Active Thinking Topic 77  - Everyone is a Useful Idiot

5 March 2024

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Zoom online

Recommended Viewing: Les Carter (25 Jun 2020) "Narcissists And Their Useful Idiots - Surviving Narcissism". Dr Carter's Website @   [18 minutes]

Talking Points

1. Most of us qualify as useful idiots in some way, or at some time. How is our idiocy useful to other people or businesses or governments? Examples?

2. How effective, really, is it to try undermining the confidence of a political opponent by calling them a useful idiot? - To say that a person has been played or used implies that they are someone else's useful idiot. This idea is a gift for pushing a political argument: your opponent is not worth listening to. They are a useful idiot. [Note that is awash with partisan arguments calling some enemy's supporters useful idiots.]

3. The entire advertising industry is built on the idea of selling things to people which, perhaps, they don't really need. That is, marketing depends heavily upon grooming useful idiots. Is this an altogether bad thing? What would happen to modern economies without useful idiots?

4. There have always been populist politicians and always will be. What can be good and bad about these characters. How can we limit the damage they do? Each generation produces populist politicians, and a population of useful idiots ready to be exploited. Trump is a current example. The 'useful idiots' often have genuine grievances. The 'usefu idiots' themselves are usually not naturally political, but they can be politicized to fit the agenda of the populist.

5. The MAGA crowd in US, and Australian equivalents, are often seen by wannabe elites as not too smart. That's not always fair. Certainly classic MAGA folk hate what they call elites. That is old fashioned social class hatred. What exactly though are these 'elites'? Can social class divisions of this kind ever really be healed, or are they just part of the human condition (I am who I am ... you are who you are..).

6. Who are some individuals, past or present, whom you see as useful idiots in the service of an enemy state? How should such people be dealt with? Spies come in many varieties. One type of spy is committed for ideological reasons to the cause of an enemy state. They may be naive, or they might be quite sophisticated but they genuinely believe the values of the enemy state are better than the values of their own country (this may or may not be true). The enemy state itself may exploit these people as useful idiots.

7. Narcissism is well known thrive on a bottomless supply of useful idiots in every area of life. How does this actually work? (e.g. see the recommended video, "Narcissists And Their Useful Idiots - Surviving Narcissism". Dr Carter's Website @ ). Have you ever been exploited in this way?

8. The modern world is mind-bendingly complex, and comes at us 24/7. Do you have any sense that more and more people can be zombified by this avalanche of stimulation, become victims to ever more sophisticated exploiters who treat them as useful idiots? Any solutions?

9. What are some well known ways in which each gender exploits the other as useful idiots?

10. Hyper-identity politics has lately become a weapon of choice on the conservative side of politics worldwide (yes, so-called progressives have their versions of this too). Why is hyper-identity politics such a potent tool for rallying useful idiots in the service of political movements they barely understand?

Extra Links & Reading

Les Carter (25 Jun 2020) "Narcissists And Their Useful Idiots - Surviving Narcissism". Dr Carter's Website @

Wikipedia (2024) @  [Quote: "A useful idiot or useful fool is a person perceived as propagandizing for a cause—particularly a bad cause originating from a devious, ruthless source—without fully comprehending the cause's goals, and who is cynically being used by the cause's leaders".]

Thomas DeMichele (March 23, 2016) "What Does the Term “Useful Idiot” Mean?" Fact/Myth blog @  [Quote: " “Useful Idiot” is a political insult that describes a person who, through manipulation or not, is useful to a political cause that is not their own despite not fully realizing their role. This makes them “an idiot,” an unwitting and useful pawn of a propagandist. This broad concept can apply to a vast range of situations, as it involves little more than a person’s actions furthering a political cause whose true intentions they aren’t fully aware of."]

Thor May (2013) "The Democracy Problem". The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: " Like huge numbers of people worldwide, Australians in general know little real history, and will therefore repeat its mistakes. If tyranny again becomes the norm, as it has been in most places over the last 5,000 years, with the memory of goldfish they will think it was always that way."]

Thor May (2015) "The Unexpected Power of Stupidity". The Passionate Skeptic website @  Quote: ["If we all understood each other perfectly 100% of the time, our judgements of other people’s stupidity would probably reduce by about 95%. We never understand each other perfectly, even after long acquaintance, and there is no prospect that we ever will understand each other perfectly ..."]

