Ideology or common sense?

It has been several weeks since my last blog. This lack of writing has had nothing to do with a lack of will or interest, and everything to do with a lack of time: It’s been a particularly busy few weeks. This is a shame because I genuinely like writing these blogs. I find the act of trying to write something coherent a great way to not only clarify and structure my own thinking, but often to actually creates ideas. I wish I could say the same about my relationship social media. I’m really struggling to find the motivation to become engaged with Twitter at the moment, let alone Facebook.

To be honest I really only ‘do’ Twitter and Facebook because I’ve been persuaded that, as a politician, I need to. Most of the time I’m happy tweeting, and sometimes even enjoy it. But at the moment, for some reason, I’m struggling. Facebook, on the other hand, is always a chore, and I doubt that even at the best of times I use it effectively. Perhaps I need some training on how to.

One of the local groups that I’ve joined on Facebook is ‘Bridport Political Banter’. A week or so ago I posted a link to George Monbiot’s article on Capitalism and climate change. I knew, of course, that there would be a reaction from what come across as the right wing police of the group, and I knew that there would be no discussion or debate about Monbiot’s argument. In this respect I was not disappointed. But what I found so frustrating on this particular occasion was the simple dismissal of his argument as left wing ideology. For some reason ‘ideology’ always seems to be the go to demon that condemns the views of people we disagree with, whilst our own views (being the right ones) are assumed to be ideologically free. I would suggest otherwise – that everyone’s views are derived from their own ideology.

Ideology is, of course, a heavily debated term in political philosophy. My own take on it is to see it as that background ‘world-view’ that we all possess, as that general mental structure that we use to bring various thoughts, feelings and experiences together into a coherent whole, that allows us to make sense of our world. My point is simply that all of us have an ideology or world-view. We need it in order to give our lives meaning. But we only ever seem be critical of other people’s world-view. We rarely, if ever, analyse or question our own. Why? Why are we always so certain that our own views are spot on, and that anyone holding different views is wrong? Why do we often regard our own thinking as just plain common sense, whilst those of our political opponents as misguided?

I like Antonio Gramsci’s take on this. In the words of Kate Crehan, in his Prison Notebooks the Italian Marxist views common sense as “that comforting set of certainties in which we feel at home, and that we absorb, often unconsciously, from the world we inhabit. These are the basic realities we use to explain that world.” And this, in a nutshell, describes the problem we are all up against. We all grow up in a particular social context, and tend to absorb the views of those people who are part of our particular social context. Most of us need to feel part of this context, of our particular community, because most of us need to feel that we belong to something bigger than us. But particular social contexts vary. A young person growing up in a community where most parents have been to university and where there is an expectation that they will do the same will have a different common sense view of the world to a young person growing up on an inner city estate controlled by rival gangs and to parents who place little value in education, who in turn will have a different common sense view of the world to those young people born to rich parents and educated through the public school system. Each young person will have a different common sense take on the world. Who’s right?

Which brings me to the elephant in the room. COP26, the United Nations conference on the climate that has just closed in Glasgow. Why isn’t this the main topic of this blog you may well ask. After all, I am a Green Party politician. Well, the truth is I never had a great deal of hope that the necessary national powers would agree to take the necessary action, let alone to go away and take those actions. It would take an unrealistic level of optimism, for example, to expect global politicians to agree to end the use of fossil fuels by a particular date when the fossil fuel industry had a larger representation at the conference than any individual country. The problem is again one of common sense or ideology. For the vast majority of the politicians at the conference the basic tenants of capitalism form their basic background world view. The need to grow their national (and personal) wealth is the basic starting point for all decisions. Until we start discussing alternative measures of national (and personal) success I genuinely fear for the future of humans on this planet.