6 ways Noam Chomsky’s teachings can help you navigate modern society

Imagine this scenario:

I am an 18-year-old English Literature student at uni. 

Lost between the meaning I want in life, and the money-driven career options presented to me – there seem to be two choices: 

  • Do what I want to do: Writing, sharing ideas in pursuit of truth, and creating art – but knowingly commit to money problems forever. 

Or:

  • Do the last thing I want to do: Follow a 9-5 career in something I do not like in the corporate machine I view as the destroyer of everything I value – soul, creativity, and freedom. But maybe have money by the end of it.

And then on one blessed day, on the dusty bookshelves of the public library, I found the shining light that is Noam Chomsky. 

Most call him a political activist, cognitive scientist, linguist, philosopher, and author. I call him a hero, a truth speaker, and even a (humble) revolutionary. 

Noam Chomsky confirmed what my heart and gut knew was backward about the society I was about to be propelled into, with what I consider sound evidence. 

In his work, I felt reassured that my lackluster feelings towards the world weren’t irrational. 

I was a budding creative, in a society that doesn’t reward creativity. It rewards profit.

His career inspired the possibility that I, too, could carve a unique path by bringing more truth and awareness to people.

And there were times I thought it wasn’t possible. But against all odds, that’s what I get to do now.

So, if you relate to not understanding our world and how to navigate it…

Read these 6 Noam Chomsky teachings I’ve compiled over a decade of filtering through his work. 

They have helped me navigate modern society, and I believe they’ll help you, too.

1) Question authority

At the root of Chomsky’s teachings is an invitation for us to question authority and their established narratives.  

Challenging these narratives champions independent thinking, and teaches us that there is no supreme authority outside ourselves. 

Yes, some people claim to be authorities. But these are always flawed with ulterior motives, and those motives are often money- and power-driven when you drill down to it. 

This was an empowering realization for me. What we are told as truth is most often driven by what’s most profitable or beneficial to someone, rather than objective truth.

By approaching everything with fairness, rationality, and a refusal to accept mainstream narratives at face value, I learned to do my research on everything. 

I learned to engage in informed political discourse, create awareness around media propaganda, and inform my ability to think freely from existing structures.

2) Become media literate

One existing structure that Chomsky speaks about a lot is the media.

It makes sense why. The media forms a large portion of our opinions and beliefs if we’re not wary.

You might already realize that most journalism and advertising come with strings attached. 

I know this firsthand – I was once a journalist. 

Chomsky, alongside economist Edward S. Herman, sought to explain the various levels of bias involved in media and advertising through the ‘propaganda model’ in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent.

According to the book, the filters are:

  • Ownership – the financial interests of the corporations who own the publication or media company.
  • Advertising – the interests of the advertising required to keep the publication costs afloat.
  • Sourcing – selective or common sources of news based on who’s willing to offer up information to reporters. These are often people placed in specific positions to speak to the media, such as publicists or spokespersons.
  • Flak – active efforts to manage public discourse, through opposition or complaints of mass information that goes against established narratives.
  • Fear – The idea of placing a fear or ‘enemy’ in every story, helping to create a more interesting narrative that engages people – and sells.

Viewing all media through this lens helped me to create my filter for what’s useful and what’s swaying my opinion to benefit someone else’s interests.

And that’s called media literacy, kids!

3) Practice ethical consumerism

We all know that climate change is a looming cloud, shaped as a big question mark over our future.

It’s true:

Most of the responsibility is in the hands of big corporations and the wealthiest elites.

Why?

According to Chomsky’s work, they are the ones with the most access to our natural resources and are responsible for the largest carbon emissions.

However, by educating ourselves on environmental impacts, individuals like you and I become inspired and motivated to actively become more aware of our consumption.

Ask yourself:

What kinds of brands, businesses, and practices do you support with your money?

Do they reflect your values?

And most importantly, do they support the kind of world you want to live in?

These are the questions that Chomsky’s teachings can help you navigate, so you can be a responsible part of creating a fairer world.

4) Educate yourself

habits of a lifelong learner 6 ways Noam Chomsky’s teachings can help you navigate modern society

Noam Chomsky continually insists that you apply your critical thinking and research before forming conclusions.

That includes applying critical thinking and research when presented with information from media, institutions, your peers, and also reading his work.

If you read a Noam Chomsky book, you will see that he remains true to this value. He draws from a wide variety of reputable sources to support his statements.

Through educating oneself and thinking critically about the information presented, you can:

  • Better evaluate societal structures
  • Form reasonable opinions
  • Engage in discussions meaningfully
  • Inform your actions and decisions with facts

So if the pursuit of fair knowledge is important to you in navigating modern society, Noam Chomsky’s teachings will encourage you to remain self-educated.

5) Global awareness

Do you ever wonder how the world came to be as it is?

Do you ever wonder how the power dynamics of the US dollar becoming the ruling global currency, and Hollywood being the mainstream outlet of international media happened?

You’re in luck! Most of Chomsky’s books explore this topic.

Books such as:

  • American Power and the New Mandarins
  • Perilous Power: The Middle East & U.S Foreign Policy
  • How the World Works
  • Who Rules the World
  • Profit Over People

All explain power dynamics, historical events, political decisions, and the consequences of international policy. They make these tricky subjects accessible and digestible to learn. 

This can lead to a more informed and compassionate approach to global issues.

Through learning about all of these, you might just become the next great thinker who can offer a solution to global problems.

Why not?

6) Social activism

Speaking of you changing the world…

Chomsky’s teachings ultimately aim to inspire you to become an active participant in the world’s positive change.

Through educating others, advocacy, grassroots movements, and supporting causes you believe in – he empowers you to find a voice in creating a more just society.

By reading and learning about issues most people aren’t even aware of, you’ll become ignited with a passion for sharing what you’ve learned.

You will realize that you are not a powerless cog in a machine. Your voice can create true change.

You’ll become empowered to make your own decisions, form your own opinions, and become a free-thinking individual.

This will surely inspire you to empower others on the same path, too.

Conclusion

And that’s not even close to all of it.

I haven’t even mentioned his revolutionary influence on cognitive science and linguistics research.

Which, by the way – paved a completely new approach to understanding the human brain and internal cognitive processes.

So you’re interested in learning more about his work and don’t know where to begin?

You can start with this YouTube playlist.

So don’t just ‘enjoy’ the mind-expanding work of Noam Chomsky. Let his work inspire the brilliance in you – as it’s intended to.

And remember to apply your own research and critical thinking skills!

Shela Riva

Shela Riva

Shela Riva is a Thai-Swiss freelance writer, artist, energy mentor and co-creator of Jaiyen Eco Resort, a creative retreat space in Thailand. She is deeply passionate about our incredible ability to transform and is dedicated to helping each person realize the power within themselves, whether through her writing, empowering custom art pieces, one-on-one work or in-person retreats.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

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