(About a 4 minute read)
“Since opposed principles, or ideologies, are irreconcilable, wars fought over principle will be wars of mutual annihilation. But wars fought for simple greed will be far less destructive, because the aggressor will be careful not to destroy what he is fighting to capture. Reasonable – that is, human – men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life.” ― Alan W. Watts
It is a tragedy of human nature that it is more than fair to describe all ideologies — even the most accurate and most decently motivated — as inimical to the very best efforts of humans to think.
Of course, that raises the question of what it means to “think”, and I certainly do not mean in this context to define “thinking” in any way a psychologist would recognize the term. That’s too narrow here.
Instead, perhaps the minimum standard — in this context — for ‘thinking” is open-minded skepticism. And perhaps the highest standard is creative, but truthful and accurate, out-of-the box thinking. If so, it should be fully appreciated by all of us that ideologies invariably fear and fight against such thinking in the same way snakes fear and fight pigs, their natural and inevitable predators.
People who say an ideology “got them thinking” are flattering themselves in the same manner as anyone using a map would be flattering themselves if they claimed they were — not a mere map user — but a cartographer. Ideologies are not intended to get you thinking, they are intended to get you motivated. They are the philosophical equivalent of a sales pitch.
One thing any successful salesperson knows is, speak all you want about how much your product or service will do for the world. Speak to both individuals and crowds. Even shout the news from a mountain that yours will save all of humanity, and lead to much whiter teeth, too. But whatever you do, don’t forget to close the sale on narrow self-interest, because it is narrow self-interest that does the real selling — that is always and ever the real motivation for adopting an ideology.
People like to confuse themselves about that. But while people can at least now and then do things for selfless reasons, they simply do not adopt an ideology to help their brother or sister more than themselves. Ideologies are just as opposed to selfless motives for believing in them as they are to genuine thinking.
Although most of us don’t hang around our hammocks all day long thinking about such things, to act without any selfish motive at all is to act spontaneously without thinking about it. That’s because the psychological self or “ego” crucially rests for its very existence on thinking, on symbolic thought. Hence, there is a profound sense in which it can be said that you cannot think about saving the girl without in some significant sense thinking about what saving the girl would mean to you personally. In other words, self-interest will factor into every calculation you can make of the value of saving the girl.
But to me, the biggest objection to ideologies is that they are so full of themselves. Basically, they are “systems of thinking that explain to their deserving adherents why they themselves are clearly right and why everyone else is clearly wrong, yet systems which are always significantly wrong about always being right., and everyone else wrong.’
Arrogance is a form of blindness to one’s blindness to nearly everything. As opposed to true humility (which is claiming what one deserves — no more, no less), arrogance lacks sufficient realism to either understand itself or others. It’s like living in a fantasy world.
Beyond that, ideologies, when approached carefully and cautiously can help make sense of the word. But damn, there are just too many ideologically-deranged people willing to do the equivalent of bomb an abortion clinic in the name of Jesus.