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Daniel Bell and the End of Ideology in the West

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At the beginning of the Sixties modern society had undergone vast and amazing changes in the realm of politics, sociology and history.  During the previous ten years the Korean War had been fought and “won,” the Vietnam conflict had just begun and the Suez Crisis resulted in tensions rising between Egypt and Israel.  In addition to the open conflict of war many nations were continuing to undergo decolonization while technological advances spurred the world into an increased sense of connectedness and discovery.  When Daniel Bell wrote about “the end of ideology in the West” he was attempting to embrace a brave new world in which the horrors of the first two world wars could be left behind as the ideologies that had led to the deaths “of millions in concentration camps and death chambers” were finally beginning to die out, while in Africa and Asia ideologies would continue to grow and ferment (Lemert, 2009, Kindle Version location#8214-8225 & 8272-8285).   What Bell failed to realize was about ideologies in the West was that they were not dying simply evolving or being transformed to appear harmless, yet remain active when one needed them to lead others to social change, violent or peaceful.   While war and the ideologies supporting them have not yet reached the scale it had during the first two world wars they have still been very destructive aspects of the world, which Bell failed to foresee in his theory when he wrote of the end of radical ideals.

Though radical ideals appear to be growing rapidly in areas of Africa and Asia we must also look to our own society in order to analyze ideological changes.  Our own nation, which many citizens believe to be a moderate and logical voice of reason, has given way to fierce beliefs at each end of the political spectrum.  While most citizens, I believe, are moderate the extremely liberal and extremely conservative political factions have taken to television, the airwaves and the Internet spreading their own vitriolic criticisms of the other side.  Most of the people throwing the insults at one another can remain rational and non-violent yet some members of our society interpret their caustic speeches and ethics as a means to participate in violent acts of protest.  For example, in the recent shooting of Representative Giffords in Arizona there has been a great deal of debate as to whether the “lock and load mentality” (Howard, Jan. 8, 2011, Forbes) contributed to the act.  The man charged is now known to have a history of mental illness but one cannot discount the possibility that constant political name-calling may have been a contributing factor and resulted in this violent social movement of the shooter.  Both the Tea Party conservatives and the extreme liberals appear to believe that their commentaries are not weapons.

According to Bell there are three factors that allow for an idea to become a social movement and thus an active weapon.  First it must simplify ideas.  The Tea Party is a perfect example of the simplification of ideas.  At the website www.teaparty.org the organizer has created a list of core values that are extremely simplified and straight to the point.  For example they believe that a “stronger military is essential, gun ownership is sacred, English as a core language is required and that intrusive government should be stopped” (http://www.teaparty.org/about.php#what , Jan 31, 2011).  Though what they fail to do is provide coherent, solid means of achieving these goals in order to direct their members in a non-violent manner.  They claim that these core beliefs are valued truths and that nothing should stand in the way of them, Bell’s second factor in “rousing” a social movement.  The movement calls on the nostalgia of America’s past revolutionaries by saying we are “the beneficiaries of their courage” and have a divine calling to stand up for these conservative beliefs.  Finally, they demand commitment to action, Bell’s final factor, by soliciting donations, arranging protests, letter writing campaigns and often one-sided social media entries and televised speeches aimed at promoting Tea Party ideologies (Lemert, 2009, KindleVersion, Location#8248-8260).   At the same time we cannot solely single out the conservative parties as liberal parties have also taken advantage of many of the same tactics to ensure subscribing members move to action.    Bell called the ideologies of Africa and Asia “parochial, instrument and created by political leaders” (Lemert, 2009, KindleVersion Location#8272-8285) what he failed to realize is that American ideologies, such as Tea Party beliefs, have remained largely the same way.

Today’s some of our greatest ideological fears are stemming from developments in Africa and Asia but also from Middle Eastern countries as well, which Daniel Bell predicted (Lemert, 2009, KindleVersion Location#8272-8285).    In a very recent conversation with a Muslim friend from Pakistan, Omar Alam, I asked what he believed was the primary cause of the rise and spread of radical Islam.  Having been born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia for most of his life Omar had observed the radicalization of young men in families whose subsistence was at or below the poverty line.  He commented during our conversation that many families would opt to attempt to educate the children they considered to be “smartest” while the “least intelligent” child would be sent to a religious school to study with an Imam.  Some were radical, while others were not but the poverty was a key piece, he believes, in the radicalization of young Muslims.  The radical movements all rely on the three factors previously discussed that were outlined by Bell.  They simplify (and often distort) the Quran, they establish their claims as absolute truth and they demand, often violently a commitment to action on behalf of the movement.   The same factors are also found in movements of fundamental Christianity and Zionism.  No radical movement is innocent.

If we were to take each movement without looking at the specific beliefs or actions involved in committing to those beliefs we would find a very simple common emotion, anger.  According to Bell our search for a cause stems from a sense of frustrating, unending anger.  It is the most motivating and potentially damaging emotion for mankind because of its ability to cause and spread the outbreak of violence.  Current situations in Northern Africa are perfect examples of how ideologies and causes can cause outbreaks of tension between groups or citizens and politicians.   Citizens of Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and as of  the morning of January 31, 2011 – Sudan have, in a domino like-effect, taken to the streets in protest of what many of them view as corrupt politics and politicians (Beinin, Jan.31, 2011, Foreign Policy Blog) . Protestors have been calling for radical reforms within their nations; the people have demanded political and economic changes after years of despotic rule.  They are experience what Bell described as “deep, desperate almost pathetic anger” (Lemert, 2009, KindleVersion Location#8285-8296).  Ideologies, as Bell predicted, are multiplying and spreading in Africa and Asia.

What then, do Bell’s predictions mean for us as we move forward?  The new ideologies are ones in which you cannot face a known and apparent enemy on an open battlefield as soldiers did during the first two World Wars.  If we are combating radical ideologies we cannot face the soldiers in the fight with weapons of violence and win.  Anger must be confronted at the deepest, most simple level.  We must discover and confront our own ideologies that are responsible for enhancing and fostering the emotions and beliefs growing in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  We must confront poverty, we must confront despotic rule and the lack of human rights and we must confront cultural imperialism.  None of the ideological aspects that Bell believed to have been destroyed between 1930-1950 truly died.  We still face imperialism; we still face destructive wars, genocide and the ideologies that brought them to the forefront of human history.  They have simply donned a new mask and are arising from new soil.

WORKS CITED

Beinin, Joel. (January 31, 2011). Egypt at the tipping point?, Foreign Policy. Retrieved from http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/31/egypt_at_the_tipping_point.

Howard, Carol. (January 8, 2011) Gabrielle Giffords Shooting and Sarah Palin’s Conscience. Forbes. Retrieved from

http://blogs.forbes.com/carolinehoward/2011/01/08/gabrielle-giffords-shooting-and-sarah-palins-conscience/

Lemert, Charles. (2009). Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, Weslyan University: Westview Press. Amazon Kindle Edition.

Tea Party Website. (January 31, 2011). retrieved from http://www.teaparty.org

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