Ideologues, Idealists and Pragmatists
by George Pitagorsky
Ideologues seem to come out in force when times become chaotic. People seek simplistic solutions and those are the kind ideologues specialize in.
The recent conflict over the budget, spending and taxing pits ideologues against pragmatists more than it pits liberals vs. conservatives. But, the clash between ideologues vs. pragmatists is not limited to the realm of government. It influences relationships of every kind in businesses, projects and families.
Pragmatists on both sides of the divide over how best to reduce national debt seem to recognize the need to compromise in order to meet practical requirements, like not shutting down the government or risking a meltdown in the economy.
Ideologues prioritize sticking to their ideology and its principles over short term practicality.
Who Are Ideologues?
An ideologue is someone who uncompromisingly and dogmatically adheres to an ideology. Ideologues tend to be difficult to deal with unless you agree with them. There is no room for rational analysis and discussion since everything is skewed to support the ideology. If it doesn't support the ideology it is bad and must be expunged. Rhetoric wins out over logic.
Ideologues are true believers. Their beliefs are usually based on a premise that cannot be questioned and/or on an emotional attachment to some vision of how things should be.
There is a belief that there is one and only one way to address a particular issue whether it is how to run a project, teach a certain subject, express a certain idea or balance the budget. For example there is the premise that increasing tax revenues is detrimental to the economy and that the only way to balance the budget is to cut spending.
For ideologues, beliefs are cast in stone. They pledge never to deviate from them. They think in absolute rather than relative terms (absolutely no taxes vs. some taxes of the right kind). In the extreme case ideologues take up arms to force their ideology on others. In less extreme cases they obstruct and subvert.
Idealists and Pragmatists
Idealists are people who cherish or pursue high or noble principles. Of course ideologues consider themselves to be high principled people who know what's right and are willing to fight for it. There is a thin line between heroic upholders of high ideals and ideologues.
For example, for me Martin Luther King was a hero, an idealist, who firmly believed in the rights of human beings regardless of race while racist white supremacists are ideologues blindly following beliefs that are without logical foundation and are harmful to people. But I wonder if the white supremacists would agree.
Pragmatists are practical. They are oriented towards the success of a course of action or thought.
So what to do when faced with an ideological differences and a lack of enough pragmatism to avoid serious fallout from sticking to ideals that are impractical?
Ideally we would all be clever enough to not rely on fundamentalist beliefs, and instead, question the costs and risks of both sticking to one's ideals and changing them. What are the long and short term effects? Will the outcome be beneficial? Are the underlying beliefs rational and worth keeping?
This is idealistic pragmatism. Ideologues generally aren't up to thinking about the worth of their beliefs and the effects of their actions. They believe that any disruption or short term harm will be worth it. Usually they are wrong.
Working with them requires patience. We can pose logical questions and require answers that are equally logical. Maybe that will turn a light bulb on in the ideologue's mind. If it doesn't there is the hope that the ultimate decision maker(s) will see through the rhetoric and take a practical course of action based on what is going to benefit the greatest number of people and cause no harm or at least as little as possible.
When that hope of a rational decision is not fulfilled and the ideologues take over we are in for trouble.
© 2011 Pitagorsky Consulting