Noam Chomsky’s Ten Strategies for Manipulation: Applications for Self-Development



MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, one of the classic voices of intellectual dissent since the Vietnam War, has compiled a list of the ten most common and effective strategies for manipulation of a population through the media. These strategies are typically understood as ways others victimize us. Integral Deep Listening asks, “In addition, how can these strategies be understood as ways that we victimize ourselves?” Imagine that you have one face looking outward at the societal macrocosm and another face looking inward at the intrasocial microcosm, the world of possibilities and largely unrecognized emerging potentials that show up in your life as dream characters and as dreamlike projections into your waking life – those life issues that are most important to you. As you recognize how you generate your own internal reality you will begin to understand how you project it externally and experience it as others victimizing you.

You have both realms in which to practice vigilance. The outward realm teaches you to think so you can determine motives of governments, political and spiritual leaders, employers, lovers and  well-meaning friends. You need to be able to think through cause and effect and weigh the likely consequences of your choices. The inward realm calls you to your emerging potentials. To listen and follow it you have to learn how you manipulate, propagandize and victimize yourself with drama, outgrown script injunctions and brain-dead, irrational worry and self-talk. Integral Deep Listening offers a powerful and straight-forward set of strategies that derails both internal and everyday nightmares, replacing them with inner peace and a sense of life meaning that is anchored in the priorities of life.

Self-deception and self-isolation are two powerful types of self-manipulation. Self-deception is delusional thinking and an unwillingness to give up beliefs, expectations, preferences and behaviors when reality is clearly telling you they not only do not work but are self-destructive. Self-isolation occurs when you cut yourself off from emerging potentials that align your personal agenda with the agenda of life itself. Just because you were scripted by your family and society to be a bonsai, a miniaturization of yourself, you are not destined to remain so. Just as there exists the pattern of the oak within the acorn, so you can connect with your own pattern of wholeness through interviewing personifications of your own unique emerging potentials, thus ending your isolation from life’s agenda for you.

Here are Chomsky’s ten strategies with consideration of both social and intrasocial contexts. Quotes are from Silent Weapons for Quiet War.

The Strategy of Distraction

The primary vehicle for social control used by governmental, economic and media elites is the strategy of distraction.  It involves “maintaining public attention diverted away from the real social problems, captivated by matters of no real importance. Keep the public busy, busy, busy, no time to think…” Your attention is diverted from important issues to interests determined by the political, economic and media elites through the employment of a constant flooding with continuous distractions and insignificant information. Important but disconnected pressing business assaults you from all sides, from emails, friends, the news, work and government. Just keeping up with the influx overwhelms your ability to make sense of it or to gain the objectivity to select out what is important. Distraction strategy is essential in order to prevent you from gaining discernment in the essential areas of science, economics, psychology, neurobiology and cybernetics.

On a personal level, distraction is a common and effective form of self-medication and self-rescuing. It occurs when you indulge in your favorite addictions, such as surfing the internet, checking emails, worrying about what others think about you, or focusing on the minutiae of daily life. You can become so involved with accomplishing points seven and nine on your “to do” list that you fail to accomplish numbers one, two and three. You become so focused on accomplishing your goals that you never stop to consider whether or not they are in alignment with life’s priorities for you. The result is that your entire search for meaning and all of your efforts to build a successful, happy life can be distractions from the business of practicing deep listening to emerging potentials that align you with your life compass.

Night time dreams can appear to be little more than distracting nuisances. It is therefore both bizarre and evocative of skepticism to propose that interviewing your dream characters provides a clear path through the distractions of your life to a sure and reliable way forward that fits for you. Integral Deep Listening not only invites but encourages your skepticism, because it is only by working through your doubts, rather than taking information on faith, that you make it your own.

Create Problems, Then Offer Solutions

This method of manipulation and deception is also called “problem-reaction-solution.” It creates a problem, a “situation” designed to cause some reaction in the audience, leading them to the acceptance of steps that the elites propose. For example, a government might encourage urban violence or generate a false flag or genuine terrorist attacks so that the public embraces security measures and policies that undercut constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Another application, explained by Naomi Klein in great detail in “The Shock Doctrine,” is to create an economic crisis that requires the reversal of social rights and the dismantling of public services. This is the modus operandi of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, as deployed in the gutting of the Greek economy. As Rahm Emmanuel has said,  “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

