Come awake, wandering.
A canopy cinches tight over a dark, pathless wood. It chokes all but a spatter of sparsely strewn light prints trailing off into a distant, sullen murk. Underfoot, dried leaves crackle, breaking the silence, until at last the canopy relents for a verdant, sun-painted glade. The beams warm and a scent of clear, distinct air envelops. Faint music falls from above, where a wrought iron staircase spirals as an Archimedean lever to the clouds. Exhilaration gathers within, rushes up and around the promise that from such heights the whole of the forest might be seen and, thereby, known.
Some way up, a puzzling realization dawns and slows your progress. At each step, the clouds drift higher and the roof of the forest rises alongside. Courage continues until the steps lose form, becoming brittle, then falling sand. Exhaustion and hopelessness overwhelm you, leaving only one inexplicable conclusion and one path left—back down. Yet time, whatever there ever was of it, vanishes entirely and now, at any pace, the forest recedes alongside and the clouds chase from above. Steps below come undone and fall quixotically to the forest floor below. There is nowhere left for you to go, only an interminable wait for the hunter who set the snare.
To be caught in this kind of ideological trap elicits a special kind of terror, a philosophical terror that reason seems never to resolve, no matter its promises. If we are individually and as a society caught in some sort of trap, how do we escape? Like MacGyver, we must first pause and access our situation before we can light upon the device that will deliver us.
What exactly is ideology? And why, if indeed this is so, is it a trap?
When it comes to ideas, I find it helpful to get them outside the tumbling inchoate chatter of internal dialogue and attempt to see them. When I see ideology, I see boxes. Have you ever moved permanently away from a home? Perhaps your childhood home, your college dorm, or a new, empty apartment after a final irrevocable separation from a significant other. The home, which is a whole unto itself, is stripped of its parts and rearranged into a geometric stack of boxes. Books are placed in a nondescript cardboard box marked by a nondescript black marker, “Books.” And so with “Kitchenware” and “Bathroom Stuff” or, for more irritatingly peculiar items, “Miscellaneous.” Eventually, all the boxes are stacked together awaiting unfamiliar hands to lift and carry to them to a new place, where they will be haphazardly stacked for unpacking in what one always hopes will become a home. But if the boxes contain all that you are and own, why isn’t the truck a home?
The boxes stacked in the truck are like an ideology in that we have abstracted them from the whole, home or reality, the favorite or special pieces to us in the form of concepts with clear and distinct boundaries, grouped and connected by their logical relations to one another in a hierarchical order. So when I posit that an ideology is a rationalist, hierarchical system of ideas connected by logic and supported by evidence construed through its own lens, I am thinking of a moving truck filled with labeled boxes crawling in traffic down the highway.
Of course, we would never confuse the boxes in the truck with a home. Nor would we say that a home should be a moving truck. A home as a whole has an imaginative, emotional, historical sense that is more than the conceptual description—a physical location where you and your possessions reside for a given period of time. This sense imbues a home with the feeling that it is a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
And yet, when it comes to ideologies such as nationalism, progressivism, environmentalism, feminism, veganism, Puritanism, Islamism, conservatism, and libertarianism, we are often given to confusing the ideology, a boxing and restacking of parts in a whole, with the actual whole—reality.
Men are in reality not free all over the world, but according to the libertarian ideology that begins with that special piece of reality “all men are/should be free,” they are free ideally. The practical has nothing to do with it. A libertarian might say man has always been free, though in the historical absence of any libertarian state, it must be sheepishly acknowledged that in a sense man has in fact never been free and remains in a state of varying degrees of slavery to this very day. Speaking of slavery in a more specific context, a libertarian might insist that Frederick Douglass was born free and remained so all along. He was made a slave, an unnatural state, by the forces of culture, custom, and tradition, forces of the reality of human affairs that are inconsistent with the pure, noncontradictory ideology of libertarian freedom.
These forces require some definition. In this context, I use “culture” to mean the complex interactions of the imaginative expressions of a society (speech, art, narrative). By “custom,” I mean a set of shared habits or actions of being among a society (like opening a door for a lady or looking someone in the eye when you toast). “Tradition” I’m using to mean culture and custom over time. This can be a literary tradition (the Western canon), a legal tradition (English common law), an institution (a family, a church), essentially capturing our shared ways of being through time. Tradition represents what is commonly shared as an identity by all the individuals of our society through time—who we are as a community.
