April 23, 2004

The protein wisdom interview:  Noam Chomsky

manufacturing con what now?

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. He is the author of dozens of books, including Power and Terror and Middle East Illusions. His book 9-11 was an international bestseller.

protein wisdom: “To borrow a question from David Barsamian, in recent years, the Pentagon and then the media have adopted the term ‘collateral damage’ to describe the death of civilians. Talk about the role of language in shaping and forming people’s understanding of events.”

Chomsky: “What do we say…?”

protein wisdom: “Sorry. Please talk about it.”

Chomsky: “Well, it’s as old as history. It has nothing much to do with language. Language is the way we interact and communicate, so, naturally, the means of communication and the conceptual background that’s behind it, which is more important, are used to try to shape attitudes and opinions and induce conformity and subordination. Not surprisingly, it was created in the more democratic societies. The first –“

protein wisdom: “– Wait, why ‘not surprisingly’?”

Chomsky: “I beg your pardon?”

protein wisdom: “You said, ‘not surprisingly, it was created in the more democratic societies.’ First, what is ‘it’? And second, why is it not ‘surprising’ that ‘it’ was created in more democratic societies?”

Chomsky: “You asked about the role of language in shaping and forming people’s understanding of events, did you not?”

protein wisdom: “I did indeed.”

Chomsky: “So then that’s the ‘it’ I refer to. Now, the first coordinated propaganda ministry –“

protein wisdom: “– Wait, time out, sorry. The ‘it’ refers to the role of language in shaping and forming people’s understanding of events…?”

Chomsky: “Yes, now if you’ll just let me –“

protein wisdom: “– So then, ‘it’ — the role of language in shaping and forming people’s understanding of events — has, and I’m quoting you now, ‘nothing much to do with language’?”

Chomsky: “Did I say that–?”

protein wisdom: “– Language has nothing much to do with language. I’m afraid you did, yes.”

Chomsky: “Oh. Well, skip that, then. It was just bullshit. The real answer is, that during World War I, the British Ministry of Information had the task, as they put it, of controlling the mind of the world. What they were particularly concerned with –“

protein wisdom: “– Sorry to interrupt again, but you understand the MI to have been using that phrase figuratively, correct?”

Chomsky: “Who’s this now?”

protein wisdom: “When the Ministry of Information talked of ‘controlling the mind of the world,’ they didn’t mean that literally, correct? — no ray guns for zapping people with mind-control beams or anything like that…”

Chomsky: “Oh heavens no –“

protein wisdom: “–because I have to ask, given your penchant for paranoid fantasy –“

Chomsky: “– I’m talking of a concentrated rhetorical effort to direct and control information flow. What they were particularly concerned with was the mind of America and, more specifically, the mind of American intellectuals. They thought that if they could convince American intellectuals of the nobility of the British war effort –“

protein wisdom: “– I’m sorry, here I go again interrupting you. But wouldn’t any set of intellectuals you’re able to reduce to a single mind — in this case, ‘the mind of American intellectuals,’ as you’ve characterized it — be anti-intellectual, almost by definition?”

Chomsky: “– excuse me?”

protein wisdom: “– that is, how can such a group, distinguished as it supposedly is by its systematic questioning of received wisdom — be reduced to a single mind without, in effect, deconstructing the entire concept of intellectualism?”

Chomsky: “– But, um, you see, if they could convince the American intellectuals of the nobility of the British war effort, then American intellectuals could succeed in driving the basically pacifist population of the United States, which didn’t want to have anything to do with European wars, rightly, into a fit of fanaticism and hysteria –“

protein wisdom: “– are you saying Americans shouldn’t worry about overseas wars, Dr. Chomsky? We should turn our backs on, say, extra-continental genocides, for example?–“

Chomsky: “– which would get them to join the war. The mind-control rays wouldn’t come until much much later — developed by Dow Corning, in fact, under a secret mandate from Nixon and the Israelis and Howard Hunt as a way to neuter the communists –“

protein widom: “–Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’d like to go back to this question of language. Clearly, there’s a huge gap on the Iraq war between U.S. public opinion and the rest of the world. What is it, do you think, that makes the US population so susceptible to propaganda?”

