Notes #7 The Problems with Ideology


Ideology is the mind killer.  But if so what is it?  Our entire system seems to loath the ideological, yet how can one avoid something that’s not understood or even defined?  Most of the avoidance of ideology are merely the attempts to uphold the sacred neutral.  If one can set the frame of what is normal thought,”non-ideological” thought, then one can control thought patterns. To think non-neutral thoughts is to engage in a narrative about the world.  Often when stumbling blindly out of the mainstream, when we sense there is something wrong with normal, and subsequently we find convenient explanations for what is wrong all around us.

Often these systems of thought are quite powerful at explaining the world around us.  For the moderately intelligent among us, these systems of thought might even be internally consistent.  At the very least they are internally consistent with what we know about the world.  The power of ideology feeds pride, as one can divine insights (many indeed valid) that others would never think of.  Yet it is telling that on some of the stranger sections of the internet the phrase sheeple is used to describe normal people. The narrative follows: that there IT sits atop a throne to peer down upon the world.  The unwashed masses pass before IT without a clue as to what is going on.  They do not think, about well anything very deeply at least.  Maybe a thought or two about what they will do next, but to hardly about why and what they know about the world.  Yet here the ideologue has found the TRUTH but, like Cassandra, no one will listen.

There is some truth to this (there have been many Cassandras in history) and yet it misses the heart of the matter.  Pride at a rare truth misses the wonder of being humble before the unknown.  The derision of “sheeple” misses their rational and valued approach to life.  The political for all its pop-bang pizazz is something that a very successful person could go their entire life without needing to engage with.  Whether it feeds off pride or envy ideology seems to engage with our baser drives.  It is an appeal to win the race not by running but my moving the finish line.

The term ideology originally meant a “science of ideas”.  While I suppose it is not impossible to have a “science of ideas” it would be a very funny science and certainly would not look like any of the modern incarnations of ideology.  No! Ideology is the appearance of reason in a gift basket.  It is wrapped nicely, pleasing to the eyes, but Wisdom does not come easily, nor can it be gift wrapped and handed to anyone.  Ideology is the false prophet, the easy win which misses the deeper truth.  It is not for the masses, yet it is demotic.  It is a weapon for the intelligentsia and their striver hangers on.

That there is a science of ideas merely serves as a pretext to bring empiricism into the non-empirical world.  This is not to say that ideologues are empirical, but that they carry the same pattern form.  They use appeals to authority and the zeitgeist of the day the same techniques used by pop science.  More important is the idea that there could be a rational discussion that could derive the best ideas (or values), or more darkly that ideas should be tested?  On whom?  It is one thing to test an idea’s worth in one’s own life, but the history of ideology is not a history of self-improvement and experimentation.  The history of ideology is more like society as rats for some evil scientist.  The evil scientist eats his favorite meal, lives out his normal life and torments his rats daily not really bothering to tally the results of whatever new “experiment” suits his fancy today.

THE science of ideas is an insult to science.  Ideologues are never careful nor do they bother to record the results of their hypothesis.  There are many trials but rather than adjusting the hypothesis based on experience, ideologues double down and try again and again, looking only for the next scapegoat.  Am I exaggerating?  Perhaps let’s check in on an early progressive (John R. Commons) commenting in 1909 on an even older man whom he considers part of his progressive clade.

Greeley’s ” isms ” are usually looked upon as the amiable weaknesses of genius. They were really the necessary inquiries and experiments of the beginnings of constructive democracy. Political democracy theretofore had been negative. Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson needed no creative genius to assert equal rights. They needed only to break down special privilege by widening the rights that already existed. Jefferson could frame a bill of rights, but he could not construct a constitution. Jackson could kill a ” monster” bank, but he could not invent a people’s control of the currency.