Luke Buckmaster (19 July 2021) "Idiocracy: a disturbingly prophetic look at the future of America – and our era of stupidity - Mike Judge critiques the nonsense of the modern world in this dystopian 2006 comedy – which, in 2021, feels more like a documentary - Idiocracy is available to stream via Google Play, Amazon and iTunes". The Guardian @
Mariano Sigman and Dan Ariely (2018) "How can groups make good decisions?" TED talk @  [Thor, comment: Really interesting. The big challenge is to find a way for the wisdom of small groups to be translated into an online mechanism for the large scale governance of millions. Anonymous avatars would kill it stone dead - you wind up with extreme trolls. Then getting a balance of the population to participate is another tough one. Voluntary participants tend to be over-committed to some issue. We sure don't have real 'participatory democracy' the way things are working now.]

Gerd Gigerenzer, "Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions Paperback" (Kindle $14 on Amazon  ). Also youtube @  [in this guest video, Gigerenzer is sharp, but ignore the incoherent host]. Professor Gigerenzer has travelled the world testing doctors, and found that over 80% of doctors can't correctly interpret basic statements about medical risk. [Thor, comment: Democratic choice requires a willingness to take informed responsibility for your actions. The two key words are "informed" and "responsibility" (yours). The first requires effort+skill. The second requires courage. Strong tendencies in ALL political systems are a) to discourage or obstruct you from becoming well informed with skilled enquiry; and b) to persuade you that challenging a controlling elite is a waste of time, too difficult, and maybe dangerous to your health. Is it only political systems that show this pattern? No! The same patterns are seen in education, in employment, in finance, in law, in medicine ... and so on. Gigerenzer is especially interesting because he is trying to challenge the paradigm of defensive medicine where (often misinformed) doctors regard patients as mindless idiots, just as political elites regard voters as mindless idiots]

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. (May 24, 2016) "In 2014 we published a study of political inequality in America, called “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Our central finding was this: Economic elites and interest groups can shape U.S. government policy — but Americans who are less well off have essentially no influence over what their government does". Washington Post @
Yascha Mounk (March 2018) "America Is Not a Democracy - How the United States lost the faith of its citizens—and what it can do to win them back". The Atlantic @

Kirill Martynov (July 6, 2021) "How Vladimir Putin Runs Russia Without Intermediaries or Institutes - Russia is ready to become the first country in the world where public politics and governance are carried out via daytime TV". Moscow Times @

Scott Foster (July 13, 2021) "China-US contest will come down to education - America's decline in K-12 schooling is a huge blow to its competitiveness at a time when China's schools are on the rise". Asia Times @

Juliana Piskorz (30 Dec 2018) "Me and my quarter-life crisis: a millennial asks what went wrong" The Observer @  [Thor, comment: people might work for love, and they definitely work for money, but they also work because society expects them to work, expects them to be "useful" and "successful". This is especially potent for twenty-somethings who haven't quite made it yet ...]

Nathan Heller (June 7, 2018) "The Bullshit-Job Boom - For more and more people, work appears to serve no purpose. Is there any good left in the grind?" The New Yorker @

Olivia Solon (15 February 2017) "Elon Musk says humans must become cyborgs to stay relevant. Is he right? - Sophisticated artificial intelligence will make ‘house cats’ of humans, claims the entrepreneur, but his grand vision for mind-controlled tech may be a long way off" The Guardian @

Sean McFate (25 January, 2016) "Return of the mercenaries - Two centuries ago, public armies replaced private ones as the dominant tool of warfare. Now, private armies are back". Aeon magazine @  [ This article is essential reading for this meetup. Public news reporting of international conflict is a shadow play. The real tools and actors and motivations go unreported. For example, the United States could not have waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan without private contractors : 50% and 55% mercenary personnel respectively. The Russians have mercenaries in the Ukraine and Syria. Frontier Services Group (originally the infamous American contractor Blackwater**) is now Hong Kong Chinese controlled by the CITIC group which has a trillion dollar capitalization and plans to take over "training camps" (concentration camps) for up to a million Uighur people in Xinjiang (western China) where as Muslims, Uighur are seen as a security risk. The fate of entire countries in post-colonial Africa would have been different without mercenaries, and the fate of Europe before 1650 would have been entirely different.{**Blackwater's founder, Eric Prince, is the brother of the Trump administration's controversial Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos }]

Thor May (2014) "Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest". The Passionate Skeptic website @  or  [ Is money just the enabler, or the end? Self-deception is all around us. From face lifts to luxury cars on hire purchase, from inflated CVs to exaggerated job titles, from company publicity material to the spin that governments put on their failures and deceptions. At what point does fakery become fraud? Would the world be a duller place without it?..]

