A Useful Idiot Isn’t All Bad But He Ain’t Good

A Russian Take on Political Leadership

In the heat of Trump’s Putin-Helsinki summit fall-out, I posted this cartoon from Twitter to Facebook:

(Hat tip @NickBryantNY for tweeting it. A Brit journalist living in US.)

I posted it bare, without comment, letting the cartoon speak for itself. A picture paints a thousand words, but ~998 of them are in the eye of the beholder I find and that leaves a mid-sized infinity of meaningful sentences any one person might read into it.

It’s a cartoon, caricaturing lots of the essences of the “whole” picture, but obviously it’s not a comprehensive source of political information on Trump (or Putin, or America). Notwithstanding all of that, for me the two or three points it captures are:

  • the “sycophantic” relationship Trump visibly evidenced in speech and action towards Putin, and
  • the fact that this visibly evidenced behaviour is “destructive” to the America whose interests he’s meant to represent, and to any number of “western” institutions (like EU and NATO for example) targetted in the same trip.
  • (Implicitly- Putin is pleased with the Russian benefit of this state of affairs)

I scarcely need point out a further day’s evidence would suggest a lot of other people in the west saw those same messages, compounded by Trump’s own follow-up retractions and tweets. So, when the smartest person I’ve ever known, Victor (V) – a Russian – responded “Are you serious?” to my posting it, I was naturally curious what (implied) message he was disagreeing with (see infinities, above).

[Post Note: This is a long post, with long embedded – Google translated – references and an attempt at statement by statement analysis as well as my own concluding section. Furthermore, since the intervening content is really only the first exchange between “strangers” – Me and Boris – without any prior dialogue, it is necessarily in need of greater clarification and elaboration at some point. So, what follows is the updated / consolidated conclusion from my side, with the rest of the original full post ======== “below the line”.]

Updated Conclusion: So before we can get to the practical difficulties of the best forms of imperfect / pragmatic / freely-democratic governance in a real world with vastly different cultural experiences in the history of different states, leaders, populations, cultures and global relationships between these …. we do indeed have a fundamental moral question at the root. (So fundamental it’s at the root of this 2 decade blogging project – and the reason it’s called “psybertron” – hence the reason I’ve made such a big deal out of the tiny exchange.)

Ironically Victor’s first response to my “let’s have a chat” direct message follow-up to his “Are you serious?” comment was:

“Hi, I don’t think there is much to discuss …”

Priceless! I suspected there was. He he. And as I said, Victor is a really smart guy.  I say that to emphasise how deep and difficult it is to untangle this, even with the best of intelligent intentions. And we have Trump – an immoral moronic imbecile – as the would-be (or is that wouldn’t-be) “leader of the free world” – can there be any greater irony? (Again it’s why I’ve latched on to Trump as a vehicle for the dialogue here – zero to do with fashionable memes and caricatures, except in the sense that that is what he has become.)

(And when I say fundamentally moral I really do mean fundamental. Values underlying even fundamental physics(!) – metaphysics – but we can make progress without diving so deep for now. I’m using moral / virtue / ethical / good / value / quality as more or less synonymous until we have some “good” technical reason to tease them apart.)

(And that’s just preamble to the long conclusion to what was already a very long post. My apologies.)

It’s about freedom, rights and responsibilities.

Victor and Boris are “(Skeptical) Libertarian
I’m “(Skeptical Humanist) Liberal” I guess.

Now “libertarianism” has a spectrum of how free from institutional controls the a society of individuals and their culture need to be.

“[Wikipedia] Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power, but they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing political and economic systems. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling for the restriction or dissolution of coercive social institutions.”

You can understand why anyone from a culture where coercive institutions (with ruthless leaders) are real world experience would be close to the total freedom / zero institutional control end of that spectrum. It’s no coincidence there is an east-west / left-right totalitarian frenzy going on around the current “breakdown of order” even, especially, in the dirty realities of the so-called “free-world”. Reliving the mistakes of 20th C “Europe” et al. All of it.

But tending to one end of the spectrum is one thing, and no doubt we all prefer the free end, the real point is about how meaningful is the idea of being at the absolutely free end and if not, what are the imperfect practicalities of being on the spectrum. (What was it Churchill said about democracy again?)

The totally free end implies absolutely no moral right for any institution or individual to be coercive of others, potentially lethally violent. That’s the Gandhi end of pacifism. Turn the other cheek. Absolutely zero circumstance where any “good” human would consider using potentially violent force.

You can make a case for contexts – less than the whole world – where that is indeed the best line to take, but I’ve never found a way of describing a whole world based on that other than anarchic chaos from which “society” must re-evolve – which only ever brings you back eventually to the same question of “so what is the best form of governance” for us.

