Your Ideology Makes You Lie to Yourself

As we descend into the cave of reality and search for truth, ideology guides our action. Yet, as the mystery in the cave deepens, the ideology we use as a flashlight catches our eyes and blinds us instead of lighting the path. Though I’m skeptical that we can escape the cave, we can avoid blinding ourselves. For that, we’ll need to understand the “morality of limits,” an idea stemming from Albert Camus.

It seems that Mario Vargas Llosa coined the term in an essay reflecting on Camus’s themes throughout his works. In short: Theories and abstractions simplify the world to make it comprehensible. By definition, the comprehension sacrifices nuance. We gain a systematic interpretation of reality, but it disconnects us from reality. The morality of limits reminds us of the limitation of knowledge and reflects the unknowability of life. It forces humility, and helps us avoid using ideology to justify “crimes and lies.” As Ronald Arunson described Camus’s The Fall, “Life is no one single, simple thing, but a series of tensions and dilemmas. The seemingly straightforward features of life are in fact ambiguous and even contradictory.” Ideology isn’t useless, but it has limitations.

The ambiguity and contradiction within life amplifies the dangers of ideology. Ideology allows a closing of the mind. The triumph of western thought relies on a broad tolerance of ideas. When that is rejected, questioning becomes sinful. The answers already exist, so don’t think about truth. Instead, have men with greater power recite it. The Gospels according to St. Rothbard, St. Rousseau, or St. Marx are alluring, after all. But they won’t allow challenges, and force reality to follow ideology. Living a life in truth becomes difficult, even subversive.

We see ideology trump reality on a daily basis. Megan McArdle demonstrates it well regarding unemployment insurance. Both conservative and liberal arguments can be valid, but aren’t always sound. Ideology uses stories to explain reality, but zeal tricks us into rejecting fact for fiction. Even self-proclaimed pragmatists can use the term to disguise their biases as cold, clear logic.

This post doesn’t endorse pragmatism nor reject systematic thinking. It acknowledges the complicated nature of reality and the power of ideology. We must be wary of absolutes, lest they blind us to the suffering and contradictions in life. Narratives are useful, but prudence encourages us to stop short of using them to justify injustice and bloodshed. The morality of limits is not a philosophy, but a perspective that skirts self-created pitfalls in the cave. When we see absolute solutions in our ideas, the panacea has little separation from the plague.