August 31, 2018

Dear Drama Observers,

As I’ve said before, we use many terms to describe Drama People but “Drama People” is not usually one of them. You’re not likely to tell a friend, “That fellow is such a . . . such a . . . drama person. That just seems so inadequate, so namby-pamby, so not up to the task.

No, we’re more likely to use terms of derision that reflect our visceral exasperation—things we over pronounce when we say them. Things like jerk, creep, horse’s tail, wacko, psycho, or a host of other terms that are probably too dirty to mention here (this is a family letter, after all).

Or… idiot. Saying, “that guy’s such an idiot” is emotionally gratifying in a way that the lame-sounding “drama person” just isn’t. And we use that term to convey less about the person’s intelligence level and more about the person’s character deficiency.

In his recently published book, Suicide of the West, author Jonah Goldberg writes:

In 1961, John Courtney Murray delivered a brilliant lecture titled “Return to Tribalism.” He had a prophetic warning: “I suggest that the real enemy within the gates of the city is not the Communist, but the idiot.” He did not mean idiot in the “vernacular usage of one who is mentally deficient” but rather in the “primitive Greek usage.”

To the Greeks, the idiot was the private individual who “does not possess the public philosophy, the man who is not master of the knowledge and the skills that underlie the life of the civilized city. The idiot, to the Greek, was just one stage removed from the barbarian. He is the man who is ignorant of the meaning of the word civility.” (The word “idiot” didn’t take on the connotation of stupid, low-IQ, etc. until the fourteenth century.)

I like his phrase, “He is the man who is ignorant of the meaning of the word civility.” Drama people lack those reason abilities which are necessary for relating to others civilly. Devoid of these abilities, they resort to drama and we “get along” with them by playing our obligatory drama roles. As I’ve often said, getting sucked into their dramas makes us sick, drives us crazy, and wears us out. That’s disturbing on deep visceral levels. That’s why we call them… idiots.

But the idiot term has also been used in another way: “useful idiot.” This refers to the one who’s been snookered into drama participation and unwittingly does the Drama Person’s (the idiot’s) bidding. Dr. Wikipedia defines it this way:

Useful idiot is a derogatory term for a person perceived as a propagandist for a cause of whose goals they are not fully aware and who is used cynically by the leaders of the cause.

Though its origin is debatable, many ascribe the term’s first usage to Vladimir Lenin. Observing what they perceived to be promising new societal innovations occurring across the Atlantic, various American journalists and intellectuals were initially smitten and extolled the virtues of these new political systems.

We, from our vantage point, see the collectivist schemes of Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism for what they were—brutal regimes of tyranny that enslaved and slaughtered millions. Not so in the 1920’s and 30’s when some segments of the Western intelligentsia were enamored with their utopian promises. “I have been over into the future,” declared well-known muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens after visiting the recently-formed Soviet Union, “and it works.”

We now know that Steffens and others like him were being used. Their role in this international drama was to provide ideological cover for the “idiots” who were seeking to plant their isms in American soil. They saw themselves then as forward-looking, enlightened intellectuals. But World War II, the Holocaust, the gulags, and the Cold War opened their eyes to see the previously unseen realities. They had been useful idiots.

Sorry to get so wonky on you, but I’m using this to illustrate what happens in a drama. For the drama to succeed, the Drama Person (idiot) needs others (useful idiots) to participate. Drama People are masterful exploiters of useful idiocy—a force to which we are all vulnerable.

Examples abound, but here are a few. (You’ll recognize some of these if you’ve been watching the news lately.)

  • The alcoholic man who succeeds at business during the day but gets drunk and mean at night. Not wanting to upset the financial apple cart, his family and co-workers overlook his drunken dysfunction and pretend as though it doesn’t exist.
  • The church leader who builds an impressive ecclesiastical fiefdom while sexually violating his parishioners. To avoid the inevitable public embarrassment, those in church leadership look the other way and fail to call out their leader’s hypocritical actions.
  • The coach who builds a successful team while an assistant coach engages in domestic violence. Not wanting to jeopardize recruiting efforts or donor contributions, the physical abuse is covered up.
  • The political leader who’s driven more by personal ambition than ideological commitments. To maintain their sought-after power, his constituents explain away his flaws and convince themselves that the incongruence between his private life and public duties is of little or no consequence.

I could go on and on.

Again, people participate in useful idiocy not because they’re stupid. Indeed, they’re often very intelligent. They participate because they need something—like protection, power, or security. But to get what they need, they must disregard what they see. And to be cliché about it, their short-term gain leads to long-term pain.

Dwight Shrute, that wellspring of life wisdom from The Office, once said, “Whenever I’m about to do something, I think: Would an idiot do that? And if they would, I do not do that thing.”

That’s helpful advice, Dwight. Thank you so much.

Till next week.

4 replies
  1. Adele
    Adele says:

    Maybe us “useful idiot people” who get involved in more personal relationships with these “drama people idiots” do so because we are not aware enough of our own selves and needs. Knowing ourselves well pays off because we, unlike most d.p. idiots, can grow so we “u.i. people are better in the future when we encounter the next “d.p. Idiot”!

  2. Pam Smith
    Pam Smith says:

    I really benefitted from this installment. The moral to be of it is, “Stop and reflect when tempted to “use” somebody who engages in reprehensible acts.” It brings up a complex question in this situation of who is actually being used.

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      That’s right, each side is using the other in a sense. Not true in healthy relationships. I appreciate your comment.

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