Now that we went through the theory of useful idiocy, it’s time to put it into practice. Here is a useful manual that illustrates the best practice of this ancient profession.
It will be great for your career
You may still have hangups – but don’t. Just embrace the Zeitgeist, channel your fear, mask it as a birthright, and unleash your inner authoritarian. And remember, it will be great for your career.
Just look at all those people, who had been shunned by their profession earlier. Because they were bad at it. Today they are rising high on the tide of populism. Look at journalists who couldn’t write and fact check – now they run multiple websites, millions lapping up their views and based on their alternative facts every day. Look at the economists who were always bad with numbers, celebrities who weren’t even remotely entertaining – they are all in high regard in the alternative opinion bubble. And it gets even better…
Because when the tide finally turns and the murderous, cronyist rot starts to spread to your own homeland – you can be one of them. These early adopters of the new feudalism will be no longer sad story, no sir. They will be the regime’s first choice for the hand-picked elite.
Be the fast follower just once – it’s almost like a trendsetter. Almost. If that kind of success doesn’t prove you right – I don’t know what does.
How to make cowardice look wise and superior?
Cowardice is frowned upon. For now. Courage and integrity get all the hype for now – but don’t worry, your time will come. It has always been a forgivable sin for the electorate to be scared of things- and politicians jumped at the opportunity to soothe and woo them. But it was nothing compared to what is about to come.
In the brave new world no one will be brave. Remember that guy Machiavelli, whom everyone pretends to have read but no one actually did? Don’t worry (and most importantly, don’t start reading now). All he said is that it pays to scare the shit out of people. Because shit it in the politician’s control. All politicians ever do is shit. They are best at creating and conjuring up threats. In fact, there’s nothing else they can do. They cannot fix your healthcare, your economy, your public transport system- they can only mess with it. So you’re actually better off if they don’t touch those things. Every time they touch something it ends up costing more.
But fear is in their control. Ultimately politicians will become the most fearsome thing to be scared of – but no peasant will believe it until it’s too late. So just be afraid.Very afraid. Of anything they point out for you – because there is such a thing as making you scared and worried in your own interest. Totally. And if you don’t know how to make it look good before it becomes fashionable again, fear not. Hard-working eastern spin doctors made it easy for you.
If you want to spin cowardice as caution, if you want to make spinelessness look like rational decision – just embrace cynicism. Who can afford those high ideal of yours when people are bloodthirsty tribalists, right? Only being the most bloodthirsty tribalist saves you from them.
And when you’re afraid of something, always add “just”. If you are “just“ afraid of things, you establish – without saying it out loud – that being afraid is not a vice, it is a political right. In order for the word “just” to make any sense, political cowardice must be an understandable state of mind that must be catered to. By no means something to grow out of, no. And since unspoken assumptions are hard to challenge – your being “just” afraid will make people shut up. Fear, after all, is subjective. And no matter what made you afraid – an actual threat or an opportunist populist – your fear is sacred and not to be challenged.
And good luck to those pesky liberals trying to explain that you have overblown the threat – but your own behaviour will eventually make it come true. That’s a lot more than 140 characters.
How to confortably ignore the oppressed individuals who live their lives under an autocrat
As I said, it should be easy. Not many are capable of making the distinction between themselves and the kings, whose viewpoint they’ve adopted. Especially when it comes to humans of another tribe that has a very low brand value. I blame history teaching.
But if you still feel empathy and the need to explain away the sufferings and dead-end lives of people under autocratic regimes, use the combination of the following:
- Well, it may be an autocrat elected on pure populism and fearmongering – but the people elected him so… **
- They don’t protest, don’t blow the whistle (so that even you can hear it), they don’t even risk their livelihood, their family, and their lives to let the Western media know (and quickly forget), so…**
- They are stupid.
- For advanced users I can recommend the argument that these people are damaged by the regime anyway, couldn’t use freedom if they had it. If you quote Dahrendorf, you will even sound compassionate.
