Can a sophisticated individual rise above ideology?

Can a sophisticated individual rise above ideology?

All thought is saturated with egocentric and sociocentric presuppositions. That is, all thought contains highly motivating bias centered in the self or in ideologies such as political, religious, and economic theories. Some individuals are conscious of these internal forces but most people are not.

Those individuals who are conscious of these biases within their thinking can try to rid their judgments of that influence. Those who are not conscious, or little conscious of such bias, are bound to display a significant degree of irrational tendencies in their judgments.

“Can the intellectual, who is supposed to have a special and perhaps professional concern with truth, escape from or rise above the partiality and distortions of ideology?”

An intellectual might be properly defined as those who are primarily or professionally concerned with matters of the mind and the imagination but who are socially non-attached. “The intellectual is thought of not as someone who displays great mental or imaginative ability but as someone who applies those abilities in more general areas such as religion, philosophy and social and political issues. It is the involvement in general and controversy outside of a specialization that is considered as the hallmark of an intellectual; it is a matter of choice of self definition, choice is supreme here.”

Even anti-ideological is ideological. If partisanship can be defended servility cannot; many have allowed themselves to become the tools of others.

We have moved into an age when the university is no longer an ivory tower and knowledge is king but knowledge has become a commodity and educators have become instruments of power; the university has become a privately owned think-tank.

“A profound change in the intellectual community itself is inherent in this development. The largely humanist-oriented, occasionally ideological minded intellectual dissenter , who saw his role largely in terms of proffering social critiques, is rapidly being displaced either by experts and specialist, who become involved in special government undertakings, or by generalist-integrators, who become house-ideologues for those in power, providing overall intellectual integration for disparate actions.”

The subordination to power is not just at the individual level but also at the institutional level. Government funds are made available to universities and colleges not for use as they deem fit but for specific government needs. Private industry plays even a larger role in providing funds for educational institutions to perform management and business study. Private industry is not inclined ‘to waste’ money on activities that do not contribute to the bottom line. ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’

Thomas Kuhn, in his famous book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, explains the difficult we have with recognizing and accepting experiences that contradict our anticipations.

As Kuhn observed:
“Novelty emerges with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a back drop provided by expectation. Initially, only the anticipated and usual are experienced even under circumstances where anomaly is later to be discovered…Further acquaintance, however, does result of awareness of something wrong…[which] opens a period in which perceptual categories are adjusted until the initially anomalous has become the anticipated.”

He concludes: “What a man sees depends upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conceptual experience has taught him to see.”

Kuhn provides us with an experiment performed by Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman undertaken to illuminate this human characteristic of seeing only what we are prepared to see.

Subjects were shown standard playing cards mixed with the anomalous card a red six of spades and a black four of hearts. Subjects repeatedly and erroneously identified the anomalous cards as a six of hearts or a four of spades. Some, even after the experiment was over, displayed confusion and even anger at the experiment. Only after repeated exposures to the cards did the subjects slowly feel something was askew here. Only after forty exposures did the subjects correctly identify the cards.

Quotes and ideas from “Knowledge and Belief in Politics” Bhikhu Parekh