WOMAN: Dr. Chomsky, it seems the terms of political discourse themselves are a tool for propagandizing the population. How is language used to prevent us from understanding and to disempower us?
CHOMSKY: Well, the terminology we use is heavily ideologically laden, always. Pick your term: if it’s a term that has any significance whatsoever – like, not “and” or “or” – it typically has two meanings: a dictionary meaning and a meaning that’s used for ideological warfare. So, “terrorism” is only what other people do. What’s called “communism” is supposed to be “the far left”; in my view, it’s the far right, basically indistinguishable from fascism. These guys that everybody calls “conservative,” any conservative would turn over in their grave at the sight of them – they’re extreme statists, they’re not “conservative” in any traditional meaning of the word. “Special interests” means labor, women, blacks, the poor, the elderly, the young – in other words, the general population. There’s only one sector of the population that doesn’t ever get mentioned as a “special interest,” and that’s corporations, and business in general – because they’re the “national interest.” Or take “defense”: I have never heard of a state that admits it’s carrying out an aggressive act, they’re always engaged in “defense,” no matter what they’re doing – maybe “preemptive defense” or something.
As I said in a recent post, I generally don’t like mixing social and political thought into my arts blog. But I wanted to put this out there today because Chomsky’s often-repeated point here about the relationship between language, ideology, and power structures is, in my opinion, an absolutely fundamental and relatively poorly understood fact of history and culture—and one that’s essential to grasp in order to make sense of the forces that shape the world around us (and within us, unfortunately).
This quote is over twenty years old, and still achingly relevant (not to mention that Socrates was given the choice between exile or death over fairly similar sentiments more than two thousand years ago).