Beyond Ideology — excerpted from Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future

Adapted from Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future:

Cultural Maturity challenges us to leave behind easy answer solutions, particularly those of an ideological sort, and think and act in more nuanced ways. Ideology in times past has served to protect us from how demanding life can be. Increasingly it only puts us at risk.

Here I expand ideology’s usual definition somewhat. I use the word in a way this more general than we are accustomed, but also more conceptually precise. Ideology in this expanded sense includes narrow nationalistic, political, religions, and philosophical allegiances, certainly. But I also include more personal dogmatic assumptions that we hold as a product of upbringing, temperament, or just limited perspective. My point is simply that we all have our favorite pieces of life’s bigness that we like to hold up and make the last word.

That ideology has kept life’s bigness at bay is most obvious with the extreme vehemence of “chosen people/evil empire” allegiances. Ascribing all blame to others has kept us safely protected both from our own complexities and those of others—and from any need to deeply question. But more commonplace ideological identifications—such as with the political right or the political left—have also offered the reassuring simplicity of readily identifiable polar beliefs. And assumptions that can look benign on the surface often similarly protect us from how overwhelming and bewildering life’s can be. For example, one person may view technology as our savior; another may think of it as the source of all our difficulties. One person sees nature as something to defeat and exploit for human benefit; another views humanity as the problem and all things “natural” as the ultimate good. More everyday absolutes, such as gender roles and culturally specific moral codes, in a similar way reduce a multi-hued complexity of options to a more manageable black and white world (or if it is more our inclination, shades of gray).

Cultural Maturity’s developmental interpretation doesn’t condemn ideological conclusions out of hand. During our long human history, ideological beliefs have served us well. Certainly, shared beliefs have helped us feel connected and that is good. Ideological assumptions have also brought confidence and clarity (though at the expense of accuracy) to our conclusions. More generally, ideological beliefs have shielded us from being overwhelmed by daily life’s magnitude. In times past, we could not have existed without such protective beliefs.

But that is the past. The future will require increasingly that we take the nuanced and multifaceted nature of our world more directly into account. Ideology’s once-reassuring mechanisms today only undermine effectiveness. Best we think of them as artifacts and leave them to history. If we fail to do so, with growing frequency we will make shortsighted and dangerous decisions—and in all parts of our lives.

Leaving behind the safety of ideology’s self-affirming simplifications might seem beyond us to accomplish. But the concept of Cultural Maturity describes how it is very much a possibility, indeed that the potential for doing so is built into our developmental natures.

We usefully think of how Cultural Maturity’s changes support getting beyond in a series of steps. First, by highlighting the particular dangers ideological easy answers today present, culturally mature perspective helps clarify just why getting beyond familiar ideological assumptions is today so important. Second, such perspective, by helping us better get our minds around life’s bigness, also helps us find comfort in ideology’s absence. Third, culturally mature perspective offers not just that we might better tolerate the disappearance of such protective mechanism, but also that we might come to think in new, more nuanced and complex ways.