What is ideology and why can it possess people

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Kevin Mangelschots

People are creative and can make up a surprising amount of ideas.

But sometimes, the person doesn’t seem to be in control of their idea(s). Rather, their ideas seem to have taken a hold of them. Controlling their every thought and action while losing the ability to look at the topic from a different point of view. This is what we call being ideologically possessed.

Let me explain what ideology is and why it can possess people if not careful.

What is ideology?

Ideology can be defined as a set of beliefs or philosophies attributed to a person or group of persons

There are many kinds of convictions, including political, social, ethical and epistemological.

Ideology relies on a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis.

What is ideological possession?

The word “ideology” written on a small blackboard with chalk.

Since a philosophy relies on a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis, things become quite predictable.

The thoughts and ideas of an ideological possessed person become coherent, repeated patterns made reality by the subjective choices that people make in their daily lives. These ideas serve as the seed around which further thought grows.

Believers in ideology range from passive acceptance through fervent advocacy to true belief. This means that “blind belief” can lead to potentially dangerous situations. Especially if multiple ideologically possessed individuals get together.

Potential causes of ideological possession

  • Excessive group cohesiveness

    Picture showing four blindfolded men following each other walking towards the edge of a cliff to symbolize groupthink.

    One of the potential causes of ideological possession is excessive group cohesiveness.

    An extravagant amount of group togetherness and harmony can lead to becoming indoctrinated due to individuals of a group exhibiting too little skepticism and thus, employing too few critical thinking skills in the process. 

    Excessive group cohesiveness can lead to ignorance for thoughts and ideas from people outside of one’s own group.

  • Exclusion of external opinions and influences

    Keeping an open mind is an important aspect to prevent becoming ideologically possessed.

    Problems start to arise when individuals start excluding external opinions and influences from other people.

    Critical to know is that there’s a whole variety of individual differences between people. Thus, it’s only logical that other people will have different opinions than us from time to time. Different ideas, opinions, and point of views are necessary in order to improve society.

  • Ideological congruence

     

    This means that only thoughts, ideas, values, and principles that align with one’s ideologies are searched out and accepted.

    A group strives for harmony. But taking this group cohesiveness too far and being overly ideological congruent and harmonious with the other group members and their values, principles, ideas, thoughts, and general “way of thinking” can become dangerous.

  • High perceived stress from external threat

    When we are in, or at least perceive a high amount of external threat, our natural instinct kicks in and leads us to form a tight group in order to defend ourselves better. And what better way to protect ourselves than power in numbers?

    In times of danger, cohesiveness of a group is even more important than in times of peace and prosperity. That’s because there’s a bigger incentive to keep the group members focused on the threat instead of potential infighting and conflict with one’s own group members.

Symptoms of ideological possession

Picture of multiple people trying to put multiple white jigsaw puzzle pieces together.

  1. Feeling of invulnerability and absolute consensus

    It’s normal to feel more secure and powerful when surrounded by a group of like-minded people rather than standing alone.

    However, if taken too far, this more secure feeling can turn into a sense of invulnerability because “everyone in my group thinks the same as me and therefore, everyone will support and protect me if needed.”

    And while each person has their individual thoughts, ideas and goals, no matter how similar some people might be to us, this also means that there can never be an absolute consensus. But in extreme cases of ideological possession, an absolute consensus is expected and even required.

  2. Unquestioning belief

    One of the giveaway symptoms of ideological possession is unquestioning belief in thoughts and ideas.

    In extreme cases, questioning someone’s ideas and thoughts are not allowed and will be met with punishment. Often times in the form of verbal abuse, being excluded and in extreme cases, physical violence.

    And since every individual is different, it’s impossible for people who are not possessed by an idea to think the same as everyone else.

  3. Ignoring or discrediting valid information

     

    Image of three men sitting against a wall with a mask. The first one is covering his mouth, the middle one is covering his eyes, and the last one is covering his ears, depicting willful ignorance.

    Closely related to confirmation bias.

    Only information affirming one’s own ideas and thoughts, no matter how factually wrong, are searched after. Simultaneously, all information discrediting one’s own beliefs is discredited and thrown away as “incorrect”.

