Viewpoint: Ideology - A changing, elusive conceptBe warned. What follows is a discussion of ideology, a complex and difficult subject indeed.
By: Thomas St. Martin, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Be warned. What follows is a discussion of ideology, a complex and difficult subject indeed.
So if you are not up to a hard read, stop now and try a lighter fare, like maybe the latest breaking news from the Woodbury tiddlywinks tournament.
But hard read or not, you may be puzzled: why would anyone write about a topic like ideology? And then presume that anyone would want to read about it?
The answer: because ideology has now become another of the many buzzwords that dominate today’s political rhetoric.
You may recall in this regard that our “yes, we can” president recently made news by telling us that, in his view, science trumps ideology.
Moreover, if one is to believe the rhetoric du jour, we are led to think that just about everyone in public life today, whether leftist or rightist, is an ideologue (i.e. someone who thinks and speaks within an ideological framework).
Given its widespread use (abuse?), we must, then, attempt to determine what politicians and others really mean when they use the “i” word. We must also ask why: why are the terms ideology and ideologue used with such distressing frequency?
These, obviously, are significant questions, questions that warrant serious and thoughtful answers.
As a political and philosophical concept, ideology is relatively new, a concept which, so far as I know, originally appeared in the writings of Karl Marx, defined by him as a bundle of rationalizations created and invoked by the ruling classes to explain and defend their place in the sun.
Although a watered down version of this definition survives in today’s leftist class warfare rhetoric, most people, politicians included, no longer think of ideology in the way that old Karl did.
Ideology, rather, is a term that is now typically used broadly to describe/categorize any extant political, economic or even religious world view
Or, to put it differently, ideology is now typically defined — whether implicitly or explicitly — as any intellectual construct that claims to explain “everything.”
Any political or economic theory, provided that it offers — or purports to offer — a comprehensive, unifying explanation of disparate and often seemingly random phenomena, then, can be, and often is, defined as an ideology.
This, I think, is an imprecise and therefore misleading use of the term, encouraging us to use ideology as a kind of rhetorical catch all.
Worse, this sweeping, indiscriminate use of the “i” word reinforces the now obvious tendency to use it as a rhetorical club — to use it as we use words like “extremist” — to use it to discredit and intimidate one’s opponents (e.g. as used by Obama to discredit opponents of his embryonic stem cell policy).
Thus, the left labels rightists as ideologues (fanatics?) while the right, in turn, pins the ideological label on the leftists. The result: a counter-productive rhetorical stalemate.
Unfortunately, however, there really are world views that can properly be called ideologies, some of which are arguably pernicious.
Such ideologies, I contend, can be defined as truth claims that have hardened into a closed, narrow and constricting mind-set, a mind set which is irrational insofar as has become counterfactual and, not uncommonly, hate-filled.
Ideologues of this sort have much in common with “Flat Earthers.”
Tragically, I think that many people — including politicians and, yes, many scientists, ethicists and celebrities — are now trapped in some “hard” Flat Earth mindset.
Consider the vehemence, the disdainful attitudes of bioethicists and others who, to cite a recent example, champion embryonic stem cell research.
Such folks often try to discredit those who object to the dehumanizing implications of some aspects of contemporary biotechnology, calling them, among other things, unenlightened ideologues.
Ironically, however, it seems that the real ideologues are the scientists and politicians themselves, people trapped in an ideology called scientism, people whose ethics are based on a hardened ideological utilitarianism.
So, instead of saying that science trumps ideology, we should say that there are “hard” ideologies that threaten to trump ethics, at least ethics as understood by past generations.
And now, a final word: there is much, much more to be said about ideology than what I have written here. So be prepared for a possible sequel. Ugh!
Thomas St. Martin is a resident of Woodbury.