November 5, 2020

Ideology and Loneliness

Ideology is described as a coherent system of ideas that relies on a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis. Through this system, ideas become coherent repeated patterns through the subjective ongoing choices that people make. These ideas serve as the seed from which further thought grows. Believers in ideology range from passive acceptance through fervent advocacy to true belief.

There are different kinds of ideologies. Political ideologies have definite ideas about how society should be organized and the most appropriate way to achieve the goal. A social ideology is the shared ideas of a group, the intention and driving mindset about social interactions. Epistemological ideologies have different assumptions about what knowledge is and how it can be discerned. Ethical ideologies are formed around the degree to which they subscribe to universal moral principles as compared to flexibility in dealing with life situations.

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Hannah Arendt identified an important effect of ideologies: they create separation which leads to loneliness. The separation is caused by living in an environment of fearfulness.  She said that when we do not believe that communication can be authentic, people become secretive and duplicitous in order to maintain a degree of safety.  This results in extreme loneliness.

The way we think about the world affects the relationships we have with others and ourselves. By injecting a secret meaning into every event and experience, ideological movements are forced to change reality to match their claims once they come to power. This means that a person can no longer trust the reality of one’s own lived experiences in the world. Instead, one is taught to distrust oneself and others, and to always rely upon the ideology of the movement, which must be right. (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951)

In order to make individuals susceptible to ideology, you must first ruin their relationship to themselves and others by making them skeptical and cynical, so that they can no longer rely upon their own judgment. (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951)

Ideological thinking turns us away from the world of lived experience, starves the imagination, denies plurality, and destroys the space between people that allows them to relate to one another in meaningful ways. And once ideological thinking has taken root, experience and reality no longer bear upon thinking. Instead, experience conforms to ideology in thinking. Loneliness arises when thought is divorced from reality, when the common world has been replaced by the tyranny of ideological demands. (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951)

Thought-Starters for Sharing

  1. How has aging affected your comfort level in the groups with which you identify?
  2. When was a time that your evolving thoughts deviated from those of the groups with which you had identified?
  3. What groups have you belonged to that had very strong belief systems? Family? Social clubs? Religious organizations? Political parties? Corporations? Career field?
  4. How have you experienced separation as a result of belief systems?
  5. When was a time that your honest expressions caused you difficulty?
  6. What were the points that caused the greatest degree of separation?
  7. What benefits are there in being in groups that share only your own beliefs?
  8. Could “orthodoxy” be another name for “ideology”?
  9. When was a time when you felt lonely because of fearfulness about how your thinking would be perceived?

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