয়ে আসেন তবে দেশের নাগরিকেরা তা মানতে বাধ্য।

আমি “Free Market”-এর একজন সাপোর্টার কিন্তু চমস্কি এই Free Market সম্পর্কে আমার ধারনা পালটে দিয়েছেন। তার মতে এটি আমেরিকার সাধারণ জনগণের বিরুদ্ধে একটি অস্ত্র, কারণ এটি সামাজিক ব্যয়ের বিরুদ্ধে একটি যুক্তি, এবং এটি বিদেশের দরিদ্র মানুষের বিরুদ্ধে একটি অস্ত্র, কারণ আমরা অন্য দেশকে বলতে পারি "তোমাদের আমাদের প্রদান করা বিধিগুলি মেনে চলতে হবে," এবং যখনই তারা তা মানতে শুরু করে আমরা তাদের লুঠ করতে শুরু করি। চমস্কি উদাহরন দিয়েছেন ঢাকা কে —রবার্ট ক্লাইভ যখন ঢাকায় আসেন, তিনি ঢাকাকে তুলনা করেন “the Manchester of India” হিসেবে। কারন তখন ঢাকা ছিল ধনসম্পদে পরিপূর্ণ, লোকে লোকারণ্য। ঢাকায় তুলা চাষ হতো, ছিল তখনকার সময়ের অত্যাধুনিক ইন্ডাস্ট্রি, ছিলো রিসোর্স—যেমন পাট। উৎপাদনশীলতার দিক থেকে তুলনা করলে ঢাকা তখন ইংল্যান্ডের সমকক্ষ ছিল। কিন্তু আপনি যদি এখন ঢাকার দিকে তাকান তবে দেখবেন “the Manchester of India, is the capital of Bangladesh—the absolute symbol of disaster”। চমস্কির মতে যারাই ওয়েস্টের দ্বারা শ্বাসিত হয়েছে তার প্রত্যেকেই বর্তমানে একেকটা ধংসস্তুপ আর যারা ওয়েস্টের দ্বারা শ্বাসিত হয় নি তারাই আজকের লিডিং ইকোনমি।

এই বইয়ের সবচেয়ে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ অংশটি হলো আমেরিকা সহ ওয়ার্ল্ড একাডেমিয়ার ডার্ক সাইড নিয়ে তার আলোচনা। বর্তমান স্কুল সিস্টেম গঠন করা হয়েছে এইভাবেই যেন বাচ্চারা স্বাধীন ভাবে চিন্তা না করে একরকম সিস্টেমের দাসে পরিণত হয়। কারন আপনি যদি স্কুল সিস্টেম এনালাইস করেন তাহলে দেখবেন একটা বাচ্চা যদি কোন সাবজেক্টে সি গ্রেড পায় তবে এটা অথরিটির জন্যে কোন মাথাব্যাথার বিষয় না। কিন্তু ওই বাচ্চাটাই যদি তিন মিনিট দেরি করে স্কুলে আসে তবে তাকে প্রিন্সিপালের অফিসে ডেকে শাসানো হবে।

একাডেমিয়াতে স্বাধীন চিন্তা ভাবনা কে কিভাবে দমিয়ে রাখা হয় তা উল্লেখ করে চমস্কি একটি ঘটনার বর্ণনা দিয়েছেন। ১৯৮৪ তে Joan Peters নামের একব্যাক্তির লেখা From Time Immemorial একটি বই বের হয়। সামগ্রিকভাবে এই বইয়ের সারাংশ ছিল এই যে, ফিলিস্তিনিরা প্যালেস্টাইন বা ইসরাইলের আদি বাসিন্দা নয়, তারা হচ্ছে ইমিগ্রান্ট। বইটি ওই সময় আমেরিকাতে খুবই জনপ্রিয়তা লাভ করেঃ Washington Post, New York Times থেকে শুরু করে সব জায়গায় পজেটিভ রিভিউয়ের ছড়াছড়ি। অর্থাৎ, সবার মরাল এক্সসেপ্টেশান ছিল এই যে ইসরাইলিরা চাইলে ফিলিস্তিনিদের তাদের দেশ থেকে তাড়িয়ে দিতে পারে। কিন্তু সমস্��া বাধালো Norman Finkelstein নামের প্রিন্সটনের এক গ্রাজুয়েট স্টুডেন্ট। সে বইটা পড়লো এবং রেফারেন্স খুজতে গিয়ে দেখলো পুরো বইটাই একটা ধাপ্পাবাজি ছাড়া আর কিছুই না। সে এটা নিয়ে একটা আর্টিকেল লিখলো এবং জার্নালে সাবমিট করা শুরু করলো। যদিও লিডিং জার্নাল গুলো তার এই আর্টিকেল সাবমিশানে কোন রেসপন্স করেনি এবং করার কথাও না, কিন্তু ইলিয়নসের একটা বামপন্থি জার্নাল তার আর্টিকেল প্রকাশ করলো। এটা ছিল তার জীবনের একটা মারাত্মক ভুল। এই আর্টিকেল প্রকাশের পর তার ডিপার্টমেন্টের প্রফেসরররা তার সাথে মিটিং এর স্কেডিউল নেয়া এমনকি কথা বলাও ছেড়ে দিল। Finkelstein তার প্রোগ্রাম কুইট করলো এমনকি ডিপার্টমেন্ট পর্যন্ত চেঞ্জ করতে বাধ্য হলো।

