Every culture has its own way of accounting for reality. These explanations are necessary to enable the culture as a whole, and the individuals within it, to act and to justify those actions. We cannot come to grips with anything until we have some way of understanding and explaining what we are dealing with.
Legislation enforces the ideology of those who elected the government, but may quash the ideology of those who voted another way. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Unfortunately, there is a huge problem here. The scheme works best if our explanation of reality is sound. In some areas, we may indeed have adequate accounts of reality (e.g. engineering), but human knowledge is limited, and in many more cases (e.g. medicine), our explanations do not coincide with actuality. In these situations, we must act within inadequate frameworks. So tenuous is our conceptual grasp on reality that sometimes we are aware of the damaging shortcomings of our explanations while at other times we remain in the dark.
Mythology was how the ancients explained the world around them. The inaccuracies of these imaginative tales are now very evident, so much so in fact that we have switched to regarding them with a psychological rather than a literal perspective. The failures of our own explanations – while often no less large – can be harder to perceive. Mythology lingers on in lurid tales of UFOs, alien abductions, psychic powers, and the notion that the world is riddled with conspiracies. However, most of us have moved on to a tasty little item called ideology. There were few of these in the beginning, but as our culture has grown more sophisticated, they have begun to proliferate. Contemporary examples would include feminism, environmentalism, cultural Marxism, socialism, capitalism, cultural and moral relativism, multiculturalism, conservatism, liberalism, and so on, and so on.
Any ideology employed as a reason to act and as a justification for how we have acted is controlling our behaviour. Our ideological beliefs motivate and vindicate us.
Given the large variety of ideologies in play, and recognizing that many are mutually exclusive, we face a critical question. Who decides which ideologies will guide our actions? The answer in democratic countries is twofold: the family and the government. Parents try to raise their children according to their own ideological beliefs. At the societal level, a certain segment (hopefully a clear majority) of a culture’s members will mandate their government to enforce a set of particular ideologies.
Ideologies outside the authorized set may or may not be tolerated. Thus, socialist cultures such as those that predominate today quash conservative political, economic, and social theory in favour of ideologies more congenial to the left. This policy is most visible in our schools, since education is the surest way to control the ideological orientation of the people. We also see it in the way we hamper and even despise capitalism, in our casual tolerance of environmentalists who block important development, and in the liberal use of slurs such as “homophobic,” “xenophobic,” and “sexist” to describe those who do not share leftist views on homosexuality, immigration, and the status of women.
All of the above is to say that ideology controls our behaviour and is maintained by the use of parental and governmental “force.”
Here is where it becomes vital to remember that ideology, while needed to guide our actions is an inaccurate explanation of reality. Ideologies take hold relatively slowly and by the time they become well established the milieu that prompted their development is no longer existent. It is foolish and destructive to follow any particular ideology without honestly evaluating the results of our actions. We damage ourselves as individuals and impair society by persisting with badly outdated ideologies that do more harm than good.
Therefore, from time to time, we may need to dislodge counter-productive ideology. We are living in just such a time.
Ideologies are human creations – not absolute truths – and as such are inherently unstable. Our continued existence depends upon exploiting the instabilities of ideologies. That is to say, to survive, we must change the way we act. To change the way we act, we must change our ideologies.
We can undermine any ideology by pointing out those things the ideology ignores or does an especially poor job of explaining. Feminism, for example is now vulnerable since it has clearly helped bring about the extinction-level reproduction rates that now threaten Western culture with eventual collapse. The numerous bankrupt European states expose the fatally flawed view of reality offered by socialism. The human ability to analyze must lead the way to a new perspective on life and how it may be lived. We must work out new more-accurate explanations of the world. We are in need of fresh ideologies.
2 thoughts on “We Need New Explanations of Reality”
Interesting post, Thomas. There are of course many areas in which our accounts of reality are sadly lacking, and most of us probably subscribe to an ideology of some sort to provide a (probably very necessary) framework within which to operate.
I’d agree that all ideologies should be questioned, and their effects appraised. I think this generally happens anyway, in the course of things, as most of us recognise that our personal ideologies are of course fragmentary and imperfect. It’s a little like the coherentist theory of epistemology, whereby we see our framework of knowledge and beliefs as being like the raft upon which we are afloat. We can recognise that certain of our ideas and beliefs are wrong or lacking, but they are nevertheless necessary as a whole; we can change and repair the raft, but only one plank at a time, or otherwise we’re going under!
