On Ideology and Closed Systems:

I'm going to respond here, because what started as a comment turned out to be far too long for Haloscan.

I. On Changes

When a movement arises of people who are breaking out of a closed, dominant system of thought, it is a movement that often has the potential to become dominant. It's something to be watched closely when it happens.

This is because the new movement has been lately informed by direct examination of reality. The theoretical structures it builds -- the new ideology -- is at least momentarily closer to the current reality than the one it replaces.

This is why neoconservatism -- which has its origins among certain former liberals who were shocked by WWII and the rise of the Soviet state -- remains a strong philosophy in the West. But it is also why Reform Liberalism had been so strong beforehand: it, and its European counterpart Democratic Socialism, had broken out of the well-developed system of Marxism on the left. Thinkers who abandoned the Marxist worldview and structures, but were still interested in the social questions Marxism had arisen to protest, developed new political structures and ways of thinking that swept Europe and America in turn.

II. Growth and Ossification

I think there is a cyclical process here, which arises from the fact that these things (if they are successful) become movements. Movements require a lot of people; and almost no people are rational in the way of what your 'neo-neocon' describes as a "changer" is rational. As a result, any successful system will ossify over time and become "closed," and thus progressively less attached to the current reality and more vulnerable to a new breakout system. I'll explain what I mean.

Only a small subset of political thought considers large-scale systems at all. It's been a long time since I took political science, and I quote from memory so the percentages I offer should be considered rough, but you're welcome to clarify them with political science professors at your university. I seem to remember that the studies indicate that most people decide who to vote for based on personal considerations (this candidate offers tax cuts; that one offers better garbage collection); or based on party or other personal affiliation (I'm in the union, and the union says this is our guy); or based on purely social considerations (That fellow seems smarter in the debate; this fellow looks like a weasel).

Only about twenty percent of voters, as I recall, considered ideology in making their decisions. Of these, half were "ideologues," hard-core devotees to the system of their choice. This group was the most important group to possess in order to be successful as a political movement -- these people, because they think according to the system, understand what needs doing on their own and can mobilize others. These are often your party volunteers, the union leaders -- the ones who are telling the group-identifiers who 'the union's guy' is -- and other similar organizers.

The problem is that you need these people to be successful as a movement. However, because their approach to life is ideological, in order to capture them you need to present a system for them to apply to life. They are rational, but their rationality rarely extends to questioning the fundamentals of the system. It normally stops with thinking rationally about how events they observe fit within the system.

III. The Role of Emotional Thinking

This is not limited to politics -- Aristotle, for example, questioned whether it was possible to think rationally about the ends of ethics. Once you understood what you wanted to be -- "A good man should be generous to the poor," or "It is better to be a fireman than a banker" -- it was easy to think rationally about whether a given action fit with being that kind of person. It was not clear, however, if you could make those basic decisions based on simple reason. It seemed to Aristotle that it was the irrational part of the soul, the emotional part, that made those base decisions about what the ends of virtue are.

The same thing is at work in these political models. Your most effective political operatives are good at applying reason to questions within the model. "How does this political coup fit within the model?" is one such question. "What does the model suggest as the right response to rising gas prices?" is another.

Yet the reason they adopted the model wasn't rational -- it is tied up with emotional thinking about what kind of person they want to be and also what kind of society they want to have. These are the very questions that Aristotle said might not be able to be addressed wholly rationally, or possibly even at all rationally.

This is why the "changer" gets hit with a heavy emotional response when he begins knocking down the pillars of the system. It is because, at base, the real supporters of the system are invested based on deep emotional attachments to the ideals. They can be wholly clinical about applying reason to events, fitting them within the system and devising a response. Applying reason to the model, in a way that undermines it, moves you into an emotional field, and they will have an emotional response.

IV. The Process of, and Reasons for, Success

As a result, the system ossifies as it becomes successful. In order to succeed, you need these ideologues to move your politics out through society. In order to engage them, the system needs to stabilize enough that they can identify with it -- enough that it presents a coherent vision of society and the Right Kind of Man, so that the ideologues can see that and decide (emotionally) that this is what they want. At that point, the system succeeds, but it also hardens. It is no longer possible for the founders of the system, or other "changers," to modify it without enraging its most important supporters.

The system may become dominant over whatever was the old system, however, because even in the hardened form it is closer to the current reality than the older system it is replacing. The ossification was more recent. More recently, reason was applied to its foundations, and brought it in line with the broader world.

If you live long enough, and remain open minded, you will therefore outlive more than one of your ideologies. They break, over time.

V. How to Lead Rather than Follow

The solution is to make your emotional decisions about what the right kind of man is, and what society is for, based on things that aren't subject to politics. You can then move easily from working one ideology to another as necessary, choosing whichever one is most likely to approach your real goals. You can also influence the new ideologies as they are arising, so that they adopt your goals.

The normal sources for these decisions are family, religion, art and philosophy. You can't do much about your family, but you can look for other families you admire, and see what is important to them. You can, in this country, examine religions freely, with an eye toward what kind of men and what kind of societies they produce.

Art is properly emotional, but once you know what you like you can examine its underpinings.

And philosophy? I still think Aristotle has the right of things. But again: look not so much at the philosophy itself, but at what kind of men it produces. You're making your emotional decisions first -- what kind of man do you want to be? What kind do you want others to be? Pick a philosophy and encourage it if and only if it develops that kind of man.

When you see a new system breaking out, you will therefore be prepared to engage it during its still-purely-rational phase. This is the point at which it is most open to change. You can help to guide it toward the things you think are eternal, so that when the ideologues get there it will invest them with those things. You will be guiding the production of the right kind of families, what you feel is the right kind of religion (not necessarily "the right religion"; it can be the right way to believe in any religion), the right kind of art and the best understanding of beauty, and the right philosophy.

In this way, as new systems emerge to meet new challenges, you can push them to remain devoted to the things that are eternally important. You can help ensure that they continue to pursue the right kind of man, and the right kind of society.

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