Study Guide

Noam Chomsky Quotes

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As for my own views, they've of course evolved over the years. This conception of 'renouncing beliefs' is very odd, as if we're in some kind of religious cult. I 'renounce beliefs' practically every time I think about the topics or find out what someone else is thinking. – From "Happy Birthday, Noam Chomsky", in The New Yorker

Look, I may be a political pitbull, but that doesn't mean I'm unwilling to critically reflect on my opinions. To paraphrase Whitman: I contradict myself, got it?

After decades of discussion around generative grammar—you know, deep structure this and shallow structure that—I started to question this formidable premise. That's where my new, shiny, streamlined idea of the Minimalist Program came in. I realized I wasn't afraid to question my persistent idea that language comes from one particular, separate, special part of the brain.

I'm open-minded like that.

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. – From this lecture I gave that one time on the U.S. political system

I don't see much distinction between so-called democracies and totalitarian states, nor do I see a significant difference between corporate interests and government greed. All kinds of corporations and governments are in it together, and they're in it for themselves—at the expense of the "little people." Us little folks are constantly being seduced into believing that we can empower ourselves by buying junk and protect ourselves by complying with all sorts of random laws.

What happens when you watch the local 6:00PM news? You see all of the small crimes and acts of hate being committed across your city on a daily basis. What happens when the media taps into those fears? You stay home and—you guessed it—watch more television and believe that buying things will protect you from evil. And make you a better person.

It's all part of the machine. The media tells you exactly what to buy, but makes you think you are exercising your right to "choose." This is democracy through consumption, guys. You can buy your way out of any problem. Right?

For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit. – From Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World 

This not-so-veiled remark is my jab at the governments of Western culture, and especially the U.S. You have probably noticed that I feel that the freest country in the world happens to also be one of the most oppressive. It's like when your Mom and Dad tell you that their decisions about what you do are for your own good.

Or something like that.

The U.S. is perfectly ready to tell its citizens that it is spreading democracy to totalitarian countries, and that all of the bombing and killing and stuff it does is in the name of freedom. For other countries' own good. Imperialism FTW?

Such acts of violence are only considered terrorism or crimes against humanity when a less powerful country is at the helm. I smell hypocrisy.

Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation. – From my lecture delivered in January 1970, at Loyola University in Chicago, published as "Language and Freedom," in For Reasons of State

Back in the day, when I was the big thing in linguistics, I cooked up this idea of "universal grammar." As I have discussed elsewhere, at every opportunity, my theory of language acquisition is based on the idea that the human mind has a certain fixed form upon which all linguistic expressions are based.

We are all born (I believe) with the resources to speak and understand language. After that, we are free to express however and whatever we want. So while I do believe that linguistic expression is innate, I also believe that we are free to create ourselves and interpret the world in unique ways.

In the "nature vs. nurture" debate, I fall on the side of nature. I reject the premises of behavioral science, believing that the mind has "essential faculties."

No honest journalist should be willing to describe himself or herself as 'embedded.' To say, 'I'm an embedded journalist' is to say, 'I'm a government Propagandist.' – From Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World

You may have caught a whiff of governmental and media skepticism coming from me. Or perhaps even a noxious odor. I was already about as critical as anyone could be about the media, and then CNN and Fox News came along and dished up the idea of the "embedded journalist." These journalists travel with troops on-location in war sites, reporting from a "boots on the ground" perspective.

Us laypeople are supposed to get all excited about this and think that we are now getting "insider" news. But what we're really getting is news directly fed from the propaganda machine itself.

In the embedded journalist model, both the media and the military industrial complex get a sweet deal… at the expense of truth. Reporters get privileged access to great, high readership type stories, but they're only seeing what the military wants them to see. I'm no sucker.

And you shouldn't be, either.

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