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i. Belief System Emergence - Ideology

Belief System Emergence – Ideology

Ideology is a significant form of belief system. The term was first coined by the French philosopher Antoine Destutt de Tracy, in 1796, during the French Revolution. In response to the chaos it brought about, he originally used the term to describe a science of ideas. However, with time, it has come to mean the following, as described in the Encyclopedia Britannica:

  1. an explanatory theory, of a more or less comprehensive kind, about human experience and the external world;
  2. a program, in generalized and abstract terms, of social and political organization;
  3. entailing a struggle for the realization of this program;
  4. seeking not merely to persuade, but to recruit loyal adherents, demanding what is sometimes called commitment;
  5. addressing a wide public but tending to confer some special role of leadership on intellectuals.

    An ideology is a form of culture, and so, unites people into a group via its values, norms, beliefs, and symbols. Ideologies can be political, economic, business, social, or religious. The former four lay claim, correctly or incorrectly, to being rational and worldly, whilst the latter includes a significant element of superstition. An ideology can also be regarded as a collection of information, in the same way as a schema, paradigm or meme. Thus, it comprises, information which may be objectively true or false, information which satisfies the needs of an individual or group, and rationales which make it a consistent body of information.

    Individuals will follow an ideology for the following reasons:

    1. It may provide a pre-established explanation of the world in which we live and, thus, satisfy our need for understanding.
    2. It is much easier to adopt and understand a convincing ideology than it is to develop one’s own worldview.
    3. It may be expounded by a role model.
    4. Its acceptance may be necessary to satisfy the social need of belonging to a group.

    Unsurprisingly, people accept ideologies which appear to explain their condition and to be capable of providing satisfiers for their needs. Ideologies can also act as cognitive satisfiers by providing beliefs which are consistent with particular inherited predispositions and/or personality traits. Thus, people with a shared predisposition or personality trait, or people with a particular unsatisfied need, will often join an organisation that supports and promotes an ideology. This can result in a feedback process: the ideology attracts particular individuals who then modify, reinforce, support and promote it. Ideologies are not necessarily “bad” and in many cases they can be socially positive. However, this feedback process can lead to some extreme ideologies which diverge substantially from natural morality and ethics.

    Ideologies usually offer overly simplistic explanations. Furthermore, they can be dogmatic rather than realistic, unwilling to accept criticism, and resistant to change. They can be unwilling to accept views which challenge their dogma, and so, make attempts to undermine them.

    Everyone holds an ideology to some extent. Problems only arise when it is held strongly, and there is an unwillingness to change one’s view in the face of reality. The advantage of not holding an ideology strongly is that this frees the mind to alter one’s schemata so that they are consistent with the world that we actually observe. In this way, less effort is needed to psychologically manage any inconsistencies, resulting in greater mental wellbeing. More cognitive effort is, of course, needed to work out our own worldview, but this has the advantage of developing our cognitive skills and creativity.

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    g. Belief System Emergence - Introduction

    Belief System Emergence – Introduction

    Belief systems include cultures, ideologies, and individual worldviews. The latter was discussed in a previous article. The former apply to organisations of all scales, including small clubs and nations. There are differences between cultures and ideologies, however. The former is normally established and voluntarily accepted by its members. The latter, through its historical association with political movements, is now regarded as a more authoritarian belief system with expansionist tendencies.

    One of our growth needs in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need to make sense of the world. If we can do so, then it enables us to make successful decisions when faced with a threat or opportunity. On the other hand, if we are unable to make sense of the world then this increases our vulnerability. It seems likely, therefore, that this need has an evolutionary basis. To make sense of the world we create a schema which models the world as we understand it. This is our personal worldview.

    Unsurprisingly, an inability to make sense of the world causes distress, a search for explanations and a readiness to accept those which appear to fit the facts, even incorrectly. This need can, in itself, be a motivator, therefore.

    Every organisation develops a system of beliefs which, ostensibly at least, is shared by its individual members. These beliefs cover the purpose of the organisation, how it should function, how interactions should take place internally and externally, the nature and cause of its motivators, and how it should address them.

    Belief systems can emerge through a process of negotiation between individuals, and via a process of feedback between individual worldviews and emerging shared views. Individuals contribute their worldviews to the organisations common belief system, but as the latter emerges, a process of socialisation causes them to adopt it. They may, however, only adopt it in their organisational role. In other roles, they may retain their general worldview, or hold other belief systems more appropriate to those roles. This can, of course, lead to contradictions and distress.

    Often however, a belief system is formulated by an individual, particularly one with charisma or high status, and is based on his worldview. Due to the lack of debate and consultation such belief systems tend to provide a simplistic explanation, which can neglect the true complexity of a situation.

    Belief systems can also be affected by external factors, such as prevailing culture, law, fake news, media interests, social media, and influential individuals, e.g., politicians, celebrities, scientists, or role models. In some cases, the belief system can be in the interests of the general population, i.e., pro-social. In other cases, it can be in the interests of the organisation only, i.e., selfish. In the latter case, the belief system can, for example, either correctly or incorrectly, place blame on an out-group. Also coming into play can be a “Just World Hypothesis”, in which the fortunate and unfortunate are thought to have brought their situation upon themselves by their own actions.

    Finally, if opposition to the purpose of an organisation is encountered, its belief system can harden, become more selfish, and more extreme.

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    n. Maintaining Independence of Mind

    Maintaining Independence of Mind

    To maintain our independence of mind it is necessary to avoid unconscious beliefs and attitudes that we would prefer not to have. Suggestions as to how we might do so are listed below.

    • Question the motives of charismatic leaders and role models.
    • Avoid following authoritarian leaders or being managed by authoritarian managers. They will insist that we adopt their point of view if we wish to remain in the group that they lead. Inclusive leaders and managers, on the other hand, respect, and value independence of mind.
    • Avoid following populist leaders. They will often place the blame for any difficult circumstances we find ourselves in on an “outgroup” rather than address the true reasons.
    • Avoid ideologies. If we need to join a group to socialize, then we should join one whose members have a wide range of views rather than a particular ideology. This can be checked by adding “ism” to words in a group’s name.
    • Practice awareness of our own emotions and those of others with whom we interact. Emotional contagion and emotional carry-over from previous decisions can both affect our current decisions. Furthermore, our emotions can be deliberately manipulated by others to achieve their desired ends.
    • Our conscious skills can be strengthened by practicing highly focused mental and, possibly, physical activities, e.g., a personal project or Sudoku puzzles.
    • Develop a clear personal ethic and set of values. It may need to evolve over time as circumstances alter it, but that is normal.
    • Consciously rehearsing our ethics and values can strengthen them. A strongly held ethic makes it more difficult for contradictory unconscious beliefs and attitudes to gain a foothold.
    • Acquaint ourselves with the verifiable facts around an issue before making decisions associated with it.
    • Consciously criticise our decisions, especially apparently spontaneous ones. Judge them against our personal ethic and values. If necessary, veto them and think again.
    • Avoid watching unsolicited advertising. For example, watch advertisement free channels or mute the TV when they are on. Cover the advertisements on the back of seats of buses and aircraft. If we need something we can search for it on the internet or consult a shopkeeper.
    • It is particularly important to avoid watching the same advert repetitively. In the UK it is illegal for an ad. to repeat the same message more than three times as this subliminally reinforces it. So how do advertisers get around this? By frequently repeating their ad.
    • Lobby government for greater controls over advertising. It should be factual, unintrusive, not personally targeted, not excessively repetitive, and not imply that the product has false benefits.