“The problem with ideology…
Posted by Troythulu
…is, if you’ve got an ideology, you’ve already got your mind made up. You know all the answers and that makes evidence irrelevant and arguments a waste of time. You tend to govern by assertion and attacks.”
~ Bill Clinton former president of the USA, 18th Oct 2006 , at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress. (unsourced)
An ideology is essentially a collection of ideas, often consisting as a body of personal truth claims, knowledge and values, with values being themselves based on truth claims, claims as to what states of affairs are to be preferred over others.
While I wouldn’t put things quite the way Mr. Clinton did, it is the case that most ideologies, because of the nature of their truth claims and value beliefs, are in large part unsuited for objective inquiry into how things really are.
This applies especially to partisan political, economic, and religious ideologies, and those of other sorts whose constituent ideas do not hold up to objective scrutiny, or which contain those that, seen from outside that ideology, can be clearly seen as non-factual and even mutually inconsistent or contradictory.
There is a danger in holding our ideas too closely, and by extension, our bodies of them, and in thinking ourselves to already have the truth without an honest attempt to actually find it first.
Critical examination of ideas, especially our own, is exactly what ideologues with an agenda would much rather we not do.
Credulity, especially concerning political loyalties, sows the seeds of political manipulation. So rather than be first to point fingers and make accusations of skewed views to those who disagree with us, I think it more useful, more honest to scrutinize our own potential for bias.
Unless we want to get taken in by our own opinions, and those who cynically exploit them, it’s important to critically examine what we believe, why we believe it, what we think we know, and to be as sure as we can that we have good reasons for both, to have good “whys” for our ideas, and to make sure that our “whys” also have good reasons for them.
Metacognition, “thinking about thinking” lets us account for our motivations, our biases, our numerous cognitive and reasoning errors, though I don’t think it’s humanly possible to completely avoid them.
But briefly stepping outside of our ideological bubbles is possible when we allow ourselves the honesty and freedom to doubt, to consider and evaluate our thoughts and the evidence for our claims without reflexive rejection or uncritical acceptance.
We needn’t do this to feel intellectually superior to others or to pat ourselves on the back for being such great objective thinkers, but to exercise due care in not holding our ideas too close to our breast, to not hold them so dogmatically (and I’m not aware of any civilization whose people actually prospered from adherence to dogma and suppression of freedom of thought) that those ideas blinker us from seeing and accepting what’s demonstrably true when it disagrees with our pet prejudices and cherished notions of Truth™.
Toeing the party line because it reassures us of our own subjective and often shared sense of rightness and righteousness, and avoiding self-scrutiny because it makes us uncomfortable is dangerous.
Not all sets of ideas are equally valid or useful for reliably and effectively solving our problems, especially when those ideas involve denial of the very existence of the problems we face. The very best ideas are those that lead us to recognizing difficulties and to best let us find solutions to them.
It’s not difficult to imagine that the deceptive promotion of ignorance, fact-denial, over-dependence on authority and dogmatic thinking are only useful if one has a political axe to grind, as a means to control others and not as an attempt to seek the truth, whatever it may be.
These more often than not lead to many of us being blindsided by the new, the unusual, the anomalous, the unexpected and unknown, and this is not a situation conducive to one’s benefit, much less in a world in which we do not and cannot control absolutely everything, or worse, someone else controls us when we fall for fallacious appeals to emotion, to patriotism, to party loyalty, to our desire for security and not a careful examination of the issues.
If some want to be among the intellectually deprived and politically disenfranchised, that’s fine. They should then feel free to confuse opinion with facts, ignorance and obstinacy with virtue, partisanship with truth, but should not presume to do the same for others. Leave the rest of us to go to the stars, not back to the caves.