এই বই পড়ে কেউ যে ওয়েস্টের বিরুদ্ধে যুদ্ধ ঘোষনা কর��� দিবে বা আমি নিজেই যে আবেগে আপ্লুত হয়ে গেছি এমন না। তবে বইটাতে ফ্যাক্ট আর ইনফরমেশান যে ভাবে তুলে ধরা হয়েছে, Freedom of speech, Automation, Abortion, Free Trade, International war, ইকোনমিক্স থেকে পলিটিক্স, তাবৎ দুনিয়ার অতীত থেকে ভবিষ্যৎ মাত্র ৪১৬ পেইজে যেভাবে নিয়ে আসা হয়েছে সেটি অসাধারন। আসলেই ক্ষমতাকে বুঝতে হলে আপনার এই বইটি পড়া উচিত।
Profile Image for Evelyn.
651 reviews56 followers
November 13, 2011
An eye-opening book which is accessible for almost everyone to read without too much trouble and a great introduction to many topics surrounding the politics of Power. Packed within these 400 pages, Chomsky discusses US foreign policy & US politics in general, Israel, Palestine & the Middle East, histories of labour and social movements, propaganda techniques of the mainstream media, the military-industrial complex and the UN to name just a few. He also talks about activism and the need for people to get together and mobilize for change (I found Chapter 6 especially interesting for this). Chomsky doesn't offer answers to the difficult questions, only suggestions as it's up to people to decide what they want for themselves and their futures - no-one should ever make those decisions for you, and I really admired that.

I would recommend this to anyone who wants to find out what's really going on in the world and why.

P.S The extensive footnotes that are online which accompany the book are also incredibly useful and thorough.
Profile Image for BeeQuiet.
94 reviews17 followers
May 5, 2012
I have strong feelings moving in both ways on this book, as whilst Chomsky does make very good points on multiple issues, his attempts at modesty occasionally fall flat as it becomes apparent that he thinks he understands the whole world order more than he does. I do feel that his analysis of the media is by and large correct - if one is funded by advertisers, those advertisers must be pleased and they will not be pleased if you run the wrong messages. I know plenty of people who simply swallow assumed 'common sense' knowledge without questioning it and this is in part indoctrination. As Chomsky notes, governments have in the past been relatively open about the need for propaganda to keep the public doing what they should and keep them from interfering in politics.

I do not believe Chomsky is the be all and end all - he over-generalises and he writes off some theorists as being ridiculous because they are not directly useful for campaigning, whilst showing in a similar example that the 'hard sciences' work in the same way entirely with his support. This is just one example, but my overall view is that anyone who follows the 'bible of Chomsky' without critically engaging and coming up with their own version has made a big mistake. But then that is something on which both Chomsky and I would wholeheartedly agree upon.
Profile Image for Aaron Gertler.
194 reviews70 followers
February 5, 2019
"I never wanted to be a radical; it's just that when I started checking the footnotes I couldn't stop."

Statements about power that are often true:
* Power is brutal.
* People with power use it brutally.
* People who have been powerful for a long time have also been brutal for a long time.

Noam Chomsky writes about power, and the way it has been used (brutally) by the United States. He also writes about language, and how we settle into ways of using it that distort our perceptions. This is one of the best books I've read on either subject.

