David Madore's WebLog: Understanding Power

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Entry #0583 [older|newer] / Entrée #0583 [précédente|suivante]:

(Monday)

Understanding Power

I am currently going through reading Noam Chomsky's (rather massive) book Understanding Power, which is a sort of compendium of all of his political thought.

For those who don't know Chomsky, he is a professor of linguistics at MIT, the inventor in 1956 of “context-free grammars” (which are of paramount importance in modern computer science) and generally speaking an important contributor to the field of structural linguistics (and, incidentally, psychology); he is also well known for his political writing and activism: his views, which are markedly left-wing, could be described as libertarian socialist (or left-anarchist). Chomsky has been described (in an article in The New York Times, which is ironic given the amount of criticism that he has thrown at the Times) as arguably the most important intellectual alive, and I think this isn't unreasonable.

I started reading with the certitude that, since it would be essentially an act of “preaching to the choir” (with me as the choir), I wouldn't learn much. Wrong! I have never found a book so astounding as Understanding Power. Essentially, the editors have taken the transcripts of various colloquies and interviews given by Chomsky (from the eighties to the current day), slightly edited them and organized them topically. So one can read it small portions at a time, or skip directly to this or that subject. All of it is fascinating.

The title is no lie: it is indeed about understanding the game of power, in other words, international politics—generally the United States' role in international politics and the reason behind their actions. Chomsky denounces the official propaganda and explains the real motivations of the powers that be. He brings it all under a new and very different light, and it's simply amazing how much sense it all makes. Even if one does not always agree with all of the (often provocative) theories presented there, the hard facts that he presents are stupefying, and the amount of important events that were simply silenced by the mainstream press is frightening. Because Chomsky never talks aimlessly or theorizes about nothing: his assertions are always backed by ample evidence, easily verifiable at that, and it's wonderful to see how well-documented his explanations about any given topic can be. Nobody else comes even close to being half as erudite about current international affairs as Noam Chomsky. But the really marvelous thing is that all of what he writes remains completely understandable and very easy to read: no matter how expert his reasoning, it is always perfectly readable and entirely clear. As he keeps saying, the facts are there for anyone to see. This is also the reason why Chomsky can't be considered what might be called a conspiracy theorist: he doesn't claim that any of it is secret, it is in fact quite open for anyone to see, it's just that people won't look—and he also dismisses some of the blatant conspiracy theories which might superficially seem to fit the facts.

So, really, I cannot recommend it too warmly: if you have any interest in international affairs, buy and read this book. But if you can't be bothered to, at least try reading Chomsky's blog, Turning the Tide (I've just learned of its existence, so I cannot say how interesting it is, but judging from all that I've ever read by Chomsky, I don't think it should be disappointing).

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