The forgotten role of the mind in human affairs

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 11:48pm
By Bradley Harrington

“A majority without an ideology is a helpless mob, to be taken over by anyone.” — Ayn Rand, Blind Chaos (1962– )

If you have ever wondered about the sorry state of our political system, and of exactly how it got that way, the answers to those questions have now been printed in every major newspaper in the country-though not in the manner in which the news writers intended.

Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), who recently announced his decision to retire from politics, had a few choice words for Congress on his way out the door: “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving.” (Federal News Service, Feb. 15)

'Ideology' is a word we hear often enough, and usually in a negative context; what does the word actually mean? According to Merriam-Webster, an ideology is: '(1) The body of ideas characteristic of a particular individual, group or culture; (2) the assertions, theories and aims that constitute a political, social and economic program.'

And 'idea,' in turn, is defined as: "(1) A plan for action; (2) something imagined or pictured in the mind; (3) a central meaning or purpose."

So, since the very notion of an "idea" is a plan for action, while "ideology" pertains to the aims of a "political, social and economic program," how would one engage in "practical problem-solving" without reference to either?

Consider, for a moment, the implications of such an approach. In order to solve problems, one must first identify them. Yet that very act of identification — of analyzing hundreds or thousands of concrete aspects of reality, and then evaluating those concretes in terms of their negative effects on human beings — is itself an ideological process.

And solutions? Those are even more conceptual, involving a correspondingly greater need for referencing ideas, for now we have the added factors of projecting potential alternative actions to be taken in response to the problems, and of re-evaluating the impacts of those actions on the original problem. To say nothing of evaluating whether those actions have created new problems or not.

To attempt to solve problems without referencing an aim or plan, therefore, can only mean: to blindly stumble along on whim and the range of the immediate moment, with no recourse to thoughts or principles, which means: to function as a mindless animal. What would anybody seriously expect from such a course of action? Yet all of it is contained in the Senator's simple sentence.

A day later, on Good Morning America, Sen. Bayh continued his Congressional hatchet-job: "There's just too much brain-dead partisanship, tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage rather than focusing on the greater good, and also just strident ideology."

But when a group of people choose to abandon concepts and ideas, what else is left to them but "tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage"? And how are such people to determine what constitutes the "greater good" when the very tools needed to define that good are considered to be "narrow" and "strident"?

Yes, there are a number of bad ideas at work in Washington-but the answer is to replace them with good ideas, not to scrap the idea of an idea, as such. That kind of "anti-ideology" would barely allow a gang of thugs to function; to see it seriously proposed in the halls of Congress should give pause to anyone truly concerned with the "greater good" of the United States.

But observe the extent to which the erosion of ideas has turned the second group into a legalized version of the first-for when men discard ideas, all that remains is the reign of brute force.

Never before in America's history has our culture abdicated the role of the mind in human affairs to the extent that it has today — and never before have we found ourselves mired in so much stale, hopeless cynicism, seemingly powerless to tackle any issues with any degree of success. One follows from the other.

No, it is not ideology that has put us in this position, but precisely the opposite: its relinquishment. The United States sorely needs intellectuals of the mind who are not afraid to stand up for ideology — who can step into our intellectual vacuum, confidently expose our current errors, advocate answers based in reason, individualism, liberty and reality, and effectively promote a new agenda of hope, progress, prosperity and production.

Anybody out there interested in a job?


Harrington is a former United States Marine and a free-lance writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyo.

15 Comments on this post:

By: vechester on 2/18/10 at 7:50

Bayh took the easy road out. As a moderate blue dog Dem he was probably tired of sitting in the back of the bus with a bad view and being told to shut up and no say on directions. Meanwhile, the left wing of the party had their way with our country passing an enormous spending bill, most of which will be spent in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles as pork in areas where elections are close, aka the FDR re-election plan.

Off the road somewhere were the Republicans trying to fix their party and understand what "true" conservatism really is. They are in the process of getting it right, listening to their conservative constituents back home and re-learning the meaning of true conservatism.

Washington has one unique problem that transcends all political parties; the old cronies that have outstayed their usefulness on both sides need to GO! Senator Shelby (R) Alabama needs to GO! He is the earmark king of the Republicans. And Sen Byrd (aka KKK member) is another earmark pig and his ties alone to the KKK are disgusting. There are plenty more too. America wake up and stop send these old cronies back to DC.

By: Loner on 2/18/10 at 8:19

The writer missed a few crucial points, Congress and the Executive Branch are beholden to the special interests, not the public interests. Without campaign finance reform, this trend will continue.

Statesmanship, intellectual prowess and genuine leadership are valuable commodities in a truly representative, pluralistic democracy, and/or a constitutional republic.

Sadly, our present form of governance more closely resembles an oligarchy, with a militant, fascist ideology. As a nation, we are sliding into theocracy, complete with perpetual enemies and endless holy war.

The Founders would be quite dismayed.

By: 742180 on 2/18/10 at 9:05

Even though this article is directed toward the political spectrum, it is the same with everyone, everywhere, everyday citizens of this country. Everyone believes their opinion is correct and will argue the point.

The evolution of this mind set can be attributed to many things, but the fact remains our interpersonal relationships with other humans we encounter daily has very little consideration for what they think or their state in life. Sure we donate to those less fortunate, but odds are that giving is a means of rationalization. In this discussion that is a critical consideration: The ability to rationalize our behavior (convincing ourselves that we are right) not only seperates us from the rest of the animal world but serves as a huge hinderance to overcoming the "subject" at hand.

