ideology’s corruption

First, two definitions…

(1) echo chamber (n.) – An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.

And (2) dialogue (n.) – An exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.

Question: do we actually want to solve our existing societal issues? … the political strife, the racial tension, the ever-increasing list of socio-economic debates? Note that only one of the above pursues solution. The echo chambers — the social media circles, chat rooms, and Facebook threads that are only gracious and inviting to likeminded ideology — do not solve the problems plaguing us today. They only reverberate the sound of our own opinions, which encourages ideology adherence. From The Witherspoon Institute’s Randall Smith in his poignant discussion of “Ideology and the Corruption of Language”.

“… 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.

Note, however, that ‘engaging in argument’ is not the same as a dual monologue or sharing complaints about opponents. If you’re unsure what a dialogue is supposed to sound like, read one of Plato’s. Socrates is as good a teacher of dialogue as anyone who ever lived. Personally, I suggest beginning with the ‘Gorgias.’

In the ‘Gorgias,’ Socrates defends ‘dialectic’ (the question-and-answer method he engages in with interlocutors) and distinguishes it from ‘sophistry.’ What Plato especially disliked about sophistry was its corruption of language: the belief that language was not primarily for the expression of truth but for the acquisition of power. Sophists bragged that they could convince the ignorant masses of anything, even better than people who were experts on a subject. How did they do this? By twisting words and using language to inflame the passions rather than to engage the logic of the mind. Appeal to fear and play on people’s anxiety, never asking them to think about the evidence for your claims or reflect on the possible unintended consequences of a course of action.

This corruption of language is a characteristic sign of ideology. Throughout the Platonic dialogues, Socrates spends a great deal of time trying to clarify words, attempting to get clear on what people mean when they use terms such as ‘good’ or ‘just’ or ‘great.’ Ideologies want to skip over all that hard work. Asking what someone means by ‘good’ or ‘just’ or ‘fair’ is, to the devoted ideologue, like the greengrocer refusing to put the sign in his window. It suggests you’re not a party member.

Watch out for this. Refusing to discuss one’s terms because the point is ‘obvious,’ insisting on using euphemisms rather than plain speech, relying on a very specialized vocabulary and being unable to express one’s thoughts without it, using speech to vilify persons rather than to clarify positions: these are all clues that you’re dealing with ideology, not principle.”

Ideology’s corruption of language does not pursue solution. In fact, while justifying loving treatment toward some, it is accompanied by the unintended consequence of unloving treatment toward some others.

How many times have we heard or said, “I cannot have one more conversation in which they don’t realize the point is obvious!… I cannot have political debates with these people! Our disagreement is not merely political; it’s a fundamental divide on what it means to be good!” And with that we label the other person as either arrogant, ignorant or compassionless. We justify no more dialogue, assuming only we are good.

As an advocate of respectful dialogue, allow me to encourage the hard work. Allow me to encourage the investment in dialogue, the sincere wrestling with unlike opinion, and the exit from echo chambers. Echo chambers are easy, as the reverberation of like opinion never challenges us to consider the wisdom of another approach. Think about the evidence for our own claims and reflect upon the possible unintended consequences of a course of action. Encounter others sincerely, selflessly. Clarify. Don’t vilify. Listen well. And do nothing that justifies loving another less — such as refusing to have “one more conversation.”