Governance – the original cybernetics – is the root of Psybertron in our increasingly human-connected world. How else could I have “met” Boris?

No-one is ever going to argue against the idea that institutional arrangements – and the checks and balances that protect them from bad actors – could do with reforming, even extinction. They always will – see evolution of society.

No-one is ever going to argue against the idea that reform is sometimes best achieved through a shake-up and shake-down – a little creative-destruction.

No-one is ever going to argue against the idea that a useful idiot can – by definition -be  useful to us when it comes to creative destruction.

No-one is ever going to argue against the idea that creative destruction needs to be followed by creative evolution and imaginative synthesis, and that the useful idiot can therefore outlive their usefulness to us.

No-one that is except a Libertarian Extremist who rejects the idea that we might need to be able to coerce the useful idiot (and the useful idiot arrangements they’ve accidentally created along the way) out of power when no longer useful to us. Even if ultimately by force of impeachment rather than violent revolution.

We need more than faith in the power of our cultural will. We’ll need some institutional support for the idea. Giving up entirely – accepting that all institutions and politicians are inherently corrupt seems completely untenable – see anarchy and chaos. It’s why we recognise corruptibility of even the virtuous and have checks and balances in layers of accountability.

Useful idiots are OK, even immoral ones – Trump isn’t all bad – provided we maintain the power to dispense with his leadership when no longer useful and maintain the morality of the rest of society during the phase where his behaviour is influential. Good morals have intrinsic value to us all even if an immoral imbecile is sometimes useful – temporarily / locally valuable in a controllable context.

Personally I believe we’ve already got the message and he’s long past being useful, if he ever was. More trouble than he is worth. (Given all the other related crises as a consequence.) The practicalities of individual leadership and of controls in coercive institutional power matter enough not to leave the field clear for the morons or the immoral – wherever you see Trump and/or Putin on that matrix.

A useful idiot isn’t all bad but he ain’t good.

[I’m done. Discourse leading up to that below.]

[So, Victor – if we agree that Trump is NOT a useful idiot, how do we accept that it is inevitable that all politicians in power (idiots or Machiavellian) are necessarily corrupt?]

========

I’m a Brit whose lived and worked in US and Russia (and Norway, and Germany and Australia and China, and …)
V is a well-travelled Russian living in Moscow.
In the ABC that follows:
B is a Russian living and working in US.

Google Translated from Russian:

A says:

[A]
So it is. A respectable user found a chiseled formula that touches me. They say that those who did not like Trump, consist of cynical crooks and fools. The rogues built a caricature on Trump, and the fools took her by accepting the ugly doll they had slipped for the true president. In the crooks, I’m not good at the reason of natural naivety, I simply do not have time to get rid of it. So there’s a place for me among the fools. Well, from the outside you know better. One only worries. I, actually, looked and listened to no caricature. Had for quite a long time the opportunity to directly contemplate, listen and read Mr. Trump himself and personally. Without, so to speak, malicious, cynical intermediaries. And on the basis of his considerable life experience, while still in a solid mind and sound memory, I am ready to state firmly, that he showed me his image of goon, boor and ignoramus. I express myself in a distinct Russian language, although he showed me his image in a different language, which I understand well. Reading sometimes the reports of those whom the respectable user calls cynical swindlers, I find that the “caricature” presented by them surprisingly closely matches my personal, unmediated perception. Maybe in the classification of a venerable user fools like me and there are those most malicious rogues, but to myself I know for sure that, as indicated, I can not be a crook by definition. So, with the proposed chased formula, something is not quite right. Or not at all. I find that the “caricature” presented by them surprisingly closely matches my personal, unmediated perception. Maybe in the classification of a venerable user fools like me and there are those most malicious rogues, but to myself I know for sure that, as indicated, I can not be a crook by definition. So, with the proposed chased formula, something is not quite right. Or not at all. I find that the “caricature” presented by them surprisingly closely matches my personal, unmediated perception. Maybe in the classification of a venerable user fools like me and there are those most malicious rogues, but to myself I know for sure that, as indicated, I can not be a crook by definition. So, with the proposed chased formula, something is not quite right. Or not at all.
[/A]

B responds:

[B]
Thank you very much for honoring me with the title of “respectable user”.

You seem to think that my formula applies to you. But from what you wrote, it does not follow.

You write that from the observations of Trump you got the idea that he was a bitch, a boor and an ignoramus. Maybe it will surprise you, but my idea is about the same. I would just add that he is still monstrously narcissistic and very superficial. In particular, it does not prepare for press conferences, it does not know how to parry the simplest traps, etc.