    Why do people exhibit this particular behavior?

    Oftentimes, no matter what people might say, we desperately try to protect ourselves and our fragile ego’s from pain. The truth hurts and thus, people often don’t want to hear the harsh truths that might challenge their beliefs.

    That’s why a lot of people basically search out information reaffirming their beliefs while tossing out information challenging their beliefs.

    This gives the illusion that their thought process is right and that everyone else’s ideas and thoughts are wrong.

    Often times extreme pressure is put on skeptics and dissidents trying to weaken and ridicule other people’s beliefs while simultaneously strengthening their own.

  4. Stereotyping people with a different idea

     

    Image of multiple pawns standing together with one pawn standing separated alone.

    When someone gets overly attached to an idea, individuals with different thoughts and ideas can get stereotyped or ridiculed in an attempt to strengthen someone’s own case while weakening other individuals with different views.

    Of course, being different and not adhering to someone’s ideas, thoughts, and ideals is no crime and is even to be admired. But to people caught up in this particular toxic behavior, this can be considered “not done” and seen as a disgrace.

  5. Rationalization

    Rationalization can take the form of individuals convincing themselves that, despite information and evidence to the contrary, the ideas, and thoughts they have are the best ones.

    Common examples are: “Other people disagree with me because they can’t understand my thoughts or ideas.” or “Other people disagree because they haven’t researched the topic as extensively as I did.”

    And while both examples can in fact be relevant and factually correct, when rationalizing, this is often not the case.

  6. Peer Pressure

     

    A group of friends sitting together on a hill.

    When a team member voices a thought, idea or goal that deviates from the norm of the group, other members will work together in an attempt to pressure, punish and coerce the deviating group member into compliance.

    An example of peer pressure in action might be: “Well if you don’t agree with us then maybe you should not be a member of the team anymore.”

  7. Moral High Ground

    Humans tend to perceive themselves as better than they truly are. We like to stroke our own egos. We view ourselves as better, stronger, more competent and morally superior to what we actually are.

    This turns into a real problem if multiple ideologically possessed individuals perceive themselves as moral as well.

Ideologically possessed people

Illustration of how ideology opposes science.

People possessed by an ideology can be compared to extremists.

They are unwilling to bend their thoughts or to listen to other people’s opinions about said topic, and are uncompromising. In extreme cases, they can become unable to view their idea or topic from a different point of view.

In a way, one can know what another person who’s possessed by an ideology thinks and will say before even speaking to them.

You might say well, how can we know someone’s beliefs before even speaking with them?

Because this kind of people are parroting another person’s or another group their beliefs. They think and attribute the idea to themselves, but in reality, it’s someone else’s ideology that has taken control of them.

Picture of a note explaining that skepticism should be applied to everything, even already established beliefs.

When talking or discussing with an ideologically possessed person, you’ll hear very little of their actual thoughts and ideas. Their words, thoughts, and actions are merely a reflection of someone else’s.

This means that a dogma can potentially be deadly when it is brought forward by any individual too convicted of their own knowledge and/or moral superiority. Because when an individual feels morally superior, the justification could be made that “it’s the right thing to do”.

People obsessed by an idea have only one, often very specific way of seeing things. A smart, rational person knows that things are rarely this simple and not as black or white.

This means that one must be able to view an idea from multiple point of views. Right or wrong lies in the eyes of the beholder. It’s dependent on our individual value judgements.

How can we prevent becoming ideologically possessed?

Multiple possible questions being written on a wooden board.

It takes a rational person with an open mind to refrain from being possessed by ideas and ideologies. Apply your common sense. You must be able to partake in rational discussion and to move yourself in different point of views.

What we believe to be true can suddenly be found out to be untrue or only partially true. And then the question becomes, “Do we anxiously and fearfully try to hold on to our previously perceived truth that has been exposed as a lie or do we open up our mind for a new, better truth?”

It’s certainly a hard thing to do. Because we as humans often do everything in our power to protect our fragile ego and self-image.

We shouldn’t underestimate how frequently we hold on to a sweet lie to protect us from the bitter truth. It can truly be a tough pill to swallow, but sooner or later, the truth always surfaces.