Chomsky: “…and the, y’know, the whole Warren Commission. East Timor. Latin America. The CIA…”

protein wisdom: “Dr. Chomsky…?”

Chomsky: “Yes, sorry. That’s a good question. I don’t say it’s more susceptible to propaganda; it’s more susceptible to fear. It’s a frightened country. The reasons for this — I don’t, frankly, understand them, but they’re there –“

protein wisdom: “– Well, could it have something to do with insane, fanatical Islamic extremists — nihilists bent on returning the world to a pre-Enlightenment theocracy by way of the doomsday sword — declaring war on us, do you think?”

Chomsky: “– Islamic what now? Oh, no, no. You’re contemporizing. The reasons for this country’s fear go way back in American history. It probably has to do with the conquest of the continent, where you had to exterminate the native population; slavery, where you had to control a population that was regarded as dangerous, because you never knew when they were going to turn on you –“

protein wisdom: ” — yeah, that’s great stuff, Noam, but on September 12, 2001, not many of us were thinking about exterminating Indians or stringing Chris Tucker up in a tree. I mean, isn’t it possible that the very real spectacle of 9-11 is what ‘frightened’ the country into its current state of resolve, and lead to its government marshalling resources in its own defense — and not some vague, homogenized burden of collective cultural guilt? Which, how do we pick that up, by the way? Do they sprinkle it onto McDonald’s fries? How does that work, exactly…?”

Chomsky: “The last time the US was threatened was the War of 1812. Since then it just conquers others. And somehow this engenders a sense that somebody is going to come after us –“

protein wisdom: “– Who have we ‘conquered’? Really. I mean, that sounds so Hessian. Or is it Prussian…?”*

Chomsky: “– So the country ends up being very frightened. There is a reason why Karl Rove is the most important person in the administration. He is the public relations expert in charge of crafting the images. So you can drive through the domestic agendas, carry out the international policies by frightening people and creating the impression that a powerful leader is going to save you from imminent destruction –“

protein wisdom: “– Ask the Spanish about those ‘images,’ why don’t ya –“

Chomsky: “– The Times virtually says it because it’s very hard to keep hidden. It is second nature.”

protein wisdom: “What is second nature?”

Chomsky: “It.”

protein wisdom: “Ah, yes. Next question: One of the new lexical constructions that I’d like you to comment on is ’embedded journalists.'”


protein wisdom: “Please.”

Chomsky: “That’s an interesting one. It is interesting that journalists are willing to accept it. No honest journalist would be willing to describe himself or herself as ’embedded.’ To say, ‘I’m an embedded journalist'” is to say ‘I’m a government propagandist.’ But it’s accepted. And it helps implant the conception that anything we do is right and just; so therefore, if you’re embedded in an American unit, you’re objective. Actually, the same thing showed up, in some ways even more dramatically, in the Peter Arnett case. Peter Arnett is an experienced, respected journalist with a lot of achievements to his credit. He’s hated here precisely for that reason. The same reason Robert Fisk is hated.”

protein wisdom: “Uh huh. Be honest now: does what you just said make any sense to you?”

Chomsky: [laughs] “Ok, you got me –“

protein wisdom: [laughing] “– because, y’know, cuckoo cuckoo!”

Chomsky: “– thought maybe I could slip that one by…”

protein wisdom: “Now. You were an active and early dissident in the 1960s opposing US intervention in Indochina. You have now the perspective of what was going on then and what is going on now. Describe how dissent has evolved in the United States. Please.”

Chomsky: “Actually, there was another article in the New York Times that describes how the professors are antiwar activists, but the students aren’t. Not like it used to be, when the students were the antiwar activists. What the reporter is talking about is that around 1970 — and it’s true — by 1970 students were active antiwar protesters. But that’s after eight years of a U.S. war against South Vietnam, which by then had extended to all of Indochina, which had practically wiped the place out. For years, though, even in a place like Boston, a liberal city –“

protein wisdom: “– the hell you say –“

Chomsky: “– you couldn’t have public meetings against the war because they would be broken up by students, with the support of the media. You would have to have hundreds of state police around to allow speakers like me to escape unscathed. The protests came after years and years of war. By then, hundreds of thousands of people had been killed, much of Vietnam had been destroyed –“

protein wisdom: “– like you said would happen in Afghanistan –“

Chomsky: “– But all of that is wiped out of history, because it tells too much of the truth –“

protein wisdom: “– how ‘wiped out of history,’ exactly? I mean, you just retold it here. And I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve trotted it out, either.”