It’s compelling, even comforting, to think that ideology governed by clean reason is true and that reality governed by messy culture, custom, and tradition is false. But this is not what we find when will look at the world as a whole, when all of its parts are not abstracted into boxes but are unpacked and mixed together in the complex, contradictory reality of our mutual home.
As a result, all ideologies are prescriptive. Reason via abstraction discovers what it deems truth and constructs a noncontradictory system of thought that is in its view superior to common, everyday reality. In fact, from the view of ideology, common reality is not real reality. Common reality is a child’s room with all the toys scattered on top of each other, Legos mixed with Ninja Turtles. According to the ideological prescription, the room must be cleaned up; rationality must be imposed. Once all the toys are stored in the boxes where they belong, then reality will be as it should be and actually is.
The prescription is achieved in two steps: (1) spread the ideology to more minds voluntarily through speech (like a virus), and then (2) capture the power structures in a political society so that it might be imposed by force. Communism was a floating ideology, spreading via speech to various communities, but came into being fully only when the Bolsheviks captured the Russian state and imposed it. This order of operations is required because, in the view of an ideology, common reality that is made up of contradictory elements of culture, custom, and tradition can be overwhelmed and dominated only by the all-powerful force of a state.
For this reason, all ideologies are revolutionary in nature, and all drive their hosts, us, to seek an imposition of that ideology via a state. Justice cannot truly exist without a libertarian state, according to libertarian ideology. Equality cannot truly exist without a communist state, according to communism ideology.
Ideologies may become mythologized and lead one to think that once an ideology is in power, and once society has at long last been reshaped to match reality with ideology’s noncontradictory truth and moral good, that the state will wither away. But this “withering away” first requires total domination and reshaping of common reality and its culture, custom, and tradition.
The unfortunate thing for ideologies is that human beings live in common reality. Like it or not, we are composed of culture, custom, and tradition and we exist in time. We are not pure concepts living on a timeless Elysian plane of seamless noncontradiction. Nor will we ever be. Culture, custom, and tradition always seem to infuriatingly resist the pure, clean reality made in the ideology’s image, leaving the withering away of the state as something of a sad joke. Yet it is one joke that you can be sure will illicit no laughter from the true ideologue. Also, due to this resistance, ideologies that are more morally comfortable with seizing the state and imposing their order will generally be more successful at bringing themselves into being in common reality.
The Juicy Bait: How Ideology Remakes the Individual
This approach to ideology places it out in the world as something we can marvel at, be enraptured by, love, hate, be disgusted by, and find foolish. The insidious character of ideology is that it fosters this illusion that it is an actual physical thing out there in the world. It is, in fact, a creation of our own that lives within us, and in its final stages comes to dominate and possess us. The fish swims in its sea unaware of the air above, so we swim in ideology. It is a way of thinking, or ordering our thought. In our era, we all engage in it to varying degrees. You might say any given millennial is likely infected with a veritable petri dish of environmentalism, feminism, nationalism, technologism, scientism, and identity-ism almost as soon as he or she is able to reason. Ideology, by infecting our language and patterns of thought, has come to define us. One identifies as an “environmentalist” or a “feminist” or a “multiculturalist” or “progressive” or “conservative.” Today,I actually am this set of hierarchal, noncontradictory rationalist ideas and am a herald and enforcer of its moral pronouncements.
In our postmodern identity politics, this goes further into “I am a cisgendered white man” or “I am a lesbian black woman.” These terms seem to refer to physical attributes, possessing a certain skin tone or possessing a certain sexual preference. But in fact, “white” and “black” and “lesbian” do not really refer in these statements to literal “blackness” or “whiteness” or sexual preference. They are constructs and used as ideological terms. To be a “true” black man means you ascribe to a certain view of history seen through a certain ideological lens, and you support certain political ideas expressed by the ideology. For example, it is common to hear out of the mouths of modern participants in identity politics baffling statements to this effect: A conservative black man is not really “black.” He is acting “white.” Or a woman who votes for a conservative betrays her sex, and so is not really a “woman.” Or she is not a “true” woman.
More baffling still is the quandary of self-identification in an ideological world. If I say I am a progressive, that makes me an enemy of a conservative. If I am an environmentalist, I am an enemy of capitalism or industrialism. But people are always richer and more complicated than ideological constructs. In common reality, many people work and drive gas-guzzling cars in our capitalist society, yet also care deeply about environmental causes. In ideological society, we are often compelled to choose between the two or face the shame and disgust of being called a hypocrite. Yet to pick among ideologies sets us apart from otherwise common bonds with friends, family members, even significant others. Somehow, ideology convinces us that it is the most important relation. Friendships and relationships dissolve in the face of it. Ideology quickly separates us into warring tribes following its ends, not our own. In an ideological world, the self is fundamentally a slave (cast as hero) bringing about the noble goal of full realization of the moral order of the ideology.