Even on topics that most authors treat as a tug-of-war, Chomsky is less likely to join one side or the other than he is to pull the rope sideways, or point out that it's been tied to a brick wall:

Some of you are journalists: try talking about the American "attack" on South Vietnam. Your editors will think you came from Mars or something, there was no such event in history. Of course, there was in real history.

His views are often straightforward, but rarely simple:

"I mean, it's a difficult judgment to try to figure out whether Nixon or Humphrey is going to end the Vietnam War sooner [in 1968], that's an extremely subtle judgment to make; I actually didn't vote on that one, because I figured Nixon probably would. I did vote against Reagan, because I thought the guys around Reagan were extremely dangerous-Reagan himself was irrelevant, but the people in his administration were real killers and torturers, and they were just making people suffer too much, so I thought that might make a difference. But these are usually not very easy judgments to make, in my opinion."

The book is mostly people asking Chomsky ideological questions and getting back practical answers. Is now the time for revolution? Well...

"[America's] depoliticized, cynical population could easily be mobilized by Jimmy Swaggart [a televangelist], or it could be organized by environmentalists. Mostly it just depends on who's willing to do the work."

Is capitalism racist? Well...

"Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangeable cogs, and differences among them, such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional. I mean, they may be functional for a period, like if you want a super-exploited workforce or something, but those situations are kind of anomalous. Over the long term, you can expect capitalism to be anti-racist, just because it's anti-human. And race is in fact a human characteristic-there's no reason why it should be a negative characteristic, but it is a human characteristic."

He isn't always right, but his "does this make sense?" filter is always on, and it catches a lot of potential mistakes before they happen. It also lets him cut through the Gordian Knot of tangled pro-America journalism which dominated the media landscape for several decades (and caused immeasurable damage during the Iraq War). To see someone with a similar mind take on our current politics, see William Arkin's resignation from NBC.

Anyway, back to the main review: Understanding Power was endlessly fascinating. I learned about bits of history I'd never heard before (like the story of Vladimir Danchev or the theory of "Diaperology"). I saw old bits of history in a new light (Watergate was a piddling violation of "American values" compared to FBI raids on the Socialist Workers Party; Bill Clinton helped to overthrow democracy in Haiti). And I came to appreciate the mind of the author, who in many ways is a consummate rationalist, always asking more questions and refusing to clap for the applause lights of any party. (I had never realized how deeply he held Marxism in contempt; shame on me for painting him with a broad brush.)

This isn't to say he's perfect, of course. I'll quote a passage from my notes, written minutes after I finished reading:

As a big thinker, he has big weaknesses; the one that first comes to mind is that he doesn't seem to see businesspeople as... human? He claims that people are very difficult to predict or understand, unless they are businesspeople, in which case they will murder their way to profits every time.

Understanding Power doesn't really understand capitalism; Chomsky may have a reasonable model of what it's like to be CEO of Lockheed Martin or United Fruit, but I saw no evidence in this book that he has any idea what it might be like to live inside the mind of Elon Musk or Joe Coloumbe. Also, after reading his thoughts on American libertarianism, I wished that I could find a time machine and arrange things so that he'd been forced to room with Bryan Caplan in college (they could have been such good friends, and Caplan may have corrected a few of Chomsky's silliest mistakes).

Still, the book's minor flaws barely dim its brilliance, and they certainly don't undermine its central point: The American government does not hate you, but it doesn't love you; you are made of atoms it can use for something else. And Americans have built-in blinders to stop them from recognizing this (we also have new blinders in the twenty-first century, but the old ones never slipped off). We have murdered and bombed and killed people at frightening rates, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. We try to protect people, and we have good intentions, but we almost always put ourselves first.

...of course, other countries are much the same. To study power in global politics, one should study the United States, but had Chomsky been a Russian in an alternate universe where the Cold War went the other way, I think he'd be saying the same things about the USSR (though he may not have lived quite so long).

