How to Form Your Personal Ideology

The Thinker at The Gates of Hell.

The Thinker in The Gates of Hell at the Musée Rodin
Wikimedia Commons/Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Paris, France

The most sacred words any human being can utter are “I believe …”, The more important that belief is, both to the believer and to the world of human beings around him, the more sacred that belief is. A very nontrivial example is the belief of a follower of ISIS in the necessity for jihad against all the non-Muslim world, but particularly against the West. You and I might consider his belief blasphemous, but for him or her, it has the sacredness of a command from Allah. If you read the link on jihad above, you can appreciate the contradictions and conflicts between people who believe many of the same ideas.

The Necessity (and Unavoidability) for Having Your Own Personal Ideology

For any human who thinks, developing a personal ideology is completely unavoidable, and more than that, is absolutely necessary. An ideology does not necessarily imply an extreme set of beliefs creating suffering such as fascism or communism. Instead, it is any collection of beliefs and values held by one or more people, which do tend to be self-consistent, but which are usually bedeviled by some inconsistencies. It is the sacred task of every individual to remove those inconsistencies as much as possible through study and thought. In the process of doing that, a person might discover his ideology is fundamentally flawed, in which case his problem is transformed into discovering another ideology that is free of any fundamental disagreements with Reality. As you well might appreciate, this should be a continuing process.

To think and make connections between events and observed bits of reality is the process by which ideologies are formed. This remark might make you think the formation of an ideology is a bloodless, unemotional activity, but while this is a possibility, the opposite is usually the case. It is most common for values to be a generator of ideas that form at least a part of an ideology. This is clearly the case for those who believe in a religion, but even non-religious conservatives and progressives can be extremely passionate about their beliefs because of their values.

The formation of a personal ideology is not only totally unavoidable for every thinking human being, it is also absolutely necessary. Our ideologies show us the basic relations between parts of Reality we have determined to be true in the past; they give us the intellectual tools to determine how we can solve our problems. For example, they help us determine who to vote for public office. In business, politics, law enforcement, the managing of a health system, or any other human occupation, our ideologies tell us how to approach the solution of our problems. I have had an occasion in the past to note that physics is itself an ideology, even though it is not often considered as such. In fact any broad intellectual field, such as history, economics, any of the sciences, and philosophy (especially philosophy, the science of ideology!) as broad systems of interrelated ideas must be considered ideologies covering different pieces of Reality.

A well-developed ideology is absolutely essentially for a politician. If a politician’s ideology is not very well developed, how can he/she possibly give his/her electorate a coherent, persuasive plan for solving our common problems that will induce them to vote for him/her. I noted in my last post that Donald Trump suffers from a severely underdeveloped ideology, which explains the inconstancy of some of his expressed opinions. He also seems to lack a lot of knowledge about the nature of Reality, which explains his underdeveloped ideology. To be even-handed, I should note Hillary Clinton’s progressive ideology has fundamental flaws, and she is a serial liar and un-convicted criminal to boot.

Contradictions

The motto of this website, displayed prominently in the banner at the very top, is a quote from the poetry of William Shakespeare in act I, scene V of Hamlet. Hamlet has just been conversing with the ghost of his father to learn his father had been murdered by his uncle, the King of Denmark. ( “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!” Hamlet’s follower and friend Horatio exclaims later.) Horatio and an army officer Marcellus then enter and Hamlet explains what he has learned from the ghost. At that moment Hamlet makes the following request:

…Touching this vision here,
It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you:
For your desire to know what is between us,
O’ermaster ‘t as you may. And now, good friends,
As you are friends, scholars and soldiers,
Give me one poor request.

Hamlet next asks Horatio and Marcellus to swear on his sword, “Never make known what you have seen tonight”, to which the Ghost echoes “Swear.” It is at this point where Horatio exclaims “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!”. Hamlet then declaims his famous lines.

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

The point of this little story for our purposes is the very frequent way in which Reality upends our ideological apple cart, sending us into a scramble to find explanations. Those explanations then either amend our basic ideology, or send us packing to find a new one. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” To keep that observation firmly in mind is at the heart of being intellectually honest. Because of our limited knowledge about how the world is put together — let alone the universe — we must consider the correctness of every one of our ideas as provisional. Upon learning of sufficiently weighty facts, we should be prepared to jettison our current ideology to search for a much better mental map of Reality. How much weight would be sufficient? That depends on how much the weight of evidence supported our previous views. To be ready to extensively amend your ideology does not mean you should automatically do so with every little challenge unless the new evidence is very weighty indeed.

In physics, one of the most self-consistent and most experimentally substantiated theories is that of the theory of electromagnetic (EM) fields. From the very beginning it has been consistent with the theory of relativity. In fact, the form of the electromagnetic field equations was one of the first reasons to believe in the theory of special relativity. With the arrival of quantum mechanics, EM field theory did have to be modified slightly at quantum mechanical length scales to explain the existence of photons. In fact, the classical EM field equations can be derived from the photon’s quantum mechanical wave equation, with the classical electric and magnetic fields becoming vector components of the photon’s wave vector. Being consistent with both quantum mechanics and relativity, as well as with experimental evidence from over a century-and-a-half, it would take a great deal of very weighty evidence indeed to shake my faith in electromagnetic field theory.

Resolutions

So how can we resolve such contradictions and challenges? One way to approach the problem is to look for correlations between the phenomenon of interest and other variables. As so many have noted in the use of correlations, correlations are not a proof of causation. However, they are very big hints! There could be a correlation between two variables because whatever causes the change in one variable also causes a change in the other. Nevertheless, the stronger the correlation, the more likely the relationship between the two variables is causal in nature.

