Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blinded by Ideology

Ideology -- especially when tied to a particular political party or movement -- does strange things to people. For one, it makes people extremely selective in judging what is right and what is wrong. A party ideologue will defend to the point of irrationality a member of his party doing exactly the same thing he rightly condemms a member of the other party for. Why? Just because the person in question is a member of their party.

You are a member of Party A, and a member of Party B is found to be cheating on his wife with several women. You condemn the member of Party B for being a sexist and a cheater. Good. But then a member of Party A does the same thing and . . . you excuse his behavior? Why? Because he believes the "right" thing, even if he does the wrong thing? Even if his actions belie his words?

When we are blinded by ideology, we cannot see the evils of those on our team. This is one of the great evils of collectivist thinking. Party loyalty is collectivist thinking. Racism is collectivist thinking. Socialism is collectivist thinking. In each case, collectivist thinking brings out the very worst in us. The party ideologist ends up supporting and defending the indefensible. The other side is pure evil; my side is pure good. This Us-Them mentality is part of the collectivist mentality, and it is common to party ideologists, racists, and socialists. More, no amount of evidence is sufficient to persuade. You cannot provide enough evidence to show that the other side is not really evil, that they may in fact be well-intentioned (and it never occurs, then, that the Other may just be wrong, or different, as the case may be). This is because the collectivist suspends all judgment, accepting instead the judgment of the collective. One cannot judge for oneself in a collective. One can find these kinds of ideologists on the right and on the left -- it's not a matter, then, of right and left, but of the inherent collectivism in ideological thinking.

One element of ideological thinking is that those who engage in it seem to think that everyone else is then necessarily ideological. Yet, there are world views that are inherently anti-ideological. Among them are pragmatism and classical liberalism. In politics, pragmatism pretty much boils down to a cynical "what works to get me re-elected." The problem with pragmatism is that is sees things in the short term. Missing the big picture, those who make "pragmatic" decisions very often make bad decisions for the long term. The classical liberal is interested in how the world, as a whole, and in its particular parts, actually works. The classical liberal is interested in both agents and their interactions and the systems that arise out of those agents interacting. The traditional classical liberals saw the world as self-organized from the bottom-up, and that top-down ordering was unnatural. The science has borne them out. That is indeed how the universe came into being, and how each level of complexity has organized itself from its constituent parts. If this is true at the atomic through the biological and psychological levels, what sense does it make that it is not true also for the arts, the economy, the culture, the sciences, and other social systems and processes? Do we all of a sudden have to have a wise orderer where we did not need one before? I mean, it makes some sort of consistent sense that if you believe that there was in fact a wise orderer needed for natural processes, that one would be needed for social processes -- one would be a consistent creationist in both cases. One could also be a consistent intelligent designer if you applied it to the natural world and to the social world and were thus a social interventionist (in the economy, a Keynesian, welfare statist, interventionist, etc.). But to posit that self-organizing, evolutionary processes are sufficient for natural processes below the level of human complexity, but not for those above human complexity -- which is to say, social processes -- is logically inconsistent. The same is true if you reverse it.

Only an ideologue could believe that some things need a wise orderer while others things don't. Being an ideologue is the only way to be comfortably inconsistent. It also allows you to comfortably ignore inconvenient facts, or to make up facts without thinking you are being intellectually dishonest. These are all the things ideology can do for you. Me, I prefer to being open to learning how the real world works. I have no interest in being blinded by ideology.
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