Ideology An Introduction
Don’t believe the hype
Well, it is interesting what Yuval Harari once said in an interview, that the new religion of our century is not created in Rome or Mecca, but instead in Silicon Valley. The fact that he ascribes those techno-optimists a religious connotation, made me personally quite happy, since I was always rather skeptical of their single-minded perspective of advocating a techno-utopian propagandistic future. But of course, it serves a purpose. And in order to understand the mechanism behind such hidden agenda, there is no other book than that of Terry Eagleton ‘Ideology An Introduction’, that can better deliver the theoretical explanation of the obfuscating characteristics of the concept of ideologies as an ubiquitous atmosphere that permeate all aspects of our life.
Eagleton explains the aim of the Enlightenment ideologues as dreaming about “a future in which dignity of men and women, as creatures able to survive without opiate and illusion, would be cherished” (p. 65). He points out that “once the laws of human consciousness were laid bare to scientific inspection, that consciousness could be transformed in the direction of human happiness by a systematic pedagogical project” (p. 65). But the question remains, who would educate the educators? Who is watching the watchmen? And that’s why (as a thought which pops up immediately) critique towards new propagated alternatives to the capitalistic market structure like the circular economy, is more than justified, if it is only about converting the citizen into a consumer. It follows the schizophrenic condition of us becoming prisoners and guards at once, while building our own concentration camps, the continuous manifestation of exacerbation and malignancy, the systemic advancement symbolized by our existence within the time-frame of a multi-causal end-of-the-world scenario.
But what is ideology actually, its role in all of that? Is it simply said, judging a particular issue through some rigid framework of preconceived ideas, a perspective which distorts understanding?
A pretty good way to describe ideology is the following: “a dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some unspoken but systematic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself” (p. 5-6). Here, Eagleton refers to Foucault (Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison), pointing out that power is “a pervasive, intangible network of force which weaves itself into our slightest gestures and most intimate utterances” (p. 7).
If we want to study ideology, and as a Futurist it is an upmost crucial obligation to exactly do so, then we need to study the ways how meaning or signification is communicated, and how it serves to sustain relations of domination, power imbalance, how it manifests hegemonic systems, and how it constructs artificial hierarchies.
Well, we all know that most futurist don’t do that. Call them sell-outs, cowards, or prostitutes, it is clear that it demands a lot of cognitive and emotional resources most people are simply afraid of utilizing. But I believe, and yes, it is just a believe, that this is what distinguishes futurists in terms of quality, to call out the “systemically distorted communication” (p. 14).
However, “the rationalist view of ideologies as conscious, well-articulated systems of belief is clearly inadequate: it misses the affective, unconscious, mythical or symbolic dimensions of ideology; the way it constitutes the subjects’ lived, apparently spontaneous relations to a power-structure and comes to provide the invisible color of daily life itself. But if ideology is in this sense primarily performative, rhetorical, pseudo-propositional discourse, this is not to say that it lacks an important propositional content – or that such propositions as it advances, including moral and normative ones, cannot be assessed for their truth or falsehood” (p. 221-222).
It is indeed hyper-abstract, since we are essentially in need of an ideology, not only for “our psychic well-being but for revolutionary political agency” as well (p. 198). “Dominant ideologies, and occasionally oppositional ones, often employ such devices as unification, spurious identification, naturalization, deception, self-deception, universalization and rationalization” (p. 222). In other words, those of Žižek, “ideology is not a dreamlike illusion that we build to escape a supportable reality; in its basic dimension it is a fantasy-construction which serves as a support for our ‘reality’ itself: an ‘illusion’ which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some insupportable, real, impossible kernel […]” (Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, p. 45).
Futures Studies as Hypothesis not as Ideology???
Jim Dator emphasizes that Futures Studies should be a hypothesis not an ideology. Although there is so much “truth” in these words, my personal experience tells me, it doesn’t work without ideology, since we are constructing desirable and preferable images of the future, nobody can bear the unbearable side of existence, which then has to lead to the utilization of ideology as a cocoon for a further incubation of the preferable. We can call it pragmatic utopia, and I am aware of the critique against the pragmatics in Futures Studies, but even to my own dislike, I could settle for such an approach, since small steps are still steps forward.
Eagleton explains; “ruling ideologies can actively shape the wants and desires of those subjected to them; but they must also engage significantly with the wants and desires that people already have, catching up genuine hopes and needs, re-inflecting them in their own peculiar idiom, and feeding them back to their subjects in ways which render these ideologies plausible and attractive. They must be ‘real’ enough to provide the basis on which individuals can fashion a coherent identity, must furnish some solid motivations for effective action, and must make at least some feeble attempt to explain away their own more flagrant contradictions and incoherencies. In short, successful ideologies must be more than imposed illusions, and for all their inconsistencies must communicate to their subjects a version of social reality which is real and recognizable enough not to be simply rejected out of hand” (p. 14-15).