Ideology makes wisdom inaccessible

Remember the Y2K mania? Plenty of folks would like to forget it, since they embarrassed themselves mightily by loudly (and profitably) proclaiming doom and gloom in the years and months leading up to January 1, 2000. Me, I always wanted to celebrate it after the fact, since it woke me up to the unnecessarily complex and fragile nature of modern society. So what if the potential disaster never became actual? Just because we dodged a bullet didn’t mean they weren’t shooting at us.

The other thing I learned from Y2K is that ideology makes wisdom inaccessible. There was (and still is) an awful lot of good stuff that could be learned by taking a close, skeptical look at the nature of modern living. But once an ideology was attached, it went from being a matter of thinking deeply to one of choosing sides, with people on each side now motivated to automatically despise whatever the other side had to say, wise or not, simply because they were on the other side. In the Y2K debacle the preppers overreached and then lost the argument—spectacularly so—rendering themselves an object of easy ridicule. Anyone re-raising any of their qualms about modern living is now easily dismissed, simply because the preppers were exposed as fools one January morning.

I followed the Y2K discussions closely, and learned a lot. I didn’t buy into it to the point of making preparations, but we did spend New Year’s Eve in 1999 at our remote vacation home in Colorado, and I was, uh, open-minded about what I would find when I tried logging onto the internet the next morning. Perhaps because I wasn’t invested to the point of embarrassment I wasn’t deterred from looking deeply into modern life, and since then I’ve concluded that the preppers are basically right about the deep flaws of modern society, regardless of how accurate they’ve been in making practical predictions. And I think it’s a shame that their joy in making dire predictions has obscured the wisdom they’ve managed to uncover/recover.

Which is why I was really pleased to come across this article about Lisa Bedford, the Survival Mom. I haven’t studied Bedford’s site yet, but I will. The article makes it clear that she has found a niche by cleverly opening up the world of prepperdom to average people with average concerns, rescuing wisdom about preparedness from those who tend to bundle it up in ever-more-extreme ideology. Here’s a bit of common sense at its finest from Bedford:

When did being completely unprepated for everything become a virtue?

Bedford’s approach is inspired, and (to me) inspiring—I’m already thinking of ways I might adapt it to grant access to some of the wisdom I’ve found tightly embedded in different ideologies I’ve studied.

2 thoughts on “Ideology makes wisdom inaccessible

  1. This is how I’ve grown to feel about organized religion. For the last four years, about, I’ve been praying with ultraorthodox Jews and wrestling with my feelings about that. Their prayer is right on target. I can’t really handle the rest of it (gender roles, politics, legal discussions). So I was feeling bad about praying with them but not feeling able to socialize with them. And then I had this epiphany one Shabbos — take away the religion, leave the ideology. It’s been really helpful. They are at their best when they are worshipping and their ideas are mostly inchoate, subsumed to the service of G-d. Some aspects of the worldview make possible that kind of prayer; however, once they try to make everything in the world conform to that worldview, they begin to ignore important aspects of reality (IMO). Much of what we understand about reality is not consistent; the insistence on making it consistent ends up denying the reality and putting something else (impossible) in its place.

  2. Much of what we understand about reality is not consistent; the insistence on making it consistent ends up denying the reality and putting something else (impossible) in its place.


    Amen to that! And I’ll add that it’s endlessly fascinating to ponder the real source(s) of that insistence. After all, there’s no personal benefit to achieving consistency (as opposed to striving for it), unless you simply want to be done with the game of life. I’m guessing that for some folks this is actually what they want—don’t make me think, just tell me what to do. For others, I think it is a precursor to imposing their will on others, i.e. first create a worldview around which like-minded others can gather, then gather them, opening up the possibility of being in charge of the thing you’ve created.

    Maybe in other cases it is a simple matter of overreaching. We begin with the (true) idea that we can be profitably shaped and sculpted by our experiences, the wisdom of others, etc—where it is the process that is paramount&mdash and move on to the (erroneous) idea that we can be molded, in the sense that there is some ideal form into which our raw material can be forced—now the goal is paramount, and any shortcut is welcome that will get us to the goal quicker.

    I once read a book from Banner of Truth called Green Eye of the Storm, a history of four Christians who were also scientists (one the father of the writer), who worked between 1850 and 1950, when scientism was ascendant. One of them, when honestly confronting data he was at the time unable to reconcile with his faith, would always respond with: “awaiting further light.” Exactly the attitude you want a scientist to adopt, I think. But there was astounding pressure on them to recant their faith and convert to the reigning interpretation.

    Last week I watched The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn, where Sister Luke’s convent strove mightily to mold her into a shape (with her full consent and desire) that turned out to be unsuitable for her. The convent ultimately failed at their goal—after fifteen years she left the order—but I think their real failure was one of imagination, trying to get her to conform to their ideal rather than dealing with her as she was and shaping her into something better.

    And now I’m reading about St Thérèse of Lisieux, who went from being an obscure Carmelite nun who died in 1897 at the age of 24 to being not only canonized but designated as a Doctor of the Church, joining the ranks of Aquinas and Ambrose and Augustine and just 32 others, once people began to read her letters and autobiography. Although the shaping and sculpting she experienced as a Carmelite nun was vital to creating the wisdom she eventually shared, that wisdom was nothing the Carmelite ideal embodied, it was something quite new and different.

    At this point I’m rambling, but I wanted to underline what I saw in your comment, that like-mindedness is not the true goal and can often work against the true goal, which according to Bonhoeffer is to transcend our differences for the sake of our greater bond in Christ. And how do you go about transcending differences if you’ve started by doing your best to eliminate them?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s