The Danger of Ideologies

Posted on May 2, 2012

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I am against Ideologies. What ideologies, some might ask. All of them, I reply. But how could you be against ideologies while being an environmentalist? How does that work? Well, I’m glad you asked…

I am opposed to “Ideologies with a capital I”. Communism, Capitalism, Zionism, Christianity… essentially all dogma. Let’s be clear: that doesn’t mean that everyone who ever claimed to subscribe to any of these is automatically a dogmatic fool. But many of them are, and here’s why.

Political ideologies are a crutch for feeble minds to understand a complex world. They remove all possible flexibility in those who surrender to their dogma. Instead of taking a general principal, measuring it against the world, and trying to figure out how to fit it all together, the Ideology-bound mind will hammer bone-headedly on a single concept with no consideration as to wether or not it actually works. Take the austerity politics in Britain, which are being single mindedly pursued in the face of the damage they are evidently causing, and despite the complete lack of any positive outcomes. Or, to completely change the scene, the mind-boggling closed mindedness of Soviet culture censors, who failed to have even the first grasp of the concept of art yet took it on themselves to crush anything they saw as subversive.

Ideologies are formed from more than ideas. The ideas themselves within many of the previously mentioned Ideologies have merit. The communist idea of universal equality, the lack of subjugation of one man to another, the personal involvement of people with the work they do rather than being reduced to commodity labour for the profit of an exploitative upper class. Likewise, the capitalist ideas of self-regulating markets have merit for allowing individual initiative and expression and reducing the burden of the state. The problem is when these ideas are bundled together and bound with blindness, with lack of vision, when imagination and creativity are expunged and all that remains is a horrific mental greyness, the kind that powers a very particular shouty kind of politician – and a very dangerous one. These are the people who in times past drove mobs to burn witches – people who showed any semblance of divergence from their norms. These are the people oiled the wheels of Stalinist repression. These are people now who insist that the train wreck of neo-conservatism can be fixed by further applying neo-conservative ideas.

All of this ultimately fails because it pretends that political ideas can be divorced from their context. They make the entirely false and seriously dangerous assumption that political solutions are universal and do not depend on time and place. This is simply false. A policy which worked once may not work again if the situation has changed. The ideologist is blind to this, because they believe that their solutions work because ONLY THEY have the CORRECT ideology. They think their solutions worked because their ideas are somehow part of the “true way” – rather than because they happened to be an acceptable response to a particular situation.

Ideologies are also dangerous because they allow narrow minded and unimaginative people to go far into circles of power merely by banging on a single thought the way a wind-up monkey bangs on a drum. They can wrap their psychotic lust for power in a political dressing dumbed down to the level of the most uninterested and uninspired citizen. It is because of these kinds of people that, throughout history, free-thinking people have woken to the sound of soldiers.

So what do I propose? Broadly, to apply the scientific method to political thinking. To make the churn, questioning, and overturning of ideas a fundamental part of one’s own political stance. To positively embrace change and challenge to one’s own ideas, and to shun those who display only inflexibility. The politics of Ideology are antithetical to this, they insist on placing everyone into boxes labeled friend or enemy and are fundamentally apposed to compromise and consensus approaches. I believe the most important and beneficial political revolution we can make in the 21st century is to replace the politics of conflict and individual personalities with the politics of discussion and consensus. To move away from dividing everyone into little groups called parties and setting them against each other like cocks in a ring.

Having said all this, how then do I remain an environmentalist? Simple: if you ask that, you haven’t quite understood! Being flexible and open to ideas and not standing on dogma in terms of policy does not mean having NO ideas. I still have a system of thought drawn from an ethical stance, were I believe in the fundamental importance of the natural world. I still very much believe in human rights – in fact they are more at risk from those with rigid dogmatic beliefs than they are even from the mostly apathetic. That is why I use the scientific method as a basis. In science we are expected to be open to new ideas, new evidence, and to form consensus. But in science eventually one idea is accepted as correct. Not all opinions are equal – those which are better supported by evidence garner more support. The world of politics is sadly not as clear cut, however there comes a point where you can state your normative goals and measure whether or not your policies draw closer to them. Of course there are still plenty of questions as to what your goals are – to return to Britain’s austerity measures, they clearly don’t work if the goal is “make the UK a better place”, but if (as many suspect) the goal is really “make money for Cameron’s buddies” then they’re working just great.

Still, that’s an entirely different can of worms and there’s only one thing you really need to take away from all of this: Dogma is bad. Ideologies are bad. Be flexible, be imaginative, be free!

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Posted in: Politics