Of course, we are not ideologies. “I’m a human being, goddammit!” growls Howard Beale in Network. We are all human beings, goddammit! We exist in time: Manchester during the Industrial Revolution, Spain during the Reconquista, Indonesia during the Dutch colonial era, and countless others since the dawn of man. We engage in habits and vocations: teacher, nurse, app designer, cinematographer, welder, scientist, and thousands more. We come from places that have unique customs and traditions: the American South, Chicago, Alaska, Europe, Shanghai, the Russian steppe, Buenos Aires, other cities, countries, continents, and communities across the globe. We are men and women with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, colleagues, and we don’t just have those relationships, we are all of those relationships. We exist in common reality together in common societies with common customs and traditions and cultural narratives that bond us to one another.
Yet how odd it is in our ideological society that it feels more real and truer to say, “I am a progressive environmentalist” than “I am a New York transplant from Iowa, Lutheran German heritage, and math-obsessed coder at a Midtown tech start-up, owner of a condo in Hoboken, husband to my wife, Sierra, father to Leo and Cass, and son of Robert and Jean, a corn farmer and a nurse.” The latter is what you actually are. It is what you do, where you live, whom you love, and where you came from. What you definitively are not is a rationalist ideology. Yet what you are, from the perspective of an ideology, is a mess, a milieu, and you desperately need some cleaning up.
We are not morally required to take our political and social views from an ideology, despite the prescriptions we’re given by society. The moral indignation against a gay Christian or a black female conservative is not natural human indignation; it is the creature ideology’s indignation. When you experience it, you are participating in ideological emotions, not emotions rising from your own actual identity and relations to others.
Scottish philosopher David Hume identifies these special emotions in his survey of the philosopher’s journey to wisdom. In that light, one might guess that the journey always leads to wisdom, just as the hero always defeats the dragon and saves the princess, or prince in the case of a heroine. In any case, not so.
The philosopher’s journey begins with a heroic insight—reality is not what it appears to be. While a whole society may seem to believe one custom is good or one institution sacred, reason can shed new light that shows a conventional belief to be false by evidence or contradiction. The heroic moment is alienating. The rest of society doesn’t get it. The philosopher is alone in his insight and cannot wave a wand to change common reality. In this moment, he experiences philosophical alienation. This is not the alienation of a prodigal son, who may at some point return home. There is no way to resolve this philosophical alienation through reason itself. From the heroic moment, the philosopher can follow two paths, or as Bob Barker once, and Drew Carey now, might put it: door number one or door number two.
Door number one leads to the path of false philosophy, that of the ideologue. This journey begins when one abstracts away a favorite piece of reality.
Hume observes that all ideologies begin with a world-inverting abstraction. Don Livingston in his Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium notes some of these: “Hobbes, that benevolence is really self-love; Berkeley, to be is to be perceived; Proudhon, property is theft; Marx, all history is the story of class struggle.” These world inversions generally proceed from a value, taken in the abstract, that is of special significance to each philosopher.
Take the social value of equality. Proudhon abstracts away common reality to posit that all property is theft. This abstraction inverts the world in which many individuals possess many forms and amounts of property in a messy, unequal state. Suddenly the messy world looks very unequal, and to service the abstraction, a robust, noncontradictory system of thought built around equality must clean up and resolve the mess. The common reality in which some people have more property than others is unjust. Property itself is unjust in this view.
What this philosopher is ultimately doing is re-creating the world in his own image, his own preferred values. Of course, the ideology is not the world and never will be. Over time, this leads to philosophical resentment. He comes to resent the common life and the people in it because they persist in their culture, custom, and tradition without acknowledging the superior rationalist truth of his abstraction. This state of affairs produces philosophical anger. This anger motivates him to politics. All ideologies eventually call for a revolutionary takeover of the state to impose it. If the common life refuses to listen to reason, then it will be made to do so through the state. In this way, the ideologue traps himself in a set of specialized philosophical emotions for which there is no resolution beyond the violence of the state. He is alienated, angry, superior, and—given the right set of circumstances—violent.
