Updated: Sep 10
To govern oneself primarily by ideas, principles, and preferences is a good thing.
If you work for Company X, you’re going to support and encourage the success of Company X over Company Y. If I’m a half-back on the New England Patriots football team, I’m going to do all I can to help the team win over its rivals. We hope our children do as well as or better than other children. While we should love everyone, it’s right and proper to love our own children a little more.
Speaking of children, most young children think their parents are the best. That was my feeling when I was young, and it still is.
All this favoritism helps increase the strength and growth of individuals, families, and organizations across society.
Being an ideologue is something altogether different. An ideological parent, for example, would say,
“Everything my child says and does is correct and good.
Everything every other child says and does is incorrect and bad.”
Such sounds nonsensical. Yet, the political industry in the United States is almost entirely ideological. Most U.S. newspapers and news programs side with one candidate over the others to the point that their chosen candidate receives 95% positive coverage no matter what he or she says or does, and the other candidates receive 95% negative coverage no matter what they say or do.
For years, I listened to the NPR radio program when driving to or from work. During that time, I eventually noticed that it broadcasted partial information about events and people that was one-sided. That was okay because I assumed that after the commercial break it would then present the other side of the argument. But after the commercial break, NPR would go on to the next topic.
I began to realize two things. The first was that they broadcasted only one side of issues. The second was that I usually knew more about the topic than what NPR presented. Eventually, I stopped listening to NPR. Too bad, because it seemed like such a sensible program.
Psychology of Ideology
While I suspect that most people know the political and media industries in the United States are ideological-dominant, I don’t think that most people realize the psychological basis of ideological thinking.
The following cycle of principles is associated with ideological thinking:
Psychological distress stimulates single-solution thinking.
Single-solution thinking promotes overconfident judgments.
Single-solution thinking promotes conflict and intolerance.
Overconfidence and intolerance under psychological distress promote ideological thinking.
Let me review these principles briefly over the next few paragraphs.
Finding meaning or explanation in a time of distress helps reduce anxiety and uncertainty. People experiencing distress find comfort in firm positions on troubling matters.
For example, review the following series of thoughts a student may have while taking a difficult test:
I can’t do this test.
This test must be too hard.
This isn’t fair.
I hate this teacher.
In this example, the student finds "understanding" and "explanation" by blaming the teacher for his or her difficulty with the test.
If continued, such thoughts lead to ideological thinking because they exclude all other reasonable explanations. Perhaps the student didn’t sufficiently prepare for the test. Perhaps the student didn’t meet the prerequisites for the course.
We can see that psychology prompts a selection of an explanation of the problem, whether correct or not. If we’re not careful, we’ll hold onto the first explanation that comes to mind. The simpler the reasoning, the more likely we accept it.
An ideologue is someone who believes they know how people will think or feel based on how they look.
Occam’s (Ockham’s) razor
William Ockham, who lived in the 14th century, made a profound observation that's still true today:
“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.”
For those of you who don’t read Latin, Google translates the statement as follows,
“Things should not be multiplied beyond what is required.”
An incorrect (in my view) modern variant of Occam’s Razor is, “The easiest solution is usually the correct one.”
When someone is psychologically distressed or hurt, one desperately seeks the simplest explanation. It's difficult for the person to see the bigger picture.
Overconfidence and intolerance
Because explanations provide clarity, purpose, and security under conditions of psychological distress, people tend to become protective of those explanations. This leads to intolerance toward other explanations because, after a sufficient amount of time, the current reason in the person’s mind has become too valuable.
“The explanation must be correct
or I’ve been wrong all along.”
Intolerance leads to overconfidence. Overconfidence is emotional protection for having believed in an explanation for an extended period of time.
Thus, psychological distress promotes simplicity, which over time promotes overconfidence in the accepted explanation and intolerance toward other explanations.
"Complete faithfulness to a dogma is an anathema to humor."
