Wed Jun 3rd, 2009 at 11:46:58 PM EST
I have touched the issue of ideology before. I had claimed it would be expiring, the main reason being that people seem to have enough of ideologically over-charged stances.
I also thought the evolution of the society in the 20th century is in it for something: the people in a well-off, consumerist, materialist, individualist society tend to be more apolitical, care less about the society as a whole, or about things like ideals, ideologies, or religions. Just like religious proselytisers, political activists find their case more and more difficult to make. Also, a society of mild epicurians abhoring violence and brainwashed by the media and the political correctness, are less disposed to taking radical positions, let alone revolutionary.
But in my drive to emphasize the difference between rational pragmatists, also known as ThirdWayers or Centrists, and the Fanatical Ideologists, I did drop some nuances in my way.
I'd like to make some amendments here.
For one, many spoke against ideology and its nocive influence on society - starting with Karl Marx Himself & Co - granted, his target was rather the ideology of the bourgeoisie, the ruling classes.
For Marx and Engels, it is the exploitative and alienating features of capitalist economic relations that prompt ideas they dub ‘ideology.’ Ideology only arises where there are social conditions ... vulnerable to criticism and protest; ideology exists to inure these social conditions from attack by those who are disadvantaged by them. Capitalist ideologies give an inverted explanation for market relations, for example, so that human beings perceive their actions as the consequence of economic factors, rather than the other way around, and moreover, thereby understand the market to be natural and inevitable. In his camera obscura metaphor in The German Ideology, Marx contends that reality appears upside down in ideology, much like the photographic process provides an inverted image... a recognisable depiction of reality, even if it is at the same time a distorted one.
There was not just Marx:
Karl Mannheim elaborated further ... by pointing to the human need for ideology. Ideologies are neither true nor false but are a set of socially conditioned ideas that provide a truth that people, both the advantaged and the disadvantaged, want to hear. Everyone's beliefs were a product of the context they were created in.
Jurgen Habermas drew on the Marxist idea of ideology as a distortion of reality to point to its role in communication, wherein interlocutors find that power relations prevent the open, uncoerced articulation of beliefs and values.
Thus ideology ... is rather inherently conservative, quietist, and epistemically unreliable. Ideology conserves by camouflaging flawed social conditions, giving an illusory account of their rationale or function, in order to justify and win acceptance of them.
In short, ideology distorts reality, offers populist illusions (some might say, delusions), is socially-conditioned - or socially-conditions!
Moreover, Daniel Bell, who I already mentioned in a previous diary,
dubbed ideology ‘an action-oriented system of beliefs,’ and the fact that ideology is action-oriented indicates its role is not to render reality transparent, but to motivate people to do or not do certain things.
Law being ideological might just refer to the institutions of popular sovereignty, where public policy reflects citizens' principles and beliefs; ideology would in that case just be a shorthand way of referring to the views of citizens that are legitimately instantiated in the laws of the land. Nonetheless, Bell argued that a postwar consensus on capitalism and liberal democracy might spell the ‘end of ideology.’
I find this criticism still harsher than the previous one. Ideology would be merely motivated by interest and the grand principles would be little more than pretexts.
On the other hand, Derrida steadfastly refused
... to concede what Marx asserted (most directly in "The German Ideology")... that ideology can be banished by the science of historical materialism".
A substantial portion of Specters of Marx is concerned with debunking the claims of Francis Fukuyama, and others, that "liberal democracy" represents the culmination of human history.
Indeed, Derrida reminds us that similar arguments for "the end of ideology," etc., were commonplace in the late 1950s. He even describes them in Specters of Marx as producing, today, "a troubling sense of déjà vu".
A nice touch of skepticism, for a change.
Any Marxism worthy of the name does affirm a "presence," an "ontology," a material reality that cannot be ignored in any ideology critique. For Marxism this is the premise of historical materialism, which unlike Derrida's deconstruction, clings to the distinctions between different kinds of "ghosts." It situates different specters or ideologies as historical products, not as categories of thought.
Because Derrida was a true philosopher, while Marx was a mere Hegel-impregnated atheist bourgeois?
In restoring the concept of ideology, Paul Ricœur endeavors to resolve its inherent paradox:
indeed, everything happens as if all criticism of ideology was suspected in itself of belonging to an ideology.
To escape from this vicious circle, P. Ricœur follows neither the line engaged by marxist « science », neither the line inspired by sociology of knowledge for which he shows the aporetic nature in both respects.
Confronted with the inoperative science/ideology opposition, Ricœur prefers to implement subtle dialectics between utopia and ideology.
In other words, a criticism of ideology is only conceivable on the basis of a utopian reflection which keeps the social order out of reach in proposing a « liberating horizon ».
Or otherwise said, criticism of ideology via its extreme side, the ideal shining at a distance, in reality meant to preserve the existing order. That's no comprehensive, if shrewd, criticism.
In 2002 however, speaking of religion and its status in the modern days, Jürgen Habermas stated that,
"For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst.
Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation.
Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk."
(Habermas, Jurgen, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, edited by Eduardo Mendieta, MIT Press, 2002, page. 149
This followed a debate Habermas had with a certain cardinal Ratzinger, during which he did concede on certain points, in particular admitting that religion does not go away.
He now talks about the emergence of "post-secular societies" (expression reminding certain ideas in a certain speech of Nicolas Sarkozy):
Lately, in the wake of the not unfounded criticism of a narrow Eurocentric perspective, there is even talk of the ‘end of the secularization theory’
and argues that tolerance is a two-way street: secular people need to tolerate the role of religious people in the public square and vice versa.