Chomsky: “Figure of speech.”

protein wisdom: “I see. Kinda expect more precise language from a linguist, though –“

Chomsky: “– moving on, it involved years and years of hard work of plenty of young people, mostly young, which finally ended up getting a protest movement.”

protein wisdom: “And that’s a more effective dynamic, in your estimation — having students involved, moreso than having the movement run by the old guard, the professors (many of them alumnists of those Vietnam era protests), as is happening today…?

Chomsky: “Well, who would you rather bang after a long day of shouting rhythmic slogans and carrying heavy cardboard signs: a wide-eyed 18-year old whose pink breasts are still perky with idealism, or some grizzled old poli-sci hag with an Iron Butterfly tattoo on her sagging, wrinkled ass?”

protein wisdom: “I take it that was a rhetorical question…”

Chomsky: “‘f you say so.”

protein wisdom: “Last question: How many antiwar linguists do you suppose it takes to change a lightbulb?”

Chomsky: “How many what now? –“

protein wisdom: “Antiwar linguists. Like you, for example. How many of you would it take to change a lightbulb?”

Chomsky: “Hmm. Well, that would depend on what you mean by ‘change,’ I should think… “

protein wisdom: “Exactly. You’re priceless, Noam. Don’t ever change.”


Posted by Jeff G. @ 6:53pm

Comments (51)

  1. You’re pricless, Jeff. Don’t YOU ever change.

  2. That and French Toast for breakfast really made my day.

  3. That was a good mind-flosser, after that abomination at Allah’s today.

    I think Chomsky has really been deceased for several years now, and has been secretly replaced by the Postmodern Essay Generator: http://www.elsewhere.org/cgi-bin/postmodern/

  4. Godamnit, you had to remind me of that picture, didn’t you?  I’d just about forgotten it too.

    That was fantastic Jeff.  I hope, somehow, Noam actually stumbles on this site and reads that.

  5. If it weren’t a violation o’ God’s Law, I’d make that post my wife.

  6. Beyond the content, I always enjoy learning some mechanics here.  Like how you get the two voices talking past one another.

    Question (if you’ve the time and inclination): So, the ellipse is for when someone is trailing off naturally.  The em dash is for when someone is actively interrupted and then is always used at the end of the original speaker and at the beginning of the interrupter.  Correct?

    I’m a wiz with Excel if you want to barter.

  7. Marvelous. And it reminds me of this little gem which you might have missed during that unfortuante hiatus of yours.

  8. Jesus.  That was amazingly funny.  Thank you.

  9. For nearly four (okay, five) years I tried to understand that kind of nonsensical bullshit from my professors.  I’ll be damned if I still don’t see it’s worth, 26 years later.  Glad to see that there are others who can’t quite bring themselves to believe that it makes sense.

    Very funny though, and I’m sure that Noam would laugh to read this…if he had a sense of humor, that is. 

    Iron Maiden tattoo? 


  10. Wow that was tedious and stupid. For an amusing take on Chomsky, check out his and Howard Zinn’s “analysis” of The Lord of the Rings.

    You blew this with the beginning and that stupidity over “it.” Obviously the it was referring to “events,” not “language.”

  11. Yawn.  Let me ask you something:  Do you put down the snifter while you’re whacking off to the sound of your own voice, or do you keep holding it and pretend you’re Ted Kennedy just before the car went off the bridge.

    Humorless prig.

    Incidentally, it was “Chomsky” who confused the “it” referent, not me.  I’m just the interviewer.

  12. Isn’t this just an interview of one quick-witted young man and an older man who isn’t quite as quick? 

    Most of the meaty banter comes from protein shake playing around with words like ‘it’. It’s as intellectual as a hulking football player beating up a kid a with cerebral palsy.

  13. Please help me..is this a parody? Chomsky isnt that dumb is he?

  14. I’m not sure if I am more amused by the post, or just plain comforted that so many seem to appreciate the accuracy of the humor.  By the way, Jay, Chomsky isn’t dumb, he is a socialist.  His pursuit of his agenda appears dumb to the enlightened.

