Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #53 – Idiots and Ideologues

December 31st, 2018

Despite the pejorative title, I am not being patronizing. I am commenting on a fundamental problem with human psychology of which I also have to be mindful. It is called the “righteous mind”. We tend to make moral judgments, whether political or religious, that have more to do with our personal psychology than our reasoning. Uncompromising and dogmatic, we become ideologues. I hate it.


Wait, I’m a Hare Krishna! I certainly have uncompromising beliefs. Isn’t that what an ideologue is by definition? Before I continue with my issue against ideologues, I think a clear distinction has to be made.


The term ideologue refers to an individual, not an ideology. It’s alright to have firm conviction in an all-encompassing belief or ideology whether one is a theist or atheist. Almost everyone does. Strong conviction alone doesn’t make one an ideologue, as long as one’s convictions are based on reason and experience, and one is willing to intelligently explore and test one’s conviction for a deeper understanding, including seriously hearing opposing views. What makes one an ideologue, then, is when one imposes one’s own moral bias, conservative or liberal, as the single lens to interpret the world. As a result, much needed civil discussion on controversial issues is often stifled. For instance, when a conservative or progressive ideologue seeks to understand the application of traditional gender roles in modern society, especially a religious one, they start with their conclusion and then gather facts, rather than first studying the tradition neutrally and then coming to a conclusion.


Now that it is hopefully clear that an ideologue is not just one with a conviction, but one with a biased mindset that prejudices how one understands the subtleties of their conviction, let me continue my thoughts on idiots and ideologues.


Of course, no one thinks they are an ideologue, but at least the best seekers of truth will train themselves to give other views full consideration before denigrating them. I myself try to become fully aware of my own biases to make sure that my opinions are based as much as possible on well thought out research after hearing both sides. Otherwise one’s conclusions may be influenced by an ingrained psychology more shaped by one’s relationship with one’s parents while growing up than anything else. For example, it is no coincidence that the four horsemen of new atheism, Dennet, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, all had problems with their fathers, as did Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Russel, Camus, Sartre, and practically all of their prominent predecessors.[1]


To be specific, this is what I hate about political and religious ideologues:

They view facts not to come to a conclusion, but rather to support their conclusion.

They only hear from and read those that agree with them.

They denigrate those with opposing views before considering their arguments.

They don’t accept that there are independent thinkers that don’t have a homogenous political persuasion. If one therefore disagrees with any of their issues, or even questions them, they lump them in with the opposing party and condemn them.

They don’t welcome civil discourse.

They don’t realize they are ideologues.

They see only the opposing party as one.


It is interesting that the term for metaphysical knowledge in Sanskrit is sambandha-jñāna. Sambandha means relationship. In other words, to have metaphysical knowledge one must understand the relationship between various and often opposing truths.[2] For example, there is a truth of detachment that we are not the body and should cultivate renunciation, and there is a truth of attachment that we need to appropriately work through our attachments before fully renouncing them. One with sambandha-jñāna thus knows the appropriate relationship or balance between the two, as he does between all truths, by carefully studying the śāstra to understand things deeply, while ideologues just study, quote references, and give examples only to support their forgone conclusions.


The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives the key to rising above prejudiced ideological perspectives. It teaches that if one really wants to objectively understand tattva (reality) in all its phases and subtleties then two things are required: faithfulness to a tradition of knowledge and thoughtfulness in understanding it.[3] If we are not faithful to a tradition of higher knowledge then our purview of the world will be limited to our own conditioned frame of reference. Similarly, if we are not thoughtful, we fall prey to filtering the truth through our pre-conceived notions and faithfully get it wrong. Ideologues are not thoughtful, nor do they welcome others who are. They thus fail in fully understanding tattva.


Idiots and ideologues. Sorry for the strong language. Everyone one has their pet peeves. I feel strongly about this, and I did need a catchy title. Perhaps even those reading it will push back. You say you are balanced, but that’s also a psychological lens. Great, let’s discuss my points. I stand to be corrected.[4]


[1] http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201203/201203_112_Is_God_crutch.cfm

[2] I gleaned this idea of sambandha-jñāna in a personal discussion with Pradyumna dāsa, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Sanskirit editor.

[3] Bhag. 1.2.12

[4] “I stand to be corrected” is a phrase that I always hear Vaiśeṣika dāsa repeat. I don’t know its origins.


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