Chomsky on advertising and anarchism


Professor Noam Chomsky gave an interesting interview to Modern Success magazine about a month ago.  Here’s his observation about advertising.

… Commercial advertising is fundamentally an effort to undermine markets.  We should recognize that. If you’ve taken an economics course, you know that markets are supposed to be based on informed consumers making rational choices.  You take a look at the first ad you see on television and ask yourself — Is that it’s purpose?  No it’s not. It’s to create uninformed consumers making irrational choices.

And these same institutions run political campaigns.  It’s pretty much the same: you have to undermine democracy by trying to get uninformed people to make irrational choices.  And so this is only one aspect of the PR industry. 

Here’s his definition of anarchism.

… Anarchism is, in my view, basically a kind of tendency in human thought which shows up in different forms in different circumstances, and has some leading characteristics.  Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy.  It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified.  It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them.  Their authority is not self-justifying.  They have to give a reason for it, a justification. 

And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just. And, as I understand it, anarchy is just that tendency. It takes different forms at different times.

How to work for a better future?

Anarcho-syndicalism is a particular variety of anarchism which was concerned primarily, though not solely, but primarily with control over work, over the work place, over production. It took for granted that working people ought to control their own work, its conditions, [that] they ought to control the enterprises in which they work, along with communities, so they should be associated with one another in free associations, and … democracy of that kind should be the foundational elements of a more general free society.


Anarchism … calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny.  Including the kind of tyranny that’s internal to private power concentrations. So why should we prefer it? Well I think because freedom is better than subordination.  It’s better to be free than to be a slave. Its’ better to be able to make your own decisions than to have someone else make decisions and force you to observe them. … …

The thing you need an argument for, and should give an argument for, is, How can we best proceed in that direction?  And there are lots of ways within the current society.  One way, incidentally, is through use of the state, to the extent that it is democratically controlled.  I mean in the long run, anarchists would like to see the state eliminated.

But it exists, alongside of private power, and the state is, at least to a certain extent, under public influence and control — could be much more so.  And it provides devices to constrain the much more dangerous forces of private power.  Rules for safety and health in the workplace for example.  Or insuring that people have decent health care, let’s say.  Many other things like that. They’re not going to come about through private power. Quite the contrary. But they can come about through the use of the state system under limited democratic control … to carry forward reformist measures.

I think those are fine things to do.  They should be looking forward to something much more, much beyond, — namely actual, much larger-scale democratization.

Click on Modern Success for the full interview.

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