I have a dream

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For the last couple of afternoons I have been going through a list of fifty contemporary political ideologies by Mark Satin. It is a formidable heap of articles, interviews, book chapters and other what-have-you and reading all of it could easily take a full week. I had in fact read quite a few of the items on that list previously myself, but the beauty of a collection like that lies in its 360 degree nature. It is a diverse collection of voices giving their spiel on their respective view of what should a perfect society be like and what constitutes a good life.

I suppose that most of us have a rather serious source bias in our daily news intake and casual reading — we naturally gravitate towards sources that we identify with along the ideological lines and in the long run it is certainly detrimental towards our lateral vision, politically speaking. Precisely for that reason I have myself made a conscious effort to keep an eye on some blogs and online journals that lie far outside of my own personal ideological comfort zone, and it often does feel like reading reports from some parallel (if not perpendicular) universe.

When we’re exposed to ideas and opinions that run counter to what we ourselves believe in and hold dear, it is often all too easy to dismiss the whole thing as misguided and silly drivel, sometimes indeed bordering on insane, inarticulate or vile. This way we usually won’t even bother with trying to get to the line of reasoning — arguing to ourselves that there simply cannot be a logical and justified argument that would yield such an unacceptable result. As we all tend to see ourselves as reasonable and moral beings, we easily associate such differences of opinion with failing on either or both of those accounts — if others share our moral precincts then it must be a problem with their reasoning, and if they are rational people then they can only arrive at such silly conclusions by starting with false (moral) premises.

Obviously, neither of those positions are conducive to having a civil and meaningful dialogue. However, if this is what we find beneficial, then it would perhaps do well to give up the notion of our ideological others being a priori silly or immoral — and this would mean subjecting our own ideological views and beliefs to the same critical scrutiny as those of the others. Although the list above is certainly not conclusive nor definitive, it is probably fair to say that by and large it gives a pretty good and even-handed representation of the contemporary universe of political ideology, and almost everyone should find some stuff there that they can both associate with and feel nauseated by. At least for me, it has been a very interesting reading. There are things that I find myself nodding to, things that I find curious, things that I disagree with, things that have me wincing, and things that quite simply make me sick at stomach (such as “Speech at the Hudson Institute in New York” by Geert Wilders, or “Reversing the Racial Revolution” by Andrew Fraser, for example). It is also very interesting to spot the “family resemblances” between the ideologies of different stripes, and notice how often it is the case that similar premises or principles can lead to completely different conclusions and worldviews. Perhaps this will enable us also to identify some of the building blocks of our own Weltaanschaungs and, as a result, help to find some common ground where we previously thought there can be none. Of course, not all differences can thus be reconciled. Although it is probably fair to assume that I do share a notion of certain greatness of the western civilization with Geert Wilders or Andrew Fraser, there is very little chance that we should ever come to an agreement on what exactly makes it great and how should we preserve this.

Another general theme that emerges from reading the listed material is that of almost all the different ideologies purporting to offer a descriptive view of the world (i.e. “how the things really are” as opposed to how they look like to those that have simply not understood the way the world works) but in fact operating at the level of a normative view (i.e. how the things should be in order for everything to make sense). This is a very important distinction and one where I would again suggest that most of us have a serious bias to recognize the normative aspect in ideologies that are alien to us while treating our own particular worldview as purely descriptive. Thinking about it I find it quite curious, as recognizing our own views as subjective need not make them any less certain and defendable — in fact, it would seem to me that the opposite is the case. Then we wouldn’t be standing for something because we somehow believe it to be true (which would rightly belong into the realm of religion), rather than because we will it so — that which Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” alluded to, and which for me is what the word political is all about.

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