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Episode 142 | DON'T BE A USEFUL IDIOT


Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I strive to find topics will that allow you to engage in high-level thinking. That’s the ability to work on your life and career at the same time you find yourself living and working in it. In last week’s show, I looked at Pattern Recognition as the ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most if not the most critical skill in intelligent decision-making. Today’s topic is kind of connected to all this as it too involves critical thinking.


This is perhaps more of an awareness drive but it’s something I believe is worth raising as becoming someone else’s pawn for an idea or cause is something you have to avoid if you want to achieve a truly productive life.


The Cambridge Dictionary describes a useful idiot as a person who is easy to persuade to do, say, or believe things that help a particular group or another person politically. It is important to note that the term "useful idiot" is subjective and often used in a derogatory manner. It typically refers to individuals who are perceived as unwittingly supporting or promoting a cause or ideology that may be against their own best interests. It suggests too that they are being manipulated or used by others for their own agenda.


This term has commonly held political connotations, but don’t get worked up about it. Although historically used to describe some of those on the left, it can equally be applied to those on the right of an argument. I offer it up here under the banner of neutrality and the pursuit of knowledge and not to espouse any particular political purpose, argument or agenda but I’d add too that if you immediately find yourself objecting to it, then perhaps you need to step back and ask yourself? Am I already someone else’s Useful idiot?


This is such a sticky topic that almost before I started researching it, I hit a bump. I was going to give you a quote from the Urban Dictionary but I fact-checked the first description that came up there and it turned out to be just plain wrong – It talked at some length about Lenin and how he used the phrase but the fact checker I ran said this, which I felt worth getting out there right away. The phrase USEFUL IDIOT has often been attributed to Vladimir Lenin, but he is not documented as ever having used the phrase.


The earliest exact match of the phrase “useful idiot” appeared in an April 1948 article from the International News Service (INS) published by the “San Francisco Examiner” of California. The phrase was spoken by an Italian politician and rendered into English as “Useful Innocents”, but it may also be translated as “Useful Fools” or “Useful Idiots”.



Wikipedia says that a useful idiot is political jargon currently used to reference 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. I’m sure you can think of a few examples straight off the top of your head for this but here are three examples for reference.


  1. During the Cold War, some Western intellectuals and public figures who sympathized with or defended the Soviet Union's communist regime were labeled as useful idiots. They were accused of unwittingly promoting or supporting an ideology that suppressed individual freedoms and violated human rights, despite not fully understanding the consequences.

  2. In the political realm, there are cases where individuals passionately support a leader or a movement without critically evaluating their actions or policies. They may blindly follow and amplify messages without considering the potential negative consequences or realizing that they are being used as a tool to advance an agenda that may not align with their own interests. Whether you are on the left or right of politics, I suspect that you will immediately believe that this is clearly referring to the supporters of whoever your own party is against. I ask you as a critical thinker to consider whether this may also apply to your party.

  3. In today’s age of social media, I find it more and more difficult to find the truth. As I get older, I recognize more and more patterns in this world that cause me concern. I find more and more that when something doesn’t make sense, a simple critical thinking model called FOLLOW THE MONEY can often be alarmingly revealing. There have also been instances where social media influencers with large followings unintentionally spread harmful messages or misinformation. They might endorse products or ideas without fully researching or understanding the implications, acting as unwitting endorsers of potentially harmful practices or ideologies.


If you allow yourself to work for someone else’s cause, if you allow yourself to be unwittingly manipulated into giving someone else’s goals or dreams or ambitions your time or your money or your focus or your influence, then you are already perhaps a useful idiot, or perhaps just a useful innocent.


Here are a few tips for those of you that wish to avoid the term being applied to you.


  • Educate Yourself: Stay informed and seek a well-rounded understanding of the issues and causes you care about.

  • Practice Critical Thinking: Develop your critical thinking skills by questioning information, analyzing sources, and considering multiple viewpoints.

  • Seek Diverse Perspectives: Engage with people who hold different viewpoints and be open to hearing their perspectives.

  • Consider Motives and Agendas: When evaluating causes, organizations, or individuals, it can be helpful to examine their motives, affiliations, and potential biases.

  • Trust Your Instincts: Pay attention to your gut instincts and intuition. If something feels off or doesn't align with your values, take a step back and evaluate the situation more critically.

  • Take Responsibility for Your Choices: Ultimately, it is important to take responsibility for your own beliefs, actions, and decisions. Be proactive in conducting research, seeking diverse perspectives, and critically evaluating information.


To sum up then: In the age of connectivity, anyone can gather an audience and unintentionally spread harmful messages or ideas. While some leaders may manipulate and use their followers, not all leaders are intentionally malicious (Look back to episode 138 for more on that.)


The loyalty of useful idiots can be seen as positive, but they often align themselves with ideologies that do not benefit them. However, public figures and online influencers also have a responsibility to be cautious with their messaging, as their words can unintentionally manipulate audiences and spread harmful ideas. It is essential for both the audience and public figures to be mindful of the potential consequences of their words and actions. It is even more essential perhaps that you remain aware of the danger I talk about here today. It is also essential to approach the term with caution and recognize the subjective nature and potentially derogatory connotations associated with it.


So, this is the mid-point of season 11. If you are enjoying the show, please do engage with me on social media about it. The more people that sign up to listen, the more people who share links on social media and the more interaction that I have there then the more likely it will be that I will continue. If you love the show, please let me know. Screengrab your phone as you listen and post it with a link on social media that’s a great help, and the other thing that I’d love to see is reviews on Apple Podcasts. I’d greatly appreciate your support in this way.


Andrew Durning LINKS.



Gary Hewitt LINK



In the meantime, let me end with some words from the wonderful Martin Landau, who said, It's better to live as your own man, than as a fool in someone else's dream.


Now take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’, and join me next season on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!


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