Ideology and Globalization

Defining “ideology” is a burdensome feat, as the term is used in a plethora of diverse contexts. Friedrich Engels, a prominent German philosopher, used the term to refer to abstract ideas that were independent of tangible existence. Later, Marxists described it as a malicious veil blinding the masses to the reality of their exploitation. Ultramodern colloquial usage takes a simpler approach by imposing the term upon the beliefs and opinions of those with whom one disagrees [1]. This is an intentional actualization of epistemic mechanisms by hermeneutical nominalists who ascribe the utility of a linguistic apparatus to the intent of the agent espousing it. I, in inclination towards hermeneutical realism, subscribe to the belief that ideology can be defined as, according to prominent political sociologist C. W. Mills, “any […] reflection that is of possible political significance” [2]. Belief systems, epistemic frameworks, metaphysical paradigms, and value judgments can all be classified as ideology if they are of potential political (and, ipso facto, social) significance. Ideology steers the direction of humanity as a whole, integrating people, ideas, governments, businesses, and dialogue in spite of borders and distance in a process known as globalization. Ideologies have driven the trajectory of globalization, toyed with it, seemingly opposed it, altered it, and, perhaps, even birthed it.

Ideological drivers of globalization continue to flourish and evolve into more impactful cultural phenomenon. While scholars debate the origins of globalization, with some attributing it to the earliest days of humanity and others pinpointing the connection of the Old World with the New World in the year 1571 AD, ideology has consistently served as the main driving force toward an ever-connected world. Dutch linguist Teun Van Dijk proposes that for the existence of an influential ideology, “group organization as well as institutionalization may be crucial” [3]. Penn State Professor Peter Kareithi further compounds this by stating that the formulation of an ideology is not dependent on the explicit espousal of the principles of an ideology, but instead on the transmission of anecdotal fables and maxims that steer one in a particular direction [4]. Kareithi adds that, historically, this role was assumed by churches, guilds, and schools that have been largely replaced (in influence) by mass media. Indeed, mass media not only serves as the vector of various ideologies, but also the instigator from which collectivities tend to form. Ideologies are based as much upon what the collectivity is as well as what it is not. Such establishment of the “other” is crucial to the subsistence of an ideological group and mass media provides the information that feeds these conclusions.

One recent example comes from the scientific community, involving the dissemination of information about the Higgs boson particle. Leon Lederman, American experimental physicist and author of The God Particle, openly boasts that he himself suggested “the god particle” as a nickname for the Higgs boson [5]. Lederman toys with his justification for the name, musing that perhaps a new text should be written, titled “The Very New Testament.” Rather than using the academic name of the particle, mass media disseminated Lederman’s nickname for the phenomenon with numerous articles containing the name within their titles. Lederman admits in his book that the purpose behind the name was to promote secularism, meant to be a blow to religion. The media facilitated and directly caused the subsequent outrage and friction between global Christian leaders and physicists. They also helped identify the “other”: dogmatic clerics and their followers. Negative sentiment towards religion in general dispersed across the world, a contention exchanged with societies, willingly or unwillingly, constituting a considerable step in manifesting the vision of globalist ideologues.

Ideological dissemination is an arm of globalization, which serves to further the global exchange of ideas and the homogenization of discourse and identity. Emory sociologists Frank Lechner and John Boli identified one such contemporary example in their analysis of the nature of Pentecostal Christianity and its rapid expansion across the world [6]. Lechner and Boli explain that while there is no centralized authority within the Pentecostal tradition, individual churches often establish international connections and congregants are very aware that they are part of an international community. In this case, the church is the group and it espouses a unique Christian paradigm with an altered epistemic approach to the Bible. This group works to “other-ify” non-Pentecostal Christian collectivities, providing anecdotal, experiential congregational services that further its adherents’ conviction in their mission.

