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+3 votes
This is a complex question. First, what I mean by 'ideology' entails those abstractions with normative (moral) reach, rather than one's worldview, which may encompass one's ideology and even 'ground' it (ex: how we perceive existence for instance). Second, by 'free,' I'm not speaking in absolutes, since my own experience has been more of a process as well as a matter of constant vigilance.

There's a strong anti-ideological tendency on this site (including myself) which may seem disconcerting to those coming from more 'movement/cause' oriented perspectives, and those trying to find out more about anarch-ISM without having a great deal of background within 'it.'

Basically, this question is aimed at those who've been through more ideologically oriented phases of life and who would be willing to share why and how they've come to their perspective. Why did you feel/think ideology hindered you? What have you done and/or which methods have you used to shed yourself of ideology? What markers or 'red flags' do you look out for? Do you feel it's easy to slip back into these patterns? And if not, how do you remain non-ideological? You know, this sort of 'stuff.'
by (7.5k points)
edited by
great question, af, and well worded. i'll be back to engage with it when i have more time.
Great question, very useful, thanks for this AF. I'll try to set aside some time to write a detailed answer.
i'm glad you both find the question satisfactory and look very forward to your perspectives. i too will be answering this one.
i like the question(s) too, AF. i think about it often and hope to give an answer at some point. in the meantime, one brief comment....

a red flag for me that i slipped into ideological thought....i begin to feel exhausted without any feeling of satisfaction.
a question for you AF....

do you mean only political ideology, or all kinds - religious, economic, educational, etc.? or do you consider all ideological as political?
ba@, i'm asking more or less in a political sense. primarily this has to do with how most anarchists come to 'anarchism'; by way of activism and so on. of course, all demarcations of one's life are arbitrary and quite false since one's politic more than likely is grounded in one's worldview, ontology, conscious and, probably more likely, unconsciously presupposed.

i look forward to your answer too!
thanks, AF.

i sort of stumbled onto anarchism as i read stuff by anarchists that sounded very similar to what i've thought and felt as far back as i can remember.

i spent very little energy in my life believing in any political ideology, so my answer will come from that perspective.

2 Answers

+3 votes

warning: long-winded answer. maybe dot will come up with a good tl;dr for it.

for the purposes of this discussion, my own description of the loaded term:

i see ideology as a body of ideas that one holds outside/above themselves; the person serves the ideas, rather than vice versa. There is a sense of reification; the ideas are fairly static and bounded, largely unquestioned critically, and with little room for contextual adaptation, much less dynamic evolution. an ideologue knows that they are correct, and takes ideas into the realm of dogma.

it is difficult to figure out how to express an answer to this question without writing a history of my own awareness and personal growth, and that just seems boring. but the hyper condensed version would be something like this:

a-political (not anti) ==> anti-right when reagan was elected ==> pro-left as i began self-educating ==> leftist activist/ideologue ==> disillusionment with activism ==> exposure to post-left critique ==> internal struggles with bailing on the left (here was my first real challenging of ideology) ==> comprehension of left/right false dichotomy and acceptance of my anarchistic, anti-political desires ==> exposure to anti-civ critique ==> holy shit... some semblance of a coherent understanding of why this world seems so irreparably fucked, and why i feel like such an outsider.

one incident i recall that was instrumental in helping me see how ideological thinking was not working for me: my best friend from childhood had gone from being a marxist (in the mid-70s) to a reagan republican in 1980. over the years, we mostly treated our differences in perspective as a joke; we still shared a great deal and had a great time together. as i got more deeply embedded in leftist ideology, it became more and more difficult to deal with him - not because of any specific arguments or anything, just because i was becoming immersed in ideology. it started really eating away at me, as i was so conflicted: how could i remain friends with someone whose ideas and desires were so contrary to my own (read: so wrong)?  yet in terms of practical life, he was still the same sweet, smart, funny, generous, crazy motherfucker i had known since i was 9. i was seriously this close (holding thumb and index finger an inch apart) to ending my friendship with him. finally, i called him up (by then i was living on the west coast) to talk with him about it. i basically told him how much i despised his ideological positions, but that i love him and did not want our ideological differences to end our friendship; my relationship with him was more important to me than those differences. we had a good cry, many good laughs, and we moved on.

that was when i first started looking at ideological thinking as a constraint to my own happiness more than a tool. it was in that same general timeframe that i was getting so disillusioned with the left and its activism. but it wasn't just the left i was disillusioned with; i soon discovered it was the entire political system - and the related 'beg the leaders for changes' activism - and processes. i had recently read up on the electoral college, and that made it obvious to me that the system was fucked at its root, by design.

although it would be a number of years before i got turned onto individualist anarchist thought, it became clear to me that mass, societal-level changes were completely out of my reach, and were likely out of anybody's reach. but more importantly, i finally understood that everybody does not want or need to live the same way (or want the same things), and that any mass society - which requires a high degree of conformity and consensus - is doomed for failure as a result. every ideology i was aware of assumed that, a) it is of course correct, and b) it can and should work for, and be applied to, everyone. i began seeing mass society (and all the related institutions) as a fundamental obstacle to me creating my own life as i desired. at that point, i could say i was consciously anti-ideological, if not completely free of ideology. i am not sure i will ever be completely free of it, since i am as damaged by the civilizing process - which requires ideological thinking - as anyone.

although i did not know it at the time, i guess much of my process for recognizing my own ideological thinking was related to critical theory. primarily, not simply accepting certain things - or anything - as absolute truths. understanding that the "knowledge" upon which people construct their ideologies is not objective or independent from their own interests or those of their (knowledge) sources.

while acknowledging that i am unlikely to ever be completely free from ideology (even if only in my somewhat ideological opposition to it :-), my critical perspective of ideological thinking will always serve me in my battle against it. kind of like taking acid or the pill (red or blue, i forget) in the matrix; once that door is opened, you can never really close it again.

