Years ago I bought a yellow VW bug. I had never owned one before and hardly noticed them on the road. Once I bought one, however, I started seeing them everywhere, putt-putt-putting around town with their quirky shape and ladybug roofs. I don’t think there has been a make or model as wildly popular as the bug except, maybe, for the Ford F-Series or Toyota Corolla.
But this isn’t a post about cars, at least not directly. Rather, it is about ideology, which, like the once ubiquitous bug, has been popping up everywhere.
By ideology, I mean a kind of thinking—to continue the metaphor—in reverse. For instance, people beguiled by ideology process data, events, and even relationships in ways that reinforce their existing view of the world. Ideologues are not open to anything other than what they already know or think they know. Imagine your favorite know-it-all with an axe to grind.
The real problem is that, like the VW bug, ideological thinking has infiltrated our society under cover, which is exactly how ideologies operate, putt-putt-putting along with hardly anyone noticing. This occurs on the Left and Right, both of which claim to have arrived at the truth and are engaged in a mission to convert or conquer anyone who opposes them.
The Left skillfully combines street violence (e.g., Antifa) with religious imagery and language (e.g. climate change doubters are “heretics”) to achieve its goals. This should come as no surprise, since its underlying political philosophy is Marxism, which seeks the complete destruction of Western culture. To them there can be no compromise.
Meanwhile, Conservatives muddle through seemingly defenseless unless they have shows on AM talk radio, in which case they try to outdo the charlatans in mainstream media. We all know who the latter are. “Fredo” is just the latest manifestation.
In a recent discussion with friends on the Left, they accused the Right of fanaticism, bias, media manipulation, and cult-like devotion to their leader. When I pointed out that my friends on the Right say the same thing about them, they couldn’t respond. Once revealed, psychological projection turns out to be a nasty business for everyone, especially on a mass level.
It would be tempting to attribute the rise of ideological thinking and delusion to a lack of knowledge of history. This makes sense to me given my experience of students’ often surprising ignorance of history, but the problem runs deeper than that, since not knowing history can be cured with something as simple as devoted study. But ideology doesn’t just affect what you study but who you are and what you read.
As an example, I know a man caught up in a legal battle with his ex-wife. He has fused a biased view of his ex-wife’s family with his newly discovered understanding of the legal system to come up with an excuse for not paying child support and threatening the ex with a restraining order. From listening to him, it is clear that he believes he is right and that the logic of his actions ought to be evident. When challenged, he offers the same response as those on the Left for whom the logic of their beliefs is just as evident.
To quote a brutally famous ideologue, “What is to be done?”
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you might expect me to turn to Aristotle as I often do. This time, however, Socrates is the relief pitcher to whom I turn. And what is it about Socrates that warrants a call from the mound? His method of critical inquiry based on skepticism. I don’t mean the skepticism that leads like a peeled onion to no beliefs at all. I mean a relentless search for the truth that can admit flaws and dig out stupidities. If you are wrong, you’re wrong. As they used to say, get over yourself.
This skepticism is based on reason, which makes it unpalatable for some, but these are the people who need to be reminded that they have no monopoly on either truth or virtue. They tend to be quite rigid in their views (e.g., there can be no tolerance of intolerance). Theirs is a bumper sticker logic, which brings us right back to the VW bug.
Lately, they’re showing up everywhere.