25 January 2011

Ideology

Ok, we're all familiar with this Melanie Phillips thing, right? Professional shrieking anti-gay hate-fountain shrieks a fountainful of hate at gays. Then there's the customary Twitstorm, because half of Twitter are unable to contain their rage and the other half, well, we like a sadistic giggle at the sight of a terrified old woman having a brainal meltdown in print. Yet, I don't begrudge our Mel her spurts of paranoia at the modern world, as it's pretty much her job and she's doing it very well. She made the mistake of an apology though, for free on her own time, and it's one of these beautifully desperate attempts to save face that I can never resist.

Highlight:
As for the issue of the teaching materials I would have thought that, given your readers’ concern for civil liberties, they would be disturbed by any manipulation of the school curriculum to promote a particular viewpoint about any group.
Look at this funny bit about "promoting a particular viewpoint". Now, I would have said a school mentioning exclusively straight, birthsexual, sexgendered couples into strictly vanilla shit is kind of promoting a viewpoint. It's making a tacit point about what kind of fucking is normal and what kind should be swept under the rug by anyone with the slightest shred of decency. Melanie doesn't notice the promotion of this particular viewpoint, because this particular viewpoint is a) the established arrangement of the world and b) hers.

The same process happens with "political correctness" politicising language, as if there was not a shred of politics in the way we speak before Germaine Greer founded the Politically Correct Brigade in 1986. For those dedicated to enforcing normality, language is only "political" when the politics are politics of change, and someone else's. Unfortunately, this isn't limited to paid Daily Mail reactionaries. We see it as well when demonstrators opposed to the cuts refer to them as "ideological", as a synonym for "unnecessary". The belief that cuts need to be made is "ideology", as is the belief that they need to shit on the poorest and most vulnerable to work properly. The belief that the deficit needs to be reduced is also "ideological". So is the belief that a society needs a healthy economy to function. So is the belief that education is beneficial, that the earth goes round the sun, or that eating food every day is good for you.

Ideology is not a synonym for "stuff wrong people think is true". Ideology is stuff anyone thinks is true. All truth is ideological, even the bits that are almost certainly true. Ideology, you see, is one of those funny irregular nouns that only gets used in the third person:
  • I take a stance
  • You hold beliefs
  • He subscribes to an ideology
Simply describing the cuts as "ideological" is not enough. We need to say exactly what this ideology is and why it's wrong. We need to spell out our ideological agenda and why it's the right thing to do. When ideologues like Phillips accuse us of trying to insert our ideologies into the national curriculum, we point out that it's already fucking dripping with theirs. An ideology with a bit of power becomes invisible, which is why Mel's Martyrs notice B&B owners in court, but not Bishops in the Lords. So the first thing we need to do to challenge any ideology is point it out. Meanwhile, if, in the horrifying paranoid delusions about gays and Muslims you put yourself through to pay the mortgage, you see ideology in the national curriculum, you can rest assured it's nothing to be scared of.

Update: the presenter on this week's really good episode of Horizon just said non-scientists' contributions to scientific debates might be "ideological". Forgetting that pretty much everything he or any of his colleagues has ever achieved is thanks to the ideology of empiricism. Ingrate.

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