Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Critique of Ideology-phobia

Translation of the second installment in a series by Amin Hosuri, on the current conditions of the opposition movement in Iran. This article focuses on the role played by ideology, and how the dominant discourse of the reformists tries to distort this concept.
[Read the original article, in Persian,
here ...]

Movement in Labyrinth-2:
In Critique of Ideology-phobia

by Amin Hosuri / June 29, 2011

Introduction: Nowadays, the dominant discourses (whether limited to the dimensions of a political movement or across the norms of the 'global village'), while basing their hypothetical legitimacy on the idea that their discourse is independent of any ideology, are fearful of, and spread fear about, any ideological outlooks entering [people's] beliefs and social movements. In fact, the dominant ideology insists that its generally accepted assumptions and teachings, exactly because of this general acceptance, must be taken as obvious and in fact the crystallization of (political) rationality itself, all exactly because it is not ideological. Naturally, for such trickery to be accepted, appropriate platforms and objective conditions must exist for its spreading, and, as well, the mechanisms for the reproduction and continuation of the 'dominant ideology' must be hidden; meaning, history must be systematically distorted and oppositional/critical ideas must be suppressed or boycotted. For example, in the last two years we have witnessed repeatedly that many independent activists in the [Iranian] opposition movement have been accused of having an 'ideological outlook' by media outlets of the 'Green Industry' or the supporters of the dominant discourse, and have been pushed to isolation. This political literature, which bears very outstanding signs of a very particular ideology on its own forehead, has been constantly issuing excommunication orders against those who do not believe in the prettified ideology of theirs, under the banner of 'Green Movement'. And, while it daily and increasingly merges the Green symbols of protest with the political outlooks of the reformists, with this very Green drawing of lines, it has reduced the boundaries of the movement to the limitations of their own beliefs and the political interests of their own dominant layers; all the while without failing for a second to repeatedly remind us how 'beyond ideology' the movement is.

On the other hand, and on a global scale also, a grand discourse that defends human rights, by depicting the sphere of human rights as apolitical, fits human rights into a non-ideological category. By ignoring the social background and conditions for vast, constant and systematic violations of the most basic human rights (in the grandest possible of dimensions), this outlook has turned the concept of human rights into a 'victim-oriented' fantasy, which actually is a proper global alternative for our late-contemporary depoliticized world, because it preempts in advance any discussion of power structures and grand mechanisms of domination and tyranny. In order to rationalize its de-politicization, 'human rights' discourse generally portrays ideological [state] systems as the cause of the atrocities in the contemporary world, and naturally negates [mass] political actions because of their connectedness to ideology. As a result, the human rights discourse, aided by its threads of neutrality and innocence (and which arise from its inability to understand the hidden ideological origins and consequences of its own views), plays a large role in spreading the game of 'fear of ideology', a fear that at times reaches mass phobia.

Based on this understanding, and since any purposeful political act must at the same time be the object of its own critical gaze, some reflection on the category of 'ideology' is a necessary phase of preparing for a conscious collective struggle. It is with such a motive and for the sake of collective thinking regarding the question of 'What is to be done?' that this text has been put together; a deeper consideration of this question requires a great amount of preliminary discussions. We owe the start of the discussion regarding ideology to a text that was recently published online, in the Mikhak publication, entitled, Green Movement's Myths: 1-Ideology.

1) In contemporary times, a great many people hold assumptions and presuppositions about social/political and cultural/ethical concepts and issues, which have not been chosen consciously by them but have been imposed on them as if they were self-evident ideas. The reason why the obviousness of these assumptions are rarely questioned is their widespread existence and their uninterrupted repetitions by the education systems, the accepted social and discourse customs, and also due to the dominance of the intellectual norms set by the mass-media; that space where general norms and values, much like other mass produced goods, are produced and reproduced. With the passage of time, these assumptions have in actuality become part and parcel of the dominant culture (the hegemonic discourse) that produces the teachings of 'common sense' for the general public.

One obvious example of these generalized teachings is the un-critiqued approach of opposing ideology or fearing ideology; this approach is mainly based on the assumption that in the era of scientific knowledge and wisdom, ideological teachings are not scientific and are based on fantasy and ossified thinking, and if accepted widely, will create disastrous results! (As if the current state of global collective existence is free from disasters.) The practical result of this repulsion or fear from ideology is that any belief or outlook that challenges the current system, or critiques its foundations in any serious fashion, will immediately be classified as an 'ideological view' and without any examination or reflection whatsoever lose all its credibility and credit. As a result, the domain of the popular 'common sense' can be brought to a state whereby, contrary to all the claims to scientific orientation and belief in reason, we must put aside objective propositions about reality/actuality, without any intellectual valuation or testing, and find recourse in pre-determined rulings. In other words, despite the fact that ideology-phobia accuses holders of ideologies of fantasizing [about political realities], 'fear of ideology' itself produces a form of ossification and escape from reason, which [...] further prevents it from critically understanding social reality and prevents it from correctly perceiving and understanding the [social] necessities.

