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On Ideological Possession

You might not realize it, but self-righteousness is highly addictive.

You know…the feeling of self-righteousness- the feeling that you were “right all along” is just…fantastic.

Because of this good feeling, this dopamine rush that being right gives us, our tendency is to latch onto ideas that fit our paradigm of thinking, even if they are logically false or destructive. Sort of like how a heroin addict latches onto the habit- chasing the proverbial dragon.

Basically, if you’re not careful, you get addicted to being right and you tend to avoid ideas that get in the way of not being right, even though they may be way more logically sound.

This article seeks to explain why this happens and why it is a pitfall that crushes a lot of people.


Ideological Dopamine Loops

I sincerely think it is some sort of efficiency adaptation for humans- just like how we tend to get physically lazy because our natural mode is to conserve energy except for when it is desperately needed, our minds tend to group ideas into a large “clump”, and with that “clump” of ideas, a lot of the energy use for the brain is no longer necessary…

Things like deciding what to do with your productive time… How to feel towards life and world events… Where to direct your disposable money…

Your brain rewards you for that efficiency with a feeling of righteousness, and you will continue to chase the feeling, now having a reliable source for it.

Obviously, this is a useful tendency to have adopted because when your tribe is doing things a certain way and believing certain ideas, it is useful to feel good that you are also doing that. It is also not efficient to be constantly second-thinking the ideas that you believe in…

Usually, it is the leaders in your tribe that give you validation, and it is also the leaders that guide you along to mastery of these “clump” of ideas.

There is a flaw in this adaptation, though. We get into positive dopamine feedback loops within this clump of ideas- this ideology.

Sometimes, second-thinking something is the right thing to do.

Lest we give up our individualistic nature to be more involved with a false ideology.

Lest we let the feeling of being right drive us and have the feeling of being right take precedent over everything. 

Sometimes, Really Bad Shit Happens

Have you ever felt remorseful?

Of course you have-you’re human and you often say stuff like, “Why the hell did I do that?”

Well, ideological possession could be the reason why we, the human race, collectively say to ourselves, “Why the hell did I do that?”

We look back and we wonder how people could ignore all the signs that something is wrong… false… lies.

Signs like millions of people starving to death…

Signs like children being gassed in chambers…

People being slaughtered by the millions…

Extreme cruelty and deprivation to innocent humans…

From the outside, which is more than a matter of time and space, but of ideology too, those ideas are obviously wrong.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to understand what kind of motivation the ideologically possessed feel- you can only view these past situations within your own ideological framework.

Consequently, this leads us to feel like we’re in the clear, and we’ve learned our lessons. And only simply because we can judge the actions of our predecessors as wrong from our entirely different ideological framework.

Instead, we should have the perspective that clinging to ideological thinking is wrong, whatever ideas may lie within them being of no importance. It is the mode of being that is wrong.

So let me ask you now… Would you still believe in a path, in a way, in a system, in a leader… after it screws up the world that bad?

If you went all the way into that rabbit hole, if you become ideologically possessed- you may not even have a choice.

How Do They Get You?

Through the feeling of love.

You love to have affirmation from your peers.

You love to be destined.

You love to fit in.

You love to be right.

Especially if it also means that other people are wrong.

It’s traditional marketing and advertising tactics. It’s typical human bias.

If they can get you to buy they can also get you to believe.

Loose logical explanations will often do the trick in hooking you in, as most of the time, it is the charisma and conviction of the leader that does most of the “heavy lifting”.

As it is true, that life is suffering, all of us are seeking answers for one thing or another, and it is very tempting grasp onto an idea that has all the answers. It’s the lazy lizard brain at work again…

It Starts With a Charimastic Leader…

Then there is a domino effect of social proof, as other people around you, people that you respect and admire, gain a strong sense of conviction and righteousness- feelings that you crave for yourself. Little do you know, these respected and admired people are no different from any other human in existence, with the same faulty bias’.

When the domino, so to speak, gets to you, your brain will always take the easy, lazy route. The route that has been paved and developed so well from the affirmation of the crowd, the logical (on the surface) “truths”, the validation of your tribe, and the free ticket to being right.

Getting caught up in business ideologies, or worse, political ideologies, is almost like a rite of passage for the western culture, and we often think back wondering, “Why the hell did I do that?”

Why is Ideological Possession Toxic?

One, simply, can not be right about an idea forever.

If you are growing, in the self developmental sense, you will constantly learn that you are wrong about aspects of your life, and you will constantly be optimizing your day to day behaviors.

Sometimes you will be really wrong about some things.

And in these scenarios you will truly find out why we, as humans, avoid those feelings at all cost- sometimes brutal and senseless costs…

It really sucks to know that you need to do something new and that the past was wrong.

It shakes the foundation of your identity structure, and it rips your ego a new one. Not pleasant feelings at all… But they are necessary.

Because what sucks more is to be stuck…and be against evolution, becoming more and more antagonistic towards people and conflicting ideas in order to further enforce your position in the ideological hierarchy.

