Welcome to the world of ideologies! What are ideologies? Sets of ideas, theories, claims about the human condition, assumptions about human nature, presuppositions about what would make us happy and enlightened, what would facilitate and expedite a brave new world based on fairness or justice or righteousness. What we ought to do to restructure society so that we can supposedly live our lives more holistically and better manage the fruits of our labor. What we can do to forge a more productive, industrious socioeconomic system that benefits everyone. How to reorganize the government, level the playing field, and reap the benefits of our newfound enlightenment. Ultimately, how to reify a utopian vision, a future bliss, and usher in the kingdom of prosperity.
That's all fine, I guess, but why can’t we just be biped mammals, solitary primates, walking around, eating, and staying out of each other’s way, or at least refraining from imposing our beliefs on one another? No, we have to come up with these tiresome ideologies, often for the purpose of making others feel bad or inferior, but definitely to co-opt them into our way of thinking, all because some pretentious dude with a beard and an axe to grind thought his ideas were so brilliant and people fell for it. Isms are the opiate of the masses. Who lives by such lofty principles anyway, huh? Humans are almost by definition contradictory. We don't adhere consistently to any ambitious and naive set of ideas, least of all cockamamie ideologies. And what more precisely are these ideologies, you ask? Isms, my friend. That’s right, isms. We all have an ism, tucked away neatly in our intellectual pocket. In fact, we probably have a handful of isms, a friggin’ suitcase of isms, for there are plenty to go around. If I had a nickel for every ism out there, I’d have a mansion on a hill. A mansion on a hill on the Westside, I tells ya.
And what are these isms? Well, for starters there’s conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, Bolshevism, Marxism, Marxism-Leninism. Leninism? How ‘bout McCartneyism and RingoStarrism? Why not? Let’s not forget utilitarianism, anarchism, nihilism, terrorism, Jacobinism, syndicalism, nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, Darwinism, Social Darwinism, racism, anti-Semitism, totalitarianism, pragmatism, constitutionalism, transcendentalism, romanticism, and republicanism. And where would we be without positivism, rationalism, intellectualism, materialism, pluralism, populism, pessimism, libertarianism, humanitarianism, millenarianism, constructivism, hedonism? Hedonism? How about sexism, alcoholism, antinomianism, atheism, agnosticism, henotheism, idealism, patriotism, jingoism, militarism, Nazism, realism, solipsism, skepticism, industrialism, Taylorism, modernism, feminism, Futurism, fascism, absurdism, life-sucks-ism, too-many-isms-ism, and why-can’t-we-just-all-get-along-ism?
I’m tired of all these isms. Yet there’s a reason for them, for we all possess a Weltanschauung or worldview, an interpretive grid, a frame of reference, a point of view, and these isms are the logical outflow thereof. Unfortunately, the wily and cunning species known as Homo sapiens is doomed to create ideologies and follow them slavishly yet hypocritically.
Just look at those wretched people in the Edvard Munch painting above. They’re living in the 1890s, when Europe was a veritable ideology-factory, churning out one ism after another supposedly to keep pace with a changing world. Do they look happy? Huh? No. The three decades or so leading up to World War I were replete with economic recessions, radical political agitation, labor discontent, acts of terrorism, and the specter of revolution. Europeans of the so-called Gay Nineties and the Belle Époque were in fact living in an age of anxiety. What did these ideologies do for these angst-ridden, tormented, and alienated souls? Nichts. Nada. Is it any mystery, then, why I've turned out to be a pessimistic existentialist-nihilist with a background in Calvinist-Protestantism?