I have to say I’m not convinced that cultures today are predominantly socialist. In Europe, at least, it seems to me that socialist and conservative beliefs are a little like two children sitting on a seesaw: they go up and down, never quite achieving an equilibrium. One gains the upper hand, and then the other displaces it. If anyone is attempting to ‘quash’ conservatism they’re doing a very poor job – as an ideology it is still alive and kicking, and will remain so for many years to come! Nor am I convinced that education is directed in line with socialist or leftist policies – such direction would be unenforcable in any case, as teachers in my experience are a diverse bunch and subscribe to widely disparate political and social beliefs.
You raise some excellent points, Mari. Let me first differentiate between specific easily identifiable ideologies such as communism and the more general definition of an ideology as “the set of beliefs characteristic of a social group or individual” (COED). In the latter sense, we all live by some ideology and those of us who are neither political animals nor intellectuals do this without thinking. That is, as we grow up we absorb the ideology of the social milieu (which can be surprisingly parochial) in which we live.
The interesting thing about the process is how unaware most people are of what they have swallowed. They suffer from what some social critics have termed “cultural hypnosis.” Only a small number of people ever seriously question their ideological positions and most shun the more identifiable ideologies seeing them as extremism of one kind or another. The latter is reassuring, but ignores the problem of drift in that more general kind of ideology. Cultures are dynamic. Over time, a culture’s ideology tends to move in one direction or another (those changing planks you mention), and when consciously steered by political parties with a strong *specific* ideological slant, they can move a long way in as little as a decade.
It is true that conservatism is still alive. I did not mean to suggest that it had vanished; only that it is being suppressed. My claim is that conservatives wield little in the way of real power. I will add that this is largely true even when a conservative party is in government (your seesaw, I think). Once major social programs and spending are set in place, it is hard to take them back. A great deal of power in any society does not rest with the central government in any case, and socialists are skilled at gaining control at the grass roots level. Conservatives have the self-defeating habit of minding their own business!
I spent my formative years in Canada at a time (mid-fifties to late-sixties) when the country was still a bastion of conservatism. During my adult life, I have seen the country move steadily to the left while conservatives fought and (mostly) lost battle after battle in a desperate attempt to retain at least some of their values. The important thing about what has happened is that, with the government taking over what individuals were once responsible for, very little ever goes back to what it was. Leftist gains, because they are enshrined in law, are usually permanent gains. The very nature of socialism ensures its permanence.
Anything enacted as law is going to quash the values of those who do not agree with that law. Many of my own conservative values are not evident in the society in which I live – although they once were. I definitely feel quashed. There are many more like me.
Your claim that Europe is not predominantly socialist is unrealistic, Mari. The people who study such things estimate conservative numbers in Europe at about 25%. What now passes for the centre would have been considered wildly leftist in the past. European politicians repeatedly describe their countries as “social democracies.” North American socialists hold up European countries as role models for the US and Canada to emulate. We are not far enough to the left to satisfy.
I know you work in education, Mari, and I respect and admire your loyal defence of your colleagues. However, (you knew that was coming, yes?) I have seen far too many conservative values ejected from Canadian schools to buy the notion that teachers are not enforcing leftist and socialist policies. I will hit a few highlights, but I could go on for pages.
We lost the portrait of the queen that used to hang in every classroom (a “remnant of imperialism”). We lost the singing of God Save the Queen every morning (ditto). We lost the Union Jack in every classroom (ditto). We lost the singing of our own national anthem (encourages nationalism which leads to war). We lost the pledge of allegiance to queen and country we used to say every morning (double ditto). We lost the Lord’s Prayer (public schools are funded by the government so saying a prayer violates separation of state and religion – and no, I am not making this up).
You may have lived through some of what follows: Sex education, once the unquestioned purview of parents was introduced and made mandatory. Then it was the proper use of condoms. Then they just had to teach the right way to go about oral and anal sex. Then they had to present homosexuality as a perfectly reasonable option. We have little six year olds reading a book called White Dad, Brown Dad. (My ex is a Chinese woman from Hong Kong, so do not jump to any conclusions here). All attempts to preserve parental rights and conservative perspectives meet with stony indifference.
When conservatives requested the right to open their own charter schools where children could learn conservative values, the answer was a decisive “no.”