Door number two leads down the path to true philosophy, which is that of the rational skeptic. He may come to the abstraction that all property is theft, but rather than stop there, he continues. The abstraction has a certain “profundity” because it seems like a logical puzzle. How can property be theft when theft presupposes property? How can “to be” mean “to be perceived” when a perceiver must be in order for being to exist? The view of ideological reason is that it is autonomous to culture, custom, and tradition, which are ultimately illusions, as they do not come from pure, autonomous reason. From a nonideological perspective, the profundity is the illusion. Whenever there is an ideology, we can expect to see a world inversion of this nature.
The true philosopher continues by bringing himself back into the context of common reality. What is the history of property? How did it come to be? What role does it play in society, in how we relate to each other? How does the tradition of property operate? Is there a place from which we can observe how the institution of property works and come up with a final equitable solution? Is reason capable of giving us the Archimedean lever? Or is the insight simply a vicious circle? In order for there to be theft, there must be property. Theft is wrong only in a world where there is property. For the statement to have meaning, there must be property, though it calls for no property.
For the motivating value, equality, to have any meaning, it must exist in the context of messy reality. Certainly equality is a social value, but not alone outside the context of history or excluding other social values such as justice, achievement, and the wealth of society. Here the true philosopher achieves a key insight—the questioner can never remove himself from common reality and the common life. There is no objective, Archimedean position outside from which to observe without bias—in this case, the bias of the questioner. Upon reaching this insight, he can return to society and its messy context, healing the alienation and understanding the cosmic joke that though he has a powerful tool in reason, he and his tool are still subject ultimately to the content upon which it works: common life. Reason can help us solve problems of inequality, but only in the context of messy reality as it is. The culture can be reformed and improved. Tradition is in many ways a history of revolts against tradition. But the improvements come from using reason within the context of the culture, not as a god that will remake the culture in its own image. Reason serves the culture.
The result of this path transforms the character of the true philosopher into that of the sage embodying the positive philosophical virtues, such as sagacity, humility, and wisdom.
You might wonder why anyone would ever take door number one. Well, it is perhaps because door number two is invisible to someone caught in the ideological trap. Also, the choice to be the philosophical hero with the sword of fire in service to the good, as you conceive it, is seemingly a noble one. Perhaps most compelling, the path of false philosophy, or ideology, is in some ways the uncompromising one. If we hold to the notion that pure reason can indeed give us universal truth, epistemological certitude, and ultimate moral authority, why not fight for it? Why not evangelize through speech? Why not enforce via a state if worse comes to worst? You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
The Tell of the Trap: Time
Let’s face it, it’s very difficult to see an ideology once you subscribe to it. The only way to realize it is to engage in a journey of radical skepticism or to begin to see telltale signs of its rationalistic structure and its world-inverting nature (captured above) or its aversion to time. For an ideology to claim universal truth, epistemological certitude, and ultimate moral authority, it cannot admit time or change. Thus, the bane of ideology is time. Change compromises the claim to final authoritative truth. And yet, time marches on. To combat this enemy, ideology is given to historicism and, naturally to follow, historical revisionism.
The Industrial Revolution is for the libertarian the triumph of liberty over slavery and is a necessary step on the path to the ultimate free society in which all transactions in human affairs are governed by individual choice. At its ultimate end lies a limited night watchman state, or for those more serious about the enterprise, an anarcho-capitalist world in which the state has been entirely replaced by an array of insurance companies and other private institutions to replicate, at a lower cost and with better service, mind you, any state service under the sun, such as defense, currency, roads, and contract adjudication. All things must be freely chosen by each individual to be morally legitimate.
The Industrial Revolution for the communist is the beginning of modern class warfare. The capitalist has emerged from the feudal order to hold the naked power over the means of production, enslaving the masses of the proletariat to his ends. It is a necessary step on the path to the ultimate equal society in which all men share in all things equally. In the next step, the proletariat violently seizes the means of production, ensuring that goods are shared in common, eliminating classes such that the state withers away and all live in peace.
For the upstart weaver who cleverly figured out a means of automating some portion of his work with a steam-powered loom and followed his innovation into a new business enterprise, the idea that he was really employed in a great endeavor to free all mankind to one day reside in an anarcho-capitalist utopia of private police forces might leave him scratching his head.
For the poor subsistence farmer newly arrived at a paying mill job in Birmingham laboring under the delusion that he’s made a choice to pursue a better life for his family, it might come as quite a shock to learn that all the while ideological history itself had a hold of him and marched him from the rocky Welsh highlands to Birmingham to serve its ends of true equality and the withering away of the state.