Anyway, I've rambled on long enough to create a Chomsky-style review. He's really smart and says a lot of true things that are easy to forget whether or not your politics are "mainstream". He is steadfastly pro-human and really seems to care when people get hurt. He has a coherent view of the world. He tells funny gossipy stories about George Will and other journalists acting ridiculous. He is worth reading.
Profile Image for Tadas Talaikis.
Author 7 books66 followers
October 21, 2018
Summary of some points in my own words:

1. Nothing is hidden in the public records about imperial terrorism network, because officials are disciplined. Problem is that average Americans never look or read them.
2. Manufacturing consent. If you lose trust of people when using power, then you just need better indoctrination through highly centralized and concentrated corporate media propaganda.
3. American "democracy" is a belief that people should be ruled by a class of "elites". Translating from American Newspeak, democracy here in reality means sort of plutocracy, or the new aristocracy. In my opinion, American Revolution had failed then.
4. Prosperity. U.S. is the richest country in the world partly due to many expansionary and, in Newspeak, - "preventive", or even "we should help them" wars. far from it.
5. Classical conservatives had died. Translating from American Newspeak, today's conservatives are "extreme statists".
6. Free market. Translating from Newspeak, free market is only for elite, not you.
7. Free speech. Translating from Newspeak, it means, you can say everything, except anything that shatters The King or ruling class or "American way of life".
8. Classical liberals had died too, because freedom doesn't exist in aristocracies.
9. Religious fanaticism, deeply permeating indoctrination. Like, try to say something about social rights to an average (brainwashed) Joe :-D
10. A heart of plutocracy. What happens after democratic election takes place in Latin America: a) military cue, supported by U.S. or b) capital flows out from country (hopeless problem). So, the whole society should care only about how well rich are feeling in their mansions.
11. Why empire? There is no logical, i.e. economic reason, as costs are pretty equal to profit, but empire exists, because ordinary people ("slaves") are paying all the expenses for everlasting "fight for democracy", but profits are reaped only by their masters (the rich).
12. Any rich country is sort of Nazi country, highly controlled state.
13. Corporations don't want to pay for research, why should they? They want that R&D, ex. "high technology", like internet, would have paid in taxpayers money via "star wars" propaganda. Everybody's a fascist, the difference is what form it takes. Ex., military spending doesn't redistribute wealth and is totally worthless for the majority.
14. On the "evil empire". U.S. can't confront directly with the "evil empire", but they can find someone like Muammar Gaddafi.
15. International terrorism is overwhelmingly founded by expansionary imperial U.S. actions, but it is legit (basically, because beta-monkeys are afraid to confront the biggest dick in world). When terrorism is done by weird looking guys, with dark skin and mustaches, then imperial alpha-monkeys are threatened and don't like it.
16. "Progress" is another word from Newspeak. Its is neither bad or good, just a way of capitalism to adapt and exploit the existing system. When capitalists (moral or not) started to lose value in slavery, it was abandoned for another type of slavery, called "job". Slaves can't buy shit you produce, but "workers" and "middle class" can, and with pretty low investment.
17. How much people are required to destroy indoctrination? Just one. Crowd consciousness theory also confirms that. My experience when trying to refute or amplify the effect - somewhat too.
17. In a capitalist society, there is so much freedom as you can buy.
18. Independence. Empire tries not to stop "spread of communism", like media brainwashing says, but to control the world as a "superpower", and stop any country from becoming independent. Non-independent from the empire countries are more vulnerable and in a worse state, consequentially, capital of whose is flowing into the hands of empire's rich.
19. Social spending. From the economics perspective there is no big difference where you spend public funds - military or social. But social spending has one negative side effect - more of democracy and independence. So, the empire has an incentive to keep people passive and spend on military instead.
20. "Russians are coming". After the fall of Soviet Empire, the narrative and military spending had switched to the Middle East.
21. Law is basically meaningless, because there are a lot of gray zones how to break unions or avoid penalties (see the point about buying the freedom).
22. Despite everything mentioned, there is still a chance of social improvement.
23. Everything is a conspiracy. If Ford Motors directors gather together and decide what model of car to produce next year, it is a conspiracy. But "conspiracy theory people" get it wrong with CIA, FBI, etc., because those institutions are mostly obedient to the Congress, and all operations (see the first point) are well documented.
24. Violence. Fear propaganda is the best way to control people. In the Nazi Germany it was "Jews", now it is "terrorism".
25. Big business is afraid of fanatics, because owners of big businesses, despite that they like wages going down, they still want their daughters have rights and to avoid poisoning from the lead paint. It is why they tend to favor Democrats style fascism over new right wing style fascism.

All in all, this is excellent book, putting it into my top 1% of books.