Negative democracy in 1776, in 1800, in 1832 had triumphed. It had done its needful work, but its day was ended when a thousand wild-cat banks scrambled into the bed of the departed monster. Political democracy went bankrupt when the industrial bankruptcy of 1837 exposed its incapacity. It had vindicated equal rights, but where was the bread and butter? The call of the time was for a new democracy — one that should be social and economic rather than political, constructive rather than negative ; whose motto should be reform, not repeal ; take hold, not let alone. –HORACE GREELEY AND THE WORKING CLASS ORIGINS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

We have found our scapegoat: a thousand wildcat bankers will do.

But there were no examples or precedents of such a democracy. The inventor of a sewing machine or the discoverer of a useful chemical compound endures hundreds of failures before his idea works. But his failures are suffered at home. The world does not see them. Only his success is patented.

But the social inventor must publish his ideas before he knows whether they will work. He must bring others to his way of thinking before he can even start his experiment. The world is taken into his secret while he is feeling his way. They see his ideas in the ” ism ” stage. To the negative democrat this brings no discredit: he has no device to offer. To the constructive democrat it brings the stigma of faddism. The conservatives see in him not only the radical but also the crank with a machine that might possibly work. –HORACE GREELEY AND THE WORKING CLASS ORIGINS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

References to science and experiments: check.  Testing on society before you know if you are right: check.  So what does ideology look like in the semi-modern era.  What does it look like in person? Here we return to the story Jordan B. Peterson has laid out before us. Jordan had just become an apostate and like many before him fallen straight into the ideology of Socialism.

Economic injustice was at the root of all evil, as far as I was concerned. Such injustice could be rectified, as a consequence of the re-arrangement of social organizations. I could play a part in that admirable revolution, carrying out my ideological beliefs. Doubt vanished; my role was clear. Looking back, I am amazed at how stereotypical my actions – reactions – really were. I could not rationally accept the premises of religion – not as I understood them. I turned, in consequence, to dreams of political utopia, and personal power. The same ideological trap caught millions of others, in recent centuries – caught and killed millions. -Maps of Meaning

“The same ideological trap caught millions of others…”  Ideology is powerful because it is simple, and plays on our natural vices, whether pride, envy, wrath, sloth etc.  It is an effective tact because it is so natural for humans.  Perhaps we just don’t have proof yet but seems that modern ideology is refined for its addictive qualities.  It is hard to accept complexity and therefore one’s own ignorance.  Harder yet to accept general ignorance.  To accept authority is to not only accept self-ignorance but also to accept that there is no Universal answer just sound judgment.

When I was seventeen I left the town I grew up in. I moved nearby and attended a small college, which offered the first two years of undergraduate education. I involved myself there in university politics – which were more-or-less left wing at that time – and was elected to the college board of governors. The board was composed of politically and ideologically conservative people: lawyers, doctors, and businessmen. They were all well (or at least practically) educated, pragmatic, confident, outspoken; they had all accomplished something worthwhile and difficult. I could not help but admire them, even though I did not share their political stance. I found the fact of my admiration unsettling. -Maps of Meaning

This is an interesting cast of people who I think Moldbug misses.  They are people who may or may not vote democrat, attend the same parties as brahmin.  They probably hate [INSERT REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE HERE] they may even believe much of the inner party rhetoric, yet their life experiences have left them….skeptical.  They are skeptical of things, they know much of the progressive ideology is more farcical and fanciful than practical.  They like these people, these true believer brahmin.  They think their fellow brahmin mean well, they just think they go too far or aren’t quite smart enough.  Some even have deep cognitive dissonance where they think the left works the for good and that they just haven’t met the sane ones yet.

Their accomplishments give them status in and of themselves, they don’t need petty signaling to feel fulfilled.  Some, many may signal, but they won’t break the party line. They’ll stay respectable, but they feel comfortable with their private doubts.  They are the closet agnostics and the regime reformists who believe that things will sort themselves, or that most of the crazy around them is harmless.

