“Ideology is strong exactly because it is no longer experienced as ideology… we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.”― Slavoj Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes 2008
Noone ever believes they belong to an ideology, or a bad religion or political group. As part of maturation we attach ourselves to groups that appeal to us. These groups introduce us to fresh and exciting ideas. We are given a sense of belonging and that can become an identity. Once we identify with a specific set of beliefs therein lies the concern.
What is an ideology?
Surely you can come up with your own interpretation, but let’s define it here as any set of beliefs that influence or guide one’s thoughts and behaviours. Most notably, ideology can take the form of religious, political, cultural, and philosophical belief systems, though these are not mutually exclusive. Children grow up and imbibe ideologies. People form groups to celebrate ideologies. We embody new, more sophisticated ideologies as we go to University, connecting with a subculture such as rap or skateboarding or endure a common tragedy or a common experience such as taking LSD. As much as we try, it is quite impossible to escape ideology–it envelops us and entices our minds and takes control of our decisions.
In his 1995 paper, The Dangers of Ideology and Tribalism, Ernest W. Lefever claims, “The two greatest enemies of peace, justice, and freedom are
crusading ideologies and rampant tribalism”.
He goes on to say that “Messianic ideologies” in the twentieth century gave rise to the three most monstrous tyrannies in history — the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Communist China. Together they were responsible for the taking of 150 million lives, give or take 10 million. Mao Tse-tung, the greatest monster, may have killed as many as 80 million Chinese. Each of these totalitarian regimes has also overrun or attempted to overrun neighbouring states.
Turning to the other deadly force, tribalism, we can see its impact most clearly in Africa. Millions have been slaughtered with the edge of a machete by opposing tribal members.
In recent years we’ve started seeing digital tribes emerge who ruin individuals through smear campaigns, coercion & character assassination.
Got a problem? Easy. Just do what your group says to do or not do. Blame the wealthy. Blame the people or circumstances they blame. Use the same excuses. You can even just use the same lines they use and not think at all.
Whichever solution an ideology offers, that is supposed to be the first solution to apply whenever a problem arises, and if that doesn’t work you’re supposed to do apply it again until it does work.
Given the complexity of some of the problems that face us in our daily lives as individuals and even more so in our collective life as a society, it is easy to see the allure of straightforward solutions you don’t have to think about too much. In fact, it’s necessary or we’d literally go insane.
History has shown us over and over again that ideologies are fairly poor at solving problems in the short run, and in the long run usually create worse problems of their own. Holding on to ideologies for the bigger issues in life ultimately leaves us in an immature state. If too many people cling to “bad” ideologies then it can lead to the problems we saw in the twentieth century.
If you want effective problem solving, you’re better off approaching and developing with principles rather than with an ideology.
A set of principles is like an ideology in that it expresses values upon which to base decisions, but principles can’t be applied unconditionally. Principles compete with each other, forcing you to make nuanced decisions. The exact details have to be worked out differently for each instance.
In a principled approach, you always have to wonder if you could have gotten the balance of competing values better, and you have to constantly reassess the balance as new situations develop. With an ideology, you always have it right, even if you aren’t getting the results you want.
As comforting as it is to be certain and accepted by your fellow tribe members, if you really care about developing as a person, then a principle centred approach is necessary. It makes you listen more attentively to the feedback from your solution.
Instead of feeling that sense of certainty from conforming to your tribe members rules the need is met in the end instead. The new comfort is found in knowing that you stuck to your principles. Immature tribe members will likely punish you in a way to bring you back into the fold. The trick here is to hold on to the truth that you are a human just as they are. You are now a member of mature humans who hold onto independent thoughts, ideas, beliefs, theories, aspirations and dreams. You are connected with all humans just the same as you were when you identified with a predetermined template of tribal, religious, political or some other belief system. Now you have the ability to adjust these beliefs, choices, goals and actions. The anchor to secure your certainty to is your values and principles.
You will find as you leave behind your ideology and embrace a values and principle centred life you are able to disagree with people but still hold deep respect admiration for them. Disagreeing with people is a certainty because no two people on Earth are the same but variety is a good thing. You appreciate the diversity and differences in others. You will not be in opposition with the person except with events where there is a violation of boundaries or values. This is not about the person necessarily but the choice made in that event. You can then value the person, continue a relationship with the boundaries adjusted appropriately to decrease the likelihood of a recurrence, and simply disagree with the behaviour.