George Walford: Ideological Symbols

When a series of items of intentional behaviour all tend towards, say, economic collectivism, this justifies, and may even compel, the inference that the people in question are identified with economic collectivism (or more briefly, that they are economic collectivists).

When the inference has been drawn the ideological feature (in this case economic collectivism) can be treated as a symbol of the behaviour which implied its presence, and one feature is easier to handle than a series of actions. Each inferred feature incorporates as it were the purely ideological characteristics of the different actions by which it is implied, and its relations with other such features can be studied without the irrelevant complications that would be produced by the accidental details of each particular action. Economic individualism, for example, varies directly as political collectivism and inversely as the valuation of theory, whatever be the particular actions which, in any given instance, imply the presence of each of them. At any stage in the process the ideological features can be “translated” back into action, although the outcome will be only, as it were, purely ideological actions, the accidental details that render them real actions still to be acquired according to the circumstances of place and time. It is the method used in arithmetic, where numbers are handled without considering, during the operations, whether they represent apples, atoms or elephants.

If arithmetic is to produce useful results the operations performed upon the numbers must be in accordance with the established principles of mathematics. If systematic ideology is to produce useful results the operations performed upon features must be in accordance with the regularities these have been found to exhibit in real societies. (I anticipate certain objections by saying here, in advance of any demonstration, that they include irregularities, change and development). One of our main tasks is to establish these regularities.

from Ideological Commentary 28, July 1987.