  15. Hahahaha. That guy is really out of touch with reality hahaha. Great interview! And thanks to Dodd por the piece about TLOTR hahaha. Chimpsky is incredible stupid. He is not bright at all, he’s still traped in his 1960’s idiocity, he hasn’t changed since then, meaning that he doesn’t grow, he stagnates and looks like an old dinosaur. And there are people that defend that moron! Hahahaha. Incredible. And he’s for the evil side: he loves Mordor. Yeah! coherent, he loves evil places like the USSR. What a lump of trash. Puke.

  16. That was a brilliant lampoon.

    BTW: I just found your blog via puppyblender. 

    you’re bookmarked!

  17. Jeff … you da’ man … I’m thinking someone will draft you in the first round today.

    I am linking this Chomsky post on the front news page on Newzilla today … I hope my visitors find you … that would be a good thing.

  18. You neocons make me sick. How DARE you milita rednecks question Dr. Chomsky? The struturalism of your quantitude only shows the post-capitalistic neo-fascist imperialism of your lanaguagatude. Much how the Pentagon and corporatist interestests control mass media, the concept of blogging is yet another genocideal sturturalism of neo-imperialist colonialism. The so-called bloggers attempt yet fail at intelletuallism, shamefully propagating the fascist control of the corporate state.

    In short, to quote Che – FUCK YOU I HOPE YOU CHOKE!

  19. Sanity Inspector,

    I know where you’re coming from bro. Allah, usually great for a belly laugh and coffee-spit, has just been depressing with the filth from IndyMedia.

    This post was beautiful!


    I don’t know who you are, but I love you.

  20. This is unbelievably hilarious.  Funniest thing I’ve read in weeks.  Thanks very much for the time and effort you put into it.

  21. Noam Chomsky=Dancing Monkey!!

  22. Great stuff!!

    I actually thought it was a real interview until you gave him a sense of humor. Idealistic breasts!! That’s probably what he’s always thinking (“this liberal bullshit’s guaranteed to get me laid”), but he’d never actually say it…would he?

  23. Ignatius: How could you possibly have thought it was a real interview?  Noam Chomsky has never done a real interview—he simply gets some mindless shill to facilitate his America-hating rants …

  24. I thought it was for real until I saw the one glaring logic-flaw in your spoof: No aging liberal Poli-Sci hag would have an Iron Maiden tattoo on her ass!  Decade or two too late.

  25. Simple, dumb, straw man arguments will always burden the witless. I’m sorry you’re among them Jeff.

  26. Straw man arguments?  Why, who would do such a thing in an interview lampoon!  The outrage! 

  27. Jay,

    Yes this is a parody.

    Nope Chomsky isn’t dumb.

    (the supposed interviewer

    who is also pretending to be chomsky

    is guilty on that count).

  28. Uh oh.  The dreaded “you’re a dumbhead” critique.  How can I go on…?

  29. Just discovered your blog!  OMG that was funny…

  30. Damn you. Chomsky and perky breasts should not be conflated. Now how will I deconstruct anything?

  31. laugh and laugh and fall apart.

  32. Absolutely HILARIOUS.

  33. Yeah, this is funny. You know what you are doing. But this does *not* change the fact that what Chomsky says is right.. Sorry pal. And thanks for the effort.

  34. “– Wait, why ‘not surprisingly’?”

    Gets to the heart of it right there. Chompsky’s arguments are like a Penn and Teller trick. His believers want him to succeed so they willfully look the other way so they don’t seen him reach up his sleeve for the rabbit that they all want to see so much.

    “But this does *not* change the fact that what Chomsky says is right.. “

    Ever the cogent defense from the true believers. Always look to a Chompsky supporter for trenchant analysis. That’s what my experience on the web has taught me.

  35. BTW: Was Chompsky right about Afganhistan? Didn’t he accuse the Bush administration of knowingly deciding to caust the deaths of millions, and then, when confronted on it afterwords, made the incredibly specious argument that the Bush admin could not have known that anything other than what Chompsky predicted could have happened, so they INTENDED to kill millions.

    I would like one Chompsky supporter to defend that statement, to explain to me how Chomps intended to prove a negative. “Could not have known”. I am of course not expecting it. But if one should even make the effor, I promise to spell his name right in the future.