Ideologies further globalization. Thus, an inherently anti-globalization ideology is nearly impossible to conceive. Since the advent of the Enlightenment, political systems have largely been characterized by a binary: “(a) advocating versus resisting social change, and (b) rejecting versus accepting inequality” [7]. If globalization is to be viewed as a phenomenon progressing linearly as our timeline lengthens, then movement backwards in time should decrease the magnitude of globalization. It follows, then, that those who resist (or attempt to undo elements of) social change are opponents of globalization, while those who promote social change are agents of it. One such example is that of Islamic fundamentalism (in the 1970’s and 1980’s) following the hegemony of secular reformism (in the1950’s and 1960’s) in Iran and Pakistan [8]. Secular reformists, who advocated for social change, would be viewed under the aforementioned paradigm as agents of globalization, while the fundamentalists would stand as enemies to it. The reality of their dialectical relationship and the nature of their discourse generally are more complex than this, as regardless of which side is taken (reformist or fundamentalist), there is a standardization and further entrenchment into this post-Enlightenment epistemic approach. Indeed, the “alienation and disillusionment with ideals and promises of ‘modernity’ in many Muslim societies” (often equated with a disillusionment with a globalized world) driving this political polarization is not a move backwards from modernity, but rather, a move forwards into what is often coined as post-modernity–a topic for future discussion[8].

Perhaps the question of which came first: globalization or ideology, is similar to the conundrum of the chicken and the egg. For globalization to occur, there needs to be a driving ideology that is disseminating or itself being disseminated. However, the existence of an ideology in the aforementioned criteria must surely be developed, at the very least, simultaneously with a process of globalization, as the start of a collectivity requires some level of (an inherently unquantifiable concept of) globalization. Much is left to be desired in the study of such a complex sociological phenomenon, but the necessity of ideology for the subsistence of globalization is indisputable. Ideology is, therefore, a reflection of sociopolitical potential that is often endowed by a collectivity to establish a distinction from the “other.” As the availability of and engagement with knowledge increased, ideologies historically progressed the might of globalization. Galileo, in espousing heliocentrism, an idea eventually adopted by a collectivity of scientists and “enlightened” humans to distinguish themselves from the Church, could be labeled as an ideologue, given that his contention carried significant political potential that was indeed exerted upon society. As ideas continue to be created and exchanged, human identity becomes more complex and ideologies continue to push a globalized vision of the world.

Works Cited:

  1. Martin, John Levi. “What Is Ideology?” Sociologia, Problemas e Práticas, vol. 2015, no. 77, 2014, pp. 10–15., doi:10.7458/spp2015776220.
  2. Mills, C.W. (1968). Letter to the new left. In C.I. Waxman (Ed.), The end of ideology debate (pp. 130). New York: Simon and Schuster.
  3. van Dijk, Teun A. “Ideology and Discourse.” Scribd, Popeu Fabra University, Barcelona, 2000, pp. 34. http://www.scribd.com/document/36227847/Ideology-and-Discourse.
  4. Kareithi, Peter. “’The White Man’s Burden’ – How Global Media Empires Continue to Construct ‘Difference’ : Global Narratives of Race.” Rhodes Journalism Review, vol. 2001, no. 20, Aug. 2001.
  5. Lederman, Leon M., and Dick Teresi. The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2006.
  6. Lechner, Frank J., Boli, John. “Expanding World Culture: Pentecostalism as a Global Movement.” World Culture: Origins and Consequences, Blackwell Pub., 2005, pp. 387–391.
  7. Jost, John T., et al. “Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 3, no. 2, 2008, pp. 126–136., doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00070.x.
  8. Haeri, Shahla. Obedience Versus Autonomy: Women and Fundamentalism in Iran and Pakistan. University of Chicago Press, 1993.

About the author: Wassim is an undergraduate student studying biology, chemistry, religion, and philosophy. In his free time, he studies theology, Shafi’i jurisprudence, and the sciences of the heart. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Image Credit: Graficzne Igor Morski

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