Tag Archives: Journalism

The Idiot Pool

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 one example of idiot pool theory in real-world use, I would point to someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates or Jordan Peterson.

Eric London – What Determines Social Mobility in America?

Links to articles by Eric London:

“The New York Times on Race and Class: What Determines Social Mobility in America?” and Part 2

 

Bonus links: “Why Liberals Separate Race from Class” and “Beyond the Class Ceiling: Education and Upward Social Mobility” and “America’s Political Economy: Lost Generations — Cumulative Impact of Mass Incarceration” and “Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies: The New York Times, 1917–2017” and Liberalism: A Counter-History and “How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth” and “Between Obama and Coates” and “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence” and Review of Class, Race and Marxism and Walter Benn Michaels on Left Neoliberalism and The Trouble With Diversity and The Condemnation of Little B and “The Controversy Surrounding the Roseanne Television Series” and Social Class in the 21st Century

Bonus quote:

“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”

Rob Urie – Why ‘Russian Meddling’ is a Trojan Horse

“A political Left with a brain would be busy thinking through strategy for when the internet becomes completely unusable for organizing and communication. The unifying factor in the initial ‘fake news’ purge was criticism of Hillary Clinton. Print media, a once viable alternative, has been all but destroyed by the move to the internet. This capability needs to be rebuilt.”

Rob Urie, “Why ‘Russian Meddling’ is a Trojan Horse”

George Eliason – Untying PropOrNot: Who They Are

Link to an article by George Eliason:

“Untying PropOrNot: Who They Are … and a Look at 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story”

 

This article is rather poorly written, full of self-congratulatory statements, gossipy digressions, and poor organization.  It also succumbs to the philosophically naive belief that “objective” journalism free from ideology is possible — as Rex Butler put it, “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.”  But in spite of all that, the article does point to useful information about the likely source of this neo-McCarthyist campaign within the Clinton political camp.

Bonus links: “Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites” and “Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies” and “New York Times Cashes in on Facebook’s News Censorship” and “From Facebook to Policebook” and “The New Blacklist”

Jodi Dean – The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism

Link to a video of a lecture by Jodi Dean:

“The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism”

Bonus quote:

“In communicative capitalism, capitalist productivity derives from its expropriation and exploitation of communicative processes.

***

“If we are honest, we have to admit that there is actually no such thing as social media. Digital media is class media. Networked communication does not eliminate hierarchy, as we believed, in entrenches it as it uses our own choices against us.

***

“Dispossession, rather than happening all at once, is an ongoing process. No one will deny the ongoingness of data dispossession. Sometimes it is blatant: the announcement that our call will be monitored for quality assurance, the injunctions to approve Apple’s privacy changes again or the necessity of renewing passwords and credit card information. Sometimes the ongoingness is more subtle; in maps, GPS signals, video surveillance, and the RFID tags on and in items we purchase. And sometimes the ongoingness is completely beyond our grasp, as when datasets are combined and mined so as to give states and corporations actionable data for producing products, patterns, and policies based on knowing things about our interrelations one to another that we do not know ourselves. Here the currents of lives as they are lived are frozen into infinitely separable, countable, and combinatory data-points.

“Approached in terms of class struggle, big data looks like further escalation of capital’s war against labor.”

“Communicative Capitalism and Class Struggle”

 

Bonus links: C.T. Kurien, “The Market Economy: Theory, Ideology and Reality” and Astra Taylor, The People’s Platform and “The Power Of Selling Out: Your Customers As Political Capital” and Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism and Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex and Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks and The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance and Victor Pickard, “Net Neutrality Is Just the Beginning” and “The Collapse of Media and What You Can Do About It” (this article discusses the “breaking” of a self-described “exclusive” story in January 2015 that was for the most part already suggested in When Google Met Wikileaks published in September 2014, though this story was certainly fleshed out further by the later report; this also was used as a plot point in the film Jason Bourne) and “Prosumer Capitalism: Mario Maker 3DS”