Thursday, 4 September 2014

You Are Other People

My physiology lacks a way to simultaneously laugh with mirth and sigh with despair. But if I could ligh/saugh like that, I'd do it every time I saw someone complain about "those damn ideologies". It reveals a huge lack of self-awareness, if not a total ignorance of what ideology is and what it does.

I can't remember clearly, but I might have posted something vaguely similar once before, about how people complaining that all 'politics' is inherently bad have misunderstood what politics is. But while you could argue that politics does necessarily involve competition over ideas and resources (though that's not necessarily always a bad thing), I think it's hard to argue that there's even a kernel of necessarily-badness about the concept of ideology.

All an ideology is, is a set of beliefs about how the human social world works, and how to respond to this. The trickiest bit in there is probably the word 'belief'; we all believe things, and I do not mean dogmatic blind faith here, I mean the broadest sense of accepting things to be a certain way. This includes the whole spectrum of sane to crazy beliefs, from "I exist" to "I do not exist". It may be true that some specific ideologies are especially crazy and encourage a lot more crazy beliefs, but this is insufficient to say that ideology as a mental tool is entirely and inherently broken. As a science fan, I'd argue that it matters more how you come to your beliefs than specifically what those beliefs are.

The second bit, about what to do about reality, is also tricky, as knowing what to do is hard. Steve Novella made a great point in an episode of SGU a few months ago, along the lines of "there are no true grown-ups". By this I believe he meant, we're all raised with the assumption that someone, somewhere knows what the fuck is going on and has all the answers, but in reality everyone is mostly making things up as they go; older, established ways of doing things are just the ones that have worked often enough in the past, not necessarily the ones we'll need in the future. Everything has to be guessed and improvised to some degree, because none of us has perfect knowledge or perfect understanding. And the bigger and more complex the issue, the less likely it is that any one person can follow it all. Something as vast and messy as a whole human society is horribly tricky to get a mental grip on (though this does make things very interesting). Bottom line, though, is that the difficulty of knowing what to do with reality does not invalidate any and all attempts to do something with reality.

It's hard to see how any person who isn't totally, medically brain-dead could fail to have an ideology of some sort. So I think what people mean, when they say they hate ideologies, is that they hate other people's ideologies; I have yet to see one who hates their own ideology. Many, I reckon, are not even conscious of their own ideological biases. Others are perhaps afraid to commit (publicly or at all) to any positions, and resent or fear those who can. And many, I'm sure, have been upset (rightly or not) by one or two specific ideologies, and have falsely extrapolated their displeasure out to the entire continuum of human ideas. I'm sure there are other explanations, as well as some mixing between them.

So it's a silly thing to say. Don't be that sort of silly.

I had one other thought while writing this: It's easy, especially as you get older, to be amused by people who want to advertise how craaaaaazzzzzzy and weird and different they are. There's some immaturity to it, it's often quite superficial, there's a high probability it will somehow involve fish. But I'd like to hypothesise here that maybe this is an important stage in the maturation process, and that people who skip it are more likely to "hate ideology" and similar effects. I'd presume the mechanism would be something like, if you take the time to focus on your own weirdness (however limited that may be), it gives you an opportunity to learn to accept that you are not always normal, you are not the gold standard against which all others should be judged. It's one possible way to learn that you have your own biases and peculiarities. Failure to explore these should make it less likely that you learn these lessons.

I'd be curious to know if anyone's seen related studies already.