Ideology = ideas
Ideology is the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual person, group, or culture. Laws are based in ideology. A law tells what must be done or must not be done, how or how not to do it. A law is intended to restrict or to promote a situation. That situation reflects somebody’s ideal, even if it is a tax break for a particular party, money for education, or a prohibition of a private sexual act. Therefore, all laws are based in prejudice of some form, a pre-judgement of what’s best and what’s worst for somebody. This is not to say we shouldn’t have ideals. Without ideals there could be no laws, no society, no culture. Only lone individuals.
The strength of a society
It is tempting to think that the strength of a society depends on its ideals. We might expect that a society with lofty ideals must somehow be better or stronger than a society based on greed, corruption (pay-to-play), hierarchy of birth (nobility), or authority by wealth (warlord). That isn’t so. Historian Crane Brinton may have said it best: the strength of a society is not measured by its ideals or by its reality, but the weakness of a society is measured by the gap between the two. Strength and weakness mean the ability to withstand adverse events, like scarcity, drought, plague, or enemies. Are the things you really do supporting shared ideals, so as to make a stronger society? Is equal opportunity an ideal? If so, do people born into poverty have equal opportunity? Questions regarding ideals can sound radical.
Increasing the gap
It’s ok to have an ideology. But if that ideology is adopted and propagated without critical evaluation, that gap between the ideal and the real will probably increase. We see that happen in current politics where the promotion of unquestioned ideologies proceeds while orderly government, equality, and trust degrade, leading to multiple social problems (Blog 18).
Ideology can become implicit, an unexamined assumption, a subconscious presumption of the order of things, rather than a goal toward which action is directed. An ideology can be someone else’s idea, embedded in your head so firmly that you believe it is fact rather than an opinion you adopted. If you are not conscious of it, if you cannot talk about it, you are powerless to alter it no matter what reality exists around you. If you arrived at a belief system without critical evaluation, you will not be persuaded by reasoned arguments. Rather, you are likely to regard reasoned evaluation as a threat to be countered with force; you are likely to apply a solution that exacerbates the problem, increasing that gap between the real and the ideal. That’s how both entrenched conservatives and entrenched liberals regard many forms of regulation for the common good-as threats to belief. When questioning is regarded as a threat, a problem can’t be solved except by force. Is medical care a birth right, or would it be more rational to promote public health? Does the ideal absolute freedom include the freedom to do harm?
Ideology a commandment
Unfortunately, ideology becomes a commandment regarding how to act, a commandment that ignores reality. We see two sides in the U.S. Congress acting out ideology, with each side attempting to prohibit the other side from contributing solutions instead of problems. “No more taxes” is an ideology. “War on poverty” was an ideology. “Free market” is both a myth and a dangerous ideology in a complex economy, as outlined in Blog 9 and Blog 16. It’s a myth because complex economies are always regulated by systemic collapses if by nothing else, while the ideology ignores those collapses (Blog 4)
So what do we do?
It’s not possible to forecast exactly where or how much rain will fall, but it is possible to predict the probability of thunderstorms. Likewise, it’s difficult to forecast detailed behavior of a complex social system, but, like weather, trends and consequences can be evaluated through modeling. Governing bodies should consider the predictions of detailed models, regarding ideology as offering a goal, not as imposing a commandment. Will a particular action lead toward the goal, or toward something else? What is likely to happen if there are “no new taxes,” if we apply testing standards to schools, if we continue to burn carbon, if we reduce or increase punishments for crimes? Investigating “what if” questions would be much more beneficial for the society than being right by making the other political party wrong, which is a defense of ideology rather than a promotion of the common welfare.