I had attended several left-wing party congresses, as a student politician and active party-worker. I hoped to emulate the socialist leaders. The left wing had a long and honorable history in Canada, and attracted some truly competent and caring people. However, I could not generate much respect for the numerous low-level party activists I encountered at these meetings. They seemed to live to complain: had no career, frequently; no family, no completed education – nothing but ideology. They were peevish, irritable, and little, in every sense of the word. I was faced, in consequence, with the mirror image of the problem I encountered on the college board: I could not admire many of the individuals who believed the same things I did. This additional complication furthered my existential confusion. -Maps of Meaning

We see an early image of the current SJW phenomenon.  I don’t see SJWs, per say, as anything new.  Their specific phrases and ideas may have new flavors but anti-racism and bespoke sexuality go back to the 60’s at the very least.  The further back in time you go the fewer and more elite the people who held these ideas.  If the SJWs are anything they are the proles adopting ideas which were cool in elite Salons between a hundred and hundred and sixty years ago.  As we see there is a seeming relation between who someone is and what they believe.  This is something very apparent to modern observers of the “culture war”.  Being a rootless cosmopolitan makes it signal against the kulaks.  Thinking in a socialist framework makes one less likely to want, or succeed in becoming a kulak.

My college roommate, an insightful cynic, expressed skepticism regarding my ideological beliefs. He told me that the world could not be completely encapsulated within the boundaries of socialist philosophy. I had more or less come to this conclusion on my own, but had not admitted so much in words. Soon afterward, however, I read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. This book finally undermined me – not only my socialist ideology, but my faith in ideological stances themselves. In the famous essay concluding that book (written for – and much to the dismay of – the British Left Book Club) Orwell described the great flaw of socialism, and the reason for its frequent failure to attract and maintain democratic power (at least
in Britain). Orwell said, essentially, that socialists did not really like the poor. They merely hated the rich.  His idea struck home instantly. Socialist ideology served to mask resentment and hatred, bred by failure. Many of the party activists I had encountered were using the ideals of social justice, to rationalize their
pursuit of personal revenge. -Maps of Meaning

Here is where I will disagree with Jordan.  This last paragraph in my opinion accurately describes a good deal of the behavior of striver socialists.  What Jordan fails to understand, probably because he hadn’t met actual elite socialists, or perhaps he lacks understanding of what not-socialism looks like, is that socialism has been highly successful and made many of its proponents very rich.  Now, socialism it hasn’t made many of them billionaires, but I doubt that envy is the sole cause of elite socialism.

Whose fault was it, that I was poor or uneducated and unadmired? Obviously – the fault of the rich, well-schooled and respected. How convenient, then, that the demands of revenge and abstract justice dovetailed! It was only right to obtain recompense from those more fortunate than me. -Maps of Meaning

Externalizing responsibility is close to the heart of envy.  This is not to say that no one can ever effect your life, nor that wrong actions aren’t wrong.  What I am saying is that only power can change your life.  Either you must become worthy of power or accept the fate handed to you by those with power.  There is nothing wrong, with accepting little self-agency.  Not everyone has the will or means to rule themselves.

Of course, my socialist colleagues and I weren’t out to hurt anyone – quite the reverse. We were out to improve things – but we were going to start with other people. I came to see the temptation in this logic, the obvious flaw, the danger – but could also see that it did not exclusively characterize socialism. Anyone who was out to change the world by changing others was to be regarded with suspicion. The temptations of such a position were too great to be resisted. -Maps of Meaning

Temptation is an interesting way to put it.  Yes, there are temptations with changing others.  Yes, it would be better if everyone fixed themselves.  Yes, there are moral hazards with changing others.  It seems no matter where you turn there is some moral hazard or another.  In fact, it should be expected that no matter how well designed the system is, an immoral (or sometimes amoral) actor will find a way to abuse it.  Yes, some systems are less vulnerable to abuse than others, but it is always cheaper to find trustworthy people than to design a better mouse trap. In the same way yes, we should be suspect when a worldview requires everyone else to change.  That being said it is the job of the wise to share their wisdom.  Just as it is the duty of anyone wishing to improve the world to gain wisdom and, in other words, improve themselves.