On a personal level, we fabricate unnecessary problems and complications for ourselves and then use them to justify the employment of convenient but destructive solutions. Stress, anger and the bad behavior of others can be used to justify drinking too much, going on a buying spree, overeating or withdrawal into silent sulking. When we fabricate unnecessary problems we do not take care of our mental, emotional and physical health.  We then spend our time, money and energy putting out fires and running from crisis to crisis rather than focusing on prevention. We do not take the initiative with our work and so spend our time playing catch-up, always behind the eight-ball. We ignore the wishes of our partner or offer our solutions to their problems instead of helping them to find their own answers, with the result being that we become persecutors, since they are being given a fish instead of being taught to fish. On an even more interior level, we create the problems of meaninglessness and failure to attain our goals. We then seek the solutions of others by joining groups, cults, religions, movements, parties and causes, or we impose our own “solutions” in the name of conscience, or intuition. The problem of meaninglessness does not exist for life itself; when we are connected with life meaningless no longer exists as a problem for us. Failure to attain our goals likewise becomes a non-issue when we align ourselves with life’s agenda for us. Without the generation of such imaginary problems we do not have to generate equally unsatisfying “solutions;” we no longer need to look to external authorities or lovers to give our lives meaning and value; we no longer confuse our conscience and intuition with our life compass.

The dream characters and personifications of life issues that you interview with Integral Deep Listening provide solutions to the problems that are in the way of you recognizing and following life’s agenda. This is a practical and effective alternative to wasting time focusing on the straw man problems that you raise for yourself. For example, life doesn’t care how much money you make, what you look like or who likes you. Instead, it draws your focus to issues that are important to it, such as increasing your clarity, balance, and peace of mind.

The Gradual Strategy

This is the slowly boiling frog strategy. Just turn up the heat bit by bit and he’ll never notice he’s being cooked alive.  The strangling of the middle class, the reduction of privacy rights and the introduction of a police state in the name of “security” are contemporary examples of citizenry being turned into boiled frogs. In your personal life, habit works in the same way. You might get into a wonderful relationship that becomes abusive. You adapt to it; the years pass by as you stay trapped in a dead-end relationship. We start watching porn occasionally and don’t realize that it takes more and more explicit and hard core images to generate the same arousal. Sex with partners is more likely to be met with impotence but the onset is so gradual we don’t connect it with the porn.

Our addiction to our thoughts and feelings gradually builds over the years until we lose any interest in looking at our dreams or challenging the filters that distort life. We believe what we think and we do what we feel instead of subordinating both to the priorities of interviewed emerging potentials. We become used to following the comfortable, convenient flow of our daily lives rather than challenging our basic assumptions. Do you know who you are, where you are going and what you are doing? Are you in contact with life’s agenda for you? Are you following it? Most of us lack a method by which we can even answer these questions; we continue to slowly boil, sure that we are free and in command of our own destiny.

Integral Deep Listening takes the Gradual Strategy and stands it on its head. It counters it with a gradual strategy of waking up, lucidity, prevention and enlightenment. Interviewed dream characters and the personifications of your waking life issues, together called “emerging potentials,” provide you with specific, concrete recommendations that move you off the heat and out of the pot and into a pond full of lily pads and tasty mosquitos.

The Strategy of Deferring

This strategy gives you more time to get used to a “painful but necessary” idea of change so that you will accept it with resignation when the time comes. Buying on credit, taking out loans and running up the national debt function on this principle: “Buy now, pay later.” We might rationalize the expense in the belief that our incomes will increase to cover our new burden of debt. As a society we pass laws allowing invasive body searches at airports, thinking of public safety and not of our own inconvenience or privacy. Those “costs” will come later and maybe never, if we do not fly and can avoid police searches. When the costs do come for us we are generally shocked, because we expected them to be constantly and eternally deferred.

On a personal level we accept the costs of building a strong sense of self that shuts out definitions of identity that are threatening or “don’t fit.” We may intuit that our rigid, authoritarian sense of who we are will have to change, just “not today.” We defer learning to let go of an inflexible, rigid self-definition. Instead we continue to allow it to define us long after it has proven to be a straight-jacket and a hindrance to any further growth. When we are forced to let it go by retirement, divorce, disability or terminal disease, we are unprepared. The costs of our decision to defer includes the death of creativity, a shutting off of contact with life, and death. We can pay these costs today or we can pay them with interest tomorrow. If we choose to defer our costs to some indefinite future time they may well be too high to pay. We mortgage today to the future and cheat ourselves out of a full, rich life. Integral Deep Listening not only makes clear the priorities of life, as expressed uniquely as your life compass, but presents practical, manageable ways of bringing them into reality. This breaks you of the habit of deferring and moves you toward a life of commitment and responsibility rather than deferral to realities imposed by others.