Let us look at a more concrete case. Much of the political conflict over the last two centuries can be traced to differences over the nature of economic reality. Indeed, if you include differences caused by the economic ideology of mercantilism, you can go back much further in time than that. Adam Smith published his famous classic text An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, AKA The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, primarily to debunk the theory of mercantilism.

Over the centuries the arguments over economics have resolved themselves into a clash between two mighty classes of economic ideologies. On one side you see those ideologies, such as Keynesianism and socialism, which advocate extensive intrusion by the government into the economy to manage  it, stimulate it, and ensure the even distribution of its fruits. People on this side of the argument are the dirigiste. On the other side one finds those ideologies, such as neoclassical and New Classical economics, which believe government interference with the economy should be minimized as much as possible. You can peruse my thoughts on this enormous and important argument in my posts in the Leftist vs. Neoclassical Economics post theme.

So what kind of correlations can we consider that would distinguish the economic results of dirigiste economies from those of neoclassical economies? I made my first attempt to answer this question last June in the post Comparing the Economies of All Countries on Earth, a very grandiose ambition only slightly fulfilled by my post. Nevertheless, I thought the results intriguing.

 

World Map of per capita GDP in 2014

World Map of per capita GDP in 2014
Image Credit: St. Louis Federal Reserve District Bank/FRED

What I needed was some scalar number that measured how deeply a government intruded into its economy. This is a difficult proposition, because there are so many different ways in which a government can interfere to “manage” its economy: It can do so through economic regulations, taxes, monetary policy, and other government controls. Ideally, you would describe government interference with an n-dimensional vector, where n is the number of ways the government could interfere, and you would describe the amplitude of results such as the per capita GDP as a surface in the n-dimensional space in which the n-dimensional vector existed. This would be very difficult both in calculation and in visualization.  Luckily, there were two organizations that cooperated together to solve the problem at least partially, the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal starting in 1995. They defined such an n-dimensional vector for every country on Earth for which they could get data. For each of those n dimensions they defined a score from 0 to 100, where a score of 0 meant the country’s economy was totally controlled by the government and there was absolutely no economic freedom. A score of 100 meant there were absolutely no government economic controls or interference along that dimension of economic activity. To get a scalar characterizing government economic interference for that country, essentially the “length” of the vector, they calculated the arithmetic average of all the component scores. Clearly, outside of anarchy this length, which they called the country’s Index of Economic Freedom, will never reach 100. In the post A Closer Look at the Index of Economic Freedom I examined in some detail the components of that n-dimensional vector (n was 10) and the methods of scoring the Heritage House and the Wall Street Journal used for each component. The over-all country score was then an excellent measure of how much that country’s government managed and controlled its economy.

World Map Of WSj/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom for 2016

World Map Of WSj/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom for 2016
Image Credit: Heritage Foundation

The Index of Economic Freedom gave me the independent variable I sought for each nation. Against that variable I sought to visualize how large per capita GDP was and how evenly that GDP was distributed among the country’s people. As a measure of that distribution I used the country’s Gini index, which is 0 when a country’s GDP is evenly spread over its entire population, and 100 when one individual gets the entire GDP and everyone else gets nothing.

Gini index world map in 2014 according to the Wold Bank

Gini index world map in 2014, income inequality by country according to the Wold Bank
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/M Tracy Hunter

To get the outputs I sought, I downloaded data for per capita GDP and Gini index from the World Bank. Then, plotting one point for each country of per capita GDP vs Index of Economic Freedom, I obtained the following scatterplot.

Country per capita GDP vs. index of economic freedom for each country on Earth

Country per capita GDP vs. index of economic freedom for each country on Earth with available data. The red curve is a least squares fit of a quadratic polynomial times an exponential.
Data Source: the World Bank

The red curve is a least squares fit of a quadratic polynomial times an exponential function. Nevertheless, due to the wide scatter of the points, the fit with an R2=0.394 is not especially good. This means that the least squares fit explains only 39.4% of the variation of the individual country points. Nevertheless, the plot does demonstrate strong exponential growth of GDP with increasing economic freedom and declining government intrusion into the economy. When I make the same sort of plot of the Gini index versus economic freedom, I get the result below.

Countries' GINI index versus their economic freedom. for 2014.

Countries’ GINI index versus their economic freedom. for 2014. The blue arrow is a linear fit to the data.   Data Source: the World Bank

Note that the linear fit to the Gini data is trending downward with increasing economic freedom, not upwards as American progressives claim! Remember that the smaller the Gini index becomes, the more evenly the country’s economic output is distributed over the population.

Looking at correlations like this is a powerful way to cut through the fog of ideological battle and resolving disputing claims of various ideologies. If we are to remain a free people, we are all condemned to consider arguments like this in this age of rising ideological polarization and emotional hostility. At the very top of this post there is a photograph of a Rodin frieze originally meant for a  doorway surround called The Gates of Hell. Initially, Rodin conceived the pondering figure to be a poet, almost certainly Dante Alighieri, the author of The Divine Comedy, deep in thought about the essence of Hell. The first part of The Divine Comedy, often referred to by its Italian name as The Inferno, concerns the nature of Hell. It is known many of the figures in the frieze represent characters in Dante’s epic poem. This is a most appropriate image for this post on the formation of individuals’ ideologies. It represents the kind of thinking we all must do to avoid entering The Gates of Hell.

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