It was not socialist ideology that posed the problem, then – but ideology, as such. Ideology divided the world up simplistically into those who thought and acted properly, and those who did not. Ideology enabled the believer to hide from his own unpleasant and inadmissible fantasies and wishes. Such realizations upset my beliefs (even my faith in beliefs), and the plans I had formulated, as a consequence of these beliefs. I could no longer tell who was good and who was bad, so to speak – I no longer knew who to support, or who to fight. This state of affairs proved very troublesome, pragmatically as well as philosophically. I wanted to become a corporate lawyer – had written the Law School Admissions Test, had taken two years of appropriate preliminary courses. I wanted to learn the ways of my enemies, and embark on a political career. This plan disintegrated. The world obviously did not need another lawyer, and I no longer believed that I knew enough to masquerade as a leader. -Maps of Meaning

The proper reaction to the complexity of the world is to accept the unknown not reject it.  At the same time being able to ask the discern complexity puts you ahead of many people.

I became simultaneously disenchanted with the study of political science, my original undergraduate major. I had adopted that discipline so I could learn more about the structure of human beliefs (and for the practical, career-oriented reasons described previously). It remained very interesting to me when I was at junior college, where I was introduced to the history of political philosophy. When I moved to the main campus at the University of Alberta, however, my interest disappeared.. I was taught that people were motivated by rational forces; that human beliefs and actions were determined by economic pressures. This did not seem sufficient explanation. I could not believe (and still do not) that commodities – “natural resources,” for example – had intrinsic and self-evident value. In the absence of such value, the worth of things had to be socially or culturally (or even individually) determined. This act of determination appeared to me moral – appeared to me to be a consequence of the moral philosophy adopted by the society, culture or person in question. What people valued, economically, merely reflected what they believed to be important. This meant that real motivation had to lie in the domain of value, of morality. The political scientists I studied with did not see this, or did not think it was relevant. -Maps of Meaning

What retarded philosophy classes was he taking?  Yes in some ways you can model human behavior as rational in an economic sense.  That being said Jordan’s conclusions about value are fairly normal for philosophy, at least most of the history of philosophy.  That is not to say that it isn’t important that he is right, or that these conclusions are obvious. What I am saying is that: the University  of Alberta, at least when he attended, seemed awful at philosophy.

My religious convictions, ill-formed to begin with, disappeared when I was very young. My confidence in socialism (that is, in political utopia) vanished when I realized that the world was not merely a place of economics. My faith in ideology departed, when I began to see that ideological identification itself posed a profound and mysterious problem. I could not accept the theoretical explanations my chosen field of study had to offer, and no longer had any practical reasons to continue in my original direction. I finished my three-year bachelor’s degree, and left university. All my beliefs – which had lent order to the chaos of my existence, at least temporarily – had proved illusory; I could no longer see the sense in things. I was cast
adrift; I did not know what to do, or what to think. -Maps of Meaning

Jordan B. Peterson never really did learn about economics.  It is interesting that he thought socialism was too focussed on economics.  Most modern forms of Marxism have seen the error in their ways and gone to the moral and cultural realm instead.  Very few people that I have seen fall out of love with socialism because of changing views on human nature.  Normally it is either history or economics that does it.  This aimlessness is he describes is very present in the book and indeed still seems to haunt him.  In many ways, Jordan has figured out how to ask the right questions while still being too afraid of the chaos of actually questioning his deeply held worldview.

But what of others? Was there evidence anywhere that the problems I now faced had been solved, by anyone, in any acceptable manner? The customary behavior and attitudes of my friends and family members offered no solution. The people I knew well were no more resolutely goal-directed or satisfied than I was. Their beliefs and modes of being seemed merely to disguise frequent doubt and profound disquietude.   -Maps of Meaning

Welcome to being a dissident.

Notes #7 The Problems with Ideology

2 thoughts on “Notes #7 The Problems with Ideology

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