Noam Chomsky on Truth, Media and the Crisis of Mr. Peepers


Q: You said somewhere, I think in this new book on power, “You can lie or distort the story of the French Revolution as long as you like and nothing will happen. Propose a false theory in chemistry and it will be refuted tomorrow.”

A: Yes, that’s the kind of thing I mean. Nature is tough. You can’t fiddle with Mother Nature, she’s a hard taskmistress. So you’re forced to be honest in the natural sciences. In the soft fields, you’re not forced to be honest. There are standards, of course; on the other hand, they’re very weak. If what you propose is ideologically acceptable, that is, supportive of power systems, you can get away with a huge amount. In fact, the difference between the conditions that are imposed on dissident opinion and on mainstream opinion are radically different.

… I’ve written about terrorism, and I think you can show without much difficulty that terrorism pretty much corresponds to power. I don’t think that’s very surprising. The more powerful states are involved in more terrorism, by and large. The United States is the most powerful, so it’s involved in massive terrorism, by its own definition of terrorism. Well, if I want to establish that, I’m required to give a huge amount of evidence. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t object to that. I think anyone who makes that claim should be held to very high standards. So extensive documentation, and from the internal secret records and historical record and so on. And if you ever find a comma misplaced, somebody ought to criticize you for it. So I think those standards are fine.

All right, now, let’s suppose that you play the mainstream game.

… You can say anything you want because you support power, and nobody expects you to justify anything. For example, on the unimaginable circumstance that I was on, say, Nightline, and I was asked, say, “Do you think Kadhafi is a terrorist?” I could say, “Yeah, Kadhafi is a terrorist.” I don’t need any evidence. Suppose I said, “George Bush is a terrorist.” Well, then I would be expected to provide evidence, “Why would you say that?”

Q: So that you aren’t cut off right there.

A: In fact, the structure of the news production system is, you can’t produce evidence. There’s even a name for it — I learned it from the producer of Nightline, Jeff Greenfield. It’s called “concision.” He was asked in an interview somewhere why they didn’t have me on Nightline, and his answer was — two answers. First of all, he says, “Well, he talks Turkish, and nobody understands it.” But the other answer was, “He lacks concision.” Which is correct, I agree with him. The kinds of things that I would say on Nightline, you can’t say in one sentence because they depart from standard religion. If you want to repeat the religion, you can get away with it between two commercials. If you want to say something that questions the religion, you’re expected to give evidence, and that you can’t do between two commercials. So therefore you lack concision, so therefore you can’t talk.


On a related note, this is Chomsky’s favorite bit from the mid-90s-early-00s SNL epoch.

Mr. Peeper’s Father | Saturday Night Live – Yahoo Screen

He’s especially compelled by the sycophantic distress expressed by Mr. Peppers and his symbolic act of necrophilia in connection to his relationship with his father and thus to death and God — and, Chomsky boldly asserts, to science and freedom. Note that in his moment of truest existential vulnerability — his fetishization of bodily truth and intellectual fear — as the camera cuts to the the senior Mr. Peepers then back to the junior Mr. Peepers, the head of this fully articulated human laboratory skeleton is missing. This radical and conspicuous shift, Chomsky argues, neatly draws our imaginations to consider the chewed up and spit out, discarded apples (which one cannot and will not consider without contrasting their semiological roles here with the Judeo-Christian ur-story of sin and serpent and Adam and Eve) and the chalk board behind the primitive creature (who squats beside God the Father and his keeper: the rational, pressed-white scientist, the physical embodiment of intelligence.) Namely, oxidation. (Admittedly, the roots of mythology and folk lore that have taken hold beneath oxidation are not as deep as those of the Garden of Eden and man’s first sin, but one cannot ignore La Liberté éclairant le monde, her turn-of-the-century verdigris like a nation suffocating beneath the weight of American neo-Liberal commercial colonialism.) The concept, served in plain sight to the viewer, is a roman à clef that validates the junior Mr. Peepers, here a tragic hero, as a stand-in for the modern man torn between the rational world of his future and present, and the spiritual world of his present and past. He is tragic because ultimately he chooses to bond with his father and, in ultimate allegiance, rights himself with a great, dismal, context of spiritual and sexual violence. (Yet in a nod to the viewer (and Chomsky believes the final scene in Godot where Vladimir and Estragon resolve to simultaneously live and die/go and stay/hope and despair, do nothing,) the Rational and Fickle Father, incapable of being abandoned, alone and amongst men of no note, holds up an apple and proclaims, “It is a great day for science.”

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