Thought Control in a Democracy




Ed O’Rourke


Chomsky For Beginners tells about famous political critic Noam Chomsky, his background and his political thoughts.  Doctor Chomsky states that the American public believes in three fantasies:


  • Our country does not belong to a few rich people.
  • Our media does not belong to a few rich people nor is the media managed or controlled by them.
  • A few rich people do not form public opinion by advertizing power, media ownership or lobbying efforts.


According to Noam Chomsky, the major corporations run the United States, the major political parties, the media and the rest of the world.  The government, the politicians and the media ignore the majority’s needs and concentrate their services to assist the rich,


Thought control is easier to see in totalitarian societies like the Soviet Union.  People in the United States live under the illusion that the major news organizations, except for Fox News, make an effort to present unbiased reporting. During the recent bailout to save the rich, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former Goldman Sachs director, recommended a plan that would help Goldman Sachs and Wall Street. The media made few references to dissenters.


During the run-up to the Iraq War, I never saw NBC or PBS speak to a protester.  They did speak to many experts, usually retired military officers who were cheerleading the expected war.


Our media ignores any opinion it does not want to hear and those for whose sake it operates –the rich—an y especially does not want the general public to hear.  Corporate and military advertising power overwhelms our society. The Pentagon has a public information office with thousands employed with a budget that runs into the hundreds of millions.  This budget alone is far more than that of all dissenting opinion sources combined.


Our capitalist system needs war or a threat from some evil person or group to thrive.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, our media and Pentagon created a new villain, Saddam Hussein.  The media ignored the enhancement of Saddam’s regime by Reagan and the elder Bush administrations, until the Kuwait invasion.


Several human rights organizations prepare annual lists ranking the world’s most abusive governments.  One could justify military intervention against any one of 24 most abusive governments. Saddam Hussein was never on the top of any list.


Until reading Chomsky for Beginners, I had no idea that Chomsky’s expertise in linguistics had anything to do with his political thoughts. He could have been an expert in accounting or forestry.  In fact, his linguistic work had much to do with his political development.  He drew on George Orwell’s novel 1984 to develop political ideas.  In 1984, Orwell painted a world where three superpowers were always at war, two superpowers against the remaining one.  The alliances changed without notice.  The main character worked in the Truth Ministry that was in fact the Lies Ministry.  Part of his job entailed destroying evidence that the former alliance ever existed.  The ally that represented intelligent humanitarian leaders became evil overnight.


Orwell invented that term ‘’Newspeak’’ to describe language designed for the state.  In this context, freedom did not mean political rights or liberties.  The Truth Ministry used ‘’free’’ to describe a society free from troublemakers or dissenters which was like a dog being free from lice.


In a democracy, such thought control is subtle rather than heavy handed. After Phil Donohue and Dan Rather’s dismissals, there was some flurry and the network news went on without losing a beat.  Conservatives ignore all the evidence and declare that the media is out to get them.  They do not acknowledge that the media ignores presidential Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney and independent candidate Ralph Nader.


Presidential campaign coverage does not offer political critiques but drama critiques.  Analysis of which candidate did better in a primary or presidential debate coverage only touches substance by accident.


For Chomsky, politics is a struggle between different investor groups for controlling the state, the nation and the world.


Years ago, I had a fascinating philosophy course in epistemology (knowledge theory) at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston that featured Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, John Locke and others.  I recommend that philosophy, history and political science departments include Noam Chomsky´s thoughts in their courses.  Hopefully, reporters would learn about Chomsky as well.


Main source:


Chomsky para Principantes, David Cogswell, Era Naciente, Buenos Aires, 2003, 159 pages.  Spanish translation of 1996 edition, Chomsky for Beginners,  Writers & Readers, London.


Ed O’Rourke now lives in Medellin, Colombia. His former home was Houston, Texas.