- For those who need to feel proud and superior I recommend the line of argument that they are “proud to be born” in a free country, where the government miraculously agreed to tame itself from almighty overlord to (pretending to) serve the public. They were taught about freedom and rights in school – while all those oppressed folks…**
In order to become a useful idiot you must allow things to happen to other people that you would find revolting and unimaginable in your own country. If you were told to leave because you don’t support the regime – exile would suddenly not look like a fair option. If you were repeatedly wiped off by hostile tax audits despite having paid your taxes – you would want your economic freedoms back.
But those other people, they voted for this. Even that 3 year old in a communist high rise block who will definitely grow up internalizing oppression. She was asking for it. Should have been born elsewhere.
How to defend a dictator?
Like you need advice on that…
Anyway, a few staple arguments for the beginner useful idiots among us:
- If his reign is challenged, he must act, right?
- If he is provoked he has to do something. (And the existence of other countries is such a provocation.)
- People are hard to manage if they run around as they please.
- Pesky civil society is only there to make power transparent and limit its overreach – how can anyone govern like that? (That is an actual argument by Hungarian government: How can you govern like this?)
- When dictatorship is undeniable, but you still want to say something nice, tell that they may be in the wrong, but they are willing to learn. If you point out for them that it is in their own interest, they will totally start being nice. They are hard and rational and therefore accept reason when a solid scholar such as yourself present it. (Like you understand their interest.) Proof of how open they are to learn new ways: They have invited you to talk to them. Four times…
- Never, by any chance, apply the same standards as you have for your own, western leaders.
Speaking of speaking engagements…
What to do when you find yourself on vacation in the country castle of a twenty-something apparatchik – and feel uneasy about it?
So you are that journalist, academic, C-list celebrity that got invited to talk. Or the one who knows someone at the em-bas-sy (Oooooh…) And one day you find yourself at a place that was obviously bought and renovated by taxpayers’ money – and taken by a crony. The place is cool, the food is luxury, the wine and the cognac are stuff for Instagram. But between a helicopter ride to the nearest opera and a back massage by the staff you feel embarrassed.
Don’t. Just tell yourself that he at least made it happen. That the castle would still be in ruins without him siphoning off public money. The pyramids wouldn’t exist if not for rulers who grossly exploited their people. Our entire civilization, all the monumental buildings are built by overlords with unlimited power to tax and force their subjects to work for free. Everything we’re proud of as a culture, the buildings, the churches, the flashy tombs for pharaohs – they are the fruit of unlimited access to public money. So…**
How to utilize irrelevant factoids to make your counterintuitive point?
Factoids work best when you have absolutely no other information on the country at hand. Like when you couldn’t place it on a map. The factoid you cling to may or may not be true, complete or even relevant. But voicing a factoid will lend you the air of being well-informed and makes everyone think you know all the rest as well. But you don’t, because if you did, you would have to shut up.
In Hungary’s case that 15% flat income tax is just part of a total of 50% taxation of labour. And when PM Orbán declared that he is building an “illiberal nation” he wasn’t just “testing the media”, as apologists used to parrot back at me everywhere I went on the planet. That excuse makes absolutely no sense at all (unless he was kindly testing the microphones) – but you swallow it because you need it.
How to fend off pesky critics
Your factoids might be in order and your irrelevant excuses ready to shoot – but it means nothing if your delivery is not authoritative. You may need to lend an air of superiority to your moral capitulation. What you need is beauty and cleverness.
Moral capitulation never sounds as good as when it is delivered with a touch of aristocratic cleverness and a British accent. Your native English makes everything you say 30% more worthy of serious consideration, and the beauty of a clever argument (or word play or pun) can wash over the inconsistency or absurdity of your standpoint. Call it the populism of the Oxbridge aristocrats, but putting the cleverness of an argument above its validity works every time.
People take gibberish seriously if it rhymes – could this method even whitewash serious crimes?
How to use the lesser evil argument to promote the bigger one?
The world’s most famous practitioner of the genre has already demonstrated it. He was elected by it – and he is now trying to apply it as a foreign policy.
** The part after the “…” is optional
It is the power of the dot-dot-dot.
“…” is the best way to finish sentences when you’re someone’s useful idiot or not quite sure how your argument relates to your point. The most hair-raising conclusions can be implied if you don’t say them out loud.
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