That even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day isn’t a matter of ideology. It’s a matter of fact.
Anyone who denies this fact will become an object of ridicule. Yet no one who asserts this fact will win any prizes: the observation is too trivial and self-evident to merit accolades.
Yet when it comes to politics, facts play second fiddle to ideologies. Getting back to our broken timepiece, if people look at it from an ideological perspective, some will say that it never shows the correct time, and some others that it always does.
Both will be wrong because an ideology is the wrong starting point of ratiocination. It blinkers the eyes, dulls the brain and turns people into jukeboxes waiting for their buttons to be pushed to bang out a tune.
This takes me back to the events I wrote about the other day: the Biden administration declassifying and releasing intelligence reports on Russia’s impending attack on the Ukraine.
Such reports should be evaluated, analysed and either believed or rejected on merits. But ideologies don’t allow dispassionate assessment. Everything has to be reflected through their own mirrors, and these are both concave and convex, guaranteed to distort reality.
Western politics has been increasingly ideological ever since 1789, when members of France’s National Assembly split into royalists on the right of the hall and revolutionaries on the left. For the first time, conciliation between political factions became impossible.
By contrast, England’s main political parties of the 18th century, the Tories and the Whigs, disagreed on some issues. But they didn’t hate one another. Both knew they fundamentally wanted the same things and only differed in the relative importance they attached to them.
Swift had nice clean fun satirising this essential kinship, with his Big-Enders and Little-Enders arguing about the more convenient way of breaking a soft-boiled egg. That was a caricature, but it was based on reality.
The arch-Tory Dr Johnson and the arch-Whig Edmund Burke were good friends. Both were champions of tradition and such relative innovations as free trade. They just put accents in different places and neither of them proceeded from an ideological premise.
Fast-forwarding a couple of centuries, do you think Trump and Biden, or indeed their ardent supporters, could be good friends? I won’t bore you with a litany of other binary impossibilities because there’s no need. You know anyway that these days politically minded individuals don’t see their opponents as honourable people they happen to disagree with. They see them as objects of hate or at best contempt.
The great adman Leo Burnett made his employees wear lapel pins saying “Maybe he is right”. This possibility is denied political opponents. Anything they say is wrong because it’s they who are saying it. Instead of evaluating facts and weighing arguments we consider the source.
This leads to appalling errors of judgement, as it did in the reaction to the intelligence report I mentioned, which turned out to be correct in every particular. But because it was the Biden administration that released it, it was roundly mocked by Trump’s fans.
They know their man was a better president than Biden is, and they are right. They know most of Trump’s policies were commonsensical and Biden’s are at best flimsy. Again they are right.
But they are wrong in not affording Biden the same courtesy as they do to a broken clock, or as Burnett’s employees afforded one another. Biden may be lacking in every faculty of mind and character, but that doesn’t mean he is always wrong.
Nobody is always wrong and nobody is always right. Hence it’s always more profitable to consider the argument, not the source. Once an argument is made, it either stands proud on its own hind legs or falls ignominiously face in the dirt. The fledgling has flown; whence it came is irrelevant.
The accurate intelligence report was ignored by the Trump-leaning public, though mercifully not by the Ukraine. Zelensky’s government wasn’t caught unawares, but indiscriminate followers of anti-Biden prophets were.
One such prophet was Andrey Illarionov, formerly Putin’s economic adviser, and now an anti-Putin, pro-Trump senior fellow at a Washington D.C. think tank.
I watched that normally sensible man mocking the aforementioned intelligence report on a streamed Russian-language interview. The date was 23 February, the day before Putin’s bandits pounced.
Rarely had I seen an analyst speaking publicly with so much conviction. People are saying the invasion is unlikely, sneered Illarionov, but they are wrong. It’s not unlikely. It’s totally, absolutely, utterly, unequivocally impossible. Read my lips: IM-POSSIBLE.
I’m not trying to say it’s wrong to be pro-Trump or anti-Biden. My point is that it’s wrong to be either, or anything else, for ideological reasons. ‘Ideology’ may be a cognate of ‘idea’, but the two concepts are antithetical.
A couple of years ago I was talking to an American pundit who was in the process of crossing the smudged line between neoconservatism and what Americans call liberalism. His attachment to these doctrines was convulsively ideological in both cases.
The subject was the EU, and I tried to present what I believed to be reasonable arguments against it. But my interlocutor wasn’t interested. Never mind the arguments, feel the ideology.
If you are against the EU, he said, you are a Putin stooge. He hates the EU too. That was an ideology speaking, loudly enough to outshout every voice of reason.
The brazen rhetorical idiocy of that response severed my already tenuous links with gentlemanly civility and I said a few things I shouldn’t have said. We haven’t spoken since. There goes another relationship, trampled underfoot by ideology.