And I would also prefer that, other things being equal, the White House would house a delicate, precarious, erudite, diligent and modest man. The problem, however, is precisely this “with other things being equal”. Because the practical results of the president’s work on his personal pleasure depend to the smallest extent, but primarily depend, first, on his ideology and, secondly, on his willingness to follow his principles.

And from this angle I will always prefer a hamovaty and maloerudirovannogo president or prime minister, adhering to the correct principles and their conduct – polished, elegant, well-read, pleasant-in all respects to his colleague, adhering to wrong principles or declaring one thing and doing another.

The most superficial acquaintance with the history shows that it was full of terrible dictators who differed in correct speech, good manners, the art of charming the interlocutors, the ability to insert in time the mention of something sublime, and also the ability to memorize many different figures, names and facts, at least and not true. In the same way, there were (and is) full-fledged unscrupulous careerists demonstrating the same set of characteristics at the top positions. Finally, these same virtues can easily be found in characters, conducting a very destructive policy, be it Obama, Trudeau, or any of dozens of European figures of the same series.

Simply put, it all goes under the heading “you checkouts or go.”

That’s it for those who were actually quite satisfied with the ridiculous tramp’s checkers right up to the moment when he announced joining the presidential race – but who gets furious with the course he is going to – that’s exactly what he is an enemy, they are exactly who generate one after another silly inventions about the “Russian trace”, etc. Not manners, he is their enemy, but an ideology.

Plus, as I have explained many times before, those who still can not recover from shameful self-immolation in a mud puddle, when they haughtily explained for a whole year that Trump could not win under any circumstances – and eventually put themselves in their own eyes full of fools. What, as you know, is bitter and insulting.

Here they are those who together create the caricature picture of “the enemy of America and humanity”, and so successfully that Boris Efimov and Kukryniksy in coffins are turned over. [/B]

Elsewhere, C asks B to elaborate on one point:

[C] 17 Jul 2018
“because the practical results of the President’s work from his personal nice depend on the smallest measure, and in the first place depend, first, from his ideology and second, from his willingness to follow his principles”.

Could you describe the principles of trump (as you understand them): 1., 2., 3.,

And in addition to tell for what you love and don’t love trump.
[/C]

B responds:

[B] 17 Jul 2018
I don’t like him at all, and just for a few reasons.

First of all, I don’t like politicians, Generals, prosecutors, judges, and such personalities willing to make decisions about the life and death of other people, force them to go to death, etc. D., well and for other similar reasons. This work nowadays is inevitable, but nothing cute I find it.

Second, trump is extra unpleasant in a personal way. I won’t repeat myself, I’ve been mentioned his personality flaws many times.

But if still someone has to be president, it will inevitably be a man with a shitty moral guide. In particular, one that considers it possible to send others to war, to put them in jail and dispose of other people’s money.

In this case, it is possible to confine yourself to democratic politicians. That is, take out the brackets of dictators, Kings, usurpers, electoral forgers, conquerors and other skank.

Democratic same politicians personally i apportion on the scale of their aspirations to expand (or not to expand, and sometimes even and cut) the volumes of diverse forced regulation of their fellow citizens. The more a politician wants something forcibly to select or force – that, I think, is worse. And if a politician is ready for some previously existing regulatory coercion to review towards the reduction is better.

Aesthetic I’m considering something very secondary. Good when the good is still and beautiful, but if the bad is prettier, I’ll still prefer the good one.

So here’s to regulation – in the broadest sense – that trump is firmly and certainly showing himself the most deregulâtivnym president of our era. Here and direct deregulation (its scale is strongly limited by Congress and other factors), here and a much more cautious approach to new regulation, here and devolution regulation from the federal to the lower levels (which, as you and I understand, at all the optimal thing).

And he was originally promised to be like this – and so became, that is, it is for him not an undoubted opportunism, type as a kogdatošnââ Clinton’s willingness to go to a sharp (and very correct) reduction of federal benefits just because he was afraid to block the Republican Bill for the third time – see. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Act#Passage_in_104th_Congress).

In that kind of aksepte
[/B]

In a private message conversation V shared those social media links because he says B represents his position, and I said:

Too cynical!

To which V suggested:

Cynical critique of politicans,
the most cynical class of all people
🙂

So, my analysis of B’s position:

[B] “You seem to think that my [caricature] formula applies to you.”

I think intelligent people can appreciate the value and risks in caricatures and the vested interests of people using them, whilst at the same time forming their own opinions (even their own caricatures) based on empirical impressions gained as an individual following politics directly through multiple journalistic channels, relying on first-hand readings wherever possible. I know I do. I share a cartoon when I see humour and a message that fits (with some level of absurdity) with my own mental picture, not the other way around. I am of course as fallible and prone to errors of interpreration as the next person – but that’s why I ask people (like V) to point them out to me.

