For the first 39 years of my life, I was a walking, talking useful idiot. I believed without question what I saw on TV, and adopted as fact whatever I saw in the newspaper headlines.
Armed with this information, I figured I knew it all. There were no questions I couldn't answer and no opinions I wouldn't espouse. Especially when they were formed by others.
In my younger days, I still had respect for authority and institutions. I believed the 'experts.' I took their pronouncements as fact and defended them with fervor. I never doubted the premises. I truly believed that since everyone else believed that way, why, that was the correct way to think. If it was on TV or in the newspapers, it was true. That was the way things were. Absolutely.
I had the certainty of youth. Where all issues are black or white, where people were good or bad. Where no gray areas intruded to cast doubt on my wisdom. Things were ever so much clearer then.
Until age 39, I was too busy being the center of my own universe to give deep thought to any issue that didn't affect me directly. I lived in a magical place where no analytical thinking was required. I kept abreast of other's opinions and considered myself not only informed, but pretty darn smart.
Imagine my surprise when reality eventually intruded. When I found out that, gasp, Che was a mass-murderer, not a freedom fighter. That Kinsey was a sexual pervert and pedophile, not a scientist. That the earth wasn't melting and that Obama wasn't the answer to all the world's problems. When I found out that 'is' doesn't necessarily mean 'is.'
To my chagrin, I finally realized that no matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides. And I had only been exposed to one. I was the quintessential 'useful idiot.'
The term 'useful idiot' was originally coined by Russian mass-murder Lenin, referring to blind defenders and apologists for the Soviet Union in the Western democracies.
The most famous of these useful idiots was New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty. Duranty got a Pulitzer prize for his [non] reporting on Stalin's man-made famine in the Soviet Union in the 1930's. Duranty reported to the American people and the world that things were peachy keen in the Soviet Union, totally ignoring the fact that Stalin was starving millions of his own people. Stalin eventually killed more people than Hitler did in the Holocaust.
By proxy, Duranty turned millions of Americans into useful idiots. By reporting on what people wanted to hear instead of what was actually happening, America's policies continued to enable Stalin's killing spree.
Fast forward to 2010 and we see history once again repeating itself. Agenda driven, ideological reporting by the mainstream media is being accepted as fact by millions of Americans. And the powers that be are counting on increasing numbers of useful idiots to accept their premises without question. Like lemmings, blindly following their fellows into the sea.
All I feel now when I think of those days is acute embarrassment. The innocence, the naivety, the absolute certainty. Those happy days before I realized that I had been manipulated into accepting and promoting someone else's agenda.
I had been treated as fodder in a war I wasn't even aware was being waged. A war for the hearts and minds of American citizens. And because I had blindly parroted and regurgitated every popular consensus without question, I deserved the label of useful idiot.
Fortunately, this is not a life-long condition. I am now a recovering idiot. I keep my mouth shut unless I am sure of my facts. I rely on common sense instead of the experts. And if I want to spout opinions, I make sure they are based on my own research instead of talking heads and sound bites. I also try to keep in mind that there are always two sides to every issue.
This doesn't make me wise, but at least I am no longer an unwitting pawn in someone else's agenda. Or a useful idiot.