-- Dennis Prager
While I think professional and collegiate sports are fine and wonderful, I don’t like watching them because I want to have an emotional investment in what I participate. I want to be loyal to something. But when watching a sporting event, I’m aware that I have no influence on the outcome. Even the players themselves know they’ll win only about half the time.
If I participate emotionally in a game I’m watching and the team loses, then I’m sad. If I don’t participate emotionally in the game, then I have no desire to watch it.
Recently, I was at an extended family gathering. Some of the men out on the back patio were watching a professional football game on a large TV. I sat and watched the game with them. The score in the game, late in the 4th quarter, was 27 to 24, which meant it was a close game. Based on the comments from the other men, I couldn't determine which team they were rooting for, and I was too embarrassed to ask. Apparently, my extended family members don't lose control of themselves during football games.
Abuse of governmental power
Tyrants and dictators foment psychological distress because they know it will generally lead to ideological thinking within their people. Socialism and communism have often thrived in times of crisis, while moderate political perspectives under the same conditions tend to suffer losses.
In the history of nearly all countries there eventually comes a time of severe, national distress. It’s during these times when political leaders often encourage their citizens to think ideologically against their political rivals via blame and accusation.
I cannot think of a case where a tyrant or dictator didn't rise to power without encouraging emotional distress in its people by use of blame and accusation. If you know of an exception, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's not surprising to most people that political parties are ideological. The Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian political parties in the United States will support their own candidates over the candidates of the other parties. This is not unexpected or even unreasonable.
But what most people don't realize is how ideological political parties in the United States have become. They are judged to a greater degree by how much money they amass, than whether or not their candidates win elections. Therefore, if the Democrat party, for example, believes it can garner more money by allowing the opposing candidate to win--thus endearing increased sympathy, consolation, and "underdog" donations--the party will do so. Meaning, political parties think more of their income than their own candidates.
But what if only one solution is correct?
Imagine being at the top of a mountain. You can either climb down the mountain the way you came up, or you can jump off a cliff and get to the bottom quickly. This is where ideological thought is a good idea. Don’t jump!
Yet, climbing down the mountain doesn’t have to be the only long-term solution. An elevator or a tram can be built. Another solution is to never leave the mountain. Perhaps there is no better place to be.
What about right and wrong?
What do we do when we’re faced with a clearly noble solution to a problem and want to act accordingly, but don’t want to be ideological about it?
Suppose you find yourself in a debate between murdering ten people vs. murdering zero people. It’s probably not a good idea to be reasonable and go down the middle and agree to murder five people.
How are clear, right vs. wrong issues resolved without being ideological? My advice is to do the following,
Gather all available information on the issue at hand.
Involve as many people as is appropriate and share—both giving and receiving—all relevant information. The number of people involved in this process can be few, or as many as an entire country.
Use persuasion rather than blame, accusation, or force.
If your position is morally right, then with use of the above three steps, your position will usually prevail.
"Though argument does not create conviction,
the lack thereof destroys belief."
-- C.S. Lewis
It’s my opinion that persuasion in this country has been replaced with accusation, blame, and cancel culture. At its root, cancel culture is about shame, ostracism, and bullying, all resulting from some apparent disobedience to a social rule. Cancelling requires no trial. There is only a charge and a sentence.
Is this where we as a society want to go? Do we really want cancel culture to decide who and what we believe?
If I don’t like what’s on a certain TV show I don’t watch it. There are many activities I don’t do and places I don’t visit because I don’t want to be negatively affected by them. But I don’t cancel.
Those who engage in cancel culture behaviors,
Attempt to impose their will on others by eliminating public access to opposing ideas.
Seem unable to handle the existence of persons, principles, or products they disagree with.
Must therefore “cancel” them to remove other people’s freedom to choose whether or not to accept those persons, principles, or products.
What happened to freedom? Cancel culture is ideological thought in action. It is mob bullying.
It’s not enough that I disagree with something.
I must remove it from society
so other people can’t have access to it.
