Key points in "Manufacturing Consent"
a video about Noam Chomsky and American democracy




Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent arguments about mass media in America and their relation to culture, society and the existing power structure.

[Background from Pilgrim: Hegemony refers to predominance or the preponderant influence of one state over another. A ruling or elite class dominates at the level of ideas, thus undermining any consciousness of change. According to Antonio Gramsci, hegemony ccounts for why people are willing to find a niche in existing society rather than rebel in the manner predicted by Karl Marx. In America, these constraints are inherited in the following:
1) from social structure, and
2) in governmental organization
-- and together they discourage alternative strategies of action. In effect, people participate in their own domination. Media provide the information.]

The video shows Chomsky's guiding belief to be that a decent society should maximize human need for creative work -- not treat people as cogs in a machine so that the power elite can maintain control, continue private ownership of public resources and increase profits -- all the while managing media content (while preserving the myth of a free press).

This deprives a community of what Walter Lippmann called "the means to detect lies." (Recall Postman's quote in "Amusing Ourselves to Death," Chapter 7).

Real democracy, he believes, would be one in which people participate in the political decision-making and in related economic decisions.

Chomsky asserts that America has a system of indoctrination (including a system of propaganda imposed largely by media).

He believes that the hope lies with ordinary people and in the understanding that all changes in history have come because people build a foundation for change at the grassroots level.

Ordinary people are very capable of understanding the world yet must work TOGETHER to get beyond the imposed information and strive to act in accordance with their own decent interests and develop independent minds.

concision -- Noam Chomsky's concept describing how mainstream media content is structured so that it forces those with dissenting voices to limit scope of answers to brief thoughts and soundbites that fit easily between two TV ads

Regarding Thought Control in a Democratic Society, Chomsky makes these points:

1) Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to a dictatorship.

2) Ordinary people have remarkable creativity.

3) People have a fundamental need for creative work, which is not being met in systems where people are like cogs in a machine.

4) What would make more sense as a way to govern is a form of rationalist-libertarian socialism -- not one that increasingly functions without public input. Chomsky advocates a system where a community and its members run things in a democratic fashion and whose people do not function as some sort of wage slaves.

5) People need to be able to detect forms of authority and coercion and challenge those that are not legitimate.

6) The major form of authority that needs challenging is the system of private control over public resources.

7) The First Amendment means that democracy requires free access to ideas and opinions.

8) Democracy in America is not functioning in an ideal sense but more in the sense that Lippmann noted in Public Opinion (where a specialized class of about 20 percent of the people -- but who are also a target of progaganda -- manages democratic functioning) and, in effect, are under control of a power elite, who more or less own the institutions. The masses of people (80 percent) are marginalized, diverted and controlled by what he calls Necessary Illusions.

9) Manufacturing consent is related to the understanding that indoctrination is the essence of propaganda. In a "democratic" society indoctrination occurs when the techniques of control of a propaganda model are imposed -- which means imposing Necessary Illusions.

Chomsky's Propaganda Model says American media have "filters" -- ownership, advertising, news makers, news shapers -- which together emphasize institutional memory, limited debate and media content emphasizing the interests of those in control.


Chomsky used a CASE STUDY of how American media covered two foreign atrocities, Cambodia and East Timor, to illustrate the propaganda model at work -- mainstream media (New York Times was the example used) showed bias in favor of the status quo and power elites and did not covered both atrocities in the same manner, by paying extensive attention to the one (Cambodia 1975-79) and ignoring the other (East Timor 1975-79). If media were not an instrument of propaganda, they would have covered each equally.

When media news coverage of issues is bias in favor the status quo, these are the results:
1. ownership of media is held by major corporations with interests and goals similar to power elite elements of society
2. people with different views, "dissenting voices," are not heard much
3. the breadth of debate is limited
4. the official stance and institutional memory prevail and become history
5. people's interest and attention are often diverted away from issues about which they could become concerned
These attributes come to limit a society in part because mainstream mass media play their part by imposing what Chomsky calls Necessary Illusions, which make certain the masses of the populace won't become curious and involved in the political process and will continue submitting to the "civil rule" of the power elite (maintaining the status quo) -- thus, the masses (80%) are marginalized and diverted while the political class (20% who vote and participate in democracy) are indoctrinated into the status quo.

This "system" is not a Conspiracy but is a HEGEMONIC system of sorts, working with propaganda, wherein people do not get all the important information that may arouse that curiosity and prompt them to get involved and create changes.