  36. De-programmer,

    The Chomskybots have no capacity for critical thinking. They fail to realize, for example, that the attack on the U.N. headquarters last summer was a deliberate assassination attempt on Sergio Vieira de Mello, because he was the U.N. official that supervised the liberation of Christian East Timor (remember when Chomksy used to “care” about them?) from Islamic Indonesia.

    Regressives in denial like Noam Chomsky might want to ignore the imperialistic nature of radical Islamism, but those leftists who actually LIVE in countries where it is a political threat know better. Ousmane Sembene and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka have spoken out against Islamization as being culturally colonialist and anti-liberation. (See Sembene’s film CEDDO and check out the following column from Soyinka:

    Wole Soyinka on the “Religion of Peace”

    “The mind of the zealot is an insatiable dark hole, engorging all that makes life light and bearable.”

    What a perfect definition of a Chomskybot!

  37. The only problem with it is that you outwitted Noam Chomsky on so many occasions.  Like that would ever happen.  I’m not even that bright and I can think of at least two or three better come backs for your “clever” rhetorical traps.  If you had spent more time coming up with better comebacks to your own “witty” remarks maybe you would improve your own view of the situation.  You had him backing off and admitting he was wrong every time he would have had you by the balls.

  38. Yes, you’re right.  You’re not even that bright.

  39. I’m not even that bright and I can think of at least two or three better come backs for your “clever” rhetorical traps.

    I don’t know what wit you’ve detected in Chomsky’s writing that makes you think he would be capable of this.  Chomsky writes leaden, evasive, two-faced prose.  Chomsky doesn’t do comebacks.  When people criticize him—in his blog or in forums at Z Magazine’s website—Chomsky suppresses the debate.

    The reason that he writes weaselly and evasive prose is so that when the party line changes—say, when Cambodia is no longer a shining light of progressive socialism, but an enemy of the Soviet Union and therefore evil—there will be some escape clause in his writing that Chomsky and his fans can point to and say, “See, Eastasia was never allied with Eurasia.  I always said that Eastasia was at war with Eurasia!”

  40. “The only problem with it is that you outwitted Noam Chomsky on so many occasions. Like that would ever happen.”

    I just gave an example of Chomps as a doddering old fool. You have no response. I spent a long time arguing with Literal Creationists on the web and they have one advantage over Chomskybots. They actually feel some need to at least try to drape their sophistries in logic.

  41. Hey Mark,

    I thought it was for real until I saw the one glaring logic-flaw in your spoof: No aging liberal Poli-Sci hag would have an Iron Maiden tattoo on her ass! Decade or two too late.

    Iron Maiden is not the same as Iron Butterfly.  Not the same at all.

    I don’t think the old hippies went in for tats all that much anyway.  How about an aging liberal Poli-Sci hag with a macram

  42. Omigod!  I thought he was just some mythical creature, sort of like Dracula (or an early form of bacteria if not a human caricature).  Why is he still alive?  Don’t they have any decent termite and pest control companies in Massachusetts?

  43. [Archie dropped by the comments several months after this piece was written.  I have obliged him by answering a few questions after the fact—editor]

    Archie: You should indicate that this is satire, otherwise some people might believe that you are attributing those words to Chomsky. This could be considered libellous, and consequently you could be the target of a lawsuit.

    protein wisdom: [Thanks for the free legal counsel, Archie.  But most people were able to figure it out themselves using the myriad textual clues.  Not to mention the link back to original interview, with attribution.  Leave it to a “progressive”, though, to raise the specter of a lawsuit.]

