Living with ideologies, why does it happen and who should we blame?
Ideologies found their way into the world since the day human species entered planet Earth. One should wonder why ideologies are so important in human lives and to human history and civilization. What will the world be like in their absence? Why are some ideologies so dominant and human species find it difficult to part with? Should we lay blame on someone else should a certain ideology bring harm to some sections of our societies or to human kind? If so, how should we go about it?
Before we give concise answers to these worrisome questions, it will be worthwhile if we can define the phrase/word ideology first.
The Active English Dictionary defines an ideology as a theory of life based on political or economic philosophy rather than religious belief. On the other hand the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2002:705) defines ideology as a system of ideas and ideals forming the basis of economic or political theory. It further breaks down the phrase as the set of beliefs characteristic of social group or individual.
From the above definitions, we can deduce a wave of patterns, ideologies are ideas or beliefs, but in the definitions given they are confined to economic or political theory only. However this definition is too narrow and will limit our efforts in understanding humanity.
For our purpose the term ideology could be defined as a dominant theory of ideas or system of ideas/beliefs about social, political, economic, scientific or religion, that are prevalent and that dominates the world for a particular period of time (usually a century or longer) and that is transferable from one generation to another with or without recourse.
Why are ideologies so important in Humans’ lives?
As mentioned earlier, an ideology is a theory about ideas or system of ideas that serve almost any purpose of life. With these ideas or ideals, human beings try to shape and make their lives more predictable and controllable/manageable or give a meaning to their lives. So we can deduce from the on spot that an ideology is a route map of how humans should approach life. This could be attributed to a strategic vision about life of a certain society or region of the world or humanity as a whole.
Being the premises of will power, ideologies are broken down into systems of all kinds; the systems give rise to Institutions, and Institutions to Organizations. On economic front, systems of Capitalism, Communism and later mixed economy have emerged with their accompanying political systems namely Monarchy, capitalist or free enterprise, socialism and later democracy.
With systems in place, Institutions on economic and political front both at National and International levels are born with the first/primitive/original institution being the human being himself/herself. This is subject to arguments since first philosophers pointed out at family as being the first institution in human invention, but as I will point out latter a more consensus will be built. If you look at the Oxford English Dictionary ideology could also be attributed to an individual person, but this is not the whole light but rather a point of departure. More sense will be obtained from the definition of an institution.
Because Institutions are not the topic covered here, I opt to pick definitions that will serve our purpose here. John Sinclair, English dictionary for advanced learners, (2001), third edition, defines Institution as a custom or system that is considered important or typical feature of a particular society or group, usually because it has existed for a long time. Contrary to what John refers to as Institution, Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of current English in its 4th and 5th degree definition refers to Institution as the act of starting or introducing something such as a system or law and a person who is well known because they have been in a particular place or job for a long time respectively. The last definition seems to imply that the person is an institution because he/she becomes so important source of information and act as a contact point /expert in a particular area of interest or an Organization, but that is not all, a person contain certain forces that will make him the same to institutions, some of these includes norms/patterns, principles, values, visions, goals, etc that form a system within and on top of that a human being has something that high order institutions do not have “self awareness”. The distinction between human being however being only that Institutions are made up of a collection of several individuals who share common values. In that note I will regard Institutions as first, second, third/ high order derivatives/institutions of the original function/institution (human being). In such way a human being is superior to the aforementioned institutions.
On the other front of ideologies are well-known scientific and religious beliefs held across the world; the most remarkable ideology on scientific front is the belief about the planet that has been preached and advocated by the Holly Roman Catholic Church until 1642 that “the sun is the center of the world and it does move and that the Earth was like a plate”. If you could imagine how and for how long the world lived this ideology and the achievement of the son of man under this ideology is a matter of imaginations. Thanks to Galileo latter known as the father of modern science who in 1642 stood his ground and face the mighty Catholic Church and rescued the world from this doomed and primitive ideology, this however earned him home imprisonment for the rest of his life until his death later but he never stop his works. On religious front however (under correction) some of the Jews through the prophets are until today waiting for Mesias, if you could imagine how this can shape the behavior of human being then you can agree with me how important ideologies in human lives are. Further the Bible break down into old and new Testaments of which some churches are still living the Old Testament, while some adopted both.
If you can go down on the religious line you can find a lot of religious faiths, while on other parts of the world different religious of all kinds could be traced. All this is ideologies at work.
Scientific, Economic and Political Ideologies and the birth of democracy
Recall until the breakthrough of the Galileo teaching about the planet, the early sailors have traveled as far as India and North America, Batholomeus Dias for example has rounded the Cape of Good hope in 1488, 150 years earlier than Jan Van Riebeeck but all after that there was an exodus and new scientific approach to the planet which has accompanied great discovery of today’s analogue of the universe we are living today.
Under the new scientific approach, the economic and political ideologies find spaces; in the west the free enterprise economic system accompanied by its Capitalist political system has captured the minds of the Venture Capitalist of that time. With the exploration and discovery of new Continents the Capitalists advanced their fortune to exploit natural resources on these Continents. But before that, there was a primitive ideology employed under the Monarchy system of Government which is not limited to the west alone;
“in order to prosper as a nation you have to accumulate wealth by raiding and conquering other nations” first just as in other kingdom in Africa a kingdom should raid other weaker Kingdoms to accumulate riches in the form of Cattle or/and Gold. The result was the creation of empires, with the Ottoman/Turkey’s empire and Roman empires as an example in the west. In Southern Africa, the Zulu clan under the leadership of Chaka won its independence from Dingiswayo and wins the war over other small tribes on its surroundings, the result was a powerful Zulu kingdom that sends shockwaves for as far as England.
