“We think that ideology is something blurring, confusing our straight view. Ideology should be glasses which distort our view and the critique of ideology should be the opposite, like you take off the glasses so that you can finally see the way things really are … Ideology is not simply imposed on ourselves, ideology is our spontaneous relationship to our social world, how we perceive each meaning and so on and so on.
We, in a way, enjoy our ideology. To step out of ideology, it hurts, it’s a painful experience, you must force yourself to do it…”
— Slavoj Zizek
Lately I’ve been obsessed over finding parallels between the aphoristic simplicity of Eastern philosophical practice and the endless complexity of Western critical theory. I’ve also been consistently meditating twenty minutes a day for roughly three months, a habit that’s provided me with quite a bit of emotional reevaluation and bursts of creative and productive energy.
Lately, I’ve been intrigued by what Hegel and Marx called Ideology. Ideology is basically defined by these two thinkers as ‘false consciousness’. Hegel writes that the vast majority of people, due to a variety of circumstances, become mere vehicles for history, unaware of the nuances of their respective roles in society nor the true forces behind those roles. Only philosophers could possibly have the time or desire to understand the complex implications of history and Ideology. In Hegelian terms, Ideology is a bad thing. It represents our delusions.
I realize that bringing up Zizek and Marx and even Hegel may make some of you uncomfortable, and I apologize. But I suppose one of Ideology’s worst side-effects is its tendency to blindside us and induce shock. We hear a term or a name and associate it with that which may not necessarily be true or historically accurate. We dismiss an entire school of philosophy because of its cultural connotations. Or, in a less canonical philosophical way, we dismiss our own feelings because of what we call them.
Ideology colors our language and can damage our thoughts. Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” I’m going to argue that the limits of language give us the illusion that a higher command over language will provide us with a higher command over our world.
And here’s where Zazen meditation comes in: it reminds us of the falseness of Ideology. We can theorize and conceptualize all we want, but it means nothing if we don’t simultaneously realize the frailty of language and the limits of our freedom within the frameworks of English or French or German or even traditional music. The ego and perceived self of Ideology do not really exist.
In reading Hegel and Marx and their descendants in the Western philosophical canon, I have come to see Ideology as one of the core problems of Western thinking. We rationalize and categorize to the point where we cannot ever fully divorce things from their concepts. As a result, we start to take concepts to seriously. We treat words like we treat Gods, with a dangerous reverence and assumed objectivity that can provoke violence and intense disagreement between people. The worst of these arguments occur in your own head, when you define ideas too strictly and end up not understanding why real-life experience doesn’t match up to the language you wish you had to describe it.
In meditation, art, music and what is often called ‘non-thought’, we transcend Ideology. We move past that which can be fully expressed and acknowledge the faulty nature of language. We learn to see our ideas as they are, as floating and often imperceptible abstractions rather than concrete things or commodities. Meditation teaches us that what we think, what we do and what we are told to do or think we are supposed to do are often completely incongruent. This incongruence is worth exploring through meditative activities, cathartic artistic pursuits and active philosophical inquiry.