Barry Jones (30 March 2019) "The death of political debate". The Saturday Paper @  [Thor, comment: Barry Jones argues that political debate in the last generation has been reduced to meme slogans rather than reasoned argument. In social and political innovation after World War II, Australia led most of the world, and politicians led public opinion with reasoned argument. Now politics is "retail", reactive, driven by polling and sold with simple minded slogans. The many complicated issues we face are shunned, he says, instead of intelligently debated. (Barry Jones was a minister in the 1970s Hawke government and twice president of the Australian Labor Party)].

Maggie Koerth-Baker (March 25 2019) "Conspiracy Theories Can’t Be Stopped - And some scientists think we wouldn’t want to even if we could". FiveThirtyEight website @

Judith Ireland (April 22, 2019) "One in two voters don't understand how to vote for the Senate: poll". Brisbane Times @

Joe Perticone (April 10, 2019) "The House passed a bill banning the government from creating 'free' tax preparation software like TurboTax, forever". Business Insider @  [Thor, comment: Tax industry lobbyists are major contributors to congressmen. You could reasonably say that the US Congress is an enemy of the American people much of the time. Congress had a public approval rating of approximately 26% of all voters in 2018. This is close to the long term average].

Thor May (2014) "What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "The 20 th Century revolved politically around competing interpretations of Capitalism, Communism, Socialism and Fascism. These are all ways to organize the lives of people on a large scale. Are real alternatives or new interpretations likely to emerge in the challenging years ahead? What might they look like?"]

=> This paper has had 32364 views at its PDF location (  ). Here is a recommendation from Lorna Collins, University of Cambridge, Alumna, August 9, 2015 : "A vital and timely analysis of the ideologies of our time. The implications of this study are political, economic, social and cultural; by examining different political practices in conflictive regimes across the world, the author demonstrates a common thread, which is the need 'to organise the lives of people on a large scale'. The exploration of other possibilities for power, other than capitalism, communism, socialism, and fascism, provides crucial and needed data."

Jack Gow (2 May 2019) "The coffee nap is a hare-brained scheme brought to you by capitalism". ABC News @  [quote: "Why not try a coffee nap? A popular #lifehack that first entered the public consciousness in the mid-90s, the coffee nap is, as the name suggests, drinking a coffee then having a nap. .. But not too long of a nap, mind you, somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes, or just long enough to rest your eyes and forget about the crushing reality of your economic servitude. .. Australians are working an average of 312 hours (or the equivalent of eight working weeks) of unpaid overtime annually. This pervasive, socially-sanctioned "time theft" totals $106 billion of work given to employers every year. ... We're working an average six hours of unpaid labour each week, up from 5.1 hours in 2017 and 4.2 in 2016. ... While living costs and corporate profits have surged, we've only banked, on average, an extra $2.50 per week over the past seven years. And analysts say that's unlikely to change for at least a decade. As we work longer and longer hours just to keep up, is it any wonder we can't sleep at night? "Sleep debt" affects 40 per cent of Australians, with one in five adults experiencing reduced workplace productivity".

Thor May (27 December 2017) "Lazy & Stupid Saves Us All". [meetup topic] The Passionate Skeptic Website @

Jess Whittlestone (25 August 2015) "When the truth hurts" Aeon magazine @  [Thor, comment: recommended article]

Richard Feynman (2 Apr 2012) "Why". Youtube @  [7 minutes] [Thor, context: "Feynman was universally regarded as one of the fastest thinking and most creative theorists in his generation. Yet it has been reported-including by Feynman himself-that he only obtained a score of 125 on a school IQ test" (Discovery magazine)]. [Comment from a viewer: "Feynman gets stopped by a cop. / Cop : why were you speeding ? Feynman : what do you mean why ? Half hour later / Cop : please just leave me alone


Everyone is a Useful Idiot (c) Thor May 2024

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