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Chomsky for Beginners

Cogswell, David; Gordon, Paul
Publisher:  Writers and Readers Ltd.
Year Published:  1996  
Pages:  154pp   Price:  $15.95   ISBN:  0-86316-233-9

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Chomsky for Beginners is an introduction to the life and works of Noam Chomsky. Cogswell suggests that despite the importance of Chomsky's ideas, they are not widely publicized precisely because of his harsh criticism of the media. Consequently, the book invites those yet unfamiliar with Chomsky to explore his ideas further. Written in a casual tone and extensively littered with cartoons, the book acquaints the reader to Chomsky's career up to the mid-90s.

First, Cogswell presents Chomsky's life through a short biography. He covers Chomsky's unconventional educational background, Jewish cultural influences and political activism. In addition, Cogswell relates Chomsky's ideas to several preceding thinkers, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, Karl Marx and George Orwell.

Cogswell then introduces Chomsky's breakthrough work in linguistics. Chomsky proposes that humans are unique in that they share universal grammar. Contrary to behaviourists, who believe humans are blank slates, Chomsky believes human grammar must be innate as the subtle rules of grammar are too complex to be learnt through experience alone.

Finally, Cogswell devotes the rest of the book to Chomsky's work on the media and politics. Chomsky believes that although democracy requires freedom of press, media content is actually being determined by those who own the mass media. Here, Chomsky's propaganda model from Manufacturing Consent is explained. There are five news filters used by those in power to shape public opinion. Media propaganda hides the strength of corporate interests over the American government; both domestically in the form of corporate subsidies, and overseas through the support of dictatorships.

Cogswell concludes Chomsky's for Beginners with a call of personal responsibility for our actions. He stresses the importance of critically thinking about the assumptions presented to us by the media. An interview with Chomsky conducted by Cogswell in 1993 completes the book.

[Abstract by Jared Ong]

Table of Contents

"Noam WHO?"
Why haven't you heard of "the most important intellectual alive"?
Chomsky's two careers

The File on Chomsky: A Biographical Sketch
Growing up during the Depression
His uncle's Kiosk in New York
College drop out
On a kibbutz in Israel
Speaking out against Vietnam

The Shoulders of Giants: Antecedents to the Thinking of Chomsky
Rene Descartes
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Whihelm von Humboldt
Karl Marx
George Orwell
The anarchist tradition
Zellig Harris
A note to the Reader

What is linguistics?
The evolution of Linguistics
Linguistics as a science
Universal generative grammar
Evidence that generative grammar is innate
Is grammar learnable?
The infinite variety of language
What is the nature of the original state?
Chomsky on Skinner and Behaviorism

Noam Chomsky and the MEDIA: Can You Believe What You See and Hear?
Necessary Illusions: The science of propaganda
What is the function of the Media in a Democratic Society?
Engineering consent
Walter Lippman
Reinhold Neibuhr
Recap of Chomsky's view
The Targets of Propaganda
The Threat of Democracy
How does "ownership determine content"?- The Propaganda Model
Filter #1: MONEY - "The Media of Influence"
Filter #2: ADVERTISING - How does that distort the news?
Filter #3: "EXPERTS" - Who do they work for … and why do the same ones keep popping up?
Filter #4: "FLAK" - Who writes all those letters-to-the-Editor?
Filter #5: ANTI-COMMUNISM - Creating a Bogeyman
Concision: How "sound bites" are used to kill opposing viewpoints
Keeping the herd in line
Don't take Chomsky's word for it - check it out yourself
What are they hiding?

Chomsky on POLITICS
Chomsky's first hand experience with the Censor
Why doesn't the news compute?
The myth of the Classless Society
The myth of the Free Market system
Welfare for the Rich - How it works
Uncle Newt's double standard
"National Defense is a sick joke."
Colonialism, then and now
Foreign Policy: Friendly Dictators and Client States
The real New World Order - how it started
The real objective of the New World Order
"Corporate interests"/"American interests"
History - One or two things they forgot to tell you
Coming home to roost

Chomsky on Fighting Back: What Can One Person Do?
Taking Responsibility - What can one person do?
Intellectual self-defense
Knewledge and information

Interview with Noam Chomsky


Subject Headings

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