Judging through the peep-hole.
Ideologies determine our everyday life. If you think I am crazy, ask yourself one simple question, what is ‘Good’? And be really honest with yourself.
Aristotle asked himself this question in the start of his most famous book The Nicomachean Ethics, and from there a wealth of concepts, ideas and values emerged. All from one simple question.
If I asked you to ask yourself this question, you would soon find out whether you are a liberal, a conservative, a religious fundamentalist or a social democrat. “What is ‘Good’?” is a question that we have been taught to answer based on our history, culture, language, point in time, experiences and ideology, given our window of understanding. Latent within this question are all its infinite varieties: “what is a good world?”, “what is a good society?”, “what is good for me?” etc. But to answer all of this, one must first understand what ’Good’ is.
When we answer this question our framework immediately jumps to the foreground. Aristotle was a philosopher and it took him a whole a book to answer this question. A series of processes between question and answer, trial and error and dialectics in dialogue.
A framework (of understanding) can take on many different forms. It could be spiritual, economic, scientific, or- and probably more likely, a blend of an assortment. So, for a religious person what is ‘Good’ is simple: God is ‘Good’, and anything that comes from His teachings and His work is by default also ‘Good’. For a scientific person, empiricism is ‘Good’. Consequently observation, trial and error, test and hypothesis become the right way to get to truth. For a capitalist, capitalism, a free market economy based on free competition is what is fair, is good. For a communist, communism is good. A centralized approach to wealth and the distribution thereof. Consequently, ideologies fuel the way we understand and relate to the world. They are also in many ways the tools we have to understand ourselves within it. This is a crude simplification of how ideologies determine our understanding but it illustrates the point.
My query and point of discussion is a very interesting phenomenon that I have observed lately. And that is, what happens when people want to change their ideology? That is when people no longer want to be Christian/Muslim/Buddhist or want to change their political viewpoint. My question is: ‘can they really change?’ From what I have observed the content is easy enough to change. It’s easy for a communist to become a capitalist - but if you grew up immersed in an insular ideology that did not tolerate criticism, an outside point of view, whose righteousness made you feel special (lets be clear this can be for any ideology, not just religious) you might change the content of your ideology by the way you believe and enact it can stay the same. So, the very communist who defended communism and did not tolerate any opposition now defends capitalism in much the same way.
The challenge here is changing your horizon of understanding. Because we can easily replace religion, with a doctrine of awareness and consciousness, but if I am still functioning within the horizon of understanding of an insular ideology, I will reject any other dogma. I will distrust those that are not “spiritual” according to my understanding thereof and will not engage with those that contradict me. This is crucial for me. Engaging is opening up your view point to the critique and seeing for yourself if it holds up; not reverting to your discourse and giving the answer that has been preconstructed already.
I have encountered spiritualists who advocate consciousness, spirituality and awareness as vehemently as any conservative Christian telling a homosexual they are going to hell for their orientation. I have seen the rejection of those that don’t quite fit into that spiritual narrative. More often than not it comes to light later that these individuals have recently changed their ideology. That is, they used to be [insert religion here] and have had a “transformation”. Unfortunately, they have changed the content but the ideology is organized in exactly the same manner. Basically, it’s the same picture with different colors.
I guess personally my horizon of understanding comes from questioning, analyzing and critically thinking. And if I am fully honest with myself, Christianity and the example of Jesus definitely has had a huge impact on my moral compass. Yet, only after questioning and going through many disappointments have I come to accept that the discourse of love, acceptance and forgiveness is what I value from Christianity and is what I carry with me.
This process of questioning is what has allowed me to accept a statement. I.e.: If I can tear it apart and it still holds value. If I can question and debate and it still holds merit then I can accept it. It almost feels like a responsibility towards myself. So, no matter what ideology I adopt it will always be within that framework and it will always go through that process. I love having heated discussions with people that think differently who have different points of view. Although I am not always sure my inputs are welcome in all spheres, nor am I completely sure that I am as open as I think I am.
This openness is constantly being challenged and it’s easy to revert to an us vs. them. Whether this happens at a crude level or a refined one, it is easy to create dichotomy and assign value to each side. Judging those that don’t put their opinions through the same process, nor entertain criticism as enthusiastically as I do in debates, can easily turn into an elitist view. Again, my way is not the right way. Otherwise I am not different. A dictatorship of the good is still a dictatorship. Although ironically this was the best form of government for Aristotle. But let’s be honest having one definition of ‘Good’ is the problem. Does this lead to moral relativism? Perhaps. It would also most likely also lead to more open discourse and an inclusive society- if only we were able to step outside our insular points of view.
This is the key to understanding ideologies or paradigms for life - inclusive vs. exclusive. If your ideology or the way you see and understand the good is not open for discussion, debate, or you do not feel comfortable with criticism. I will distrust it. If you are advocating a universal solution whether it is diet, spirituality or happiness. I will distrust it. Universal solutions are so incredibly violent. Even if you think you have found all the answers, a situation will present itself where you will be wrong and you will fail to see it because your ideology will conform what’s different to the same. The danger is that it becomes justifiable through the very peep hole that frames your view.