Bonus. If business will go slow, expect war with North Korea (at least, because it can be extended to war with China and Russia). Propaganda already started several years ago.

P.S. Trump is already withdrawing from nuclear missiles treaty (1987).
Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,226 followers
May 25, 2011
Chomsky is one of the critical deans of American political history: ironic and pessimistic; forever probing and analyzing the decrepitude, deceit, and delusion rife within the ready presentation and understanding of the United States as an exceptional force of good in the world, and a constant decrier of the various means and manipulations the government and media undertake to stoke this view; content in generally limiting himself to pointing out the flaws in the system, the hypocrisy and moral failures and falsehoods, in order to heighten the reader's awareness in lieu of offering any realistic or practical solutions, while displaying a certain naïveté of functioning politics, a somewhat idealistic (or at least selective) view of the world, though whether as a cause or an effect is not clear to me. His analysis of the problems is acute and convincing; his conclusions never seem of the real world in which we are all forced to live. I respect Chomsky and his unwavering commitment to presenting what he believes to be an unvarnished and necessary antidote to a rampant American Exceptionalism; but I find that I am often left feeling immensely helpless in the wake of his endless detailing and criticism, bereft of any workable solutions and suspecting that, in his pursuit of the darkness inherent in the American Dream (as filtered through the Military-Industrial Complex), he has become quite blind to the sides and shapes of it that are positive and bright, as well as increasingly morally obtuse whenever the perpetrator(s) of the policies, actions, and propaganda that he abhors is(are) not of the first world. Perhaps a case of a prolonged peering into the Nietzschean abyss, with all of its attendant perils.
Profile Image for Nikolay.
99 reviews79 followers
January 12, 2018
Not assembled by Chomsky, but by some genius editors who organized and very precisely cut pieces of many interviews with him. I loved the format. The covered a much broader range of topics than I expected and the more conversational style made it a lot easier to swallow.

Now, to the more complicated part of the review – the content itself. Based on knowing a little bit about Chomsky, my approach to listening the book was to pay closer attention to the facts and explanations how and why the works and tactfully let his ideas about how the world should go in one ear and out the other. This strategy worked marvelously.

Some of the topics covered are: US foreign policy and its brutal aggression, capitalism and how capital effectively governs the country, media/education/intellectualism and how they are mostly used as propaganda tools, dissent and how they had an actual effect on US government actions.

My two main takeaways:
- After learning more about how the world works, the only way to deal with the imminent depression and being overwhelmed is to stick to the things we can change and enjoy and work on changing them day after day, putting one foot in front of the other, until we see an improvement.
- While flawed, the current system works reasonably well – we live longer, violence is minimal compared to the past, with a little bit of luck one can lead a decent life. Not to say we should accept the status quo, but amount our regular rage about how fucked up the world is, let's at least for a second acknowledge the current complex (and surprising, to me) balance.
Profile Image for Thomas.
486 reviews85 followers
February 7, 2017
If you haven't read Chomsky, this is a good place to start. It's a well-edited collection of Chomsky's talks, so it's rather wide-ranging, but it always circles back to the same themes so it doesn't seem scattered. I started this a few days after the presidential election, hoping it could help me with the universal question: "What the Fuck?" It did, sort of. Take this, for example:

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.

Yay for corruption! The pieces in this book are a little bit out of date, but let's hope that Noam is right, on this count at least. We're about to find out.
Profile Image for dogo.
380 reviews60 followers
February 21, 2020
See, there's an experiment going on. The experiment is:

Can you marginalize a large part of the population, regard them as superfluous, because they're not helping you make those dazzling profits and can you set-up a world in which a production is carried out by most oppressed people with the fewest rights in the most flexible labor markets for the happiness of the rich people of the world?

Can you do that?

Can you get women in China work locked into factories where they're burned to death in fires producing toys that are sold in stores in New York and Boston so the rich people can buy them for their children at Christmas?

Can you have an economy where everything works like that?

Production by the most impoverished and exploited for the richest and most privileged internationally. And with large parts of the general population just marginalized because they don't contribute to this system. In Columbia - murdered, in New York - locked up in prison.

Can you do that? Well, nobody knows the answer to that question.


