Editorial: Looking at society through a different lens

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If you do not know of Noam Chomsky, we would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to him. Chomsky is a man of many talents.  He has been described as a classic voice of intellectual dissent and is sometimes referred to as “the father of modern linguistics”. He was born in Philidelphia to middle-class Jewish immigrants and through an impressive education resume, he is now a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. Since 1955, he has worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and holds the title of Institute Professor Emeritus. We have left out a significant portion of his resume but it is worth noting that he has authored over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media.
People like Chomsky see the world through much different lenses than the average person.  It is their different perspective that drives people to seek out their views as a way of expanding their own knowledge of the world around them. Chomsky came to mind when we reflected on all that is going on politically in our bit of paradise because we often use his writings as a guide to keep us on the straight and narrow. Much of his criticism of the main stream media describes the pitfalls of falling for an agenda rather than faithfully reporting the news.  So while this may seem like a bit of an introspective session, the points made by Chomsky are applicable to all and should open your eyes to see through propaganda and rhetoric.
There is no hiding that the media can be prone to manipulation, whether deliberately or innocently.  Chomsky points out that the media are highly effective at moulding public opinion and the people can be manipulated by media that they trust. In registering his observations and making the people aware of possible manipulation, Chomsky has also provided politicians with great insight into how to manipulate the media in order to manipulate the people.
One of our favourite quotes relates to distraction.  He said, “The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction which is to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, by the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.” Like magicians, politicians distract with the left hand while hiding the sleight-of-hand being performed with the right.  It may seem obvious but we all fall for it nearly every time; otherwise magic acts would be extremely boring.
Another great observation by Chomsky was what he referred to as: “problem -reaction- solution. “ It refers to the strategy of creating a problem or situation, which causes a reaction from the audience and then offering a solution.  If little light bulbs are going off, then you are catching on.  An example would be to create an economic or social crisis, have the people accept it as an evil threat and then offer extreme solutions.  These could be the implementation of laws that restrict social rights or maybe the dismantling of public services.
Another way that Chomsky identified as a way to foist an unpopular policy or decision on the public is to present it as ‘painful and necessary’.  It is referred to as the strategy of deferring, whereby those proposing the future pain gain public acceptance up front.  It gives the pubic more time to get used to the idea, so that when the pain comes, it was expected and considered necessary. A brilliant observation when you look at it through Chomsky’s eyes.
At this point, bells and lights are probably going off in your head but we are not finished.  Chomsky also observed the effective use of emotions, and saw it as a technique for causing a short circuit of rational analysis by the receiver. This disarming technique opens doors to the unconscious that allows for the implantation of less than coherent thoughts. Rationality shifts to emotions like fear, desire, anxiety and compulsion. At that point, the common sense approach is trampled by more selfish behaviour in response to the emotion that has been invoked.  Seeing a pattern?
We have often talked about our charge to mediocrity as it relates to our education system and lamented the lack of a high performance strategy. Chomsky observed the same issues but at a societal level.  The strategy involves keeping the public in ignorance and aspiring to mediocrity.  He believed that poor education made the public incapable of understanding the technologies and methods used to control and enslave them. This strategy is combined with another to become more effective. In that strategy, the public is encouraged to be complacent with mediocrity and then taken one step further when they are persuaded to believe that it is fashionable to be stupid, vulgar and uneducated.
We hope that this introduction to Chomsky has opened your eyes and minds to the bigger picture.  We have barely touched the surface – the guy did write over 100 books on heavy subjects – but we hope that it has helped you understand why you should keep your focus on the big issues and do not allow yourself to be distracted by the political sleight-of-hand. As well, if we are to achieve the status of economic powerhouse, we cannot peddle mediocrity as the norm or the goal.

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