Noam Chomsky: The Kind of Anarchism I Believe in, and What's Wrong with Libertarians
Continued from previous page
Wilson:: Many people know you because of your and Edward Herman’s development of the Propaganda Model. Could you briefly describe that model and why it might be important to [college] students?
Chomsky: Well first look back a bit — a little historical framework — back in the late 19th-, early 20th century, a good deal of freedom had been won in some societies. At the peak of this were in fact the United States and Britain. By no means free societies, but by comparative standards quite advanced in this respect. In fact so advanced, that power systems — state and private — began to recognize that things were getting to a point where they can’t control the population by force as easily as before, so they are going to have to turn to other means of control. And the other means of control are control of beliefs and attitudes. And out of that grew the public relations industry, which in those days described itself honestly as an industry of propaganda.
The guru of the PR industry, Edward Bernays — incidentally, not a reactionary, but a Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy liberal — the maiden handbook of the PR industry which he wrote back in the 1920s was calledPropaganda. And in it he described, correctly, the goal of the industry. He said our goal is to insure that the “intelligent minority” — and of course anyone who writes about these things is part of that intelligent minority by definition, by stipulation, so we, the intelligent minority, are the only people capable of running things, and there’s that great population out there, the “unwashed masses,” who, if they’re left alone will just get into trouble: so we have to, as he put it, “engineer their consent,” figure out ways to insure they consent to our rule and domination. And that’s the goal of the PR industry. And it works in many ways. It’s primary commitment is commercial advertising. In fact, Bernays made his name right at that time — late 20s — by running an advertising campaign to convince women to smoke cigarettes: women weren’t smoking cigarettes, this big group of people who the tobacco industry isn’t able to kill, so we’ve got to do something about that. And he very successfully ran campaigns that induced women to smoke cigarettes: that would be, in modern terms, the cool thing to do, you know, that’s the way you get to be a modern, liberated woman. It was very successful —
Wilson: Is there a correlation between that campaign and what’s happening with the big oil industry right now and climate change?
Chomsky: These are just a few examples. These are the origins of what became a huge industry of controlling attitudes and opinions. Now the oil industry today, and in fact the business world generally, are engaged in comparable campaigns to try to undermine efforts to deal with a problem that’s even greater than the mass murder that was caused by the tobacco industry; and it was mass murder. We are facing a threat, a serious threat, of catastrophic climate change. And it’s no joke. And [the oil industry is] trying to impede measures to deal with it for their own short-term profit interests. And that includes not only the petroleum industry, but the American Chamber of Commerce — the leading business lobby — and others, who’ve stated quite openly that they’re conducting … they don’t call it propaganda … but what would amount to propaganda campaigns to convince people that there’s no real danger and we shouldn’t really do much about it, and that we should concentrate on really important things like the deficit and economic growth — what they call ‘growth’ — and not worry about the fact that the human species is marching over a cliff which could be something like [human] species destruction; or at least the destruction of the possibility of a decent life for huge numbers of people. And there are many other correlations.