Chomsky's concept of NECESSARY ILLUSIONS is linked to power elites dominating how life happens, with part of the population -- about 20% who make up the political class and are expected to participate as cultural managers in a limited fashion -- are indoctrinated, and most people -- the other 80% of the population -- are marginalized, diverted from political awareness and participation in self-governing, and reduced to apathy so they don't vote or take charge. Media are a tool of society's power elites and owned and controlled by them and are used to impose those iIllusions that are Necessary to keep people diverted from the political process.


[David Hume asserted hundreds of years ago that the power always rests with the people but that they don't act because they are oppressed or manipulated]

Thus, indoctrination of the political class and diversion of the masses make up the essence of the democracy practiced in the U.S. (Chomsky notes also that there is no correlation between the internal freedoms in a society and violent external behavior -- and that all governments are ruthless to the extent that they are powerful.)

Major media (New York Times, Washington Post, TV networks, AP) shape our perception of the world by serving as Agenda Setters, Chomsky says.

Media allow some dissenting voices but marginalize them via constraints such as CONCISION, Chomsky's concept saying in mainstream media content, ideas must be stated briefly so it can fill up the TV content between commercials or fit in the print media newshole). Thus, dissenting views are mostly disallowed because they take longer to explain and need more complete evidence.

Chomsky asserts that in order to break free,
citizens must take 2 actions:
1. They must seek out information from ALTERNATIVE MEDIA (media outside the mainstream and usually having a particular point of view)
2. they must move toward change by becoming engaged in community action -- because people can use their ordinary intelligence to make changes in their lives and communities. Grassroots movements begin there.

People can organize to begin grass roots momentum to bring about wider change -- but Chomsky says people must realize soon that the world is not an infinite resource and an infinite garbage can. In these ways, people can fight society's tendency to isolate them from collective action and activism.

Chomsky says it is "profoundly contemptuous of democracy" when the American political system has stage-managed elections and uses manipulation such as testing phrases to determine their likely effect on audiences.

Chomsky argues that people need to work to develop independent minds -- maybe in part by forming COMMUNITY action groups with others with parallel interests and values, not in isolation, which is where the present system tends to keep people.

Chomsky says the present conventional MYTH is that individual material gain is praiseworthy. Instead, people must concern themselves with COMMUNITY INTERESTS [which now suggests the global community] -- and that may mean a spiritual transformation to help people to conceive of themselves differently.

Chomsky argues that America and the world are in deep trouble and that
2 POSSIBILITIES EXIST regarding America's future and the future for a global community held hostage:
1. The general population will take control of its own destiny
2. Or -- there will be no destiny to control.

_______________


In Chomsky's words concluding "Manufacturing Consent":
"The question, in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided [as they have been until now]. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are ... essential to survival."

"The driving force of modern industrialized civilization has been individual material gain. It has long been understood that a society based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist with whatever suffering and injustice it entails as long as it is possible to pretend that the destructive forces humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, [and] is an infinite garbage can.

"At this stage of history, one of two things is possible: Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity and sympathy and concern for others, or alternativ ely there will be no destiny to control.

"As long as some specialized class is in position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interest it serves. But, the conditions of survival and justice require rational, special planning in the interest of the community of the whole (and by now that means the global community).

"The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely to impose NECESSARY ILLUSIONS to manipulate and deceive [whom THEY believe are] the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena. "The question, in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be treasured; they may be essential to survival."



So, Chomsky says all states are violent to the extent they are powerful and that there is little correlation between internal "freedoms" in a society and violent external behavior. The modern American industrial civilization and the media system (which suggests a propaganda model) work because people don't have the time to work and carry out the research to get the information necessary to create change. But, the information is present.

He says he does not have the answers but we should consider moving toward some sort of libertarian-socialist democracy in which our economic institutions would be run by the people. In this way, we would end private control over public resources -- which are finite.

To achieve change AND OVERCOME THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE PROPAGANDA MODEL, Chomsky says we need to rely in part on activism and alternative media. We must develop means of intellectual self-defense. We must develop independent minds. We need to review a wide range of press (or do so in conjunction with others), including alternative media -- and work at the community level in organizations that may have different focuses but that have similar values.

We must become human participants in our social and political system and work to make a difference. Given full information, ordinary people acting on their best impulse can govern themselves.

Note: Chomsky's ideas that touch on solutions such as alternative media sources, collective action, media literacy, and use of the intellect have similarity to solutions offered by other Media Education Foundation videos seen this quarter in J190.

The artistic rendition of Noam Chomsky above is from CommonDreams.org.


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Updated 2013