thumping the tub
Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. (from This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In a 1778 sermon Phillips Payson commented on 'circumstances favourable for a free government and public liberty'. He states that "A wicked rich man soon corrupts a whole neighbourhood, and a few of them will poison the morals of a whole community". To counteract this he suggests the "general diffusion of knowledge" as a remedy. The idea is for the 'general diffusion of knowledge' to bring about social good and counteract the machinations of the monied and the powerful.

One hundred years on we see such ideals were losing ground. Charles Francis Adams (son of President John Quincy Adams) stated in 1880 that

"The future is in the hands of our universities, our schools, our specialists our scientific men and our writers and those who do the actual work of management in the ideological and economic institutions"[1]

which is a group of people now often referred to as the 'technocratic elite'. Adams saw this as a potentially a way to concentrate power rather than 'diffuse' it and as a good development though many would question whether it is (including me). A term was often used to describe this group in the American labour press was "the bought priesthood". This refers to "the media and the universities and the intellectual class, that is, the apologists who sought to justify the absolute despotism that was the new spirit of the age and to instil its sordid and demeaning values".[2]

Some academics in the U.S. certainly formed part of a 'bought priesthood' by working in covert operations with the U.S. government and intelligence communities in military operations. 'Project Troy' was conducted in the 1950's in America. The US government sought to recruit top academics in both the natural and the social sciences in order to help with both psychological warfare and propaganda during the cold war. Furthermore

"it provided a model and many personnel for a series of large-scale, classified consultancies between leading social scientists and U.S. military, intelligence and propaganda agencies which have persisted in one form or another ever since" [3]

One of the members of the Project Troy team, Elting Morison (an historian), showed his conception of the social sciences as being within the realm of current political constructs rather than as attempting to improve, change or do away with them. He asked how values "created by our relatively free society in a past that was, for the most part serene" (How anyone, social scientist or otherwise could describe a past that included the annexation of part of Mexico, wars with Britain, Spain, France, nuking Japan and the genocide of almost an entire race as 'for the most part serene' is beyond me) could be "perpetuated within a relatively controlled society during an ominous present? Or how…more simply…can we maintain democracy in a garrison?"

This suggests that Morison saw one of the functions of social science as preserving rather than critiqueing what already existed. This is not something that the Greeks would have approved of.

After 'Project Troy' Morison got almost contrite...

"In the long run [secrecy] might prove to be more dangerous to free communication than any other single thing.[ An award for stating the obvious perhaps?] At the moment, to be sure, the influence of the classified idea has not been much felt [he obviously means outside of the hard and engineering sciences]; it has been extended only with great caution the few universities that have secret projects for the government. There is pause in the thought, however, that universities are, in this society, one of the great wellsprings of ideas and that the source and supply for these things is the unobstructed flow of information and ideas".

Control over academic output is not usually so conspicuous as 'Project Troy'. I believe that there must have been similar events in the UK but the UK is generally a more secretive society and the declassified record is not as complete as in the U.S.

In the UK there are other methods of control. The universities were originally filled for the most part by the 'higher' levels of society in terms of both staff and students (and it still is so to a lesser extent). Like any institution they began to develop their own conceptions of what was permissible behaviour and good practice. The privileged elites who populated the universities pre-20th century became self-perpetuating. As more specialisation was called for in an increasingly industrial society then those best placed to exploit the educational resources were put at an advantage-so another form of 'intellectual elite' grew up. The best off were also the best educated. This does not encourage a fair or equal "diffusion of knowledge".

Education could serve the function that Payson hoped it would, but it certainly doesn't at the moment. There are many university staff who genuinely want to help people find the best methods of finding things out for themselves. This is by far the most useful sort of education . Unfortunately, there are also many who use their position to reinforce dogma whilst claiming objectivity.

The way out of this is not more objectivity. It is to declare your own prejudice as early as possible - then work against it, in a transparent manner. No one is objective. Let's end this fallacy. The 'objectivity' lie is often the first lie forced on you.

For more about on this topic take a look at

Norman Finkelstein's work,
The Cold War and The University, by Noam Chomsky and others,
Universities and Empire, by Christopher Simpson and
Captive State - The Corporate Takeover of Britain, by George Monbiot

[2] From 'Democracy and Education' Noam Chomsky, Mellon Lecture, Loyola University, Chicago 19/10/1994. Available at
[3] Christopher Simpson,
posted by michael the tubthumper @ 5:51 pm  
  • At 10:10 pm, Blogger justin barker said…

    This is illuminating. I've often wondered what the point of the university is. In the USA, they appear to be little more than money holes for the well off and the rich, and debt traps for everyone else.
    Of course, debt is an important control mechanism.

  • At 10:14 pm, Blogger mikevotes said…

    You actually put footnotes in, you're making the rest of us look bad.

    This radio show(unwelcome guest) in the US has done a whole lot of segments on the management and indoctrination of the elites both through the universities and the corporate structure.

    The ones I remember listening to must've fallen out of the archive, but I think from the title that this one might be on topic.

    I like to download political radio shows from to listen to while I walk my dog.


  • At 12:42 am, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…

    "education is a system of enforced ignorance"

    i like the quote but probably disagree with it.

    "education IS OFTEN a system of enforced ignorance" is probably nearer the mark

    mike - as for the footnotes. its an old piece rehashed. i will explain if you ever become contactable

  • At 2:07 am, Anonymous Mew said…

    My personal favourite education quote, "Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education" from Bertrand R.
    Yeah, you should qualify it, but only mentally. Why spoil a good quote? ;)

    Never went to university, and got out of school as soon as possible (15). Certainly the Chomsky and Russell quotes reflect my own experience perfectly well, though there is too much anger still to be cool an reflective.

    They don't describe what education necessarily HAS to be, or ideally should be, but what it generally is when those who provide education have an interest in keeping the majority skilled but dumb.
    Under those circumstances 'good' education is always going to be a minority occurence, no? You might get lucky and get a decent teacher - but you probably won't.

    Anyway, sorry, digressed into primary and secondary ed. there, just what dumb old me knows.

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Name: michael the tubthumper
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About Me: Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant. 28 years old, I write and research for a couple of websites and also do my own stuff.
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