Sunday, 30 November 2008

Workshop report: intellectual self-defence

Intellectual self-defense means you have to develop an independent mind - and work on it. Now that's extremely hard to do alone. The beauty of our system is that it isolates everybody - each person is sitting alone in front of the tube. Now it's very hard to have ideas or thoughts under those circumstances. Some people can, but it's pretty rare. The way to do it is through organization. So courses of intellectual self-defense will have to be in the context of political and other organization...”

Noam Chomsky, from the film 'Manufacturing Consent'

As an activist, or dissenter, or maybe you simply attended a street demo, it's likely that you have dealt with a barrage of political and idealogical challenges during every day life. For this reason, the organisers of Chomsky at 80 were keen that a workshop take place on "intellectual self-defence."

Andrew Bowman began by explaining why confidence and competence building for such situations is important for making the experience more bearable and fruitful. The group went on to discuss the numerous scenarios when appearing to deviate from the status quo can cause friends, colleagues, strangers and loved ones to confront your ideas as inferior. We found that similar questions and comments are often thrown at us, such as “You will never change anything”, “You're too idealistic”, “Why don't you start a political party then?”, “Well what do you propose instead?”...etc.

It was agreed that we are up against deep set indoctrination from sources such as the mainstream press, to the education system. However, in line with Chomsky, this indoctrination is not of a strictly conspiratorial nature. Then after sharing some personal experiences, the group came up with ten top tips for practising intellectual, or collective, self defence:

  1. Know your history! (not just the text book history)

  2. Learn the facts relating to your topic of concern, especially the neglected ones!

  3. Learn to explain your ideas simply, to critical, non specialist audiences.

  4. Use, support and if possible develop, sources of alternative media.

  5. Use the internet to it's full advantage: read widely, read often, and be careful with the reliability of sources.

  6. When in arguments (at least ones you wish to be productive), try to seek common ground with opponents rather than 'defeat' them.

  7. Develop listening skills

  8. Know your opposition in detail rather than simply dismissing them. Read their publications, get to know and understand their arguments properly.

  9. When forced to justify your position, do so. But don't just accept a subordinate status in the hierarchy of ideas, also go on the counterattack: make people holding mainstream positions justify themselves to the same standards of evidence that they are holding you to! Ie. Ask them questions as well.

  10. Be honest! Admit when you don't know things!

"For those who stubbornly seek freedom around the world, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination. These are easy to perceive in the totalitarian societies, much less so in the propaganda system to which we are subjected and in which all too often we serve as unwilling or unwitting instruments."

Noam Chomsky, 'Propaganda, American Style.'


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great tips! I've highlighted them and written about your workshop here:

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