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What role does ideology play in the world today?

+3 votes
I'm just trying to flesh this one out a little bit because people are very complex in the way they relate to each other, and plus i feel that people sometimes tend to have a "spookish" way of thinking about ideology, as in they are suspicious about them like in a horror movie with ghosts and ghouls.

One concept that has always interesed me in sociology is the "superstructure", as in the grand belief system that dictates peoples behavior, it seems kind of similar to typical racist nationalism but now adays it also just seems that people are controlled solely on their need/desire to make money.
asked Oct 16 by Nihilist (50 points)
how about a definition of "ideology" to get started?

and maybe an example of how you would know if someone "has" one....or what a person might say or do that reflects an "ideology"...
i don't really have one, the definition that seems most common on this site is a belief system that essentially confines you, "do you have ideas, or do ideas have you?".

I guess it's overall a really difficult and broad question to answer which is why i asked it. I tend to get overly curious about other people and why they do the things they do. It was a hard question to formulate, but this is something that has always kind of bothered me since I've started using these websites.
based on that definition - of confining one's actions based on ideas in one's brain - i'd say almost everyone i know (including myself) does that (to varying degrees and in varying circumstances).

what "role" does that play in "the world" i don't know very specifically, but i think it affects relationships of all kinds - between humans and other humans, as well as between humans and everything else on this planet....perhaps as you said in your description of ideology, it serves to confine....to limit the potential ways of relating.
also, the way i look at it, both laws and money serve as ideology....so in that sense, i'd say ideology has a huge role in the relationships and activities on this earth....mostly by creating large imbalances and ill health, and by reducing the use of creativity in most people.

a thought i've had (that i don't think "has me" :) ) ....  

ideology tends toward imbalance in a mostly structured and predictable manner.....

whereas anarchy (or lack of ideology) tends toward balance in a more unstructured and unpredictable manner.
"also, the way i look at it, both laws and money serve as ideology...."

i guess another way of looking at is that in today's world there's just a huge number of "-isms", that are basically practices that have an ideological or semi-ideological foundation for existing. It's harder to do certain things without having some sort of a belief system to support it. Money in particular isn't an ideology but basically has zero qualities whatsoever, and so takes on an ideology that propagates the ideas of social institutions.

i like the question.

over the years i have realized that when i use the word ideology, i am really referring to what i think of more as dogma. too many people i interact with use the more generally accepted definition of ideology, which does not necessarily imply a dogmatic relationship with a body of ideas.

my worldview consists of bits and pieces from many ideologies, no doubt. if i were to express that succinctly, it might represent "my" ideology. but whether i am controlled by that ideology is another issue entirely. if i am, then i would call it dogma. 

that's just a terminology thing though. i understand what you all are talking about when you say ideology.

i will probably post an answer when i have a bit more time, but my general response is:

ideology pretty much runs the world. from economics to the environment to technology to the very basis of modern human civilization, ideology underlies it all, best i can tell.

more is better. there is a correct way everyone should live. preserving and growing mass society is a primal necessity. humans require leaders (and laws, governments, etc). there are "natural rights". on and on...

nihilist, regarding money as ideology....i meant people thinking they must have money (and always more of it), that money must always continue to exist, that more money must get created (and the numbers must go higher), that only money can facilitate exchange, that the government will always create and control the money, that their daughters and sons must live their lives in pursuit of money....and so on, rather than the numbers floating around in cyberspace (and small number of paper bills floating around in people's wallets).

funky, i especially like your last paragraph...

pretty much every war i have ever heard of was driven by ideology. every kind of institutional oppression i can think of is driven by ideology. and many things that i might even agree with are driven by ideology as well.

i guess for me, an interesting followup question would be: how do folks discern when the ideas they hold begin to control them? we all have ideas that are important to us in terms of providing a basis for analysis and desired behavior. and of course our behavior is affected by those ideas. how does one - if they even care to - figure out when the affect those ideas have goes beyond mere points of reference/guidelines to a dogma that causes one to ignore (or be blind to) context?

for me, it often helps to have a close, trusted friend who can hash through it with me, and point out things that i might not be aware of or recognize myself. whether or not their perception jibes with my own, i find it very useful to get that relevant, separate perspective.
"i guess for me, an interesting followup question would be: how do folks discern when the ideas they hold begin to control them?"

that is a very interesting, individualistic question. This is why i felt so happy that i ran into max stirner's line of thinking, i was able to very clearly see how morality and leftist politics were controlling/shaping the way that i was thinking. Interestingly enough, some of what happened as a result of that was that a sort of cruel nihilism started mocking me and controlling my thoughts in my head as a result of that, the type a lot of people i've known have adopted throughout their lives to cope with shittyness, but then i just countered that by perpetually remembering that whatever "good" or "evil" i know is that which i know on an emotional basis.