See, the idea behind royalty was that there's this other species of individuals who are beyond the norm and who the people are not supposed to understand. That's the standard way you cloak and protect power - you make it look mysterious and secret - above the ordinary person. Otherwise, why should anybody accept it?<...>
Profile Image for Zach Cohen.
11 reviews63 followers
December 31, 2010
This is the best single source of Chomsky's work I've come across. A triumph of editing, this book is made up of excerpts of talks Chomsky gave throughout the 80s and 90s. Loosely organized by topic, the book is highly flowing and readable. It includes an encyclopedic reference section available online that is longer than the main text of the book. This is where I recommend anyone not familiar with Chomsky's work to begin; it's the most comprehensive and accessible compilation of his thoughts. Many of the discussions quoted within were in question and answer format. The audience participation is included in the text. Many of the audience questions are obvious questions anyone unfamiliar with the subject matter would have, and the opportunity to read Chomsky's detailed responses to a huge range of questions offers much deeper understanding than simply reading one of his books by yourself.

Understanding Power is a glimpse into the mind of one of the most brilliant, profound, and insightful social critics of our time. He touches on virtually every influential issue in US history, and readers are bound to walk away with a much deeper appreciation for how power functions in society, and how divergent American standard explanations of the world are from reality.
Profile Image for Jostein.
106 reviews5 followers
January 24, 2022
This book is a transcription of talks done by Chomsky in the 90s, and people ask him all sorts of questions. However, the main topics are american politics, both foreign and domestic. Chomsky sounds like a living lexicon as he talks about every single US intervention, the sciences and just about everything else. And he has a remarkable ability to break problems down and explain everything in a very understandable way.

His world view seems quite cynical at times. I wondered sometimes if his interpretations were a bit far-fetched, but usually he has pretty sound logic to back up his statements.

This is a very interesting book as it presents deep reflections on so many topics. Agree or not, Chomsky makes you think. And he says straight out that he does not want to tell people what to do. But he wants people to open their eyes to the power structures around them, and he wants to inspire people to organize. For lots of quotes from this book, check out Tara’s great review here:
Profile Image for waitsforsleep.
18 reviews4 followers
December 27, 2013
Literally changes your world view. I've seen a lot of people mention how they became disillusioned at mainstream media and even stopped following politics and news in general because this book showed them how hopeless the status quo is. But I arrived at the exact opposite conclusion. Chomsky reads between the lines, and breaks down events in a lucid and satisfying way. You need not give up on news altogether, just need to learn how to process it. 10/10 highly recommended for anyone
195 reviews11 followers
July 3, 2010
Intentions Good, Views Dangerous: Understanding Power is, without question, the most comprehensive and compelling presentation of Noam Chomsky's ideas. Reading this book will change the way you see the world. If you are interested in Chomsky, it is likely that you are a noble person who genuinely cares for others and yearns for a better world. Beware, reader, and make sure you choose the right vehicle for your hope. While his intentions are for a peaceful, safe, and healthy world, Chomsky's political writings systematically assume conscious malevolence without evidence, ignore context, and romanticize Third World struggles, regardless of their goals.

Let's briefly examine some of his convictions on a pressing topic: the War on Terror. Following the September 11th attacks, Chomsky immediately presented them as our fault: the result of U.S. Middle East policy, and equally evil U.S. Cold War efforts (training Mujahadeen to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan). His presumption here is that if the United States changes its behavior, that terrorist attacks will then cease. Islamic terrorists, in fact, want a pan-world government under Talibanesque repressive sharia law, a vision that mandates the overthrow of all free nations beginning with ours. These facts are easily learned by reading about the historical development of Islamic radicalism, which is rooted in reinterpretations of the Qur'an's dictates for action, NOT in wishes to live peacefully in a U.S.-free Middle East. These facts, however, do not enter into the Chomskyan world-view, which romanticizes Third World underdogs as brave and legitimized no matter what they stand for.

The linguist also described the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan as a conscious "silent genocide," predicting wrongly that millions would be severed from food supplies. As is typical, Chomsky here focused solely on the negative aspects of the situation, those for which the U.S. deserved his bitter recrimination. For a man who lives prosperously in America and is supposedly the voice of the downtrodden, Chomsky certainly did not put himself into the shoes of the Afghan women. For them, whose existence was akin to slavery, the liberation was a cause for great joy. Actual sentiments were fully antithetical to Chomsky's condemnatory remarks to his villainous U.S. government, which he and he alone believed was consciously bent on killing as many innocent Afghans as possible. Omitting what is significant (the liberation of people living under tyranny, in this case) to emphasize his often ludicrous misperceptions about American motives and motivations is a constant in Chomsky's writings. His Cold War depictions are even more stunning, as Understanding Power's abundant examples attest.

