A Short Observation on Ideology and Politics

When one hears or participates in talk of this thing called “ideology” (or one of its cousins, “ideological” or “ideologue”) there is often an accompanying and confounding mix of language which makes it difficult to separate out the overt from the covert.

Alex Gabriel responds indirectly to the symbol of something perceived to drive irrational behaviour. To speak of “pride”, per se, with regards to something is to contrast your position with those who are (or should be?) ashamed. He does say that “ideology” is a dirty word, and indeed, it is. Ideology, in the common parlance, represents all that metaphorically “came down with the Berlin Wall”, the fearful methods underpinning the world of Orwell’s 1984. That is the “ideology” of embarrassment, of politics, of propaganda, of goals and abstractions. And, it is a caricature.

I am not convinced that ideology, the ideology, that is, which affects every aspect of our conscious lives, is such a coherent and connected “set of principles that inform how you think”. It certainly is not politics. I think it’s true that ideology is, in fact, related to “a way of understanding” and, yes, it does frame one’s politics and thoughts. But I doubt it really informs anyone (literally or metaphorically), much less one’s own self.

Ideology, instead, drives how you choose to inform yourself. It is something that determines how you perceive that illusion of choice I mean. Also true is that ideology is not a bad thing. It isn’t good either. Ideology works behind the scenes, sequestered from the explicit and bullet-pointed sort of “ideology” folks tend mean when using the word: I think they mean “propaganda” or “doctrine” or, more frequently, “dogma”.

This is less a criticism than it is a point of clarification. He equates his proud stance with “ideology” and he takes an overtly partisan and principled position, clearly — on something I completely agree with, incidentally! I get that he is digging into the empty-headed partisanship and label-making that turns a responsive attitude of skepticism, with regard to claims, into group signifying Skeptic(-ism) of ambiguous practical meaning. That sort of self-identified “Skeptic”, it seems, is less interested in method and more interested in group labels and unwittingly provides an unflattering critical opening on so-called “New Atheism”. Well, “New Atheism” is, it turns out, entirely composed of such partisans and in-group types. Meanwhile, garden-variety atheists are busy working, reading, participating in culture, questioning the legitimacy of religious cult, and so forth. Interestingly enough, the public acquisition and reflexive use of the term New Atheist one is likely to encounter in news-like media is absolutely ideological.

The proper response to ideology is less about being political (or not) than it is about understanding your own opinions. Every person has a political position, even when he doesn’t say he’s political. Especially when he claims not to be political, I’d say! By contrast, someone who takes an overtly political stance may not fully understand that he speaks and thinks a fully received content, simply thinking and repeating what was heard. It’s as true for me as it is for everyone. That particular quality of inadvertence is the most terrible and fearsome aspect of ideology; inadvertence is the primary social function of ideology.