1 Answer

+3 votes

I could waffle about ideology until the cows come home, but I’ll try to be concise and avoid waffling. No promises though. I do like the the wording of the question - ‘role’ highlights the performative nature of ideology, which I’ll circle back to.

I’ve seen the word ‘ideology’ used to mean anything from a very narrow and inward facing system of ideas or beliefs, to the thoughts emanating from one particular held value, to an expansive and rather nebulous signifier for the totality of a given culture’s internalised social and ideal norms (or reified culture, or ‘the superstructure’), or any combination of anything within that spectrum. I don’t think these meanings are at all contradictory, because of how expansive the significance of even the most narrow definition is in determining what people believe and how they behave.

Pardon me while I go metaphysical for a minute.

We all experience and perceive the world differently - everyone lives in a subjective reality. However, in order to communicate anything to anyone we have to engage with consensus reality - that which is generally recognised as ‘real’ or ‘true’ for everyone, objectively. The problem is that because no one directly experiences this consensus reality, people disagree over its particulars, and ideology is an attempt to assert a particular vision of consensus reality and how it works based on particular values and ideas. 

I’m adapting a phrase uttered by Slavoj Zizek here, but I’d say that ideology’s role in the world is that it provides fantasies which structure our subjective realities - ideology is a way for people to attach meaning to perception in a way that reconciles disagreements over the shape of consensus reality by overriding subjective reality, and provides a moral guideline for how to behave in the overriding consensus reality. Ideologies are in competition to structure our individual subjective realities, to tell us what is real or true and what isn’t, what matters and what doesn’t, whether we’re wrong or we’re right, and what we should want, and what we should despise.

In a narrow sense, an ideology consists of a description of the world, and a prescription for how we should behave drawn from that description of the world and a set of moral values. Fascism, for example describes the world as inhabited by eternal nations that must compete for dominance, values strength and discipline, and therefore we should subordinate our desires, our efforts, our thoughts and our bodies to the nation and its state.

In a broader sense, an Ideology is a system of ideas that colours how we perceive the world - people, objects, social interaction, values and beliefs etc, and provides a framework in which to rationalise meaning from those perceptions. For example, imagine you’re walking down the street when you hear a beggar ask you for spare change. You’ve perceived a person asking you for money. Everything that comes after that in your thought process - what the meaning of this perception is, and what to do about that - will be corralled and mediated by ideology. 

‘He’s just gonna spend it on drugs’

‘I’m not going to waste the money I earned on a lost cause, his choices led him to this’

‘Looks like he has it rough, hopefully he’ll be able to get into a shelter tonight; society is so fucked’

‘Look at all these people walking past without even acknowledging him, they should be ashamed’

‘Will people think I’m a sucker if I drop a couple coins in his cup?’

‘If he wasn’t an unrepentant sinner he wouldn’t be on the street, I hope he finds God’

Every one of those potential response thoughts is an example of ideology justifying the attachment of meaning to a perception, which then informs (in)action. Of course implicit (and sometimes explicit) in ideology is the assumption that the ideology is true, and the only truth, so it provides people a framework within which they assign objective meaning to their subjective perceptions.

Ideology in both the narrow and broad senses I’ve outlined, ossifies into a substrate of assumptions that do not originate in your interpretation of reality. Imagine yourself as an orchard - your being as the soil, your identity and sense of self as the trees, and your thoughts and behaviour as the fruit. Ideology is the radioactive isotopes washed into the groundwater from the nearby Fukushima nuclear power plant. From radioactive earth grows radioactive fruit.

Ideology plays different roles depending on who it possesses. For the priest it’s a tool to marshall the disparate desires and experiences of individuals to get them to unite behind a particular vision of consensus reality (‘Campuses are overrun with violent racists!’, ‘Our country is overrun with illegal immigrants!’), and a particular morality (‘No Platform for fascists!’, ‘throw them out and build a wall!’). For the congregation it’s an analytical tool to help make sense of the world and a performative tool used to address their own alienation by creating a consensus reality and an identity they share.

answered Oct 30 by Yosemite (6,110 points)

As an aside, while Zizek isn’t an anarchist his critique of ideology is pretty good and presented humorously:


i particularly like your forth paragraph (where you go metaphysical).