I read a newspaper editorial that criticized ideological elements in school teaching. The author had visited the website of one of the organizations hired by the schools and found clear expressions of a view of society based on ideological dogmas of a certain kind.

The criticism may well have been justified. What made me think was how the author explained the problem. It sounded as if the problem was that the ideology in question was foreign to the author’s own ideology: “foreign to me and most other …-ists”.

I was sad when I read this. It made it appear as if it was our human destiny to live trapped in ideological labyrinths, alien to each other. If we are foreign to an ideology, does it really mean nothing more than that the ideology is foreign to our own ideology?

Can we free ourselves from the labyrinths of ideology? Or would it be just a different ideology: “We anti-ideologues call for a fight against all ideologies”!? Obviously, it is difficult to fight all ideologies without becoming ideological yourself. Even peace movements bear the seeds of new conflicts. Which side for peace are you on?

Can we free ourselves by strictly sticking to the facts and nothing but the facts? Sticking to the facts is important. One problem is that ideologies already love to refer to facts, to strengthen the ideology and present it as the truth. Pointing out facts provides ammunition for even more ideological debate, of which we will soon become an engaged party: “We rationalists strongly oppose all ideologically biased descriptions of reality”!?

Can the solution be to always acknowledge ideological affiliation, so that we spread awareness of our ideological one-sidedness: “Hello, I represent the national organization against intestinal lavage – a practice that we anti-flushers see as a violation of human dignity”!? It can be good to inform others about our motives, so that they are not misled into believing what we say. However, it hardly shows a more beautiful aspect of humanity, but reinforces the image that conflicting forms of ideological one-sidedness are our destiny.

However, if we now see the problem clearly, if we see how every attempt to solve the problem recreates the problem, have we not opened ourselves to our situation? Have we not seen ourselves with a gaze that is no longer one-sided? Are we not free?

Pär Segerdahl

Written by…

Pär Segerdahl, Associate Professor at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics and editor of the Ethics Blog.

This post in Swedish

Thinking about thinking