Against Ideology

P U R E  I D E O L O G Y  is the name of the game and everyone wants in on it, and if you’re a Žižekian, you’re ahead of the curve. If you’re an internally consistent Žižekian, congratulations! According to some interpretations of Žižek — indeed, he espouses this in various places –, while we may think that we live in a post-ideological era, ideology is still constantly around us. We critique dominate hegemonies in the hopes of creating counter-narratives, but all that ends up happening is that we replicate the dominate ideologies of the past; capitalism is persistent. The following quotation from Žižek is especially salient:

Ideology is not simply imposed on ourselves, ideologies are spontaneous relationships to our social world, how we perceive it’s meaning, and so on and so on. We, in a way, enjoy our ideology.1)Slavoj Žižek, “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology – What is Ideology?” Excerpt from The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology2012: 5:00-5:20

While the process of critique is often seen as an attempt to break free from ideology, we tend to have Stockholm Syndrome with regard to it; we keep coming back. Indeed, even the most recent attempts to overthrow all that we know and love, the Neoreactionary movement started by Mencius Moldbug, began not with the total reset Moldbug wanted, but rather with an abject rejection of everything but ideology. Indeed, not only was ideology assumed to be inherent to social structures, but it was assumed to be good. Moldbug starts off his project by embracing ideology when he says the following:

The other day I was tinkering around in my garage and I decided to build a new ideology.2)Mencius Moldbug, “A formalist manifesto,” on Unqualified Reservationspublished 4/23/7, accessed 6/20/17.

While the die-hard Moldbuggians will be on me about simplifying him, I will stand my ground. Insofar as Moldbug, arguably one of the most radical thinkers of the 21st century insofar as he completely wants to reject modernity, is still unable to resist the grip of ideology, that should give us pause. Why? While Žižek might say that it’s because everything is pure ideology and we can never escape it, I say that it’s because we can’t handle the world for what it is. As Žižek notes, ideologies operate like glasses that obfuscate the Real, placing our thought into various boxes. While not necessarily a good thing, he seems to think that’s inevitable (although the details of Žižekian thought are not what I am going for here). I, on the other hand, agree that ideology obfuscates the Real and places our thought into pre-packaged boxes, but I’m not so certain it’s inevitable. Or at least if ideology is inevitable, I’m not so certain that the ability to try to live without it is impossible. Indeed, if we are to attempt to discover the Real, we ought to try to shed the skin of ideology as it only constrains us.

It is at this point, before moving on, that I want to draw a distinction between ideology and what Robert Anton Wilson calls “reality tunnels.” Explaining reality tunnels, Wilson says the following:

We all have our own reality tunnel and in our reality tunnel we pick out some things and ignore other things. And we’ve got 10 billion cells in our brain receiving hundreds and hundreds of millions of signals all the time, we just pick out the ones that fit into the established rules in our brain, the reality tunnel that’s been laid down by past experience. We all have our own belief system, and the signals that fit our belief system get in. The signals that don’t fit our belief system get ignored, or if they keep coming back, we go to a psychiatrist to get cured and make them go away.3)Robert Anton Wilson, “Robert Anton Wilson explains reality tunnels,” on YouTube, published 5/30/16, accessed 6/21/17.

Eerily similar to the Žižekian view of ideological confirmation, Wilson is, effectively, arguing that the way we perceive reality is shaped by our ideological predispositions and the data we “decide” are important are data that confirm our already existent belief systems. In a word, ideology is like an unstoppable virus: self-replicating and ingrained down to the cellular level. While the metaphor doesn’t work perfectly, of course, it will still be useful for us to think of ideology as a virus as we begin to deconstruct it.4)The astute reader, at this point, will make the line of argumentation that the idea that we ought to deconstruct ideology or that we ought to live post-ideologically is itself an ideology. To this I say the following: you may be correct. I hope you’re not, but if you are, then that means ideology really is all pervasive and is a form of Big (Br)Other. On a more serious note, however, I would say that where traditional ideologies can be thought of as ‘positive,’ the “ideology” of anti-ideology can be thought of as ‘negative’ and, although it might simply be a different form of ideology, it may be a better one.