However, can we truly avoid ideologies? Since our collection of intellectual beliefs, norms and our subjective assumptions (whether learned consciously or acquired by default) about the world around us externalize our criteria for judgments and for taking positions on particular affairs, any approach to the human world will inevitably contain some ideological components. The domain of this phenomenon includes even the methodology for viewing oneself and facing oneself, and in this way it also includes a framework within which we define or realize our interests, and also methods to choose from for pursuing our interests. The fact that an individual (or group) outlook is, or is not, filled with ideological assumptions and components is independent of whether or not the individual (or group) holding those ideas has put a name on it, or even that a particular historical name is available for an actually gathered collection of 'beliefs-assumptions'.

2) The customary accusation of 'being ideological', with all its negative semantic weight (including dogmatism, narrow mindedness, etc.) is mainly hurled at individuals and groups who are conscious of their own intellectual-political approach and express it with clarity. However, although the dominant discourse considers the unpleasant implications of this accusation as inevitable consequences of ideologies, it seems that the real problem is not in having an ideology since, as explained before, utilizing some form of personal or collective ideology (whether chosen in a thought-out fashion, or adopted unconsciously through induction and not so well-thought-out) is inevitable for facing social life in the real world. The real problem is when the holder of an ideology lacks the position of being self-conscious toward that ideology, or loses this position [of consciousness] over time. In this case, intellectual dynamism and vitality and the critical gaze toward those internalized beliefs lose their color and impact, and the tendency toward dogmatism and bias starts to grow. Therefore, just because a set of political ideas are close to this or that name or 'forbidden' -ism -- and considered separately from the human holder of those ideas -- we cannot take that alone to prove dogmatism. On the contrary, if we take the human holder of those ideas as the basis for judgment, any political thought/idea can include dogmatic forms and ways of looking at things within limited perspectives. And this is a general characteristic of all ideologies, not simply those that have become taboo nowadays. However, if we wish to escape from dogmatism by not participating consciously in choosing and forming our ideologies, this would be akin to wanting to avoid possible accidents by not ever crossing any streets at all. And, of course, this choice can only exist if the necessity for crossing the street is not that serious; as a result, in actuality, we'd have to be dependent on the willingness and the efforts of others, who are capable of building over-passes above the streets for the safe crossing of pedestrians!

3) Bias and dogmatism are in fact akin to being color blind regarding the realities; realities that were constituted by the social existence of humans and therefore reflect that existence. Therefore, it seems that the best way to avoid bias and dogmatism (for which, at least due to some psychological factors, all individuals have a talent) is to try to understand the dynamics of social existence and [to have] a critical view toward all levels of human world's realities. However, the main point is that the way we understand grand social realities, whether we like it or not, will inevitably be mediated by ideology to a large extent and occurs within the space of ideology (there are no absolute outside observers). This is so because social theories, which are our [intellectual] tools for understanding social existence, are themselves social products shaped by history; as a result, [social theories] are both the basis for different political ideologies and affected by them at the same time. Based of this, it can be said that, since social existence is the stage on which [socially-existing] conflicts and contradictions reveal themselves, the internal dynamics of society are the basis for the formation of different cognitive methods/schools, and for the emergence of different ideologies, and which in the final analysis account for the different (political) tendencies in the society. However, can we, based on this observation and based on a relativistic approach, assign equal value and credibility for all ideologies and deem all ideological choices as equivalents? (For example, by reasoning that everybody has a right to pursue their own interests and therefore can choose an ideology that matches those interests.) A positive answer to this question would mean either to deny the importance of consciously choosing from different ideologies, or to negate that it is possible to evaluate ideologies critically (the first one means the inevitable passivity of human beings and the negation of humans' historical subjectivity, and the second means not believing in the human ability to know and understand critically, which in turn confirms the first).

The actual fact is that, despite the social differences and divisions that are considered the material bases for the rise of different ideologies, there are glaring qualitative differences among the different ideologies [...] at least in terms of the quality of methodologies of their foundational theories, in terms of their ability to explain social complexities (or, by contrast, to hide or mystify them), in terms of their sympathies or animosities to grand human ideals (like freedom and equality), and in terms of their liberating, as compared to conservative, social potentials. In order to better understand how invalid the 'relativism' trick is in this regard (approaching different ideologies), it suffices to mention two points: first, even in a particular area of interests (more or less equivalent) that cover some social layers or a class of society, these interests can be represented by different ideologies. The other point is that, due to the functioning of grand structures of power on a societal level (which itself renders irrelevant the equality of powers assumed by relativism), the social reach of different ideologies are extremely different, and in actuality the dominant classes impose their own favored ideologies on others (internalize it into others) through many different means at their disposal.

As a result, those who values their human sense and intellect and who see their own growth as dependent on the growth of society, must consider it as an utmost important duty to understand the mechanisms of different ideologies and choose from them; this [acquisition of a critical outlook] is a duty that challenges all the senses and our knowledge and intellectual capabilities, and is the basic necessity of any collective and conscious effort that seeks fundamental social transformations.

Based on all the above, and in reference to the customary fears regarding the harmful impacts of ideology, it must be said that the main danger lies on the other side: If we take an approach filled with abhorrence and repulsion toward any ideology, without any independent studying and personal meditation and thinking about social theories and historical experiences, and purely based on some current assumptions considered self-evident -- then, doubtless, we will surrender ourselves completely and vulnerably so to the dominant ideology; that which due to its omnipresence has become invisible and, although it induces us to fear ideology, itself escapes our revulsion!