Feb 12, 2015

Understanding Power

I have been reading Understanding Power, a collection of transcribed Noam Chomsky discussions. It is a powerful, dangerous book. I think it fits into the narrow category of "books that are harmful to read, when read incorrectly."

It is in this category because it is radical. Chomsky is far to the left, and his analysis of 20th century events (near-current events for him, history for me) is very critical of the mainstream, the status quo, the system.

And it is in this category because it is convincing. Chomsky isn't just pontificating, he gives good examples for his claims, and he discusses them in detail. These examples are frequently footnoted (though in the edition I'm reading, the actual footnotes have been sent to the online realm to cut down on publishing costs; posted here.

This morning, I realized that a very likely outcome of my time with this book would be to read it through, become convinced by its arguments, and adopt its framework as my own. And that would be bad – Chomsky's framework is compelling, but it cannot stand on its own. It is too far outside the mainstream, too removed from my current views (hesitant as they are). If I am to subscribe to this way of seeing things, I need to investigate it.

The clearest way to vet this position is to follow up on the footnotes. Happily, Chomsky's examples are both compelling and (reasonably) easy to verify. If enough of them check out, maybe there's something to this story of the system. So that's what I'll be doing here, for the foreseeable future.

[rereads: 1, edits: changed a link]