Go to the Public as a Little Child

Have you noticed that most advertising treats you as if you were a little child or mentally deficient? Information is infantilized in order to appeal to your simple, powerful emotions of fear, pain, hate, doubt, shame or joy. According to Chompsky this strategy is successful because “If one goes to a person as if she had the age of 12 years or less, then, because of suggestion, she tends with a certain probability to a response or reaction also devoid of a critical sense, as a person 12 years or younger.”

You do the same thing to yourself when you think and feel using the strategies that you developed when you were five. These involve mindlessly following the life script that you learned in your family of origin and that taught you what to feel and who you are. It also involves experiencing life in the context of drama, and thinking pre-rationally, like all young children do. It is quite difficult to grow up, or to expect yourself to be mature, if you are stuck in modes of thinking, feeling and behavior that you learned in response to your childhood environment. You no longer live in those circumstances today; to live in the here and now you have to go through your assumptions, feelings and ways of thinking as if you were sorting through a closet full of old clothes, shoes and clutter, keeping what you can still use and making room for the new, while reducing clutter and confusion by letting go of that which may be comfortable or sentimental but which is no longer useful. Integral Deep Listening aids in this process by neutralizing outgrown childhood script injunctions, teaching you to recognize and avoid the Drama Triangle in your relationships, thoughts and night time dreams, and to recognize irrational, self-destructive self-talk and replace it with reasonable and realistic thinking.

Use the Emotional Side More Than the Reflection

While emotion itself is the spice of life, emotional appeals are attempts to activate pre-rational impulses and circumvent objectivity, rationality and your conscious consideration of the pros and cons of an idea or approach. Governments, advertisers and the media only encourage thinking that reaches those conclusions that benefit them. They know that if they can activate your emotions away from alternatives and toward their “solutions” that they have almost won the battle for your loyalty.

More fundamentally, you use pre-rational surges of emotion to justify whatever you decide you want to do. “It feels good and right, so it must be good for me and right for me.” You pander to your emotions when you yield logic to feelings or go with your reactions instead of first filtering them through your grey matter. Romance is a perfect example of this wonderful delusion. You may defend the abandonment of reason as “spontaneity,” forgetting that you can have both reason and emotional freedom, like horse and rider in harmony; you don’t have to force yourself to choose between them. However, this choice only becomes possible when and if you have first learned how to think and make objective evaluations about the truth or worth of statements, actions and products. When you find yourself whining to yourself, “But I WANT it!” or feeling, “It’s not FAIR!” or giving in to personalization, boredom or impatience, ask yourself, “Who’s in charge?” “Is there a nurturing parent or a spoiled child running the show?” Parents need to listen, share with and play with children, but unless the rational adult agrees to it, putting children in charge of running adult lives generally courts disaster.

Integral Deep Listening encourages you to make a habit of asking yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Name the feeling – is it happiness, sadness, fear, anger, doubt, joy – what? By doing so you bring your feelings into your conscious awareness where they can fully participate in your decision-making. When you are aware of how your feelings are being manipulated it is much easier to see through the game and then make an objective decision as to whether you want to play along or not.

Keep the Public in Ignorance and Mediocrity

To keep the public in ignorance and mediocrity it is important to make it incapable of understanding the technologies and methods used to control and enslave it. “The quality of education given to the lower social classes must be as poor and mediocre as possible so that the gap of ignorance it plans among the lower classes and upper classes is and remains impossible to attain for the lower classes.” A constant diet of sit-coms, reality TV, mindless entertainment  and the mind-numbing boredom of dead end jobs, serves not only to distract but dumb down society. Poverty also helps because it deprives people of opportunities to learn how they are being taken advantage of.

For Integral Deep Listening, the “public” refers to not only the macrocosmic and social community but also to your microcosmic and intrasocial community. This is the congregation of elements that populate your night time dreams and those elements that are personifications of your life issues, both of which are interviewed as characters or objects. When you do not consult them you keep yourself ignorant, in the dark about broader agendas, perspectives and contexts that are attempting to sprout and grow. You remain a stunted bonsai, a scripted caricatures of who and what you could become.

