I am rudely copying this verbatim for my own benefit. Readers please follow the link to find an interesting blog.
A philosophy that is not easy to absorb, but the thrust is important to understand, if one’s reasoning is to be sound and our beliefs/decisions more independent from our inner ingrained indoctrination. It is very clear that most people, from “on the street” to politicians and world “movers and shakers” are fueled by idealism and as such, are incapable of impartial, independent decision-making.
1. a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.
It is my goal as an intellectual and skeptic to purge myself of all ideology, as much as possible. I have come to understand that it is ideology, in its broadest sense, that is largely the enemy of reason. This includes not only political and economic ideology, but also religious, social, and historical.
At its core, an ideology is something you believe because you believe it. It is a moral and intellectual anchor, as well as a lens through which the world is viewed. I am not implying any sort of equivalency – not all ideologies are created equal. We also come to our ideologies through different paths, some more valid than others. Often we absorb them from our family, our society, and our culture. Genetics may also play a role. We seem to be predisposed to certain political ideologies based upon which values speak to us most loudly. We then take those values as if they were the Truth and proceed from there.
There are even ideologies that we arrive at through valid argument and consideration. I consider scientific skepticism, which values doubt, logic, empiricism, and self-knowledge, as a valid and worthwhile ideology. Even then a belief or value system can be a problem if we treat it like an assumption rather than a conclusion.
Ideologies are more pernicious when they become a source of identity. A challenge to the ideology is then a challenge to the person themselves, to the very core of their being. Ideologies reinforce the worst aspects of our tribal nature, separating the world into us and them – those who have seen the Truth, and those who are mentally deficient or deprived so that they are condemned to wallow in ignorance and confusion.
There is often a moral dimension to ideology. Ideologies make us feel that we are not only correct, we are virtuous, and therefore righteousness compels us to be intolerant of those immoral cretins who offend our ideology.
Ideology also leads to motivated reasoning, to the marshaling of our impressive cognitive abilities not to find the best answer but to defend the answer that the most primitive and emotional parts of our brain have latched onto. When evidence tends to fit our ideology, we are not motivated to question it. When evidence challenges our ideology, we are very good at finding fault with it.
At this point you are probably nodding in agreement, thinking of all the people in your life who fit the picture I am drawing of the typical ideologue. It is easy to recognize such behavior in others. The real challenge is to recognize it in ourselves. This is because it does not feel like ideology when it is our own beliefs, it feels like Truth.
Ideology is the problem because it leads to closed-mindedness, motivated reasoning, self-righteousness, and political correctness. It tends to stop skeptical inquiry and genuine discourse.
What, then, is the alternative? I think it is best to consider each question unto itself on its own merits. This does not mean ignoring prior probability, or ignoring established science or philosophy. It means considering all of it as objectively as possible. It also means distancing yourself emotionally from any label that might form an identity and serve as a filter for your thinking.
We cannot completely eliminate labels, however. They are useful guideposts and help to organize our thinking. Labels can identify philosophies and principles. For example, I can think about capitalism as a set of ideas and economic principles. I might even consider capitalism to be a valid economic system, and better than the alternatives out there. However, once you cross a fuzzy line to identifying as a capitalist (in philosophy, not vocation) you are motivated to defend capitalism even from legitimate criticism, to downplay its weaknesses, and to view evidence and events through the filter of supporting capitalism.
This is why I no longer identify with any political party. I judge each political issue and candidate on their own merits.
As another example, I would rather say that I accept the current scientific consensus on the validity of evolutionary theory, rather than saying that I am an “evolutionist.”
As an activist skeptic the ideology from which it has been most challenging to distance myself is scientific skepticism. I consider myself a skeptic because that is what I do. I accept the philosophy of scientific skepticism much as I accept the consensus on evolution, because it is supported by logic and evidence. But I have to be careful not to cross the fuzzy line into ideology.
What this means is that I evaluate new claims based upon the relevant science, logic, and evidence, not how it relates to any particular “skeptical” position. It means acknowledging valid arguments even if they are inconvenient for a position that skeptics have traditionally accepted.
In short, I try to treat scientific skepticism as a philosophy rather than an ideology. The difference can be subtle, because superficially both are systems of ideas and principles. Ideology tends to be a fixed top down system of beliefs. Philosophy should be a bottom up system of arguments that is provisional and eternally open to revision.
As a philosophy scientific skepticism is also anti-ideology. It is a system of methods rather than a system of beliefs, and those methods include doubt, self-criticism, and the provisional nature of all knowledge. In fact, in its purest form scientific skepticism holds no beliefs, only the application of methods that form an approach to knowledge. It does not even require the rejection of the supernatural, only adherence to methodological naturalism because science cannot function otherwise. Scientific skepticism is agnostic toward any particular beliefs.
Where language gets tricky is that, as scientific confidence in a particular conclusion mounts the decimal points north of 99% (like, for example, the conclusion that life evolved), accepting the massive scientific probability becomes indistinguishable in everyday practice from “belief.” It is convenient shorthand to say I “believe” in evolution, but really I am saying I accept the overwhelming scientific evidence and thought that leads to the conclusion that life evolved, and there is no alternative theory that is even viable, let alone a serious challenger to evolution. I accept it as an established scientific fact.
But I have to remain open to contrary evidence and the vanishingly small probability that evolution might somehow be wrong, otherwise it becomes an ideology rather than a scientific fact.
It is not easy to be free from ideology. It seems that the human brain slips easily and comfortably into the ideological mode. Rejecting ideology is a high energy state that needs to be forever maintained. The way to do this is by following a valid process rather than specific beliefs, and accepting the provisional nature of all human knowledge.
Of course, if you think I’m wrong I am open to other points of view.
Steven, I sincerely hope that I have not seriously overstepped the responsible mark in sharing your article in this way.