To what extent do people distinguish between the terms ‘theory’ and ‘ideology’ in political discourse2? In our view, they each have radically different implications, namely an ideology is an a priori, solipsistic, and unfalsifiable3 entity, whereas a theory is ‘open’ and susceptible to change and development on the basis of new information and related insights. Hence we have used the somewhat poetic metaphor of the mountain [ideology] and the sea [theory] to express this essential difference.
We also feel that the metaphor has a further meaning, in that a mountain may shed part or all of its content into the sea, which will, eventually and consistent with its fluidity, either absorb and distribute the debris or find a way around large rock deposits. Equally, the sea may gradually erode the fixed structure of the mountain, and release the organic [living] components that originally formed it.
More pragmatically, we regard the inter-relationship between theory and practice, expressed as praxis, to be a fundamental issue. In a virtuous circle, the lessons learnt by practice inform the development of theory, which in turn helps to lend coherence to the exercise of practice. Ideology, however, seeks to impose its allegedly higher knowledge on practice, consistent with the Leninist approach to proletarian struggle4.
We regard ideologies, based on assumptions rather than lived experience and perception, to be inherently reactionary, and the basis of destructive nationalisms and racisms. We have been lucky enough to have taken part in unanticipated and open discussions with, respectively, a non-nationalist Protestant from the North of Ireland, and a ‘non-political’ Jewish Israeli, members of constituencies that have benefitted from their ‘socio-ontological’ status, albeit in these cases, as far as is known, ‘passively’ [ie, not further consolidating their advantages by activism].
The insights we have gained from such direct testimony have caused many challenges to our own ossified thought structures, which continue to be unresolved, other than to reassert the importance of ‘humanness’, drippy and amorphous as that might sound. After all, we cannot anticipate, in the moment of true social revolution, which of our friends will expose themselves as enemies and which of our enemies as friends.
This does not lessen the historical and current impact of the oppression experienced and imposed in Palestine/Israel or the North of Ireland, and it is no more reasonable for us to apply an ‘objective’ [conveniently-distanced] judgment to responses to such oppression than to refuse to listen to the views of the ‘citizen oppressor’, however absurd and ill-informed these views might be.
In the words of Marvin Gaye, “The world is just a great big onion, and pain and fear are the spices that make you cry”. Equally, the world is just a great big onion, in that there are always layers within layers….
Fulano de Tal
- With due acknowledgement and thanks to the Situationist International for inspiring these divarications.
- The Situationists, as ever, were lexically rigorous on this point, insisting that applying the term ‘Situationism’ to their diverse body of thought effectively reduced a theory to the status of an ideology.
- In the sense meant by Karl Popper, ie, of not necessary being ‘false’, but of not being susceptible to testing for possible falseness.
- Nor should we forget the cynical comment made by Michael Bakunin [one of the ‘venerable grandfathers’ of anarchism]: “Invisible pilots in the centre of the popular storm, we must direct it, not with a visible power, but with the collective dictatorship of all the allies. A dictatorship without badge, without title, without official right, yet all the more powerful because it will have none of the appearances of power”.