What a Tale of Death in South Dakota tells us about the Dangers of all Ideologies
Please watch this interview with a nurse in South Dakota. Jodi Doering says some of her coronavirus patients often don’t want to believe that Covid-19 is real, even in their dying moments. Even as they die they will not accept that they are dying from Covid-19 and ask for “magical” cures for whatever strange ailment they have. “Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’ And when they should be… Facetiming their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred.” Such is the power of ideology in action. Our minds are so powerful that they can create alternative realities so far from the ‘real world’ that they result in our own death.
Now, I am not here to blame. Or have a solution. Or to say what is right. I am here to ensure that all of us know that we are always trapped by an ideology. Our brains need ideology to make sense of a very confusing, complex and contradictory world. However, when that ideology becomes too far divorced from that messy thing called “reality” [which is never completely knowable] it causes pain, despair and death. First, a bit about the biology of the brain as it relates to why we must construct ideologies to survive. Second, we’ll explore a bit about the psychological-social-political-religious implications, with a bit about admitting to the lack of success of Canada’s cultural ideology’s fight with Covid-19.
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The brain’s job is to take in data from its senses and make a choice about which action will best serve its interests – which mostly have to do with increasing the chances of survival. The problem is that there is too much data coming to absorb so the brain has to filter out data that is less important. (Ie. You probably did not notice the pressure on your posterior from sitting on your chair too long until I just brought it to your attention.) Secondly, it uses algorithms [ideology] to help turn that raw data into a cohesive picture of what is “really going on” and makes a decision upon what to do from a limited number of choices. This gets really messy as the data is biased, the choices are biased and mostly pre-set, and the decision is not only framed by an ideology but by emotional needs – which really makes it almost impossible to be objective about the whole process. Nonetheless, we must try. One way to look at this is how Science uses theories. All Science is the interplay of data/experiment and theory/interpretation. The saying goes: “All theories are wrong but some are useful.” As data must be interpreted we must have a theory. However it must always be recognized that every theory is a simplification of reality. The same goes for ideology.
Our views on Covid-19 are based upon our ideology. Our politics are an ideology. Our views on society and social relationships are based upon our ideology. Religions are clearly an ideology – the most powerful in historical terms, but really only an ideology that brings together power, social and moral rules, economic and foreign affairs, etc. It may be different in its details, but really it is just an ideology like Communism, Capitalism, Nazism, Liberalism, etc. All can be useful, but all are incomplete (ie. wrong). The trick is, given that we all have an ideology, how do we know it is no longer helping us live a better life?
Well, a simple test is this: have you changed your ideology in the past few years? Have your views on some subject evolved? Or are you stuck in how you thought for the past decades? If you are stuck, if you have not changed your views, well then, your ideology has trapped you. It is no longer serving its intended purpose of helping you live a better life. Why is that? The world has changed! And you need to change with it! Here is a short list that may also help you realize that you are trapped by your ideology and should consider working on a new one.
DIAGNOSIS: How do I know my brain is on ideology?
Here is a necessarily incomplete checklist. Your brain might be on ideology if:
- When your argument is reframed with the variables changed, you instantly recognize it as ideology.
- You make a counter-argument which could as easily apply to your own argument.
- You think that anyone whose greatest crime is disagreeing with your opinion must be stupid.
- You complain about a network of people or institutions who are trying to silence you.
- You use the phrase, “I have a right to my opinion,” at any time, for any reason.
- You find the idea that you might be wrong about your theory intolerable.
- Your argument gets its power from particular words or phrases (such as “mansplaining” or “cultural appropriation”) and doesn’t make much sense without them.
- When your own argument is used against you, your answer is, “that’s different because…”
- You find yourself spending time shouting down, silencing or dismissing the experiences of people in whose interests you claim to have developed your opinions.
- When you hear a counterargument you can’t explain, you become angry rather than interested.
- You’re deeply offended that a member of the out-group is talking to you about a subject you feel should be discussed only by members of the in-group. Before he’s actually said anything.
- You feel that your personal fears and obsessions should be shared by others. (I’m terrified of spiders; what does that tell you about spiders?)
- When your beliefs are challenged with incontrovertible evidence, they get stronger (this is called the Backfire Effect). https://areomagazine.com/2017/05/19/this-is-your-brain-on-ideology/
So what does this mean you can do? Ask yourself the questions above. Change your ideology. Realize that the mess most people or countries are in is because they are stuck in failed ideologies and need to change. This of course applies directly to the Covid-19 crisis we are in as it is clear that there is a wide variation on the effectiveness of the response of various countries: all based upon it’s culture – its ideology. It seems that Canada is doing “OK”, but certainly not great. Australia and New Zealand, countries that are fair to compare to, are doing MUCH better than we are. Australia has had 5 cases in the past 24 hours, and New Zealand 3. Canada has had over 6,000 cases. Clearly, our ideology is not working that well. Time to change. Time to get in touch with reality. Time to update our ideology.