Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Recently, I have been traveling quite a bit so I have had a chance to do some recreational reading. I picked up a copy of a book called "The Chomsky Reader." It was a compilation of several essays and some new material not released to the general public. I have never been a big fan of Chomsky for several reasons that may seem inane. I never liked his style of writing, which I always found to be lacking in technique and proper accreditation of sources. He seems to value generalities over a detail which was always something that I disliked most about his style.

Anyways, what interested me the most about the work was not his usual critique of civil society or the evils of class stratification but his all out attack on the responsibility of intellectuals. He began by addressing how American scholars have become complacent and the educational system “endows it victims with the capacity to observe, but not see, a capacity that is the hall mark of the “responsible intellectual.” A rather vague statement, which was probably added for the sake for alliteration, but still a poignant one. Of course he was referring directly to the critics and supporters of the Vietnam War and our continuing aggression in the Pacific Rim. I did agree on several important points. He makes mention several times of how American history is an exercise in ideological irrelevance. Simply, that we pay lip service to principles of self-determination, democracy, and human rights. We enforce them only when they are convent and parallel to U.S interests in the region of interest. Those states that fall into that deviant category (or a axis of evil) are either, ignored or if they are ideologically threatening, will be coerced into compliance.

Another and probably the most significant point Chomsky makes is the use of propaganda and a term that many of us have become very familiar with Manufactured Consent. In the present context, the harshest criticism that comes from the mainstream (print news, journals etc) have “only succeeded in reinforcing the system of indoctrination that they themselves are a victim.” This is of particular importance because it explains the silence and compliance from all intellectuals on both sides of the Iraq argument. Of course we see change on the horizon now because the institutions of executive power have ceased to function due to an aroused public regarding the cost of the war. Still it begs the question of wither the masses would support the war if the human cost were not so high for American’s overseas? I believe this is an important distinction to make that the American people are not against the war morally, they don’t view murder and imperialism as inconsistent with the principles of human freedom.

This is the fabric of manufacturing consent within the public. Chomsky does hit the nail on the head.

The process of creating and entrenching is highly selective, reshaped or completely fabricated memories of the past is what we call “indoctrination” or “propaganda” when it is conducted by official enemies, and “education,” “moral instruction” or “character building,” when we do it ourselves.

It sounds like something 1984, it is the unfortunate reality of our democracy. Propaganda is to democracy like violence is to totalitarianism. Technology has only made it easier for the elite to create a new past, by eradicating paper documents in favor of electronic records. These measures are taken to prevent understanding and to deflect attention-- to the Middle East or China—in order to remove that potential awareness from our institutions and there interactions with the rest of the world.

1 comment:

Brainpolice said...

Ah, yes - state-intellectuals.