Ideological thinking has not always existed, and ideologies themselves evolve through time against their better judgment. To see ideology in a third and final way, we can give a narrative historical account of it. Through narrative, we can see how ideology began and evolved to its present state and how it was born from a belief in the authority of common reality, time, and the trappings of the common life: culture, custom, and tradition.
In his work The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, psychologist Julian Jaynes boldly asserts that man, as recently as 3,000 years ago, did not possess consciousness as we know consciousness today. By “consciousness,” he means self-awareness and our ability to reflect inward upon ourselves and our ideas. For Jaynes, ancient societies such as the Egyptians, Hittites, Minoans, ancient Chinese, and even the Maya and the Inca people had language, farming technology, commerce, cities, roads—all the trappings of civilization—but were not self-aware as we are today. This bicameral mentality, as he terms it, operated through orders from the gods, god kings, and deceased family members who were literally heard in the mind, much as a schizophrenic hears voices inside his own mind. These were not voices from actual gods but from a particular area of the brain associated with grammar and structure of language. The voices told members of these societies what to do and so were the source of authority in early civilizations.
The breakdown of the bicameral mentality into conscious awareness was a complex and traumatic event for each society and had many causes. A chief one was the emergence of written language. Seeing something written down was different from hearing it. The written voice could be put down, walked away from, returned to later; quite different from an order spoken to you within your own mind. To see language outside the self was likely a key part of the birth of self-awareness.
Written language began as a means of accounting. The earliest cuneiform tablets are records of transactions. As societies grew in complexity, stressing the bicameral mentality to failure, so too did writing, playing its own role as a stressor on the bicameral mind. It was a slow march from the accounting of livestock to creating lists of kings to describing significant weather events such as floods or droughts, and onward to the writing of narrative poetry telling lost histories of the gods and man.
This transition to modern consciousness, Jaynes contends, is recorded in works like the Old Testament, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. Strikingly, part of the transition was the emergence of narrative itself. Without a mind-space in which to introspect, ancient peoples could not reflect upon time, forward and backward. The ability to construct narratives, to give an account of common reality through them, emerged along with modern consciousness. Narrative thinking is native to our modern self-awareness. Story is a universally understood language across modern society, even where the languages through which they are told differ.
To give a narrative account of some aspect of the common life is a form of knowing or understanding it. In fact, it was the only form of knowing available outside of the god voices that were no longer being heard. The words of the gods came in sacred works as narrative.
Philosopher Giambattista Vico in his New Science anticipated Jaynes by a few hundred years. For Vico, language itself begins by metaphor as an external referent. Without a mind-space and complex language, one cannot isolate and reflect upon the meaning of an internal concept like courage. Courage then starts life through an external referent such as Achilles. Achilles is courage. If another man is courageous, then he must be possessed by Achilles. Only later does the quality get stripped away from the external referent in such a way as to be an object internal to the mind that can be reflected upon independently. But courage is not ever entirely cleaved from common reality. Whatever reflections one has on courage, it is a quality that is exercised through action in common reality.
The same is true of story itself, for which the external referent is Homer, and even of reason or philosophy, for which the external referent is Socrates. The New Science lays out a comprehensive method of understanding the humane studies or human sciences through narrative. Carried to a historical, civilizational level, societies go through ages: the Age of the Gods (Jaynes’ bicameral mentality), the Age of Heroes (Jaynes’ transitory stage from bicameral to conscious) and the Age of Man (Jaynes’ conscious self-awareness). But Vico continues where Jaynes did not.
The Age of Man is one of conscious self-awareness. There are no god voices for authority on what to do. Political societies are governed by laws established by gods who have departed for the heavens or heroes who were demigods—half man, half god—who have died and perhaps also departed for the heavens. These are artifacts of the Ages of Gods and Heroes. These artifacts, along with the actions and histories of men and societies, make up the culture, customs, and traditions of those societies. These are the authorizing structures. However, they do not speak with one clear and distinct voice. In the Age of Man, reason is discovered. For instance, Vico writes that Socrates, his external referent for philosophy, invented the question.
The Age of Man is a golden age in which reason helps illuminate the canopy of culture, custom, and tradition by reflecting upon it in the newly self-aware mind-space. Reason is subordinate to culture, custom, and tradition because it evolved from them, but that doesn’t impugn the knowledge it offers. Using reason is a means of understanding in addition to narrative and gives us self-knowledge or wisdom. Using the inquiry, we can attempt to acquire wisdom. We ask, What is man? What is the good? What is the beautiful? What is true?
