FW: Ideology (was: RE: Dialectical Materialism again)

Shane Hopkinson s.hopkinson at cqu.edu.au
Wed Jul 30 22:12:34 MDT 2003

Mark L wrote
> 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.

Here is a use of the sense that ideology as a matter of individual perception
which sees ideology as an illusion - a false belief in a true reality. We need
to get past this and see knowledge as a collective product - if I draw an
ambiguous drawing and people see X or Y what is the senses in saying
they are not there "in the real world" - they are if we (collectively ) act on 
them. I'll come back to this below.
> 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.  

No "we" can't - which 'we' do you mean? I'm not trying to be silly I
know what you are driving at but there's a false premise hiding in the
question. Its important to be concrete in these things.

Astrology is like religion but Marx's point is NOT the same
as Montesquieu's and the Enlightenment that religion is an illusion of the 
ignorant masses - seen through by (bourgeois) philosophers.

> Here's a social illusion, shaped by the fact that American society
> actively discourages class consciousness, but sanctions awareness of
> race.  

It sanctions racism. So your friend is mistaken in this instance 
(of course being black makes it more likely that he will be driving 
a clunker of a car.)

> 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. 

Up to a point - who is the "we" here? Ideology is built on common-sense
assumptions about the way the world is and these are generally partial truths
rather than outright falsehoods.  I tend to limit the notion of ideology to 
the specific context of ideas used in (class) struggle which is what I think
Marx did.   The notion of ideology as a 'world-view' came later. 

> 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.  

Indeed - but "we" (ie Marxists) also see in Gould's ideas a confirmation
of our own revolutionary ideas and so it appeals in that way. Gould 
has proposed a reading of the evidence - one we would support -
whether it gets accepted as truth will depend on a lot of social 
and struggle over the ideas as well as the evidence. 

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

I suspect that at the heart of it you want to distinguish between Truth
and Ideology in a way that I don't think is defensible. 

In that sense I agree with DOQ who says:

>'There is an element of ideology in every form of philosophy or 
>"science" -- Marxism is no exception.'  

Of course there's still a debate about what we mean by science - 
hence I would leave the inverted commas on it. 

I agree with general idea that LP puts that ideology has 2 senses - 
the more general sense of a set of ideas and the more specific sense 
of a political program and that its not necessarily pejorative. It tends
to be so in contexts where its juxtaposed to Truth - in which case it
is the duped masses, victims of false consciousness, who suffer from
it - not "we" (who are the scientists) who can see through it. 

So its not just 'logically impossible' as LP says but undesirable since
it assumes that 'educator does not need educating'. 

I like too the fact that LP sums up:
>The point is then to compare ideologies and expose which ones 
>are composed of correct data and well-
>grounded theories and worthy aims, and which are not.

I think 'correct data' is a bit loose but well grounded is important.
I think it is worth flagging "worthy aims" - the values that we
seek to promote are part of our project and have been excluded
from (bourgeois) notions of science precisely because it is used to
naturalise inequality so the bourgeoisie seeks to separate facts and
values to avoid awkward questions like 'what is science for?' This
means the dominant values that animate mainstream science go 
unquestioned (or unseen)  and are palmed off onto moralists or
ethics specialists who are not scientists.  This notion of science was
to a very large extent taken up by classical Marxism, perhaps with 
the best of intentions, but the outcome is the Party (either German 
or Russian) claims the mantle of science and progress without
asking 'progress to what?' and other values questions. All of which
is consigned to bourgeois morality - and left uncontested. 

Finally on the issue of falsifying theories. I think it is important to 
see that knowledge is a collective product. Belief in a given framework
('faith' in it or whatever) is a practical matter - it works sufficiently well
for people, it is based on commonsense assumptions about the way the
world is rather than weight of evidence, assessment of new
data and so on being the relevant variables.  They are a guide to practice
so a continued search for the coffee cup should yield results which reinforce
the common-sense assumptions one holds -BUT if you don't find it either
you attribute it to your lack of ability or if you value the cup excessively
and it provokes an existential crisis then you may turn to other explanations
based on angels but in neither case will your commonsense assumptions
be challenged by new data or evidence - they form (or re-form) as a matter
of practice.

The reasons why people continue to believe in superstitions and so on 
is not evidence or lack of it but alienation.  I think Marx's critique of 
religion is the centre piece of this. Marx (contra most Enlightenment 
thinkers) did NOT think religion was an illusion which people could 
see through if they just looked at the facts - religion and (much of) 
science is a fetishism - a desire to believe that human products have 
a magical power. The more common version is the notion that the 
market (like a god) sets prices and we must conform.  Notice that 
while it is not true that the 'market' sets the price (only certain people
can do that) it is not simply and illusion that "we" can dissolve by an
appeal to facts - in a very real way the market does set prices and 
does coerce people as long as collectively we don't come up with a
set of practices that can challenge it (and the bourgeois power that 
is behind it).  That's the point of being revolutionary after all. 



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