[anyone still awake?]

[edit: couple small clarifications]

by (13.4k points)
edited by
since ideology and moralism are so intimately related, i thought i'd add something here on moralism.  this is a quote from jason mcquinn, though i do not know from where. and it may already have been put up here somewhere; sorry if it is repetitive.

"Morality is a system of reified values—abstract values which are taken out of any context, set in stone, and converted into unquestionable beliefs to be applied regardless of a person's actual desires, thoughts or goals, and regardless of the situation in which a person finds him- or herself. Moralism is the practice of not only reducing living values to reified morals, but of considering oneself better than others because one has subjected oneself to morality (self-righteousness), and of proselytizing for the adoption of morality as a tool of social change."

bang! nail on head.
+2 votes

This may be far too long for this forum and yet too short for all I'd like to say.


On the face of it there are many ideologies, so when I employ the word 'ideology' I'm using it as a sort of meta-abstraction since, like 'civilization' and 'logic,' I'm referring to a host of particularized abstractions which share certain patterns in common. The form, the image promoted, be it Marx's fuzzy beard, Hitler's little 'stache, Monopoly Man's top-hat and coat-tails, are separable from the content, since every ideology presupposes a separation of 'form' from 'content' on a very deep level. Ideology simply couldn't work if it weren't a mediation between them. It's gotta act like this is real shit.

And, indeed, in a nutshell, ideology is mediation. Like its religious forebears ideology proposes a 'journey' toward a more joyful state of being, be it globalized suburbia with the proper green-spaces and wind-powered cars, earth without yucky 'subhumans,' or happy worker-ouroboroses gobbling their own mass-produced shit. "Someday we all can, or will, be happy!" The postponement of joy is always prerequisite for ideology. One's 'life' and 'joy' are separated from one another conceptually, form from content.

"One has to be made to feel lost in order to be saved." (A Christian missionary sentiment)

Ideology attempts to dis-place one's own perception for a 'view from nowhere' since the 'object,' the ideal, can only be vague, and this requires logical web-spinning in order to justify the annihilation of every unique perspective in order to garner a sort of 'general consent.' This drive for a 'correct view' (going back at least to Plato) lends itself to the impression that the ideal does in fact exist. Ideals get lonely and become so insecure that when logical conversion fails, out come the cops to enforce the correct view or at least compliance. Morality by other means.

One's own view must  always be considered insufficient.

This presumed 'insufficiency' of each perspective, every instance of the unique, is total since the world 'itself' is insufficient for joy. The recipe for joy which ideology offers, however, is absurd in that, what constitutes our joy to come is somehow known in advance from within the very conditions which are posited as joyless! Your life and the world are thus devalued in favor of ideological mediation, the authority it imposes, of course, but also in the very act of abstracting it from the outset.

This is all-too-brief, of course, but how have I gone about undermining ideology and gained back at least some of my life?

My perennial revulsion to what I've come to call acquiescent optimism (ex: "Don't worry; be happy!" and 'Embrace the positive") has prevented me from accepting the easy coping mechanisms miserabilism (another term for ideology) offers in order to keep itself seeming  'real'...and in power. So, any bliss-ninnyism is out for me, although I never ask others to defend what morsels of happiness they find even while I turn away from them.

It's been difficult, excruciating at times, but I'm grateful for the pain and adversity, for it is pain and adversity (including one's 'enemies') which partly characterize living at all! Gratitude and joy, un-mediated, and thus im-mediate, are one and the same. I require no God, no reason, no cause, no justification, to defend and/or stand-in for my joy, to feel gratitude in being able to sense and feel at all. That adversity should count against 'the real,' the 'world' (how ever you wish to name the ineffable immediate relations) smells of a hatred toward living, the very possibility each of us has for joy at all.

One's living, one's  joy and gratitude (whichever word you choose makes no difference here) may only be total for this 'is' the very uniqueness one 'is.' Cultivating sensual acuity for all the ways ideology seeks to find 'inroads' to usurp my life has become priority for me. My joyful 'totalitarianism' is at odds with ideological totalitarianism, but not in a Manichean (dualist opposition) manner, precisely due to an increasingly unhesitating approval for even that which I find ugly. For the ugliness, as much as beauty, contours my life, and offers me, as said above, the only possibility for joy. This is in no way 'perfect,' (it can't be!) and I err in moments of great stress and despair particularly...but can never 'fail' since I have no overriding blueprint, logic or 'cause' I hold above my immediate joie de vivre.

"I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer." -Nietzsche

[Thanks for staying up late with me as well! :)]

by (7.5k points)
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