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Saturday, September 01, 2012

Ideological Closure

Sitting at my cafe yesterday, I heard the woman at the next table complaining about Obama. At one point, she said: "Hillary is retiring. It's because she can't take Obama anymore."

The idea that that is the reason Clinton is retiring is incredibly implausible. However, this woman probably heard someone say this on Fox News, and now it is a "fact." It is similar to the "facts" that Obama is a Muslim or that he wasn't born in the U.S. These "facts" are components of an ideological barricade. They are immune to refutation by logical arguments or evidence, since their very purpose is to block out reality, as Eric Voegelin explained:

The restriction of vocabulary and meanings: an ideological language has the purpose of interrupting the contact with reality, and on the other hand to admit as "reality" in quotation marks only the phantasy of the ideology. This restriction now pertains not only to words and meanings, but to whole bodies of propositions in philosophy or to facts of history that could interfere with the ideological "truth" by showing it to be a falsehood... 

If one translates the Orwellian issue into more adequate terminology, one would have to speak of the "obsessive language" of ideologues–which has the double purpose of repetitious, mechanical iteration of the phantasy [e.g., "Obama hates America!"] and of killing off, at the same time, any conflicting reality ["That's just the liberal media's lies!"].

Suppose I had leaned over to the woman and said: "Your idea is absurd: Clinton and Obama are both centrist Democrats who have essentially the same policy positions. Besides, if the problem were Obama, why would she be ruling out a presidential run in 2016? He won't be around then."

Her response probably would have been something along the lines of, "What are you talking about? Obama is a socialist! And Hillary is just saying she won't run in 2016 to avoid embarrassing him."

Similarly, when a commenter at this blog asks, "Why doesn't Gene present any evidence to the effect that the modern state is not identical to a gang?" it would be stupid and futile for me to try to present such evidence. The differences are massive and obvious, but they are being blocked out by an ideology that would similarly block anything at all I could say on the topic. It would be like trying to argue with someone who insists there is no such thing as the earth and we are just floating in space: if his own senses can't see that this is nonsense, there is no discussion of the matter that will solve his problem.

Socrates addressed this issue in Gorgias: The ideologue is closed to rational argument. The only possible method of cracking the ideological armor is emotion: the ideologue is still a human being, and the only hope of opening him to reality is to somehow penetrate to the common human core the philosopher and the ideologue share, and then use that emotional connection as a lifeline to draw the ideologue back to reality.

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