There are many parts of society I disagree with, but I have never sought to remove such parts from anyone else. I believe that cigarette smoking is ugly, destructive to property (and to forests!), and costly to the national healthcare system. But I have never picketed the front of a store in an attempt to prevent the selling of tobacco products.
Instead of canceling, how about teaching our children the difference between right and wrong? Too many people either don't know the difference between right and wrong or have lost the ability to articulate the difference. Consequently, they feel powerless and embrace cancel culture behavior.
Ideology and engineering
I don't know about other industries, but ideology and engineering are incompatible with each other. In fact, the best engineer is one who has no ego at all. Where I work, it's common for someone who hasn't been working on a project to have better insight about the project than someone assigned to the work.
If I've been working on a design for a month, and a child walks up to me and says, "I think you should move the hole over there," and she's right, then I should move the hole over there. "Who's idea is it?" is not a relevant question to engineers.
Many practical discoveries have been made by people with no technical training whatsoever. As an example, here is a case where Adam Savage from MythBusters was corrected by a little girl. Did he get upset with her for questioning him? No. He was proud of her! He was touched by her insight. This is how we should all be when faced with new information.
Free and open debate
There are a host of reasons why the U.S. Senate has 50 senators instead of one or two. The U.S. House of Representatives currently has 435 representatives. There are nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Great Britain has 650 members in its parliament. Israel's Knesset has 120 members. Norway's parliament has 169 members.
These are bodies of people who debate the most pressing issues of their countries. Worldwide, debate is the best means developed so far that helps produce well-thought-out and reasoned arguments and conclusions.
It's a crime when debate is canceled and replaced with the wishes of only one group. Debate and ideology are incompatible with each other.
If the available evidence regarding a particular case or social issue doesn't matter to you, then you are an ideologue.
"But the data is cherry-picked," you say.
Too frequently, this is the case. Take heart that an abundance of evidence is available on virtually any topic affecting the world today. Know that there are almost always two sides to every argument. Most issues are not as straightforward as they're made to appear.
Here are three tips to help discern the strength or weakness of claims levied for or against people, world events, or social issues.
Beware of gratuitous claims, which are statements made with no evidentiary support. When you hear or read that someone is an idiot or a liar, or conversely is magnificent, and the speaker or article provides no evidence of such a claim, take caution.
Beware of "copied" statements. When you read a dozen Internet sites that appear to show the same paragraph or passage repeated verbatim, again without providing evidentiary support, take caution.
When I come across a claim that "so-and-so" is racist, or "so-and-so" is against women," or whatever the claim is, I open up Google and type in the search field, "How is so-and-so a racist?" If the claim is true, then within a few minutes I'll find substantial evidence to support the idea--or I won't. I've done this for both issues and candidates I support as well as for those I don't. It takes only a few minutes, and I'll learn more in that short time than listening to hundreds of campaign ads.
What I long for
Whether it be at the city, county, state, or national level, what I’m looking for is a politician who says,
“My predecessor did all right,
but I'll do better because...”
How refreshing that would be! Why can’t one politician build upon the work of another? Why, instead, must politicians say,
“My opponent is a hateful racist, sexist, and
tyrant who wants to destroy this country.
Elect me because I actually care.”
What’s almost entirely absent from our society is respect. Even most movies and TV shows today disrespect one or more of the following to the point that it has become a hardened cliché:
Hollywood can’t understand why viewership across the country is declining. Maybe it should stop making movies that show everything in our society in a negative light. Maybe Hollywood—if it hates government, religion, and business so much—should show the rest of us—through fiction—how those organizations can operate constructively.
Notice how there are hundreds of movies portraying the future of the world in a negative light (dystopian and post-apocalyptic storylines). I’m trying to think of even one movie that shows the future in a positive light that doesn’t first require the destruction and replacement of our society. Can you think of one?
I long for,
persuasion over coercion,
teaching over indoctrination, and
example over cancellation.