In the case that you are already entrenched in his manner of thinking, at least admit that Noam Chomsky MIGHT be wrong, and see if his positions hold up under review: read Chomsky's articulate, sane critics. If he is perfect, then you have nothing but gain to acheive from this exercise; it will only serve to strengthen your ability to effectively argue and implement Chomsky's ideas in the world. After clear-eyed reassessment of his political writings, if you STILL think he's on-point, then all the best to you. If, however, you reevaluate his "wisdom," you will have saved yourself from much needless confusion and despair.

Were Chomsky's views simply false, there would not be need for this posting. They become perilous, however, in their blind, wholesale demonization of the United States. Chomsky's own fear and anger about the state of our world are projected, with great urgency: anger at and fear of U.S. "elites" is the Chomsky program. The result is often flat-out hatred. What would Chomsky do were he President? We do not know; he avoids that inconvenient question by telling us that were he to run (which he admits he would never do), the first thing he would do is tell us not to vote for him. Furthermore, why does Professor Chomsky not include himself in the "elites" so prominent in his analyses? Does he not pay taxes, and drive a BMW, and teach at a cushy, prestigious university? The questions may seem too simplistic, but they point to a core issue: if Chomsky cannot look into the mirror regarding his own status and societal position, then how much more impaired must his assessments be of things outside of himself? On paper, it is unclear exactly what Chomsky IS calling for, and putting aside the constant onslaught of judgment-filled writings and audio programs, neither does his life provide us an example of what he conceives to be right-action. Those who want an idea of who believes IN Chomsky, however, need look no further than Hugo Chavez, who recently proclaimed allegiance and military support to his "brother" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad, for anyone who needs reminding, daily denies the Holocaust, and calls for the destruction of Israel and the United States. Is it a coincidence that those who love Chomsky also embrace a world-view rooted in blame, anger, and vilification?

Good and evil do exist in this world, but Noam Chomsky is not capable of distinguishing between the two. The U.S.A. is not perfect, and never will be. Nevertheless, if we fail to recognize the good that IS here, we may soon lose our nation. Chomsky's writings are little more than a good reminder that appearance is not essence. It is worth noting as well, that Chomsky is an avowed atheist, and believes that life is meaningless. If we bear in mind that evil is in the eye of the beholder, then Chomsky--an American, an Israelite, a millionaire--is instantly unmasked in all of his self-revulsion. Understanding Power should be retitled as "Understanding Blame." Stear clear and take heart, reader; there is hope in this world, and your country is good, but you will discover neither in Avram Noam Chomsky.
Profile Image for Avi Singh.
41 reviews10 followers
June 11, 2017
Understanding Power is a collection of discussions sessions that Chomsky has had with attendees of his talks. The discussions covered in this book happened in 1989-1999, and discuss US policies in the 1960-1990 period. The central thesis behind Chomsky's arguments is that the US is essentially a plutocracy, and is backed up with a lot of evidence - a substantial portion of which comes from those in power itself - declassified documents, memoir written by bureaucrats, articles in right-wing news outlets like WSJ, Economist, etc. Another line of discussion is how the ruling class exercises thought control among the intellectual class - by essentially restricting the debate in most news outlets to issues in which there is a difference of opinion among the aristocrats themselves, and how the supposed liberal newspapers (most notably The New York Times) are little more than mouthpieces. Chomsky and Ed Herman's book Manufacturing Consent, which I'll probably read soon, has more on this.

One thing that I found particularly interesting was how, at the end of the book, Chomsky almost predicts the rise of a Donald Trump-like figure. Some direct quotes from the book: "Because people are so disillusioned by this point that they will believe almost anything.", "they're high school graduates, mostly white males, a segment of the society that has really taken a beating", "Actually, I think the US 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... But if somebody shows up who's kind of a Hitler-type just wants power, no corruption." Let's hope that Trump is also a crook, and nothing more.

Personally, this is the 26th book I completed this year (out of the ~35 that I started), and it took me the longest to read (about a month). This work has has altered my perspective more than anything else this I've read this year.
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