Be Wary of Ideology

When the ambiguity of life can cause you grief,

Close your mind and don’t question belief.

No questions, no confusion.

Only answers and the solution.

They’re seductive, simple, and seemingly airtight.

Choose an ideology to make the world right.

But you know what they say, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

If your worldview is unable to consider that your perspective might be wrong, then you could be suffering from an ideology.

The term “ideology” comes from two Greek words meaning “patterned reasoning.” Patterned reasoning is essentially what an ideology is, especially relating to political, moral, or economic thinking. To say you subscribe to an ideology is to imply you use that pattern of reasoning to approach problems. Liberals will approach the world from a liberal perspective. Conservatives will be generally more conservative in their thinking. And so on.

Ideologies offer a way to perceive the world and our place in it. They often seem reasonable, and even intuitive. However, they lack nuance. They’re unable to see shades of gray. When an ideology takes hold of one’s mind, their perception and thinking are tainted and they become extreme in their consideration.

If only the world were as simple as an ideology proclaims. The world is anything but simple. And any worldview that denies the complexity and uncertainty of reality does a disservice to the pursuit of truth.

If truth is our goal, then ideologies are dangerous. They’re appealing and valuable, but often incomplete. But they have a fatal flaw they just can’t defeat.

Ideologies are rigid and aren’t open to the possibility of their miscalculations. Ideologues, and all those who are possessed by an ideology, perceive the world through a particular lens that isn’t necessarily accurate. They force the world to fit a predefined framework, even when the truth of reality differs from their ideological beliefs.

An ideology is a parasite of the mind. It makes its victim incapable of thinking beyond the scope of its prescribed worldview. An ideology sets the parameters of how to think, even if reality differs from the conclusions of the ideology. Almost always, reality isn’t as simple as an ideology suggests.

Ideology hates nuance.

An ideology is fixed, rigid, and dead. There’s no life to an ideology except for the initial euphoria of feeling enlightened. What follows is a cold and clinging existence to a worldview one must defend at all costs. One’s sanity and psychological well-being depend on it.

There can be no reasoning with ideologues. They’re close-minded to alternative views and will cling to their ideology out of fear of the unknown. When questioned, they seem confident. When shown possible errors in their ideology, they become defensive and angry — as if someone were deflating their raft and they fear falling into the raging abyss below them. They will cling to their raft at all costs to avoid the confusion and chaos of uncertainty.

To be fair, ideologies are based on truth, but only a half-truth. Communists correctly identify the dangers of greed, profit through exploitation, and corrupt tendencies of the wealthy. However, they fail to recognize the merits of charity, donations, and community altruism. Capitalists embrace the efficiency of free markets to produce wealth and prosperity, while they ignore those who fall between the cracks, and neglect the reality of wealth allowing for corruption and unequal power over the political process. Libertarians correctly point out the dangers of authoritarian rule and the harm that comes from tyranny, but they neglect the harm caused by the absence of authority. Authoritarians understand the necessity for stability and control, but suffocate the human spirit and are prone to abuses of power. Religious believers recognize the importance of our relationship with the Divine and Transcendent, while atheists often point out the dangers and harm of rigid religious extremism. Ideologies are grown from a kernel of truth but become corrupted and deformed as they move away from their seeds. Ideologies become mere shadows and illusions of the world’s complexity.

Be suspicious of those who have all the solutions yet ask no questions. An ideology can have no blind spots and leave no room for uncertainty. Listen to those who admit their ignorance, for they’re not trying to convince themselves of what they do not know.

The light of truth can be blinding. But it is better to have seen truth and be unable to articulate its form than to falsely present truth without the nuance it deserves.

Claiming truth without nuance is to neglect the richness of the world. Whereas the world is complicated and always changing, an ideology rigidly puts reality into a box and says “this is it.”

Reality cannot be put into a box since the box of our comprehension cannot contain the vastness of reality. This would imply that our comprehension is beyond reality, able to fully encapsulate reality. Reality will always be one step ahead of those who try to perceive it.

But there are those among us who believe they’ve solved the riddle of life and offer you a box. I warn you from taking this box. This box will rob you of truth and make you a slave to a system you will feel compelled to defend. You will be forced to bend the world to fit into your box, and when your box is threatened, you will be shaken to your core and guard it with your life.

To submit yourself to an ideology is to put yourself in a box, lock up your mind, and throw away the key. Refuse being boxed in by an ideology. When you put the world into a box, you box yourself in as well. You no longer see truth unless it’s through the lens of your ideology. When committed to an ideology, the world you see is that of shadows of their true form, distorted by your certainty.

To think for oneself isn’t as convenient as being absorbed into an ideological worldview. Although it isn’t an easy path, thinking independently, free from the restrictions of an ideological parasite, is a more likely path to truth and prosperity.

If we are to resist the seductive sway of an ideology, we must embrace the unknown and be comfortable with uncertainty. Above all else, an ideology provides certainty and feelings of safety. When one’s ideology is challenged, our fundamental need for safety is threatened. When confronted with ideas contrary to our ideology or worldview, the human brain struggles to remain calm. Instead, the brain’s capacity for critical thinking, understanding, and rationality are replaced by our fight-or-flight response. When one is under the influence of an ideology, challenges to their ideological worldview are perceived as a threat. This is no way to pursue truth. Challenges to our worldview are not a threat, but an opportunity for correction and aligning oneself with truth, even if our new conclusions differ from our initial ideological starting point.

The solution to one ideology is not another ideology, nor ignoring all ideologies. The solution to ideologies is resisting the fear of the unknown and being comfortable perceiving the world with nuance and complexity.

Or perhaps we don’t fear the unknown, rather, we fear not knowing. To believe something inaccurate is a reflection of one’s ability to be deceived or think wrongly. Perhaps our fear is in realizing that we are not who we thought we were. We are humans with a mind capable of being incorrect. We are capable of being lied to and being fooled. We are capable of making errors in our judgment and believing things that are not true. This can be a difficult truth to accept for those who think they are incapable of being incorrect. We must realize that being wrong is okay, and that being wrong is a necessary step toward being right. Perhaps we won’t ever know some things with certainty, and we’ll be okay even if we don’t know.

Embracing the unknown as an opportunity to learn is liberating and allows us to become closer to truth. Only through resisting fear of not knowing, and resisting the pull of ideological thinking can we perceive the world as it truly is — not as a world of black and white, but of beautiful shades of gray.

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Matthew McKenna

Matthew McKenna

When facing hardship and burned by flame / We look to myth for where to aim / As stories of old were understood / Extract the gold and make it good.