Thursday, August 18, 2011

Man and ideology do not mix

When the economic crash of 2008 occurred I heard several politically conservative commentators cry out about the supposed failure of capitalism. Real capitalism hasn't been tried we were told. There is too much government interference was also said.

While my sympathies lie with this group I could not help but recall my professors in college lament the fall of the Soviet bloc. Not openly mind you. But the sense that real communism had not been tried was as much an argument for that ideology and it was deployed in much the same manner as real capitalism has not been tried is today.

This line of thinking came to me at work one day when a coworker commented, and I quote from memory, "Communism, on paper, looks great and should work. As soon as you throw the human element into it, communism falls apart.". This to me is one of the cases where my coworker is both right and wrong. He is right in the sense that the "human element" breaks communism.

But in another sense my coworker is wrong. In fact he has the problem completely backwards. It is not humanity that breaks communism. It is that communism, indeed all ideologies, are broken from the beginning.

The problem with ideology is that it attempts to reduce mankind to a particular aspect of who he is. If it is the collective social nature of communism (in a non-Marxist context) or the profit-centered nature of capitalism, ideologies reduce men from their complexities down to one aspect of human nature. This aspect is then emphasized beyond it's importance and all other aspects of men are seen though this lens.

Ideologies are attractive because they simplify the human condition in the mind. They allow us to believe that men can be predicted and therefore accounted for. Like cogs in a wheel or a specimen in a laboratory, ideologies lead us to think we can have some measure of control and predictability in life.

They also propose simple solutions to complex problems. This usually takes the form of righting a real injustice or two. It is believed that by eliminating the "real problem" (government, big business, Kinko's) we will usher in a New Age of mankind, with freedom/security/justice for all.

The problem is that when one reduces man to one's simplistic perception only harm can result. A solution borne out of a flawed misunderstanding of man's nature only leads to the suffocation of other aspects of man. In the worst cases, those who do not conform to this shallow and incomplete version of man are executed, and soon it turns into the situation that everyone is a potential victim.

But surely we are more capable than this. Is it nots the case that humans are intelligent to see when their views need correcting? This we will cover in our next post.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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