Noam Chomsky

by Connor from Toronto

"All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume."

Noam Chomsky is an American cognitive scientist and philosopher born on December 7, 1928, currently working as an emeritus professor at MIT. Born to Jewish parents William and Elsie he grew up and lived in Philadelphia for 25 years when he accepted a staff position at MIT. As a cognitive scientist he has worked extensively in the field of linguistics, and is arguably one of the most important linguists of all time, being the most cited living person. Originating the theory of generative grammar, his theory states rules for the study of syntax, and this may suggest that humans have some form of innate linguistic ability. This theory revolutionized modern language studies and accelerated the progression of linguistics in an alarming way. This new branch of linguistics also added to the study of psychology. Linguistics, especially in Chomsky’s studies, closely relates to cognitive psychology. This form of the subject encompasses the “modes” of knowing. Obviously language has a great deal of relation to “perceiving, imagining, conceiving, judging, and reasoning”. So in this way, Noam Chomsky has also been a major contributor to modern psychology.

In the past 40 or so years Chomsky has been more focused on philosophy and political activism. In 1992 he released the film “Manufacturing Consent”, a documentary on the media and press. Chomsky argued that the news media, as a result of increasing business and political influences, has become far more biased and propagandized than before. Interestingly, his views are not strictly against the right-wing media (to which Chomsky is opposite), but as against almost every mainstream press, whether it is the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

He also fought against what he viewed as an oppression of freedom of speech in France, being an avid supporter of civil liberties. Robert Faurisson was carrying out the morally and academically indefensible act of holocaust denial. Despite the fallacious views, Chomsky (a Jew himself) defended Faurisson’s freedom of speech, stating “If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all”.

One area that Chomsky has been intensely critical is US foreign policy. He is mainly anti-war (though not a strict pacifist), objecting to the “War on Terrorism” and saying about the invasion of Afghanistan, “Wanton killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against terrorism”. He is also critical of the unevenness of US foreign policy, citing the US’s support of regimes which whom they politically align, such as Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor (which resulted in at least 100,000 deaths), while fighting against the Cambodian genocide.

Noam Chomsky poster by Connor Bevans
Noam Chomsky poster by Connor Bevans

Noam Chomsky, now 81, has been active in many fields over his lifetime, and this document should make it apparent the great influence he has had. Though not a hero in the personal sense, he is in the philosophical and academic sense, as politics, philosophy, the media, linguistics, and psychology are encountered in many ways every single day.

Related Links

Official Website - Noam Chomsky