As we begin cataloguing toxicons, it is worth remembering that they aren’t the only ones out there making things worse for the rest of us. Not all LOPCOMS – people with low operating competence, those whose efforts inevitably (whether intentionally or unintentionally) have a negative effect on our species – fit the toxicon mold. There are, in fact, eight different roads that may lead someone to confidently espouse grade-a bologna, and it is worth noting precisely what differentiates a toxicon from the many similar-looking stains on the fabric of our society. It all depends on whether or not a person actually believes that they’re right, whether or not they think they’re qualified to hold that belief, and whether or not they care either way.
 

A table is worth a thousand words. A table with pictures of green check-marks and red x’s in it? You do the math:

Type

Thinks that they’re accurately conveying fact? Thinks that they’re qualified to hold their chosen beliefs? Cares about the reality of the situation?

 REGURGITATOR

SHILL

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE

GOOD SOLDIER

HACK

APOSTLE

PARTISAN

TOXICON

 

 

 What do these different types look like in practice? Or, for that matter, in movies?

 

I'm ... Ron Burgundy? Dammit! Who typed a question mark on the teleprompter?

REGURGITATOR – What’s actually going on? They don’t know, and they don’t care – they’re just telling it like they’re told to. It could be true or false, it could be right or wrong – theirs is not to reason why, theirs is not to judge that which they report, theirs is not to say ‘hey, this doesn’t make a damn bit of sense’. They’re regurgitators. They report, you decide, because Lord knows they aren’t going to pass any critical judgments.

 

All news outlets are guilty of regurgitation to a certain degree. The problem isn’t that they do it – it’s that they act as if they’re supposed to. Needless to say, you don’t have to own a media outlet to be a regurgitator; if you’re willing to be an uncritical conduit for information from even the most dubious sources, you qualify.

 

Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Everyone has a talent.

SHILL – The best lies money can buy. These are the experts-for-hire who are willing to pervert and prostitute their (real) expertise to any subject for the right price. Doctors who promote tobacco use, environmental scientists who fight the regulation of industrial waste – take your thirty pieces of silver and get on with it. You’re a shill. 

 

It would be dishonest and unfair to suggest that all shills work on behalf of corporations. Most of them do, but that’s just because corporations have the most money with which to buy expert opinions. It would certainly be possible to hire a shill to fight against both economic and humanitarian interests, but this is rare – you cannot serve both God and Mammon, but opposing both is a losing enterprise.

 

We got the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did we go right?

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE – Why would you espouse a view that you neither knew nor believed to be true, if you weren’t being paid for the privilege? Because, just as a scientist might formulate a hypothesis and then try to disprove it, so one of the best ways to learn what’s right is by being wrong. 

Of course, this category doesn’t usually cause much trouble, at least not intentionally. Because it’s primarily an experimental role, it rarely translates significantly into practice.

This category could equally be titled ‘DUMB KID’ – for which type I happily present myself as the poster-child. At various times I’ve tried on different philosophical and political systems like shoes, testing for fit and comfort. It’s hard to really see what’s wrong with an idea unless you’ve tried to defend it and found yourself at a loss.

 

I don't want a deal and I don't want immunity. I want you to know that I am proud neither of what I have done nor what I am doing.

GOOD SOLDIER – That ashy taste in your mouth? Those are the lies you’re telling for the sake of the cause. You know the truth, and you know that it’s not what you’re saying it is, and you’re not happy about it. But it has to be done. If there are casualties, they are necessary casualties. If eggs are broken, they are broken in the name of the Eventual Omelet. 

 

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a good soldier and a shill. Both know what they’re talking about, and both lie through their teeth. The difference is that good soldiers tend not to drive nicer cars, don’t sleep as well at night, and don’t get offered deals to avoid jail time.

 

 

Well then, how do you know there is one? Because ... he ... you're wasting my time!

HACK – Talk, you talking heads, talk! Here, every fact – real or imagined – is automatically sorted into one of two piles: ‘helpful and true’ or ‘hurtful and false’. Whether the subject is a law or a sports team, you already know the answer to any possible question. Your favorite football player and your stance on abortion rights are perfect and immutable, beyond argument or analysis. The facts just bounce right off. 

Qualifications? Bah. The whole point of a hack’s dedication to a cause is that it doesn’t need any external confirmation. For example, the Spurs are the best team in professional basketball, now and ever. What? What’s that you said? The Spurs are awesome? That’s what I thought.

 

Dammit, Morpheus, not everyone believes what you believe.

APOSTLE – A hack with a book. An apostle doesn’t just know he’s right, he knows why – and if that ‘why’ is hard for you to swallow, he’s got a glass of water and a plunger to help it go down. The source of an apostle’s expertise can be anything outside himself, any set of teachings which, in the event of a conflict with reality, will always triumph in the end. An apostle won’t just follow his map right off a bridge that is clearly broken, he’ll hand out copies of that map  to the people who help pull him out of the river. 

In this day and age, religion produces relatively few apostles. For every devout believer determined to follow the words of any given scripture come Hell or high water, a hundred have turned over their sense of reality to Amway, Alcoholics Anonymous, or Lyndon LaRouche.

  

Yes! We're all different!

PARTISAN – Hail, hail, the gang’s sincere – welcome to the Partisan Party. You really do think you’re right. And you really do care about being right. You’ve entrusted your cognitive functions to a politician, a talk show host, a celebrity psychic, whatever – they know better than you, and also better than anybody else. You know who to believe, and you believe what they tell you. 

The world is a big, scary, complicated place; everybody relies on the expertise of others to a certain extent. Handing your brain to somebody who claims to have a better use for it is an easy and a comforting way to live your life. Also, you can learn fascinating things – like how the President is an alien who wants to socialize gay abortions (or, alternately, a halfwit puppet for fascists who want to destroy the environment for Jesus).

 
 

We have found a witch. May we burn her?

TOXICON – Because not all good intentions are sturdy enough to pave the road to Hell. Say it loud, say it proud: ‘I think I know enough to know what I think’. When ignorance begets false knowledge and false knowledge begets a crusade, a toxicon is born. 

 

When a toxicon gets killed by his bad ideas, he wins a Darwin Award. As hundreds of well-done witches would be quick to point out, most toxicons aren’t content to kill themselves.

 
 

 

So, there you have it. Let the hunt begin.

-A

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