It’s often said that ideology is the reason we have so many social and political problems. “If it weren’t for ideological types, then we could resolve things and get things done.”
It’s perhaps understandable that some would draw this conclusion, especially when you watch how people argue over the recent non-indictments of police officers in citizen killings, first in Ferguson, Missouri, and now in Staten Island, NY.
An example occurred recently with D.C. House delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. When asked (by Sean Hannity of Fox News) if she had read the evidence in the Ferguson, Missouri, case, which led the grand jury not to indict the police officer for the killing of the citizen, she replied, “I did not, and that is not a concern.” She went on to say, “I have not read the transcript because my interest is not in what happened, my interest is in what should happen — where we go forward from here.”
Norton’s reaction represents an unusually open, brazen and “honest” statement that certain ideological types bring to their assessment of social or political issues. She might as well be saying, “A black man died at the hands of a white police officer. It’s racism, and criminal. End of story.”
This approach to ideology could work from many different points of view. For example, it’s possible that somebody would think (or feel), “That black guy probably had what’s coming to him. Good for the white cop. End of story.”
Ideology gets the blame for these sorts of racist or collectivist attitudes, regardless of the direction or attitude from which they stem. But the term “ideology” merely refers to an intellectual frame of reference. To enter into a conversation or a process of thinking about any significant matter without an ideology would be equivalent to saying, “I’m going to think about this issue, but without reference to any ideas whatsoever.” Aside from being ludicrous, it would be impossible. Because every situation in life we approach involves the operation of some implicit ideas, however subconsciously they’re utilized.
An ideology can actually be rational or irrational. Examples of an irrational ideology? Eleanor Holmes Norton, Al Sharpton, and others like them. “White cop, black victim — it’s racism and criminal, end of story.” But there are other examples too. “A cop killed a citizen — especially an unarmed one? It shows how evil all cops are. End of story. Government is absolutely and always wrong.”
The methodology in each case is the same. It’s emotional and therefore psychological in its form; but it’s ultimately philosophical, meaning that there’s some intellectual frame of reference being employed. In one case, it’s an attitude that looks at reality and facts entirely through the lens of black-white relations, where the white authority is always racist and wrong and the black victim never brought anything on him- or herself. In another case, it’s an attitude that looks at reality and facts entirely through the lens of individual vs. police, where the police are always wrong and the victim was always blameless.
The alternative ideology here is a rational one. It means looking at the facts of any particular case, not with prejudice but simply at evidence. As they say on the popular television series CSI, “The evidence never lies.” It doesn’t. It’s only people who can lie. Does this mean we always have the necessary evidence in a troubling case? Does this mean that human reason is infallible? Of course not. But it does mean that this rational approach — however inconvenient it might be to the prejudicial ideology prevailing in any one person’s mind — is the best and ultimately the only method available to human beings for discerning truth.
Reason is our method of gaining knowledge, acquiring certainty or establishing guilt or innocence in any particular case. Anything else we try fails and leads to disaster in practice. And our entire legal system is based on reason. It doesn’t mean our system is always accurate, fair or rational. But it’s beyond disturbing to hear the reasons people give for opposing the lack of indictment in these two cases. I don’t hear the anti-white-on-principle or the anti-police-on-principle people saying, “Look at the evidence here. The jury ignored this evidence.” I simply hear them saying what Al Sharpton or Eleanor Holmes Norton are saying; that the evidence is beside the point, or doesn’t even matter.
A lot of people look to politics and government to solve the problems that nearly everyone perceives as bringing down our whole society. Democrats insist that it’s the Republicans to blame; Republicans insist that it’s the Democrats to blame. Some libertarian types insist that it’s police or even government itself that’s to blame for everything. Environmentalists (mystics of the left) insist it’s carbon footprints to blame, and socially conservative puritans (mystics of the right) insist that there are too many gays and abortions. If we could only eradicate “X,” we’re told, then all would be well.
What none of these pressure groups appear to be hitting on is that it’s the gradual but decisive demise of reason that’s unsettling our society. The problem isn’t too many racist or unjust cops, although these undoubtedly do exist and must be held accountable. The problem is the method we use (or don’t use) in attempting to discover what is or isn’t true, and who is or isn’t guilty.
Without a resurgence of reason, in the hearts and minds of individual people as well as in our social and political-government institutions, nothing will ever get better.
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