Link to an article by John Pilger:
“Hold the Front Page. The Reporters Are Missing”
Bonus links: Critique of Cynical Reason, and “Three Variations on Trump Quote”, and “The 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine”
“in the analysis of ideology, it is not simply a matter of seeing which account of reality best matches the ‘facts’, with the one that is closest being the least biased and therefore the best. As soon as the facts are determined, we have already — whether we know it or not — made our choice; we are already within one ideological system or another. The real dispute has already taken place over what is to count as the facts, which facts are relevant, and so on.”
Rex Butler, “What Is a Master-Signifier”
“There is an even greater problem with the underlying premise of those who proclaim the ‘death of truth’: they talk as if before (say, until the 1980s), in spite of all the manipulations and distortions, truth did somehow prevail, and that the ‘death of truth’ is a relatively recent phenomenon. Already a quick overview tells us that this was not the case. How many violations of human rights and humanitarian catastrophes remained invisible, from the Vietnam War to the invasion of Iraq? Just remember the times of Reagan, Nixon, Bush… The difference was not that the past was more ‘truthful’ but that ideological hegemony was much stronger, so that, instead of today’s greater melee of local ‘truths,’ one ‘truth’ (or, rather, one big Lie) basically prevailed. In the West, this was the liberal-democratic Truth (with a Leftist or Rightist twist). What is happening today is that, with the populist wave which unsettled the political establishment, the Truth/Lie that has served as an ideological foundation for this establishment is also falling apart. And the ultimate reason for this disintegration is not the rise of postmodern relativism but the failure of the ruling establishment, which is no longer able to maintain its ideological hegemony.”
Slavoj Žižek, “Three Variations on Trump: Chaos, Europe, and Fake News”
I have a theory I call the “Idiot Pool” theory that describes how sincere morons are used to promote insidious agendas. I suppose this is somewhat synonymous with the term “useful idiots”, but I see this as really about its specific manifestation in the neoliberal era whereas the term “useful idiots” was a McCarthy-era anticommunist propaganda tool.
There are four basic components to the “Idiot Pool” theory:
- Social Darwinism – In the main, the idiot pool requires, well, a pool. There must initially be a mass of varied and differentiated theories out there, and proponents of those theories available to expound them. A social darwinist “winner-take-all”, market-based logic is then applicable, in the sense that a hierarchy is presumed in the face of this mass of available theories in order to foster the assumption that the theories gaining the most exposure must be “better”, “more accurate”, etc.
- Earnest Belief – The proponents of key theories (i.e., the ones selected, or at least capable of selection) must sincerely believe in their theories. Ideally, the proponent of a given theory should have derived the theory herself or himself, independently. The theory cannot have the appearance of being coerced, dictated by outside forces or actors, or, importantly, being an attempt to pander to the powerful. Key theories must appear to be organically derived in a vacuum, by beautiful souls with good intentions.
- Idiocy – The theory/belief must be stupid, that is, flawed and incorrect in some significant way. Principally, this means it must have a blind spot that removes powerful forces (the curators, as identified below) from view or at least from critical scrutiny, and depoliticizes the interests of the powerful (curators). Idiocy is the purpose behind this endeavor, because, when combined with earnest belief of the proponent of a theory, the proponent is believably unaware of the flaws and blind spots in her or his theory.
- Curation (or Selection) – There must be an entity other than the proponent of a theory to select key theories for mass distribution. This entity basically holds the keys to mass media access. By being a separate entity from the proponent of a theory, there arises plausible deniability as to the idiocy of the theories being promoted. The curating entity may not be visible, and ideally is made invisible through the invocation of a meritocratic view of social darwinism. But the curator may in many situations be prominently visible, and in such cases is usually aware, or at least becomes aware, of the idiocy of the theory selected and promoted — this often manifests as the overt promotion of a theory with a whiff of theoretical plausibility that proves empirically false, or the self-serving promotion of idealistic possibilities in the face of a markedly different reality.
I devised this little theory to try to explain what I read in Astra Taylor‘s book The People’s Platform, in which she described the (right-wing libertarian) actions of Silicon Valley software companies and their owners/executives, who loudly proclaim public benefits that never materialize in the face of rampant exploitation for their own personal/corporate enrichment. I see this theory manifesting itself most prominently in the neoliberal era, and as something more subtle and prone to the “proxy” tactics of such a regime — just as, say, corporations “outsource” tasks to “contractors” in order to sever the links of responsibility and liability for their objectives, while still reaping the benefits. In this context, it just won’t do to rely only on shills. A great example of the cynicism of shills can be found in the Monty Python comedy troupe’s routine “String,” in which a character pitches a series of contradictory marketing campaigns to try to sell a worthless inventory of short bits of string, with hypocritical enthusiasm. Though such shills still play a role too, and, indeed, the use of shills simultaneously with an “idiot pool” has the benefit of drawing attention — and criticism — away from the idiot pool. As an example of idiot pool theory in real-world use, I would point to someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jordan Peterson or Alan Greenspan.