Ideology as a way to cut through complexity

(…) the real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance. We are not equipped to deal with so much subtlety, so much variety, so many permutations and combinations. And although we have to act in that environment, we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage it. (Walter Lippmann, The World Outside And The Pictures In Our Heads, 1922/1949)

Since the birth of modern civilization, human beings have been creating stories that capture their theories about how the world works and how they should act within this complex world. These narratives both describe and prescribe human action and adopt many different forms, from religious doctrines to political manifestos and from racial supremacy to authoritarian nationalism. They are broadly termed “ideologies” and envelope humans’ personal and social lives to a considerable degree.

The term “ideology” was coined during the French Revolution by French “ideologues” who wished to label a new science outlined in the framework of the Enlightenment programme, the teaching of ideas. Ideology was therefore originally meant to reflect a new science of ideas. The expression was quickly politicized during Napoleon’s reign and became synonymous with unrealistic theories that tried to intervene in the spheres of government and political action. Most contemporary definitions of ideology have recognized that an ideology functions as a force that epistemically organizes beliefs about how society ought to be structured.

In a paper published last March, Leor Zmigrod argues that ideological thinking constitutes a meaningful psychological phenomenon that merits direct scholarly investigation and analysis (my emphasis):

(Ideology) can be conceptualized as a style of thinking that is rigid in its adherence to a doctrine and resistance to evidence-based belief-updating and favorably oriented toward an ingroup and antagonistic to out-groups. The article identifies the subcomponents of ideological thinking and highlights that ideological thinking constitutes a meaningful psychological phenomenon that merits direct scholarly investigation and analysis. By emphasizing conceptual precision, methodological directions, and interdisciplinary integration across the political and cognitive sciences, the article illustrates the potential of this framework as a catalyst for developing a rigorous domain-general psychology of ideology.

Zmigrod, Leor. ‘A Psychology of Ideology: Unpacking the Psychological Structure of Ideological Thinking’. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1 March 2022, 17456916211044140.


Featured Image: Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (Actors And Ideologies In Social Context)

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