Be Complacent With Mediocrity

It is easy to see how adolescents are brainwashed into thinking that what is stupid, vulgar and uneducated is really fashionable and mature. Examples may include tattoos, piercings, egotistically-based rebellion, laziness, sexual posturing and engaging in dangerous behaviors. As adults we remain brainwashed into thinking the same, that what is stupid, vulgar and uneducated is really fashionable and mature. However, we lack the objectivity to see how we are stuck because we are asleep, dreaming and sleepwalking, lost in the drama of our cultural and societal scripting. Examples of adult complacency fueled by mediocrity include the quest for money, status, power, charisma, control, freedom and love. All of these things fuel a self-sense which itself is pursuing agendas that have little, if anything to do with the agenda of life and the priorities of your own inner compass.


If individuals and societies can be made to blame themselves instead of placing appropriate responsibility on leadership and on unjust or non-functional systems of governance, leaders will not be held accountable for abuses of power. Western guilt for the holocaust gave Zionism free reign to repress, abuse, steal from, and kill Palestinians and then create an apartheid state. If the poor can be made to believe they are to blame for not seizing the American dream,  they will not demand justice. The drive for change and revolution are aborted. Another powerful example of self-blame as a tool of social manipulation is the religious doctrine of karma. Completely aside from its truth, it undeniably caused people born into lower castes in India to blame themselves for their lack of social standing. The result was lack of rebellion and social stability, with victims tolerating the intolerable imposed by the intolerant.

The same is true for personal development. Self-blame is a form of egotism. It is psychological geocentrism because you are so important that you must bear responsibility. Outside of a purely legal determination, rarely do we bear full responsibility for anything that occurs to us or that we decide in our lives. Such a conclusion disempowers and discounts the impact of social, cultural and internal factors out of our awareness that co-determine our choices. When you blame yourself the developmental dialectic cannot advance from the daily balancing of roles and responsibilities involved in the thesis stage to the questioning and challenging of the antithesis stage, much less integrate the two to move into a higher order synthesis. Self-blame is a form of self-manipulation that you use to keep yourself in the role of victim, disempowered and justified in not taking responsibility for your inaction, addictions, self-persecution and self-rescuing. If you want to wake up to life’s agenda for your integration and future development you are going to have to decide it’s time to outgrow it.

Integral Deep Listening puts you in contact with perspectives that know you and your life as thoroughly as you do and yet do not blame you at all, for anything. This degree of acceptance is revelatory and transformational for many people. They come to realize that moving out of blame does not mean moving out of responsibility or moving into license, but it does mean blame can no longer be used as a tool by others or society to manipulate you to do what you do not want to do.

Getting to Know the Individuals Better Than They Know Themselves

Over the past fifty years, advances in science have generated a growing gap between public knowledge and those methods of evaluation owned and operated by dominant elites. Thanks to biology, neurobiology and applied psychology, the “system” enjoys a sophisticated understanding of human beings, both physically and psychologically. Elites have become better acquainted with the “buttons” of humans and have learned how to push them, to promote “social engineering,” “compliance,”  to enhance consumption and improve the effectiveness of state-sponsored propaganda. This means that, in most cases, the system exerts greater control and power over you than you do over yourself.

Fortunately, internet communication is rapidly changing that. People are educating each other, challenging myths, dogma, faith, irrationality, nationalism, racism and abuses of human rights. This process has a powerful ability to teach us to question our assumptions, biases, prejudices, preferences and expectations, with the result that we come know ourselves and our limitations much more clearly than before. This means that it becomes more difficult to manipulate the public with propaganda.

None of these advances, however, will put you, your friends, family and fellow citizens in touch with your own inner compass. Education is a necessary but insufficient preliminary step toward doing so. It clears away the fog of social and cultural confusion so that you can direct your attention to the fog of your own self-created propaganda that keeps you from knowing life’s agenda for you. One example of this fog is the common belief that you really do know what is best for you. If you look at your life with objectivity, what you spend money on, how you spend your time and who you spend it with, you may conclude that this assumption is questionable.

The fastest way to cut through the fog of self-delusion is to interview a series of emerging potentials in the form of dream characters and personifications of life issues that are important to you. They will make recommendations, many of which you will want to operationalize and put to work in your life. When you do, you will slowly but surely align your agenda with that of your life compass. The result will be a sense of rightness of your path, a way forward that will be grounded not only in healthy emotion but in practical, satisfying action.

An easy, educational and interesting way to learn Integral Deep Listening is by subscribing to the free Coaching Certificate program, explained here.

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