Because of the Ideology of domination that prevailed during that period, Western traders mostly the Portuguese, Spanish and Netherland’s Dutch East Indian Company moved inland on Continents like Africa, America, Australia and East Asia. What followed was domination and conquest of indigenous people and Colonies were formed as a result.
On the east, the Communism and its accompanying Communist/socialist political system as the invention of Karl Marx, kicked off with Lenin in Russia and Mao Tse Tung in China and spread like an infectious disease across part of Asia and Eastern Europe. All this happened because of one cause “ideology”.
As the world continued searching for its equilibrium; domination, Capitalism and Socialism lost momentum, and a new system based on free society and free will for all has emerged “Democracy”, which is simply a blend of the two old systems. But alas to this system, does it give answer to all of the impediments of human catastrophes? Is this the end of the story?
Why does it take so long for human species to shift/change from one ideology to the other, and why is it so that some ideologies live longer than usual?
The answer to this questions is not new, neither is it simple, but the most specifically and obvious reason is “resistance to change” resulting from the fear of unknown. This is not a mistake however; human beings are so conscious and careful about their existence, they cannot afford to lose a hair that belongs to them. As a matter of fact, sometimes the level of knowledge is so limited that society (humanity) find itself in stagnation or there may not be a correct leadership to take human beings into a new equilibrium/era unfamiliar to them or sometimes the correct leadership is available but the people are not ready/prepared to face the new world. In the latter case, leaders are usually rejected and victimized or even assassinated for these causes. This is the reason why some leaders have been labeled enemies/terrorists in the past but today after some generations they are accorded hero status. Regrettably, some of them are not alive today to witness these events and these events of today may not be available in the future.
A World with the absence of ideologies, is it possible/desirable?
Imagine a world without a direction, no route map, no institutions or organizations and nothing to strive for. Will you like to live in that world? If you do, will you live the same as today, will you live a meaningful life? What is so lacking in this world?
If you answer these questions, then you will know exactly how it feels, and in my opinion in the absence of ideologies we will live the same way animal live and I don’t want to live in that world.
Are ideologies always good?
As mentioned earlier ideologies bring about disequilibrium in any society in both positive and negative forms, with the truth being that in the absence of ideologies, there will be no civilization or development, recall living the animal way as quoted above. If this is the case, then what are the arguments for and against ideologies:
Arguments for ideologies
Ideologies bring about disequilibrium in the society, the moral part of it is that with disequilibrium, society is activated and any positive movement will bring about an equilibrium higher than the primitive one which translates into prosperity and harmony.
Ideologies are good for social, economical, political, scientific advancement, civilization and development.
Technology is unlimited with correct ideologies in place and rolling ideologies one after the other make the impossibles possible.
Sharing one ideology means the world will be able to move into one direction while having different ideologies mean the opposite. If the world shares the same ideology, things like globalization, trade liberalization…will be simple and accepted by all.
Life is simple if one ideology is universally accepted.
Arguments against ideologies:
Disequilibrium does not always move on the positive direction, therefore a negative movement brings about confusions and distress in a society.
As mentioned in the article, ideology led to domination, conquest, colonialisation, marginalization etc…
Ideologies are not easy to reverse and take time (usually centuries) and efforts to change and in most cases cost heavy blood shed and loss of lives.
People hardly accept new ideologies and in these circumstances development, civilization and progress is delayed.
Bad ideologies lead to bad visions, which translate into hostile institutions further down the line. In these cases the physical nature of the “globe” is also affected or spoiled.
Now that you are lucky to read and know all about ideologies and their implications to human existence, who should you blame for what happened under the reign of these Ideologies?
The circumstances and circumference surrounding the issue of ideologies is far searched and is subject to debate, but before I give part of my arguments, I want to pin point some of the circumstances that we should agree on. First, ideology is a route map regarding all spheres of influence of any society, so it is shared in a wide range of spectrum of any society (nation or nations).
Secondly ideology is limited to the available knowledge at a particular time.
Thirdly ideology is not free of commission or omission; this implies that an ideology can not suit all persons’ at the same time. Fourth, ideology is monotonically transferable from one generation to the other and from one Nation to the other; therefore ideology has a spill over effect. Last but not least it is not possible for human kind to live without an ideology.
Under the argument raised above I am of the opinion that any benefits or omissions that came about as a result of an ideology, good or bad is not construed to any specific nation or nations, any attempt to do it will cause forces within any society to explode and move further and further away from societal equilibrium and create a gap within the social equilibrium of any nation. Rather the spill over effect from ideologies should be shared between nations of the world. In that note recent initiatives like the streamlines of world institutions such as the Breton Wood Institutions (IMF, world Bank etc…), and the word body (the United Nations) should be commended in addressing these imbalances. The best that could be done is rather to make these institutions more representative of the causes they are representing, to be more considerable of the societies of the world that go down as a result of ideologies employed in the past and to be committed towards addressing these imbalances. In that spirit no specific nation or Nations should be held solely responsible of what happened in the past.
– Immanuel Nashivela is a fourth-year Economics Student at the Polytechnic of Namibia and works for the Ministry of Works and Transport. Views and opinions expressed in this article are necessarily these of the Author and not the two Institutions mentioned.