Ideological opportunity cost (IOC)

Ideology interferes with an unbiased appraisal of reality. This – in itself – would be detrimental enough, but ideology is far more insidious than that. By nature, ideology is designed to be extremely self-serving and inherently creating in- and an out-groups.  Put differently, there is never a reason to have an ideological debate with someone. The reason someone brings up a particular topic is not to have an honest discourse about it, but rather to celebrate the beliefs of the in-group. Assuming belief homeostasis, I would expect this response to be particularly strong in those without sincerely held religious beliefs. In other words, someone bringing up an ideological topic is more akin to a secular sermon than to a genuine debate or discourse. It’s function is to celebrate the in-group and to identify and ostracize the out-group.

Life is inherently hard as reality is extremely complex and nature does not ask for informed consent. Autonomous but inherently limited cognitive agents living in this world can get lucky, but should be expected to suffer the consequences of living in such a reality on a fairly constant basis. Given the ambiguous nature of *interpreting* reality, it can be tempting for individuals to willfully make fundamental attribution errors if they exculpate the individual – shortcomings are externalized sensu “It is not my fault, if only these evil other guys didn’t exist, all would be well with the world.”, particularly if this is socially reinforced. Ideology amounts to outsourcing the causes of the pain associated with existence. Therefore, it is highly likely that psychological and social needs are behind any given ideological position, whereas expressions on issues of fact that touch on the ideological position of the ideologue are merely a smokescreen to obscure this fact, perhaps even to the believers themselves.

All of this raises the issue of ideological opportunity cost (IOC). Given how self-serving and community building ideological positions are, it is to be expected that their seductive nature will lead the ideologue to bring them up frequently. But there is a terrible cost associated with this. There are plenty of topics where a discussion can lead to a better appreciation of the realities of life for all involved. Such sincere discussions are critical, as a genuine exchange of information transcends the limitations of the individual agents sampling reality in solitude. The problem is that ideologues have no interest in such discussion, as they already “know” the nature of reality. From their perspective, there definitely is one (politically) correct, but many wrong views of reality. Their only real interest is in spreading and celebrating their secular gospel in their secular sermon (SS). The opportunity cost associated with all of this is that most of these ideological exchanges can seem incredibly engaging in the short run, but will likely be – for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph – fruitless in the long one. But they do displace genuine exchanges concerning the nature of reality, as there is only limited time for social engagements.

This is a problem without a good solution. If people disagree, this kind of exchange creates adversity without any conceivable upside. Even if everyone agrees on the ideological issue in question, the group prior is further distorted from reality and discussions that could set the proper group prior are displaced by this kind of ideological self-gratification.

If you are also concerned about this, you should be on the lookout for people who are likely to drag you into this kind of below zero-sum exchange. The prediction is that people who are most likely to do this are those who feel the pain of existence most acutely – due to a plethora of real and perceived problems and who are unable to mitigate it by making it meaningful (usually with religion) or bearable (usually with stoic philosophy or meditation). In this view, ideology is a social coping strategy with personal problems resulting from very existence itself. You do not have to be an unwitting part in this process.

The only solution I see is a conscious override: Recognizing that – while tempting – the ideological exchange is a trap, that ideological differences cannot be settled by discussion, that there is a tremendous opportunity cost even if everyone agrees and that – therefore – the only way to win is not to play.

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3 Responses to Ideological opportunity cost (IOC)

  1. Christopher Taylor says:

    I like the essential idea of ideology incurring an opportunity cost (in my own experience my own set of ideologically motivated beliefs left mee blind to some good/interesting ideas advocated by Milton Friedma) but don’t see the justification for lauding religious views as non-ideolgical. From where I sit, it is difficult to find examples of religious belief that does not come bound with an entire ready made ideology. Perhaps I am missing something in your argument. Also, couldn’t non-religious, but metaphysical, beliefs serve the same function e.g., the existentialism of Satre or Camus.

    • Lascap says:

      It is a question of dimensionality. One can’t be a Communist Libertarian or a Christian Muslim. So if you classify religion as an ideology, it is a different kind of ideology, as all crosses of ideological and religious position are possible. Of course, they are not all equally likely. There are correlations, which means that the dimensions are probably not orthogonal. But distinct nonetheless.

  2. Roman Zamishka says:

    Ideology avoidance causes ego depletion, which individuals who depend on ideology as a refuge from life’s stress are most likely to be already low on. The solution to dogmatism is not a philosophical one, but an economic one.

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