Dialectical Materialism again - reply to Mark Lause

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Tue Jul 29 08:03:46 MDT 2003

The phrase "ideology" is more coherent and precise than "ideologizing."
The project of trying to understand the world around us involves thought
that may well be ideologizing but might well avoid being ideology.

One of the best insights of psychology is that the human brain has such
a tendency to make sense of what we perceive that it tends to discern
patterns even when they aren't there in the real world.  Consider
optical illusions. (http://www.optillusions.com/ or
http://www.ads-online.on.ca/illusion/directory.html or

We can look at the same stars and see either burning gases or gods
sending us coded messages that those among us with the right know-how
and faith can decode.  Astrology survived for thousands of years and
still does because it meets psychological needs in a way that's socially
safe for the hierarchy but because those who believe it have learned to
understand their experience in its lights.  Those who want to believe
such things will readily cite some open-ended statement from the
astrology column or a fortune cookie as proof that the particular
illusion they are seeing is real.

Here's a social illusion, shaped by the fact that American society
actively discourages class consciousness, but sanctions awareness of
race.  The cops stopped a young African-American acquaintance of mine
was stopped at night, while driving his clunker of a car through a rich
neighborhood.  "I know they stopped me because I'm black, but I don't
understand how they knew it.  Do they have some special infrared device
to look into our cars at night."  He'd learned to ascribe these kinds of
problems so exclusively to race that he was asking entirely the wrong
question.  In fact, they had stopped me in the same neighborhood within
a day or say and I am white, but was driving my clunker of a car.
Because my student had learned to see these things purely and simply in
terms of race, he was trying to figure out how the cops had night vision
to see the driver.  The reality was that the cops had no such night
vision but were reacting to the presence of a cheap car, clearly driven
by someone who couldn't have been living in the area.  Obviously, how
drivers are treated after being stopped in that neighborhood varies
greatly with race, age, demeanor, etc.  The point is that when we learn
to process our experience using a simple pattern, these assumptions
cloud more than they clarify.

Ideology is when we are so convinced by ourselves or others that a
pattern we perceive is real that we absolve ourselves of critically
processing new information that might lead us to revise our assumptions.
And, yes, any kind of perceived pattern can become an ideology.  As you
very rightly point out, Darwinian evolution can be expanded into a
pattern and our understanding of that pattern is shaped by cultural
assumptions and values that tend to sustain the concept of "fitness" as
a justification for hierarchy.

Indeed, Darwin's gradual model of evolution owed less to observation
than to assumptions about the change in his Victorian world.  Scientists
like Stephen Jay Gould write about "punctuated equilibrium"--the
tendency of life not to change when it doesn't have to do so...and then
to change by great leaps and bounds when necessity requires it.  (When
Gould died, there were a number of posts on this list that are probably
in the list archive.) Gould's version of Darwinian evolution not only
matches the biological reality, but this version of change also better
matches the way society tends to have changed in the past.

Academic social sciences are all about model building and discerning
patterns based upon what can only be limited samplings of reality and
little or no testing of those samplings.  ...that and blue-sky
theorizing that reveals much about the screen savers that replay in
their heads and little about the reality around us.

On the other hand, trying to process the information we encounter
critically isn't ideology and doesn't need to be "ideologizing".

Mark L.

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