Carl Ostrom: Questions – ideological diversity |

Carl Ostrom: Questions – ideological diversity

How is it that different people can have such differing perspectives and world views? There are many factors that contribute to this diversity. While each of us might think that we have arrived at our particular core values by choice, that is not necessarily true. We have all been shaped by our past, as well as our social environment, and are a product of that history. In some instances, we have embraced the influences of our past and hold on to them like a comfort blanket. In other cases we rebel against our past and base our core values on escaping it. It is usually a mixture of the two.

As an example, how many people who attended a specific school are fans of a rival school team? It is not likely that the other school team is a bad group. We often make our choices by where we are and with whom we associate, not by what is better. In the school spirit analogy, the allegiance is not chosen, but adopted out of proximity and association.

This benign example clearly illustrates the concept. We are shaped by many factors in our social and physical environment.

Country of origin

Political stability of country

Economic base of town and region where we live

Environmental issues of town and region

Financial makeup of family and friends



Religion of parents

Political views of parents

Political views of friends and friend’s families

Relationship with parents

Relationship with peer group

Opinions and beliefs of friends

Opinions and beliefs of heroes and respected role models

Perception of personal security in familial and social environment

Experience of a traumatic event

Situation of employment

This abbreviated list shows the unlikely chance of only one correct ideological perspective. A difference of any one of the items listed will define a difference in ideology. Two people might perceive themselves to have identical ideologies, but when one specific topic emerges, they find that they have completely different views on that topic.

That is not to say that all ideological perspectives are intrinsically good, but it does point out that each ideological perspective is most likely based on one set of experiences completely ignorant of the experiential path of many other viewpoints, and as such, can be more self serving than beneficial to society at large. This is a statement of human reality, and until this is understood, it is highly unlikely that it is possible to inform or influence any ideological changes toward another point of view.

If you want to influence another person’s perspective, you must first understand why that person thinks the way they do, so that you can identify the differences that need to be addressed and navigated to find either common ground or a path from their perspective to your own

It is not being suggested here that one should abolish their ideology, nor that politicians should abandon or ignore their ideologies, but that the public and those in government should make an effort to understand the foundations of other ideologies and treat those differences with respect. Respect does not necessarily mean acceptance. What it does mean is that opposing an issue that is part of an ideological belief needs to be made with regard to a specific negative effect to the society as a whole, and not on a personal opinion or social agenda.

Religion is an excellent example of this. Most people of a given religion want the government to be based on that religion. However, there is no universal acceptance of any religion as a single belief system. Virtually all major world religions are divided into factions, some very contentious. Going back to the foundation of the United States, a significant number of the early settlers were Christians escaping persecution by other Christians. That is the main reason the Constitution requires freedom of religion.

The desire to force a single ideological government is exactly what totalitarian governments do. Democracy is designed to allow differing ideological perspectives to exist simultaneously. In fact, it works best when there are differing opinions. It is very likely that each person will change certain aspects of their ideology over time, and history proves that society as a whole changes over time. It is democracy that allows this change to occur. Change for the sake of change is not always good, and nothing is perfect, but it is critical that there is a process to allow change, so that good changes can happen for society to move forward.

Carl Ostrom lives in Grass Valley.

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