Aphorisms Galore!

Ideologies Considered Harmful

posted 2011 by Peter Wastholm

Beware the man of one book. -- St. Thomas Aquinas

Ideologies can be a great thing. They can provide us with consistent belief systems. They can help us make decisions in line with our moral convictions. In a way, they can simplify our lives.

Ideologies can be a terrible thing. They can cause us to get stuck in dogmatic thinking. They can make us blind to other perspectives than our own. They can encourage us to oppress those we disagree with, or even to go to war.

In 1931, an Austrian mathematician named Kurt Gödel proved that, in layman's terms (I am not a mathematician myself), any nontrivial logical system cannot be both consistent and complete -- in other words, it must either have a contradiction built into it somewhere, or there must exist cases that the system doesn't cover. Sure, he was talking about mathematics, but still: it's an interesting point to consider when encountering systems (such as ideologies) that claim to be both consistent (free of contradictions) and complete (applicable everywhere). Actually, I contend that all ideologies contain fundamental assumptions about the world that are dubious at best, or downright false at worst.

If you're reading this, chances are you are living in a country that largely subscribes to the ideology called capitalism (though some people think this term sounds scary somehow and choose to call their systems "market economies" or even "free markets" instead). As we know, capitalism posits that the state should stay away from commerce, and that it should be consumers' preferences that dictate what goods and services should get produced, and how much they should cost, the idea being that this should result in the most efficient use of resources. That's great, except it seems to assume that we the consumers always make informed decisions -- and much of the time, we probably don't. It also seems to assume that everything can be measured in money, which would appear to be an over-simplification.

The opposite of capitalism is often said to be socialism, which hasn't been doing so well in the ideology popularity contest in the last twenty years or so: relatively few countries call themselves socialist nowadays. Socialism's description of the ideal society sounds pretty cozy: everyone helping out as best they can, and getting what they need in return. But the underlying assumption here seems to be that we human beings are collective-oriented enough to always work diligently for the greater good even with no, or almost no, personal gain -- or at least gain to some reasonably well-defined group to which we belong. I can't say I've seen much evidence to support this assumption. It's easy to be selfless, but not until after you're fed and clothed and in possession of a TV at least as big as your neighbor's, and it seems to me that a system that doesn't recognize this might encounter problems when faced with reality.

Now, you may or may not agree with my specific reservations above; that doesn't really matter. My point is that ideologies are pictures, painted in a very broad brush, of the society we want. This, of course, is very useful. But I think we need to acknowledge that they are just pictures: they can't both cover everything and be free of contradictions. And if we stare at our favorite pictures too intently, they may blind us.

All generalizations are false, including this one. -- Blaise Pascal


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    Great Post  ·  posted Dec '19 by Richard Sharp

    This article is super interesting to think about. The fact that many faucets of logic either don't cover an essential subject or they have a contradiciton! Handyman Logan UT

    My First Thoughts...  ·  posted Dec '19 by Erik

    My first thoughts when reading your comment were going to be pretty harsh. I wasn't sure where you were going with you comments until you gave both sides. The capitalism and socialism examples are great to showcase your thoughts on the consideration we sometimes give to over-simplified ideologies. It makes sense that everything that tried to encompass massive amounts of people/things will have inherent flaws. On both sides. Clever explanation my friend. Also check out my therapy business if you're ever in California! Erik Anderson Therapy

    Diamond Heating and Cooling  ·  posted Jan '20 by Diamondheatingandcooling

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