Indeed, this is a great way to know that you are stuck in an ideology: You spend a lot of time pointing out that people are wrong in order to protect the idea structures in your brain. 

In fact, the entire ideology can be based on pointing these things out. The Nazi premise, for example, is built entirely on the idea that being Jewish is wrong. As death and decay surrounded Hitler in the final moments, he rather kill himself than admit that he was wrong.

If you happen to be stuck into an ideology that have beliefs that are beneficial to your day to day life, such as the premise to most institutional religion, things don’t usually work out too bad. Unless, of course, to reiterate my last point, most of the religious practice is to shame “sinners” and tell people that they are going to hell for eternity.

That being said, even in positive ideologies, you are still not thinking for yourself, and if you continue to be prone to ideological possession, you run the risk of playing out a reality that is unsustainable and destructive.

As reality continues conflict with your actions, you will refuse to destroy the old thought structures and instead double-down on the ideological structures. At best, you live a stagnant life…

At worse, like in Soviet Russia, you watch the world burn around you.

The Cure

Although ideological possession is a very common mode of being for the majority of society, it is certainly not the best way to live your life.

Critical thinking should be applied to all ideas that you “believe in”, and we should be constantly evaluating whether our ideas are continuing to serve us for the better or just helping reinforce addictive righteousness feelings.

I don’t know if it’s possible for everyone to get “woke” like this. Bear with me as I use that word, which I don’t agree with sometimes…

But, I truly don’t know if everyone has the intelligence capacity to engage in constant critical thinking and reflecting

If you’re reading this though, and are engaged with my writing, then you surely are capable of that state of being, and it is now your duty to lead a culture that is engaged in more individualistic thinking instead of succumbing to ideological possession… Cliche as it sounds, it starts with you.

Set aside time to reflect on how your beliefs and actions are affecting you, and the results that they have given you. Is there is a logical flaw in how you carry yourself on a day to day basis? Is there a belief that you are holding that may cause immense suffering for you in the future?

If there is, the instinct is to ignore the pain and go back to reinforcing the bad habit, as that is how we are wired- we want to be right.

What you will do, instead, is embrace the pain of being wrong. Live in it.

It will make you stronger, and you will now venture into new horizons where better ideas and thoughts exist.

8 thoughts on “On Ideological Possession”

  1. Thank you very much for this highly informative piece of writing, I find it really easy to comprehend though the title sounds somehow complicated, ideological possession isn’t too right in my opinion but as you have rightly advice ,I will take time to reflect on how belief affects my way of life and I won’t be too bitter to pass on the burden. 

    • Thanks for the kind words, Charles! I’m glad the article got you thinking about your own beliefs. It’s the best we can all do.

  2. Hi Wilson. Wow.. what an in depth article. I have no doubt you could write a book about ideology. I had to read your blog several times for my old brain to comprehend what it all meant.  I prefer to sum it all up as you either be an individual and do what you consider is right or you accept the ‘Feel good’ mentality of being part of a larger crowd. I had no idea that our brain sending out Dopamine might actually be the reason so many of us follow the easy path. 

    Fortunately. I  ‘second think’ most of the actions or beliefs I follow up on. But no matter how you explain it, I still find it so difficult to understand why someone like Hitler and his Nazi members took the road that they took. Actually I struggle to understand why anyone would take a path that leads to destruction , anger and hate. But your article has helped me to see things in a slightly clearer way. However, I think I will have to read it one more time. Thank you. Jim

    • Thanks for reading, Jim. I’m glad you got value out of it. 

      It is a complicated subject, and a dark one. That whole dopamine cycle causes us humans to go down roads that we don’t expect to go down and are almost impossible to get out of. Better to not start down the road in the first place. 

  3. That is so very true. Idological posession, being one of the many sheep, being one with the crowd, condoning what is clearly wrong just because it is law and therefore “right”. I’ve never been a follower and it has cost me, people have attacked me because of it, ridiculed me, laughed at me, etc, but in the end I am myself and I know my values whereas most people – as you said – only find self worth when they are validated by the tribe and the leader. 

    It isn’t easy to wake up, I agree, but I think that nowadays many more people are waking up. 

    • Thanks for reading this article, Christine 😉 
      Getting out of the crowd, especially when it is toxic is definitely good practice and good for you for always having that tendency. 
      Take care!

  4. Hi! The feeling of being wrong is not pleasant. But it’s worse to be stuck with an ideology that’s drawing us back. So, I believe we must train ourselves to be open to the possibility that we can be wrong. This doesn’t make us weak. It makes us wise. Naturally, we’ll only change our way of thinking if were expose to something superior.

    We’d never want to discard what’s superior just because we want to avoid the feeling of being wrong.

    • Very true, Henry! The problem arises when people become delusional about what is actually “superior”. You’re right though, we gotta train ourselves as soon as possible to the open to failure and being wrong. 

      Thanks for reading, man. Take care!

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