How to spot an ideologue

Source: How to spot an ideologue

So how do we recognize the language of “ideology” and distinguish it from a “principled position”? One common clue is that those who hold a principled position welcome arguments; they welcome having their position tested and possibly corrected. A principled position always has room for increased subtlety and greater complexity.

Holders of an “ideology,” on the other hand, will tend to eschew argument or any examination of the ideology’s underlying presuppositions or premises, often refusing to concede that greater subtlety may be required to apply the principles to real-life situations. Ideology disdains argument; people with principled positions embrace it warmly and engage in it gladly.

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Ideology Makes Blanket Claims and Makes Ad Hominem Attacks

When people make blanket claims about a group (“white people are like X;” “black people never do Y”), they are expressing an ideology, not using words tailored to fit reality. Human beings are simply too diverse and complicated to fit into such universal categories. If you hear someone summing up the “state of the Russian mind” or “what the American people want” or claiming that politician X shows sure signs of a social pathology, but there is no evidence of research nor of any time spent personally examining the psychology of the individual, then you’re dealing with quackery; the person is a fake.

Such people will check their scientific methodology at the door in order to gain a place in the arena of modern media’s ideological shouting match. They are welcomed by groups that want a certain sort of “voice”—not a quiet, calm, thoughtful voice, but one that will provide pseudo-intellectual “cover” for all the prejudices that group already possesses.

If, rather than trying to glean evidence from observable reality, a person seems more intent on forcing reality into the categories of his or her system, then you’re dealing with an ideologue. If evidence supporting a theory is trumpeted loudly and repeatedly, and evidence that may refute it is ignored repeatedly, then it’s an ideology, not a principled position. If every bit of data, no matter how contrary, is taken as evidence of the truth of the theory, then it’s ideology, not science.

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If you often find yourself dismissing your interlocutors as fools or scoundrels, and you hear the words “we need more dialogue” coming out of your mouth, at least be honest with yourself. When you complain about the need for more dialogue in this way, without showing the patience and respect needed to engage in it, your statement can mean nothing more than “more people should listen to me and people who think like me.” I assure you, everyone else feels that way—including your opponents.

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