Chomsky x Chipchase On Palestine, Propaganda and Social Media

Introduction

What is the purpose of 5-Q interviews? Well, a decade ago when I recieved an orbital blow-out fracture from a professional fight, I became involved in another battle. One altogether more human, though equally challenging. The fight of opposing ignorance by means of thought, study, and conversation. In this pursuit, I found many active participants who were willing to aid my journey. This surprised me, but I gladly took them up on their offer. For the next five years, I found myself enthralled in books, debates… and, even as a man without prior education, I was studying at a top UK University for my M.Res. (I tried to follow Wittgenstein’s example, but was unable to jump straight to PhD!) The only problem was, the areas of my interest far exceeded my ability to fully comprehend them. To paraphrase Socrates, the more you know… So, for a time I took to emailing academics who were serious on the topics they specialised in, as a way of understanding their field more clearly. I would pose questions which confused me, or speak on problems that interested me. For a long time, I did this personally. Then, I realised that there may be some use in sharing these short interactions, because if they had helped me, they may be able to help another transverse the rocky road of intellectualism. Today, I share with you one such conversation. Here we begin with Palestine, propaganda, and social media, and will, at some point, be finished with our second discussion on philosophy. The first, because this topic is left all too often, and I wanted to talk on it. The second, because it is my field of interest, and because my interlocutor is possibly the most educated man I could speak with about both at the same time.

So, who is Noam Chomsky?

“Noam Chomsky is a US political theorist and activist, and institute professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Besides his work in linguistics, Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most critically engaged public intellectuals alive today. Chomsky continues to be an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and its ambitions for geopolitical hegemony and the neoliberal turn of global capitalism, which he identifies in terms of class warfare waged from above against the needs and interests of the great majority.

Chomsky is also an incisive critic of the ideological role of the mainstream corporate mass media, which, he maintains, “manufactures consent” toward the desirability of capitalism and the political powers supportive of it.

Over the past five decades, Chomsky has offered a searing critical indictment of US foreign policy and its many military interventions across the globe, pointing out that the US’s continued support for undemocratic regimes, and hostility to popular or democratic movements, is at odds with its professed claim to be spreading democracy and freedom and support for tendencies aiming toward that end.”

Interview

JC: Good afternoon, Noam. Edward Said once wrote of your book ‘The Fateful Triangle’ that “Chomsky’s major claim is that Israel and the United States – especially the latter – are rejectionists opposed to peace, whereas the Arabs, including the PLO, for years have been trying to accommodate themselves to the reality of Israel.”

Do you believe that statement accurately characterises your book? And if so, would you say the veracity of those claims are more, or less accurate today than 1983, when it was first published?

NC: No one line comment can be fully accurate, but Said’s comment is generally correct. That was the situation in 1983 (though the PLO was still vacillating then), even more clearly today.

JC: Then, could you explain why the US and UK governments narrative regarding the atrocities carried out on the Palestinian population by the Israeli government, is so bias? What do they have to gain, by shielding their population from the truth?

NC: The norm. The US (and to a lesser extent the UK) support Israel’s crimes, the US crucially. QED. (Quod erat demonstrandum.)

JC: Then, considering the obvious fact that the US and the UK are, for all intents and purposes, plutocracies… What can those who are reading this do to help shift the political landscape/aid Palestine? (It appears, social media is helping by way of the dissemination of vital information, but does that even matter when the majority are controlled by a wealthy minority?)

NC: There have been a great many successes in the past at shifting the contents and character of prevailing discourse, in this domain too. Much of what appears now about Israel-Palestine in mainstream publications would have been unimaginable not long ago. Eg., open calls for withdrawing military aid from Israel because of its Gaza crimes.

JC: Continuing with the theme of social media (and the internet more generally), exponentially increasing one’s exposure to targeted information… Do you think this technology will impact positively, or negatively, on the future of the political landscape? You once wrote:

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”
(Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda)

It appears, then, that the state has at it’s disposal ever better methods of bludgeoning the democratic process…

How large of a concern should this be for the general public?

NC: Social media and the internet are having effects, of various kinds, but in the more or less democratic states I don’t think the state itself is a major factor.

JC: Do you envision those two particular technological advances as being a major factor in the future of warfare? To extrapolate from the scandal of Cambridge Analytica by example; if a private intelligence company can harvest, and then use data trawled from social media accounts to aim person-specific propoganda, and manipulate the results of an election – what’s to stop warring countries from applying these methods in a myriad of different, and equally dangerous ways?

Thank you so much for speaking with me, Noam. I enjoyed it. Hope we can talk again soon as I wanted to get into Wittgenstein, philosophy, and literature with you.

NC: They might try. Not clear how important this might be.

If I can find the time – not easy – I’d be glad to move on to philosophical issues.

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