What is ideology? Surely you can come up with your own interpretation, but I shall define it here as any set of beliefs that influence or guide one's thoughts and behaviors. Most notably, ideology can take the form of religious, political, cultural, and philosophical belief systems, though these are not mutually exclusive.
For most of us, the embrace of an ideology provides comfort and a sense of belonging. Children grow up and imbibe ideologies. People form groups to celebrate ideologies. We embody new, more sophisticated ideologies as we enter college or endure unique experiences.
As much as we try, it is quite impossible to escape ideology--it envelops us and caresses our minds with a soothing touch... or strikes us down with an oppressive force.
So far, it seems like ideology is a force for good in the world, linking human beings in multifaceted ways. But do not be deceived by the sly fox. Ideology is the cause of much destruction and suffering in the world. It burns villages, violates human rights, and pits humanity against itself. Ideology is both a blessing and a curse. For, while it soothes, it also cuts.
How does ideology cause all this destruction? The answer lies in its malleability. When different groups maintain antithetical ideologies, they clash.
Historically, and even today, differing religious groups clash, and those who hold no religious beliefs are often oppressed by their fanatical counterparts.
Islamic extremism is a modern example of what can go wrong when ideology is taken much too far. Likewise, America has justified its own violent history under the name of 'manifest destiny,' conquering the world and waging war because God desired it.
Political extremism is another form of ideology that divides humanity in countless ways. In today's technology age, all one has to do is log into social media and watch as conservatives and liberals battle it out over a slur of vicious words and angry sentiments.
The dangers of ideology seem perpetual. History shows that the world has always been ravaged by ideology.
So how do we stop it? How do we mitigate the extremism that so often accompanies ideology?
I believe the answer lies in exercising doubt about one's beliefs. Extremism is almost always a result of believing in the absolute truth of one's ideology, rendering all other ideologies false or harmful. This, of course, is rash and unreasonable.
By exercising doubt about your own beliefs, you invite amiable discourse with others who maintain very different belief systems. By doubting, you begin to question. By questioning, you learn more about yourself and others.
Doubt is a safeguard against ideological extremism. Human progress depends on doubting old systems and constructing new ones. Doubt, rather than being a darkness, is the only solace in an otherwise inhospitable world.