However what Habermas perceives as the step out of ideology is denounced by Žižek as ideology par excellence
(Žižek, Slavoj. “The Spectre of Ideology.” The Žižek Reader. ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999)
as commented here :
In the Enlightenment tradition, ‘ideology’ stands for the blurred (‘false’) notion of reality caused by various ‘pathological interests (fear of death, power interests, etc.); for discourse analysis, the very notion of an access to reality unbiased by any discursive devices or conjunctions with power is ideological. The ‘zero level’ of ideology consists in (mis)-perceiving a discursive formation as an extra-discursive fact. (Zizek, 63-64)
Arguably the most elaborate version of this approach is Oswald Ducrot’s theory of argumentation.
Ducrot’s basic notion is that one cannot draw a clear line of separation between descriptive and argumentive levels of language; there is no neutral descriptive content; every description (designation) is already a moment of some argumentative scheme; descriptive predicates themselves are ultimately reified-naturalized argumentative gestures. This argumentative thrust relies on topoi, on the ‘commonplaces’ that operate only as naturalized, only in so far as we apply them in an automatic, ‘unconscious’ way—a successful argumentation presupposes the invisibility of the mechanisms that regulate its efficiency.
The idea seems to be that; just like in the case of Religion, pure refusal of Ideology is hardly possible, and any such pretence is in itself suspect of what it claims not to be: ideological.
Ideology is permeating everything (Lily said something similar in her first diary), and the border line between what is ideological and what is hard fact is quite blurred.
Still this should inspire us to, rather than stop us from practicing tolerance.
The model exists already concerning old extremist political organizations, formerly fascist or far-left, which gave up violent fight and integrated democratic process. As long as they play by the rules, they cannot be denied right to existence.
But I'd better illustrate this with two recent articles in the New York Times - which some here might have already noticed.
The first, by David Brooks (source here) shows that pragmatic, unideological stances do not actually exclude but accomodates with ideologies (or better said, political opinions) basically by taking out the extremist, fanatic side, acting as a bridge, calming things down, mending and discussing in view of finding the best possible solutions. (we will have to see if that will mean realpolitik or bad compromises).
The 1960s, it was believed, would be a decade of cool pragmatism. Keynesian models would be used to scientifically regulate the economy. Important decisions would be made empirically.
Instead, we got what Francis Fukuyama later called The Great Disruption. The information economy began to disrupt the industrial economy. The feminist revolution disrupted gender and family relations. The civil rights revolution disrupted social arrangements. The Vietnam War discredited the establishment.
These disruptions were generally necessary and good, but the transition was painful. People lost faith in old social norms, but new ones had not yet emerged. The result was disorder. Divorce rates skyrocketed. Crime rates exploded. Faith in institutions collapsed. Social trust cratered.
As community bonds dissolved, individual autonomy asserted itself. Liberals championed the moral liberation of individuals. Conservatives championed their economic liberation. The combined result was a loss of community and social cohesion, and what Christopher Lasch called a culture of narcissism.
But societies do mend themselves, slowly and organically. In 2002, Rick Warren wrote a phenomenally popular book called “The Purpose Driven Life.” The first sentence was, “It’s not about you.” That was a sign that the age of expressive individualism was coming to an end. New community patterns and social norms were coalescing. ...
Barack Obama exemplifies the social repair. The product of a scattered family, he has created a highly traditional one, headed by two professionally accomplished adults. To an almost eerie extent, he exemplifies discipline, equipoise and self-control. ...
Obama’s challenge will be to translate the social repair that has occurred over the past decade into political and governing repair. ...
Part of that will be done with his governing style. Obama aims to realize the end-of-ideology politics that Daniel Bell and others glimpsed in the early 1960s. He sees himself as a pragmatist, an empiricist. Politics is not personal with him. He does not turn political disagreements into a status contest between one kind of person and another.
The second article (by N. D. KRISTOF, May 27, 2009)
goes more or less in the same direction, but from an interesting anthropological perspective: in many cases humans tend to react affectively and intuitively, rather than rationally, and more than that, they seem to be wired to act that way. Could we possibly have born conservatives, and just as well, born progressives? Or otherwise said,
is Ideology Built-In to humans ?...
Studies suggest that conservatives are more often distressed by actions that seem disrespectful of authority, such as slapping Dad. Liberals don’t worry as long as Dad has given permission.
Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.
The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses.
This came up after I wrote a column earlier this year called “The Daily Me.”
I argued that most of us employ the Internet not to seek the best information, but rather to select information that confirms our prejudices. To overcome that tendency, I argued, we should set aside time for a daily mental workout with an ideological sparring partner. Afterward, I heard from Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. “You got the problem right, but the prescription wrong,” he said.
Simply exposing people to counterarguments may not accomplish much, he said, and may inflame antagonisms.
The larger point is that liberals and conservatives often form judgments through flash intuitions that aren’t a result of a deliberative process.
It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support.
For example, one experiment involved hypnotizing subjects to expect a flash of disgust at the word “take.” They were then told about Dan, a student council president who “tries to take topics that appeal to both professors and students.”
The research subjects felt disgust but couldn’t find any good reason for it. So, in some cases, they concocted their own reasons, such as: “Dan is a popularity-seeking snob.”
So how do we discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical? A start is to reach out to moderates on the other side ... to build this intuitive appreciation for the other side’s morality, even if it’s not our morality.
“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”
A corollary is that the most potent way to win over opponents is to accept that they have legitimate concerns, for that triggers an instinct to reciprocate. As it happens, we have a brilliant exemplar of this style of rhetoric in politics right now — Barack Obama.