SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Individualism for Useful Idiots
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I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
By Andrew Fairclough
Another day, another encounter with a world full of idiots — right? We are on a planet filled with billions of people that miraculously isn’t constantly on fire (unless it’s California). And yet, everyone but us is an idiot. The average person knows they are superior to the average person.
It’s a bad habit to attribute what we dislike to the stupidity of others; they might be wrong, but they aren’t acting totally without reason. Dismissing all our opposition as idiotic is both easy and self-satisfying, but each dismissal is a brick in the wall of our echo chamber.
For every opponent you dismiss as stupid, know that they will dismiss you as equally stupid in return.
This cycle is what puts us back to stupid square one — a planet full of people who are all smarter than each other.
Our primal sin of vanity blocks us from relating to each other and the world. Information is filtered and sorted into two simple categories: “Makes Me Look Smart” and “Ignore.”
It’s impossible to see the world as it is when the ego renders everything you encounter a potential threat.
I hope this intro has sufficiently instilled a healthy sense of self-skepticism in you so that the concept I introduce won’t be immediately filed into one of those categories. Thinking other people are idiots has a long, long history, which brings us to the ex-KGB propagandist and later Soviet defector, Yuri Bezmenov. Having been in the center of Soviet action, Bezmenov got a close-up look at how ideologies spread. It’s Bezmenov that popularized the term requiring that lengthy intro — useful idiots.
The original source isn’t clear, but useful idiots was a term applied to westerners who supported communist regimes. Besides sounding like a great punk band name, useful idiots is a term you’ve probably heard thrown around in the sphere of politics. I’m going to ask that you disregard the politics around this term so we can get to the root of its importance without getting caught in the fishing net of a narrative.
There’s a lot of cynicism around the term; naturally, everyone is a useful idiot besides us, especially people who think other people are useful idiots. Welcome to the hell of the meta-ego. Yet, getting caught up in who is the True Idiot is just shiny paint on our age-old arrogance. The importance of understanding useful idiots isn’t so you can find the ones around you, it’s so you never become one yourself. There is no reasoning or re-education that can reform a useful idiot, hence the “idiot” part.
The only useful idiot you can ever reform is yourself.
By Jim Cooke
We’ve all been useful idiots for something at some time. The humility it takes to admit we might not be so superior to the average person is exactly what’s required to outgrow the average, narrow mindset. If you believe you’re not susceptible to error and arrogance, I have bad news for you, but refer to the above for why I won’t elaborate on that.
The lesson of the useful idiot is much larger than any specific political view. Yes, the rise and fall of brutal communist regimes is as good an example as any, but to get hung up on particular historical events creates blindspots. It would be nice if all our past errors presented themselves identically in the future, but then we’d miss out on the joy of repeating our mistakes again and again — where’s the fun in that? No, life is much more interesting; the error you made yesterday will reappear today in a slightly different skin and you’ll be tempted to fall all over again. Unless, that is, you have the humility to expect that error.
Arrogance blinds us to our own mistakes; humility is the only cure for arrogance, but it’s a cure that can only be self-administered.
The danger of the useful idiot is not what they support, but that they refuse to consider anything outside themselves that contradicts them. The only way to reform a useful idiot is to focus on the only thing they will listen to — themselves.
You know how much I love individualism here at Weird & Güd. Not only is it crucial to fighting groupthink and not becoming a useful idiot, but it also serves a much more sentimental purpose — it’s the only way to become you.
If someone asked you to define individualism, what would you say? You might think “unique, independent” or “being yourself.” Yet, individualism can get as complex as you’re willing to go, from the libertarian version that prioritizes political freedom to the hedonistic version that praises the pursuit of pleasure above all or the psychological version characterized by personal responsibility and freedom of choice.
Individualism has a rich and complicated history, which is why it’s easy for the idea to become watered down with shallow interpretations like uniqueness.
Being an individual in the true sense is a little harder than dyeing your hair and denouncing your grandma on Twitter.
The effort required for individualism is probably why most people fall somewhere between it and collectivism — “I want the protection of the group, but also the freedom to make my own choices.”
Like cut flowers, the beauty of individualism is doomed to wilt if its roots are destroyed.
We’re living through a sickly version individualism today, a kind of you do you, bro that offers the freedom to live a life of your choosing while deferring the cost. The price of individualism is bearing the weight of taking responsibility for yourself and offering respect to others who make that same choice. Like a child that’s always had their parents’ money, the worth of a dollar isn’t the same for someone whose hours go into earning it and someone who's always had it.
We take the idea of individualism for granted today, like the child that’s never worked for his dollar. Yet, individualism is an invention just like the internet and electricity we now couldn’t imagine living without.
Before a merchant class developed in the west where an individual could break out of the only career option offered — peasant — the idea of an “individual” was at best a scandalous thought-experiment. If you lived in pre-individualism times, what you “wanted” simply wasn’t a concept. Your life was determined by your pre-determined role in one of three options — those who fought (nobles and knights), those who prayed (clergy), and those who worked (peasants).
“Choice” to a peasant was as fantastical as an airplane — some outlandish idea of what a utopian future would hold. And yet, today we have both choices and airplanes but rarely appreciate the revolutionary nature of either.
Andy Warhol, Are You “Different?” (Positive), 1985.
Those who laid the foundation for individualism knew the work it required. To assert your individual value and the importance of respecting individual autonomy was radical. The idea that you — you — a single speck, an insignificant blip on this earth, a replaceable drone that could be extinguished in the seconds it takes you to fall at just the wrong angle — that you have innate value beyond the means to an end for someone more powerful — that was truly radical.
While there’s a place for taking care of the group and ensuring the whole of society keeps moving, when it comes at the expense of individualism, we turn our back on the very philosophy that gave us this choice to begin with. Individualism is not the pursuit of your desires at the expense of others; true individualism is the development of oneself, something that benefits others as much as it does you.
The free man is given the space to grow into what the group might never expect. Artists and inventors are the epitome of individualism — the pursuit of one’s own vision for the gain of all.
Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
You’re given the opportunity to practice individualism every day through your choices. Rather than be this -ist or that -ist, rather than take what’s given to you by a group without question, individualism is a kind of a la carte ideology. You don’t have to pledge allegiance to any doctrine, instead, you can write your own. And that — the idea that some tiny bit of consciousness in a vast universe could have enough inherent value to dictate their own worldview…that’s radical.
You’ve been born into a system that your ancestors would not have dared to dream of. Throughout all of history and even today in many places, a person’s value depends upon their obedience.
Any philosophy that expects submission and punishes dissent views the individual as a disposable workhorse for its own aims.
What an honor it is to live in a society where no matter how desperately you decry it, individualism maintains a belief in your inherent worth and lets you decide which ideas and beliefs you will follow.
Don’t waste it.
By Boya Sun
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.