While Intrinsic to Society, Ideology Removes Value of Independent Thought

There exists in all our lives two rather illusive and abstract principles by which we live, solve problems, and interact with one another (or not).  At times, it’s quite difficult to discern between the two, but they are vastly different concepts. To help separate these abstracts, think of ideology and principles as two very different modes of transportation: trains and aircraft.

With our personal aircraft (we’ll call it “Wings of Principles”), one can virtually travel in any direction at will to any desired destination. We can even change destination mid flight and we can reasonably expect to do so at any point in our travel — up, down, east, west, north, south, and everything in between. All we must do is make a pragmatic decision based on the principles of flight and direct the aircraft to go where we wish to go.

With a train (we’ll call it “Ideology Limited”), we still have the ability to travel, but we are severely limited; we have, but one choice depending on the tracks on which the train is traveling. Without catastrophic consequences, we can neither change the path on which the train is traveling, nor the direction in which the tracks are laid. And, once we climb aboard, we have little choice in decision-making.

Either mode of transportation is an answer to our travel needs, but our aircraft, “Wings of Principles,” is far more flexible than “Ideology Limited.” We can even further classify this flexibility as: principles (pragmatic choices guided by our personal convictions of the moment) and ideology (the dogma of predetermined direction and outcome based on convictions made with little influence on our part).

The struggle for scarce resources aside, I can think of no other conflict as long-lived as that between differing ideologies. Since humans began forming social alliances for survival, we have eagerly enlisted ourselves to serve the cause. We have gleefully ran the gauntlet to ensure our group’s ideology not only thrives, but is promulgated throughout humanity at the expense all other ideologies. After all, we know for certain ours is the one and only correct ideology, a cause quite literally to die for.

As early as the ancient multitheistic religions to the extreme exceptionalism of today, human interactions and culture have been profoundly influenced by ideology. Indeed, we seem almost incapable of separating ourselves from this abstract concept with which we distinguish ourselves from others as we repeatedly defy the simplicity of practicality.

The answer perhaps lies in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs wherein the most fundamental and basic human needs are found in the first four layers of his pyramid of needs, called “deficiency needs.”

According to Maslow, among the deficiency needs is our need to belong; to identify with the society in which we live is vital to our psychological well being. After all, what is a society, but a collection of people with the common bond of belonging and who identify themselves with shared laws, language, traditions, norms, and values? In short, a culture.

Fulfilling a basic need, we identify so thoroughly with our specific culture that we find it close to impossible to see others and their cultures as anything more than competing and threatening worlds to fear and loath — hegemony. As culture plays such a defining role in our lives, science has raised an intriguing theory that these cultural identities may in fact become encoded in our very DNA to be passed on to our descendants.

So, what does all this mean in terms of discourse?

When we board the “Ideology Limited,” we instantly accept, promote, and support the direction of the dogmatic tracks on which we are traveling. All decisions are made for us long before we even purchased the ticket to board the train, and by the very act of buying that ticket, we subscribe to those predetermined paths. We let the railroad engineers and their tracks make all the decisions; we are committed to travel the “Ideology Limited.” And, if we’re approached by anyone suggesting an alternative (discourse) once the train has begun forward motion, we’re very likely to dismiss the person as either delusional or moronic, perhaps even dangerous to our well-being and a threat to our intended goal.

Ideologies, like the “Ideology Limited,” are very seductive in that we can subscribe to them, knowing all the decisions are predetermined, freeing our minds of decision-making, and this most certainly will inhibit discourse related to the matter. After all, who in their right mind would want to suddenly change the course of a moving train?

There is a certain intangible value to ideology for a culture; the governments of every country, state, and city are founded on sets of ideologies for the citizens to follow. The rule of Democracy, fascism, dictatorship, and the economics of capitalism, socialism, and communism are all ideologies. However, their values frequently are near non-negotiable, removing the value of independent thought which often results in failed discourse.