Reason is a beautiful, entrancing creature. Whereas the law looks like a muddied, uncertain jumble, reason sweeps away contradictions, offering better justice. Whereas science struggles to understand the confusion of our senses, reason orders, systematizes, and uncovers laws we never knew existed. Whereas commerce is a mess of innovations, products, contracts, competing enterprises, and technologies, reason brings clarity, solves chronic institutional conflicts, and facilitates a more prosperous economy. Best of all, when reason shines its light of inquiry upon the undifferentiated garbage pile of human history and the whirling ball of thoughts and emotions that is modern consciousness, it delivers wisdom, the most delicious fruit of all.
Its power and beauty and promise, taken too far, undo all its good. For Vico, things go awry precisely when the following state of affairs is reached. The Age of Man’s golden era eventually comes undone and is replaced by the barbarism of reflection. If man in the age of gods is a barbarian in that he is not self-aware, modern man rebarbarizes when he makes the ideological move and begins questioning the question. What is knowledge? How do we know? How do we know that we know? How do we know that we know that we know?
The Switch: The Teeth of the Trap
And here, we are ensnared. Rather than reason’s serving as part of culture, custom, and tradition to better illuminate them and deepen conscious understanding, it foists itself on top of them as autonomous. The common life must submit to reason as its king, and only insofar as reason blesses it may it have legitimacy or even exist.
Vico is combatting Descartes, his contemporary, who in many ways launched Western civilization off the ideological cliff. Descartes sitting on his stove deployed the question “How do I know I exist?” and the statement “I think, therefore I am.” He questioned what is in common life self-evident—the existence of the questioner. He used the question, an artifact of existence and language, to attempt to prove existence and language exist. This may be the first, certainly most popular, world-inverting moment in Western civilization.
Descartes in his inquiry was no longer concerned with wisdom. He was concerned with truth. Truth in this sense is an ultimate, authoritative law, proven by reason without resorting to touching the swamp of culture, custom, and tradition. To even come to this point, a certain forgetting of common reality is required. No matter how pure reason seems to be, it is a form of thought derived from culture, custom, and tradition. Without content, it is a light bulb without electricity. It cannot justify itself alone. Of course, in ideological reason’s view, culture, custom, and tradition are corruptions of pure, noncontradictory truth. And so the attempt is made. But rationalistic, ideological truth is a very different creature from wisdom.
This is the beginning of ideology, and we can see that it began with the typical world-inverting error. Reason’s promise to prove our existence, to prove God’s existence, to divine the perfect social order, to get above the canopy to an Archimedean point where one might know the whole forest and pull a lever to remake it in the ideal form…is a false promise. In accepting the promise and elevating reason above the common life, we become ensnared. Following this promise leaves us stranded on the spiral staircase with no way back down.
We experience Hume’s philosophical alienation, fear, resentment, and anger. We divide our common political community into ideological tribes warring with one another for control over the state, a state that must be given more and more power to bring the victorious ideology fully into being. We lose our individuality, our memory, and our history to historicism and revisionism. We and our language become tools of an ideology, either as evangelists or as enforcers. It is no invention of George Orwell’s when an ideological society begins policing its speech. In a world of ideologies competing for dominance, words become tools of manipulation and power. Certain words cannot be said; certain thoughts cannot be thought. The ideology cannot permit dissent from wisdom, because the absurdity of its world inversion will be revealed.
To return to Jaynes, after the breakdown of the bicameral mind, we lost that singular authorization of action. He speculated that the trauma of this loss produced religion and myths common across cultures of the gods’ leaving mankind. We still seek this authorization of action, through religion, politics, or ideology. It may be that this need for authorization is innate to modern consciousness, a permission to be that we will never receive. As the gods spoke to the bicameral mentality giving authorization of action, ideologies promise the same.
When we consult ideologies hoping for a final authority, a final certainty, we hear no answers to our prayers. We cannot fix the ideology from within, nor can we fix it from without. To the extent that a society snares itself in the ideological trap, it gives reason a blowtorch to unmake culture, custom, and tradition, the only things enabling us to see at all. Nothing lies outside of those things except power and chaos. There is no shame in being lured into a trap by a deep, hungering need. The only shame would be failing to realize it is one when you’ve come to that awareness.
Now that we’ve taken some time to observe the fix we are in and its nature, how does MacGyver escape this doozy? Until the next chapter, I leave you with a bomb and a ticking clock.
Patrick Reasonover co-founded Taliesin Nexus and has served on the TN executive team guiding the organization’s growth since 2010.