Relating it to politics. If the "silent majority" could coalease and come together, the changes needed would be a literal breeze. We represent right at 63% of the population, yet we are more polarized than any civilization in history. We agree on VERY LITTLE. Sad state of affairs.

PS-Feel free to correct (critize) my spelling, it will make you feel superior.

By: BenDover on 2/18/10 at 9:46

Along these terms, I'd recommend the book Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/18/10 at 10:04

nice post, 742180.

By: Loner on 2/18/10 at 10:05

I agree, 742180, Homo sapiens has developed an enormous capacity for what I call :self-bullshitization". It's probably a survival mechanism, all sapient beings are vulnerable to depression, because they know "too much". People are aware of their mortality, we have devised social mechanisms to deal with the fear.

Our insatiable capacity for self-delusion is often destructive. Most people believe that noble ends can justify devilish means. All major religions ascribe to that idea, in one form or another. Governments also seem to believe and exploit that same fallacy.

I'm sure that every politician has deluded his or herself into believing the talking point rationalizations that their campaign donors have come up with.

We have the best government that money can buy. The recent SCOTUS decision that equated corporations with individuals, will insure that this remains true.

By: Loner on 2/18/10 at 10:41

The author of this essay quoted Ayn Rand in his intro....that's a tip-off...the Headline used the term "human affairs" and the author used that term in the text; coincidence or not, Human Affairs is a right-wing propaganda rag....another hint as to the writer's ideology.

The author alludes to an "intent" on the part of "news writers", this subtle dig at the mainstream media adds to the evidence that Bradley Harrington, our ex-Marine, freelance writer, is a right-wing ideologue trying to sound articulate, as well as fair and balanced.

I Googled the author's name, sure enough, Harrington is a professional right-wing zealot. Here is a URL that will take you to a page that exposes this man's prejudices:

The above link reveals Harrington's modus operandi, he takes an Ayn Rand quote and then goes off on a ranting tangent. He then sends the byzantine text to various newspapers and magazines hungry for right-wing, psuedo-intellectualism. apparently, he's making a buck in the process.

Here is a snippet from the Philadelphia Bulletin in which Harrington excoriates his perceived enemies on the left:

"The Peace Prize, however, is quite a different story and the choice of its recipients has often been embroiled by major controversy. Recipients such as Yasser Arafat, international terrorist (1994), Jimmy Carter, international appeaser (2002), and Al Gore, international advocate of global warming junk “science” (2007), have obliterated any meaningful honor and prestige the Peace Prize might ever have carried.....Any residual particle of remaining respect, of course, disappears completely in the face of this year’s award to President Barack Obama."

Here's the URL for that article:

I love exposing these phony intellectuals-for-hire. I don't get paid, I do it for the sport.

By: Loner on 2/18/10 at 10:43

Hey, Ben Dover, what up?

By: girliegirl on 2/18/10 at 10:57

Well...those of us who used to align on the Left feel the same way as Bayh. Our party has been overtaken by extremists with whom we cannot agree, no matter how hard we try. And now the few of us who are Christian feel we have no party left for us to cling to. How sad.

By: girliegirl on 2/18/10 at 10:58

PS.... I didn't write/author the Bible, but I am more than capable of reading it.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/18/10 at 11:09

girlie, there is plenty of community and good works from the religious left. it just doesn't get much press.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/18/10 at 11:13

The Christian Left does not seem to be so well-organized or publicized as its right-wing counterparts. Opponents state that this is because it is less numerous. Supporters contend that it is actually more numerous but composed predominantly of persons less willing to voice political views in as forceful a manner as the Christian Right, possibly because of the aggressiveness of the Christian Right. Further, supporters contend that the Christian Left has had relatively little success securing widespread corporate, political, and major media patronage compared to the Right. In the aftermath of the 2004 election in the United States Progressive Christian leaders started to form groups of their own to combat the Religious Right; The Center For Progressive Christianity and The Christian Alliance For Progress are two such groups that have formed to promote the cause.

Members of the Christian Left who work on interfaith issues are part of building the Progressive Reconstructionist movement.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/18/10 at 11:18

Organized by liberal-leaning evangelicals, some mainline Protestant clergy, and some Catholic groups, it will include Obama participating in a call-in program with religious leaders streamed on the Internet on August 19, prayer meetings and nationwide television ads.

"As a pastor I believe access to healthcare is a profoundly moral issue," Rev. Stevie Wakes of Olivet Institutional Baptist in Kansas City, said in a news teleconference announcing the "40 days for Health Reform" campaign.

By: Loner on 2/18/10 at 11:28

Giliegirl bemoans - "And now the few of us who are Christian feel we have no party left for us to cling to. How sad."

Cheer up girl, the party for you is called the Likud Party; that or the Shas Party. Convert and make Aliyah already....oy!

By: ACIbbott on 2/21/10 at 12:24

Hey, that’s my calling! I’m an intellectual who stands up for ideology, exposes our current errors, advocates answers based in reason, individualism, liberty and reality, and effectively promotes a new agenda of hope, progress, prosperity and production. It’s all in my book The Rights You Possess, on my web site. Take a look: