Why there is thought control in liberal democratic Scotland and perhaps less in North Korea?

‘We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.’
(Waters, 1979)

I can hear the groans. Friends of this blog have commented before on their unhappiness with its former title ‘Thought Control Scotland.’ More than one thought it undermined the credibility of my findings because, presumably, it was untrue. I changed the title some time ago to ‘Talking-up Scotland’ and many of the same friends welcomed it.

Changing the url, of course, would have broken the link to earlier work and so, I retained it. At some level, it made intellectual sense to do so because I hadn’t really abandoned the idea but had, only, become tired defending it.

Today, a reddit comment on yesterday’s post, ‘Getting on With the Day Job’, pressed a button, I metaphorise, in my mind:

‘Dat url though, way to crush the credibility of your content.’

So, back to the barricades, comrades? I haven’t given up on the idea nor have I given up on its main protagonist, Professor Noam Chomsky. I wrote my PhD on his Propaganda Model’s brutal and unforgiving analysis of media in Western, liberal-democratic and, crucially, corporate, media. Chomsky, a refugee from the Soviet Union, was more than happy to use the term ‘thought control’ in the context of the USA or Europe. He even titled one of his books:

‘Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies’

You can still buy it at:


HA! I hear some say. It’s easily available at the low cost made possible by the corporations, he is allowed to keep his job at MIT and ‘professor’ Robertson was allowed to get a PhD based on his ideas. Where’s the thought control there, eh? Eh? You need a holiday in North Korea, pal!

That brings me neatly to the first defence of the idea. In the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany and today in North Korea, the media were/are utterly united in publishing in propaganda telling lies about how good they were/are and how bad Western liberal-democracies were/are. That’s true but it didn’t/doesn’t work. In a totalitarian society, most know that they are being lied to all the time and so few actually believe it. They behave as if they did but that’s a different thing altogether. In a liberal democracy with corporate media, you can have critical voices such as, say, George Monbiot, John Pilger or even here, the much-missed Ian Bell, but because they are few in number, in small readership media or, in the case of Pilger, broadcast late at night, their effect is largely to persuade or to reassure us that at least we do have some diversity of opinion but It’s only what Marxists call ‘repressive tolerance’.

HA! I hear again, it’s a conspiracy theory. If the majority of journalists were all telling lies rather than, essentially, the truths that they actually believe in, you’d need a conspiracy to achieve that. Chomsky is regularly called a conspiracy theorist. I have been too but you don’t need a conspiracy to get the majority of editors and ‘top’ journalists telling the same story if they, mostly, believe it. Most, not all but that doesn’t matter, ‘top’ journalists and editors went to the same kind of schools (private), the same universities (Oxbridge) and were interns with the same neo-liberal institutes. The BBC Trust has actually demonstrated this to be the case. Their parents often worked in the same places, they live in the same communities and they enjoy cultural activities in the same places too. Finally, they recognise each other and employ each other. They are a class or, in Chosmky’s words, interlocking elites. Over these years of socialisation, they come to, mostly, share the same values and perspectives. So, when they make decisions to write in a certain way or to edit in and out, certain narratives, they do so in their own interests which are also the interests of their class, as a whole.

HA! Intellectual snobbery! You and Chomsky think we are all dim-witted dupes who can’t see what’s happening and don’t make our own decisions.

First, Chomsky is hated by intellectual elites in the USA and in the UK (not so much in Europe) because he insults them. Even George Monbiot had a go at him because Chomsky accuses all who work in the corporate media or in the universities led by corporation-friendly management and professors, of complicity, and they’d rather think of themselves as critical and ethical people. Chomsky says that even more than the lower socio-economic groups, favoured groups and elites are seduced by the rewards they get into becoming uncritical followers and defenders of the status quo. Less well-off groups, because they get fewer rewards and more punishments in the form of poor housing, dangerous neighbourhoods and less successful schools or hospitals, become less-trusting of mainstream media messages.

Second, Chomsky is hated because he is saying that most, if not all of us, have been so seduced by corporate capitalism’s delights that we sub-consciously make decisions which favour it. Because of our socialisation, from early childhood, we have internalised a worldview which is, below the surface of consciousness, sympathetic to corporate capitalism. We get cheap clothes, food and holidays. We can choose, every day, what to wear and what to read. We get highly sophisticated mobile phones, tablets and laptops. We are bombarded with exciting images and messages and can navigate through them with an easy click, noting headlines and feeling little pressure to really think.

Neuropsychologists have already shown that most of the decisions we think we are making with free will and based on reason, we have already made milliseconds before, at a sub-conscious level and that this is true, regardless of intellect. That means, of course, that I made the decision to write this before I told myself I had.

Footnote: I was no weel, when I changed the blog’s title, but I still don’t feel inclined to change it back – doctor?


5 thoughts on “Why there is thought control in liberal democratic Scotland and perhaps less in North Korea?

  1. Alasdair Macdonald May 29, 2018 / 11:11 am

    You are right to maintain this link because, I think it is an important line to keep advancing. You say Chomsky, I say Gramsci, but let’s NOT call the whole thing off.

    These intellectual constructs are very deeply immersed in our psyches, because the message has been pushed continuously since we were born, every minute of every day. There is pretty sound, if immoral, psychology behind it and it is much more subtle and nuanced than the propaganda of the totalitarian states. It also sits on a political-economic system which appears to have delivered material well being to most of its populations, and, following crises like WW2, it had to be pretty generous, given how much it depended on ‘ordinary people’. Toffs like Harold MacMillan and William Whitelaw recognised that, and, indeed, publicly acknowledged it.

    These constructs were often sustained by coupling them with religion, and, when it comes to mind control, the Jesuits, for example, knew a thing or two.

    When listening to comments from the losing side in the recent Irish referendum on abortion, you can hear a sort of bafflement that for so many people to have voted in favour of choice is literally incomprehensible to them. When they accuse people of baby killing, they believe it.

    We had that amongst the unionist side in 2014. I had – and still have – good friends who found, and perhaps still find, the idea of Scots running their own affairs as inconceivable. They had absorbed the myth of Britannia.

    One of the mechanisms by which a hegemony is challenged is known as ‘exogenous shock’, when something outside their conceptions or, indeed, control, changes the equilibrium. The size of the YES vote certainly shocked some. Brexit did similarly for many. Seeing their children struggle for jobs and housing has been salutary.

    The people who are really in charge, those in the networks you indicated, whom we mainly encounter via the media, the principal mode of thought control, seem to me to be becoming more desperate, and the solidarity is beginning to be stretched. Daily, on this site we complain about BBC stores, but more people are aware of these stories for what they are.

    Talking up Scotland is important, because for decades, centuries, perhaps, the trope has been that we are the world’s worst at everything. Since it has been successful for so long they still keep it up, if only to bolster their own flagging support.

    Yes, keep the URL, but also keep the current title. Changing attitudes requires establishing ‘cognitive dissonance’ and, in my opinion, ‘thought control’ is a concept, too distant from the attitude of many to cause cognitive dissonance, whereas, pointing out that ‘we’ and that includes many of the unionists can actually do things pretty well. That WILL be more likely to set up cognitive dissonance.


    Liked by 3 people

  2. Contrary May 29, 2018 / 8:01 pm

    Well, personally I liked your idea of talking up Scotland, it gives us a rest from the moaning whining MSM, then the (necessary but) whining about how they’ve just lied blogs. Yes we should feel outraged at the untruths and omissions we get day in and day out – but isn’t it refreshing to have a positive outlook, a calm place you know you can go to and be told there is a lot of good, too, happening in your country. This blog takes a proactive approach to filling in the omissions, not constantly biting at the heels of what has already been done, and it gives a different angle of approach – A diversity that I think is hugely valuable to the ‘yes movement’.

    Don’t get me wrong, your analyses on media misreporting are excellent John, and obviously where your strengths lie. And I wouldn’t give up reading the blog even if it solely went back to thought control (in) Scotland (I reckon just adding the ‘in’ would make it sound less like it was YOU trying to control thoughts!) but the Talking Up aspect gives people something different, away from the bickering. And there is no reason you can’t run two blogs simultaneously if you were so inclined – hmm, what if you did develop a separate ‘talking up scotland’ site, how would that compare with a purely thought control site? Anyway, just saying, nothing need remain static – you’ve made a real success of developing the Talking Up Scotland – it may have been a work-around for you at the time, but it does show you can make it work, and shows it’s possible many other things could work fine too.

    I am starting to understand some of the references you and Ludo have made in he past re Chomsky too!

    The reference to media in totalitarian regimes – you say everyone knows they are lies, but I’m also wondering if they are POSITIVE lies? Along the lines of ‘we are superb, your totalitarian ruler is superb, your country is superb, everywhere else is shite’? You know, like, what we don’t get? I suppose being ruled by a different country is a completely different kettle of fish, different nuances.

    I was nearly sick on the the drive home tonight, I was early enough to catch Newsdrive on the radio at the back of six, and you never heard such fawning over one of the most useless lumps of politician there has ever been: Ruth Davidson is going to talk at glasgow university! ruth davidson is going to talk about immigration! Ruth Davidson is going to say the UK needs a better immigration policy! Ruth Davidson says scotland needs more immigrants, just like it says in the growth commission report! Ruth Davidson is going to make a speech! Ruth Davidson is not quite maybe ho hum but sort of challenging, but not really, the uk government immigration policy! Ruth Davidson….! – had to swtch off at that point – for [swear]’s sake! she is a middling msp with no influence in the scottish parliament, in a very minor party, and i am SICK to the back teeth of hearing what she has to say on everything and anything – I d o n o t c a r e! I want to hear what the scottish government are doing, they are the ones that have been ELECTED to power.

    It would be a relief to see her (RD) exported south and us get independence, don’t think we would get thanked or that particular export though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alasdair Macdonald May 29, 2018 / 9:07 pm

      Anent your final paragraphs: there clearly is a big publicity push regarding the promotion of Ms Davidson, particularly in the metropolitan media and it is especially strong in the self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ press like the Guardian and the New Statesman. She has fans, too, in the Times and the usual Tory press. She is playing ‘hard to get’ with spokespersons saying that she plans to stay in Scotland and win in Scotland. This is a well tried tactic as people who show their ambitions too overtly usually end up losers.

      She has cultivated a particular image – tough, feisty, openly gay, no nonsense witty, friendly, socially liberal, etc. – and I know a few Labourites who say, “if she weren’t a Tory, I would vote for her”. In the privacy of the ballot box in 2016 and 2017 in various Scottish constituencies a fair number of them voted for ‘Ruth Davidson’s Party’ (with Conservative Party reduced to a tiny line after ‘published by…’ on the leaflets.

      Liked by 2 people

    • johnrobertson834 May 30, 2018 / 6:02 am

      Thanks, it’s probably more reactive than any good/bad news strategy now.


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