J. M. Alventosa Ferri: Beyond Ideology?
The book Beyond Politics, an outline of systematic ideology, calls attention to the analysis, observation and study of opposites. It is a dialectical book about dialectics. It is intended to explain the ideological structure of today’s society.
It is in vogue nowadays to write and talk about the end of history, the end of the Cold War, the end of class society… Is it the end of ideologies, too? If so, what about science, religion, ethics, politics, education …? Any statement about the end of ideology is an ideological act in itself. So how can it be possible to escape from ideology?
Ideology – that set of assumptions, beliefs, conclusions, doctrines and dogmas, ideas, inclinations, opinions, principles, tendencies, theories and thoughts, values, and a large etcetera – is a cultural product and thus a social one. That is, it is society, as a set of individuals and groups, that creates, maintains and reproduces ideologies – and, for the same reason, is created, maintained and reproduced by ideologies!
Within any purposive group there is a predominant tendency towards the practice of one ideology rather than any other, and the group will predominate over other social groups, or not, according to the strength of its tradition in time (how long it has been around) and its spatial power in society (its quantity as well as its resources and its use of them).
To be involved and committed in politics, in social policies and activities, is to behave ideologically. Such behaviour is purposive and thoughtful, it aspires to achieve an end following and deploying determinate means. This is done both by individuals and by groups, more or less organised, in all sorts of ways: party politics, neighbourhood activities, workplaces, associations and clubs of all sorts. Indeed, it is the individual – as a personal and collective entity – who creates, maintains and supports, reproduces all social institutions and structures, and thus all their subsequent manifestations and activities.
In today’s society, it is the EIDOSTATIC groupings that determine the main lines of social activity. At the top a small minority leading and ruling; at the base line, a large mass – the “silent majority,” the “doers” – who in the long run set the limits within which the rulers are obliged to operate but, in the short term, practice and perform the commands and instructions issued from above, the relative strength or weakness of each group complementing that of the other. It is their mutual and explicit consensus of expediency, stability, normality, order, daily routine and programme, that makes our present society an apparently cohesive one, with each person attending to his or her own business and affairs. It is the inherent consensus between rulers and ruled, between dominant and subordinate, that makes daily and routine social practices possible.
But what about ownership of self, what about autonomy and self-management, what about inflation, wages, the labour market, education, the mass-media, the military-industrial complex and the other staples of political discussion?
The belief that neither individuals nor protesting groups exercise control over any of these things and, especially, that no individual can ever control an institution, is an assumption, hence ideologically determined. Institutions and sub-systems, they all operate as factors, within and as parts of the present social system, a social mechanism that works (almost) automatically and as if following its own thought-processes. And this has to happen, regardless of the people apparently in control, if it is to work effectively on a daily basis. The quality and quantity of this “human factor,” is a variable dependent on the duality, in time-space and quality-quantity, of social relations.
Although it has not always been so, yet today, wherever an eidostatic group, with its set of principles, means and goals is to be found there appears also its counterpart, an EIDODYNAMIC group with a set of principles, means and goals in opposition. These comprise reform, revolution and repudiation. Greatly in the minority, inferior in power and resources, fragmented, largely ignored, out of the main social stream, the eidodynamic ideological class strives to compensate for these disadvantages by its activity, passion and belligerence. It feels itself engaged in a fight not just for supremacy but for survival – survival, however, of a kind very different from that which so often contents the expedients.
Present society, rulers and ruled alike, is running predominantly on expediency, domination, attempts at precise social control, predictability, short- term gains and goals. Humankind has reached a point where it is able largely to satisfy the primary expedient demands, the basic human needs for food, shelter and clothing. (Whether it can do this without imposing unacceptable personal, social and environmental costs is of course a different matter).
But what of the other human needs – universal love, caring, solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation, sharing… ? The demand for these comes mainly from the group of people committed to eidodynamic principles, desires and actions. Is it now their turn for development, bringing social evolution into balance both within itself and with the planet? After all the millenia spent developing the physical and material side, can we not now expect the aeon of concentration upon the other side, upon intellect and leisure, upon psychicality rather than physicality?
Like society itself, the products of society – language, education, mass-media, even Culture itself, are given to and imposed upon each individual and group at birth. For each of us these things are already there, ready-made and waiting to embrace us. We have no choice in the matter. Only later, with growth and develpment, does it become possible to choose, to challenge, to repudiate – or, indeed, knowingly to accept, to reform, conform or comply. Either course, as action and / or attitude, constitutes an ideological act / decision at one time or another, and this as an outcome of one’s personal and social experience, personalized and social.
The nature of this development has the effect that only a tiny minority of individuals and groups choose to drive against the main stream – the few who repudiate what is, demanding social revolution. The education industry that renders the physical achievements of the eidostatics possible itself reinforces this tendency, striving to indoctrinate all alike, working to force eidostatic values, means and goals upon all alike. And, even before schooling begins, these values already permeate the institutions and activities, the family organisation and system of child-rearing, that surround the infant. The education industry works to manufacture submissive, authoritarian, obedient individuals and groups as square pegs to fit squarely into the square sockets provided by the social structure.
Running in parallel with education and complementing it, the mass-media continue this propagation of eidostatic principles, means and goals.
Like education, the media constitute a given, an established and active part of the social environment owned and directly controlled by a few on the upper economic levels of the eidostatic group while the great majority near its base hold, and sometimes exercise, their veto as consumers-clients-customers. The media are consumed like the ready-cooked food from the supermarket; food “from market to basket,” the media “from mind to mind.”
The eidostatic principles, means and goals, just because of their inherent powers of expediency, domination and precision, now rule in present society. They have an inbuilt quality of assimilation, tending to accommodate and absorb any and all groups or movements, not to mention individuals, which strongly, widely or menacingly challenge this supremacy. This quality enables them to keep at bay the eidodynamic principles and their supporters, making these appear not merely powerless and uninfluential but “funny”, opposed to progress, cranky, queer, alien …
In the face of all criticism and attack from other ideological groups the eidostatics carry on with everyday affairs, year after year, as a means of surviving. Is this because it makes them feel secure, or more secure? Is it because of insecurity and fear of the unknown? Because it is easier and less stressful to follow suit rather than to repudiate and challenge what is in pursuing the search for oneself and the betterment of the social group? Is this the explanation of widespread apathy, immobility, conservatism, political absenteeism and abstention? Or is it because if you can’t beat them you join them?
Fashions now change even more quickly than before. If the general population can respond in this way to novelties, what might be the impact of well-established, proven and successful social alternatives based on eidodynamic principles such as universal love, caring, mutual aid and cooperation, sharing, a concentration upon long-term, sustainable gains? Is it not possible to substitute a holistic life and world-view for the now dominant fragmented, segmented, pigeon-hole approach?
Looking around, humankind seems to be in a cul-de-sac. Religions, politics, ideologies, wars, conquests and invasion, all alike have failed to bring peace, happiness, communal social relations, autonomy for individuals, groupings and neighbourhoods. It is difficult to decide whether to drop out or to carry on with the struggle for reliable, efficient and fulfilling social and personal alternatives.
Either choice constitutes an ideological stand, a purposive attitude based on assumed principles, means and goals …
from Ideological Commentary 50, March 1991.