Monday, March 13, 2017

The Language of Ideology

[H]ow do we recognize the language of “ideology” and distinguish it from a “principled position”? One common clue is that those who hold a principled position welcome arguments; they welcome having their position tested and possibly corrected. A principled position always has room for increased subtlety and greater complexity. Holders of an “ideology,” on the other hand, will tend to eschew argument or any examination of the ideology’s underlying presuppositions or premises, often refusing to concede that greater subtlety may be required to apply the principles to real-life situations. Ideology disdains argument; people with principled positions embrace it warmly and engage in it gladly. . . .

[C]orruption of language is a characteristic sign of ideology. Throughout the Platonic dialogues, Socrates spends a great deal of time trying to clarify words, attempting to get clear on what people mean when they use terms such as “good” or “just” or “great.” Ideologies want to skip over all that hard work. Asking what someone means by “good” or “just” or “fair” is, to the devoted ideologue, like the greengrocer refusing to put the sign in his window. It suggests you’re not a party member.

Watch out for this. Refusing to discuss one’s terms because the point is “obvious,” insisting on using euphemisms rather than plain speech, relying on a very specialized vocabulary and being unable to express one’s thoughts without it, using speech to vilify persons rather than to clarify positions: these are all clues that you’re dealing with ideology, not principle.

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