Ideology never freed anyone. How much more energy are we going to waste fighting over ideology?
Not too long ago, I was a grad student digging for truth in the archive, weeks spent alone in a university library. Deep in the stacks, I poured endless hours into understanding dense theory and criticism written by people who I thought had the answers. I believed that if I did the research, read the right books, had the right conversations, I would finally reach my ideological sweet spot. Yet, the deeper I read, the more confused and incoherent my body of knowledge all became; like staring into a fractal, I could never reach the bottom. I’d been hypnotized into believing that this would all make sense one day, as long as I kept at it.
Within the confines of western reality, there seemed to be no alternatives. We understand the world through the lens of ideology. Yet, every ideology I studied eventually contradicted itself. Contradictions like double standards and hypocrisy. Every accusation is an admission of guilt. The type of shit that brings about the question: if the lens of ideology itself is flawed, then wouldn’t the world we observe be similarly distorted? It seemed like a very stupid system that somehow all western intellectual institutions were tied to.
I wanted to find spaces that were outside of this system of belief. I began to look out of bounds, exploring ideas that don’t show up in academic library catalogs, reading writers who don’t get published in the New Yorker or the Paris Review. My survey began to include the outsiders: the occultists, the anarchists, the ufologists, astrologers, psychonauts, and spiritualists.
Eventually I found my way out through Terence McKenna, whose advice was not to believe.
“I have been vehemently accused by people who didn’t understand me of not believing in anything. I don’t believe in anything. This is not a statement of existential hopelessness for which you should light a candle for me at night. It’s a strategy for not getting bogged down in some weird trip. After all, what is the basis for believing anything? I mean, you have to understand: You’re a monkey. In some kind of a biological situation where everything has been evolved to serve the economy of survival—this is not a philosophy course. So belief is a curious reaction to the present at hand. It isn’t to be believed, it’s to be dealt with—experienced and modeled.”– Terence MecKenna
As I began to integrate McKenna’s teachings, I was able to free myself of the idea that finding a suitable belief system or ideology was possible. It is the act of believing itself was the root cause of my confusion.
McKenna argues that “belief is a cop out on intellectual truth seeking”, that sticking to belief and belief systems are a form of “self limitation. You become your own cop.” And there it was. I had become my own cop, policing my own mind for stray thoughts that didn’t belong. I could not fully engage with my reality as I perceived it because my beliefs prevented me from doing so.
What I feared most however, wasn’t losing touch with the ideas themselves, but the sense of belonging that ideology offers to isolated people, like lonely grad students. Ideology gives you membership to the “correct” set of people, the ones on the “right side of history”, the people with the moral high ground. Even the “good” ideologies, that preach equality and unity, are built upon a black and white binary that must be enforced at all costs. Being “good” and “right” fucks you up in the long term, because it asks you to condemn your shadow side. This is a massive impediment to self mastery, and more importantly, self-love.
The truth was that ideology, and by extension all of human knowledge, is just our mortal attempts at modeling reality, and there is no real promise that our human, three dimensional brains can actually grasp a tiny speck of all that is. Ideology is simply a matter of perspective.
You may look at a tower of Jenga blocks and think, hmm that looks pretty even to me! But when you ask the person to your left, they may see it totally out of alignment. Together, you push the blocks around so that to that person, it looks straight. But then you ask the person on your right, and they tell you it’s even more fucked up than it was before! The Jenga tower of ideology looks solvable from a block by block basis, but after a few years of shifting blocks, you’re likely to realize that you’ve been chasing your tail the whole damn time.
This is not to say that we should give up on making a better world. But to focus on external realities can be disempowering. Reality, after all, is a projection of the mind. To master the mind is to master our perception of reality. So long as we are engaged with ideology, we are disengaged with our intuition, because we are taught to see things through the lens of belief rather than our personal experience.
I don’t engage with ideological discourse any longer. I prioritize my imagination and my intuition as tools for creating a new reality for myself and the ones I love. In the age of Aquarius, we are asked to reevaluate where authority comes from. Does it come from the people in power, running big institutions and powerful governments? Or does it come from the people, communities, and those who live in connection with the earth?
At the end of the day, you have to trust yourself; you are the foremost authority on your lived experience.