    Archie:  I was wondering why you didn’t make a real interview with Chomsky, and then I realized that you would have been the one ridiculed instead.

    protein wisdom: [Did you really “wonder” that, Arch?  Or are you just trying to set up a sad, derivative little joke?  I’m guessing its the latter—you don’t strike me as an original thinker, especially if you came here looking for guidance from Pappa Noam—but time will tell, I suppose…]

    Archie:  But it’s all satire, right? Here let me try it —

    protein wisdom:  [– sigh.  It’s a burden being right all the time –]

    Archie: It’s much better to simply put words into your opponent’s mouth, isn’t it?

    protein wisdom: [My turn?  Okay.  Well, better than what, exactly?  If you’d like me to compare valuations by degree, I’m going to need the second term in the equation.  For instance, it most certainly is better to put words in Noam Chomsky’s mouth than to listen to him rattle off a list of carefully crafted half truths, if that’s what you mean.  On the other hand, with people like you, I much prefer to let you hang yourself on the branch of your own fatuousness.  Incidentally, most of the words in the interview attributed to Chomsky were his actual words.  Which, had you bothered to click on the link provide, you would have known, Archie.  But then you wouldn’t have spent time here in my comments making a pedantic ass of yourself.]

    Archie: That’s okay, you’re a right-wing blogger – you’re not supposed to think, just regurgitate what you hear on FNC.

    protein wisdom: [Wow!  Is that a Fox News jibe combined with regurgitatation reference?  How super-fucking innovative!  Degree of difficulty:  9.6.  Y’know, Some people really have to work at their biting social commentary, but with you I can see that it’s more like—what’s the word—a gift.]

    Archie: You actually believe what Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter say.

    protein wisdom: [Oh, are we continuing along the Fox News tack?  I was hoping you’d be able to mix it up more.  Well, to answer your question, no, not on it’s face. Of course, I don’t rule out on its face anything either of them say, either.  That would make me like you, Archie.  Which, judging by the couple of minutes I’ve spent with you, that would just suck. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have things to do.  Of course, you’re always welcome to spend time in the deserted comments field of an old post if you’d like.  Just try not to get your lefty dust all over the furniture.  Oh, and thanks for leaving your email address, in case anyone else who happens by here and wants to get in touch with you.  You can have tea.  {encode=”turgon_37@yahoo.com” title=”Archie’s email address”}

  44. Say what you will about Chomsky, but he’s in no way related to deconstructionism or postmodernism. Perhaps the only thing me you and him would actually agree on is that those two things are pure bullshit.

  45. Should I ask why or what questions? Should I use the word should? What will ever come of asking questions? Is this my reality or yours? Am I having fun? Is The real Chomsky a robot, an alien, or an actor paired with a computer program? How long have the machines been running the world? What year is it? If we don’t all have the same answer for every question, then something is probably wrong. Who am I to make a statement like that? I still have an ego, becuase I am enjoying myself right now. How is that for a statement? I have said “How is that before”. This world is crazy. I don’t want to get thrown down a mind shaft, but what is the difference. Read your philosophy, read your Lit, confuse yourself, your not legit. Tear me down. tear me down. Tear me down.

  46. “Do I dare?  And, do I dare?”

    Oh, for Chrissakes, Prufrock. Strap on a pair and eat the goddamn peach already, wouldya?  You’re boring me silly.

    Bye now.

  47. Classic, Jeff.  IMHO, from my perspective a year later, this was your best post ever.

    Thanks for sharing.

  48. A fake interview with someone who tends to avoid confrontational interviews (if not avoid them altogether) is a good idea, but why did you spend your time focusing on issues that are relatively clear (and inane) in context (like the “it”, for example)?  It sounds more like someone who’s losing an argument and starts calling the other guy out on whatever extraneous detail might make him look worse, ultimately as a device for diverting attention from the actual topic.  I’m sure you could have come up with substantial responses that would have made such a thinker look slippery.  Done properly, that could be hilarious.

    [editor’s answer:  because I wrote it in real time; sorry you don’t like it.  But it’s over a year old, so I’m not going to lose much sleep over your criticisms]

  49. Just want to say that good work with the interview. I am a semi-chomsky listener and I understood that it was satire quite quickly.

    I don’t argue with people who can’t be argued with and Noam seems to be this type of person. I would like to say that it is interesting the information that Chomsky provides, it allows us to have discussion. It also may help us identify more accurately hypocracy. Anyways that is what I get from him, I understand that there are other forces than just the people (voters) wanting something to happen. Other than that I think any ‘real life’ choices involving Noam should only take the form of Linguistic studies.

    People should really not try so hard to be FOR or AGAINST someone, especially when it involves philosophy…. The Major that people pick when they can’t think of picking anything else (yes, that is my one critisim)

    Please LVOE my Typohs! grin

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