As we interpret events around us (that is, seeing things through our reality tunnels), we pick and choose what parts are relevant based upon how we already view the world. For example, if scientist X is operating within a given social system and produces Y result, the result produced cannot necessarily be said to be “objective” in the sense that it maps onto the Real in an unbiased fashion, but rather the result is inexorable from the social system under which it was produced. This is not to say that science is a social construct — indeed, such a claim is absurd — rather what is being said is that preconceived and accepted notions of thought, power, etc. shape how we interpret the world around us.5)Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, translated by Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

To take a specific example, let us utilize Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American LifeIn Herrnstein and Murray’s 1994 book, they argue that intelligence is not only hereditary, but that there are also differences in IQ amongst the races of humanity. Taking their findings at face value and accepting the results as being accurate — that is to say, accepting that there are differences in intelligence between races — does not commit one to any given stance; the facts are politically neutral in and of themselves.6)I have no wish to debate the validity of their results. I use this strictly as an example because it is so well known. How they are interpreted, however, is entirely contingent upon who’s reading the book and what set of preconceptions they bring to the table. For example, a die-hard social constructivist can read the book, accept the results, and with perfect validity say “the disparities in intelligence between the races are due to a myriad of colluding factors, namely environmental pressures, social biases for or against specific groups, the structure of the tests, etc.” Alternatively, a die-hard biological determinist of the human biodiversity camp can read the book, accept the results, and with perfect validity say “the disparities in intelligence between the races are due to some races being inherently smarter than others due largely to genetics that are inherited from one’s parents and while there may be other factors at play, they are minimal.” If both individuals can read the same book and accept the same results but come to radically different conclusions, the question that must then be asked is “why?” The book unitary and unchanging, therefore there must be some other force at play.

That other force is ideology. The social constructivist and the biological determinist are both devoted to a specific ideology, they both have a specific way they think the world works and whatever data they receive are structured by that ideology. All politically neutral facts become politicized and subject to question due to the blinding power of ideology. The virus of ideology locks in a specific worldview and doesn’t allow for opposing pieces of datum in. It is in this sense that ideology serves to obfuscate the Real. There is a given reality (whether we can know it or not is obviously an open question), but our ideological blinders serve to lead us down specific pathways which may or may not lead to accurate representations of the world as such. Given this, it seems necessary to at least try to live post-ideologically. How to do that is an entirely separate post, but suffice it to say that if it’s possible, it seems as if the way to live post-ideologically is to be as open minded as possible and listen to all sides of a given argument. Indeed, it seems as if the best way to live post-ideologically is to engage in dialectic and, instead of shutting down or becoming insulated when an opposing view is brought up, listen to and engage with the other person and their view(s) in a critical and constructive manner.

Alternatively, if you’re okay with being infected with the virus of ideology and you’re willing to be led down predetermined paths by ideologies that you likely did not choose, then by all means ignore the Other and shut down when opposition arises. I do hope, however, that readers of this blog at least are better than that.

While we may not be able to rid ourselves of ideology, we can at least try to see things through alternative reality tunnels. As Wilson says:

[W]e are all looking from the point of our own reality tunnels. And when we begin to realize that we are all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels, we find it is much easier to understand where other people are coming from. Or, the ones who don’t have the same reality tunnels as us do not seem ignorant or deliberately perverse or lying or hypnotized by some mad ideology. They just have a different reality tunnel, and every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we are willing to listen.7)Robert Anton Wilson, “Robert Anton Wilson on Reality,” on YouTube, published 9/17/8, accessed 6/22/17. Emphasis added.

References   [ + ]

1. Slavoj Žižek, “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology – What is Ideology?” Excerpt from The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology2012: 5:00-5:20
2. Mencius Moldbug, “A formalist manifesto,” on Unqualified Reservationspublished 4/23/7, accessed 6/20/17.
3. Robert Anton Wilson, “Robert Anton Wilson explains reality tunnels,” on YouTube, published 5/30/16, accessed 6/21/17.
4. The astute reader, at this point, will make the line of argumentation that the idea that we ought to deconstruct ideology or that we ought to live post-ideologically is itself an ideology. To this I say the following: you may be correct. I hope you’re not, but if you are, then that means ideology really is all pervasive and is a form of Big (Br)Other. On a more serious note, however, I would say that where traditional ideologies can be thought of as ‘positive,’ the “ideology” of anti-ideology can be thought of as ‘negative’ and, although it might simply be a different form of ideology, it may be a better one.
5. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, translated by Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
6. I have no wish to debate the validity of their results. I use this strictly as an example because it is so well known.
7. Robert Anton Wilson, “Robert Anton Wilson on Reality,” on YouTube, published 9/17/8, accessed 6/22/17. Emphasis added.

One comment

  1. Only pure Marxism can save us from the horrors of peace, freedom, and orbital eccentricities & variable solar output (climate change).

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