Away from ideologies

The following reflections are my own (based on information and thoughts from others, of course) as a contribution to the polyphony (multiple voices). They don’t represent the official program of our group.

I remember when, about 10 years ago, my aunt – a noble and wise woman – said that she declined all ideologies. I was deeply involved in anarchist activities then and I felt a bit offended. I was never fully immersed in ideology, but such neutrality sounded like an affront to me back then. „A bit of ideology is necessary” – I thought. „Otherwise, we would fall away too much from the world affairs.”

Years have past. Now I believe that my aunt was more right than I was back then.

What is ideology?

Different people understand ideology differently. That’s why it’s sometimes difficult to communicate, and for that reason – among others – I decided to write this text.

As a historian, I will start with the history of the concept.

Enlightenment liberals believed that ideology could be a science of ideas (which is indicated by etymology). They set it in opposition to the mindless crowd. Napoleon, and later Marx, considered those liberal philosophers as dogmatists.

In classical Marxism, ideology was a negative term for erroneous beliefs about reality, arising from a system of oppression, e.g., “a woman should be a housewife, and a man should provide for the family,” “a black person should serve a white person,” “selfish behaviors of individuals regulate the market for the benefit of all,” etc.

Over time, as totalitarian systems developed on both the left and right, and Marxist slogans proved to be as ideological as the old slogans of capitalists or religious leaders, people began to think more broadly about ideology.

I found two contemporary definitions – one treats ideology as a not entirely objective image of reality held by a particular group and expressing its interest. Theoretical truths from philosophy are subordinated to its interest. Unlike philosophy, ideology is not neutral.

The second definition presents ideology as an attempt to “objectify the human mind, erase historical dimensions” (Markus Gabriel). Through this objectification, something that comes from the reflection of a social group or group of thinkers is presented and understood as natural law. For example, “nature is based on eternal competition, so human societies must also be based on competition,” but on the other hand: “social existense determines consciousness, so the base is more important than the superstructure.” These observations of certain mechanisms in nature or society aren’t logically justified to determine eternal laws of the universe.

One has to believing in something

People need to believe in something. Usually, to maintain psychological health, we need faith in something positive – a better future, a good God, the natural ability of ecosystems to self-heal, etc. It is easy to build an ideology around these good thoughts.

I could describe it as weak and strong belief in ideology. Weak is more a hope than a belief. For example, “I hope that people are wise enough to eventually adapt to the climate crisis.” There are no objective premises to say that it will actually happen. There are also none that would allow to completly deny it. However, to take any action for a better world, I have to take the risk of such hope. This hope helps to move in a better direction and can actually stimulate the better side of human nature.

There is also a strong belief in ideology, which is a complete conviction of the correctness and superiority of our worldview over other worldviews. In itself, it is a very strong motivation, even if facts contradict it. However, it can blur our healthy judgment of reality and lead us to an attempt to impose our ideology on others. If I am right and they are not, it means that for everyone’s good, I should pursue my goals against others.

The horror of cynicism and blandness

Terrified by the consequences of 20th-century ideologies, people often fell into cynicism. Since ideology leads to wars, murders, and oppression, maybe it’s better not to believe in anything. The attempt to completely avoid creation of our own worldview and taking responsibility for it, causes us to either completely disconnect from the world or mindlessly accept whatever others impose on us. Cynicism often turns into consumerism. The breakdown of values, common roots, signs, and symbols, the lack of meaning turned our culture into something that John Vervaeke and many others describe as a culture or society of zombies. Vervaeke, from his perspective, and Douglas Rushkoff from his, point to zombies as significant monsters for modern culture. Unlike most monsters of human mythology, they have no sense, home, community, purpose. They lack a mind but are perpetually hungry for brains – devouring external form without gaining content. (I am reminded here of a sketch where a guy physically massacres a hard drive to recover bitcoins from it.)

Not ideology and not zombies – what instead?

Despite my changing approach to the word “ideology,” I have always appreciated anarchism as providing independence from other left-wing currents. I still believe that this platform can offer wide range of possibilities to act, giving life meaning, to create or discover goals, without the need to align with ideology.

Formerly inspired by postmodernism, I now find metamodernism more interesting. Metamodernism is, in a sense, a synthesis of modernism and postmodernism (the reference to Hegel’s dialectics is not accidental). Modernism was and is still strongly susceptible to ideologies. It mocks old religious beliefs but often implements the very features it despises the most in religion. Hence, totalitarianism and holocaust are – as Zygmunt Bauman rightly noted – not anomalies of modernity but its product.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, is too cynical, too detached, leading to the perception of reality as senseless, devoid of value and taste – “everything everywhere at once” (incidentally, the movie is a metamodern attempt to confront postmodern nihilism), which can lead to despair or falling into consumerist materialism. Metamodernism proposes a balance between the contradictions which created the two previous trends. It is careful reconstruction of meaning with an awareness of its fragility. Metamodernism tries to transcend the cynicism and skepticism of postmodernism while maintaining the inclusiveness of different ways of interpreting the world.

This is, of course, not some new “ism” that I’m trying to impose on anyone. Simply put, this current niche and grassroots intellectual movement, expresses well the state of my mind. I think this trend has a good formula for rejecting ideology while maintaining values and meaning. Within metamodernism, you can find people with very different views – from left to right. And maybe that’s why it suits me, as a broad formula, not dividing according to long-forgotten and inadequate divisions.

In other words, I treat modernism, postmodernism, and metamodernism more as formulas. Within these formulas, there can be divisions into left and right, conservatism, liberalism, radicalism, ideas, ideologies, and isms.

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