[B] “[He’s a] bitch, boor / ignoramus /  monstrously narcissistic / very superficial,  as well as [unprepared / ignorant of briefs / unskilled in rhetorical traps] etc …”

I think we’re all in violent agreement, that whilst Trump cannot be completely without intelligence, he’s an intellectual pigmy and an ignorant moron. And since we agree, it’s safe to say the impression has been gleaned from plenty of evidence of our own eyes as well as a whole range of interested caricatures. We don’t think we hold this opinion because we are brainwashed members of the alt-left libtards, I’m guessing?

[B] [Paraphrase] – “All other things being equal” … [prefer a leader who is] …  delicate, precarious, erudite, diligent, modest, polished, elegant, well-read, pleasant-in all respects, with ideology of “correct” principles with willingness to speak and act consitently with these – as opposed to the many opposite combinations.

I say, don’t we all? So we are in violent agreement again. These are personal character qualities and intentions for which we can use the good old Greek shorthand of “virtue”. [See also “after virtue” and “philosophy of action” take on virtues.]

[B] The problem, however, is precisely this “with other things being equal”. Because the practical results of the president’s work on his personal pleasure depend to the smallest extent, but primarily depend, first, on his ideology and, secondly, on his willingness to follow his principles. And from this angle I will always prefer a [-] president or prime minister, adhering to the correct principles and their conduct –  to his colleague, adhering to wrong principles or declaring one thing and doing another.

This is precisley the philosophy of action point: The Intent may seem the dominant view, but only in the context of the Character, and only with honest evaluation of action and likely Outcomes. [Naomi Goulder – Last session towards the bottom of this post.] I think it is wrong to say only one aspect dominates, it’s always about all three and their relationships in practice. So for example: Focussing instrumentally on outcomes is tanatamount to “all ends justify any means”. Focussing on intent (ideologies, principles and aims, explicit and implicit) ignores particular the honesty of execution and evaluation of outcomes. Honesty is one of the personal character virtues. And so on.

[B] First of all, I don’t like politicians …

That is at least honest. Not liking politicians is a prejudice. Politicians are fellow humans. “We” are the politicians.

[B] [I don’t like] … personalities willing to make decisions about the life and death of other people … in particular, one that considers it possible to send others to war.

In fact cause and effect are the other way around – not trusting politicians is what causes the problem:

Politicians in leadership positions will always have to be prepared to make lethal decisions in conflict, even if (obviously) those with the preferred virtues (character qualities and intentional principles) would always prefer and work hard to avoid it. Any stronger position is pacifism – zero right to deprive any human any of their rights and freedoms or to kill a human individual under any circumstance? We have UN rights and responsibilities to help guide such decisions and actions. Politicians do things wrong, even do immoral things many would say in Blair’s case, even when they are on-the-whole of good character, but we need to be careful not to “throw baby out with the bathwater”.

[B] But if still someone has to be [leader] it will inevitably be a man with a shitty moral guide.

Absolutely not true.
[Unless your only moral standard is absolute pacifism above]

[B] Democracy …

… isn’t perfect.
[Which is just as well, because we humans aren’t perfect either.]

[B] Regulation … Trump  is showing himself to be the most deregulationist president of our era.

Sure, but regulation is a balance.
Part of the imperfection in a democracy.

In conclusion, I don’t actually find any arguments there to suggest Trump “is a good thing” even ones I might disagree with?

What have I missed??????

There are two points I would make:

Firstly, I had expected to find the idea that someone prepared to act to “shake up” existing order and imperfect institutions has some value even if they were an imbecilic moron with immoral aims and lousy character. This is true – it’s been called creative destruction for a couple of centuries, and tactically “useful idiots” can be quite, er … useful. But it leaves the question of useful to whom?

Secondly though, is it just a preference that a leader be otherwise “good” as well as being a “useful idiot” or does being “good” have some value over and above immediate instrumental outcomes? It has at least two values. One is that surely we need “good” leaders to help create the better outcomes in the ruins (opportunities) created by the destruction and also that surely we want good leaders to reflect and set the moral tone of all our actions.

If we are saying we can have separate leaders (and institutional arrangements) to do the immoral destructive stuff, and separate leaders (and institutions) to do the moral and creative stuff, then these latter “moral” institutions would need to be able to control and override the immoral ones – be able to treat tactically them as “useful (but immoral) idiots”. Sounds like theocracy. If not those with the immoral aims and objectives would be controlling or competing for the creative activities too.

You cannot be serious V?

[END]

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