Carl Ostrom: Ideology vs. democracy
Ideology is the core values and beliefs of a group or individual. Democracy is based on the belief that most voters will know either what is best for all the voters, or the greater good is defined by the greater belief. If one’s ideology assumes that one particular perception or belief is superior to all other perceptions or beliefs, the two do not align.
Everyone has an ideology. That is a good thing. It defines our core values. It is just that not everyone shares the same ideology. Many of the initial immigrants to the United States or elsewhere on the North American continent were escaping ideological oppression, where their beliefs were not acceptable to the rulers of the parent country. In each case, they came from a government that did not accept dissent from the government ideology, and the government oppressed and punished those dissenters.
The founders of the United States had come from this oppression and sought to find a way to prevent it. The Constitution is designed to not only allow opposing views, but also protect minority positions from oppression. This is not a perfect system however, as sometimes the majority does not make the best choices.
But our government is designed to change over time in order to accept new beliefs and perceptions as society changes. Of course, if the changes are moving in a direction different from one’s ideology, this is not perceived as a good thing. Politicians often need to decide whether to embrace either democracy or their ideology when the majority of voters chose a path different from their ideology.
Will they work with the majority perspective and try to seek compromises that align better with their own view, or will they become obstructionists and work to derail the majority will to prevent its passage. This is based on supporting the constituents that elected them originally. It comes back to what the voters desire and expect. Although most politicians do have an ideological agenda and present the opposing perspective in a negative light to justify their point of view.
Often the practice of attacking opposing ideologies is designed to build fear and distrust. Not only is this a very arrogant action, but it breeds a divisive environment, and characterizes anyone with an opposing view as either inferior or evil. Former President Jimmy Carter stated that when this divisiveness begins, there is a tendency to dehumanize those with whom one disagrees.
By dehumanizing others, they are perceived as losing their value in society, and as such their perceptions and needs become either wrong or irrelevant. In this negative climate, it is easy to bend or ignore one’s own ethical and moral values in order to oppose those with whom we disagree. This perception is similar to a war, where the opposition is viewed as an enemy that must be defeated.
This practice of denigrating the opposing view is another way of motivating people with fear. The tenacity of allegiance to ones ideology is usually the basis for the use of negative rhetoric. While this tactic is less prevalent in the center of the political spectrum, it is practiced with increasing strength when moving toward the extreme of either the right or the left.
It is most likely that this tactic is applied with a sliding scale where compromises on some matters are possible. However, some ideological perspectives are considered catastrophic. The goal here is to make sure the perspective of the candidates is transparent as to where on that sliding scale they reside.
Is it important to democracy that we value different opinions or ideologies? If the majority of voters disagree with your ideology, how will you respond? Do you believe that everyone who disagrees with your ideology is wrong and must be corrected? Do you ever challenge your ideology by studying opposing views to try to understand why other people are committed to them?
Carl Ostrom lives in Nevada County.
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