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Ideology is the siren song that will wreck us on the rocks

A person gestures while taking the stage during a rehearsal ahead of the first presidential debate between Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Cleveland.
Julio Cortez, Associated Press

In Greek mythology, a siren was a creature that was half woman, half bird. Their beautiful songs lured sailors toward them, where they would wreck on the rocks and perish.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an ideology is “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” Current major political parties put their ideologies forward as the basis for curing all of society’s ills.

The Republican Party promotes the idea that if only free enterprise and a focus on self-reliance were universally adopted, and if the government were reduced to its smallest possible size, then all of our problems would vanish. The Democratic Party counters that if we would only unleash the full power of the government on inequality, regulation of businesses, homelessness and so forth, that all of our troubles would disappear. Most of the minor parties have different beliefs, but what they have in common is the idea that only their ideology offers a way out.

These proposed solutions to our problems are simplistic, meaning oversimplified to the point that they could never actually work. Ideologies are attractive in troubled times because they promise a simple way to reduce contention to manageable levels. But an ideology is not going to save us, for three reasons.

First, while it may be attractive on the surface, the promised relief is an illusion. The problems that we face are not simple, and the solutions to them will not be either. Second, the country is too evenly divided for one ideology to emerge victorious. Struggling over ideology is only going to damage the country, not rescue it. Third, even if one ideology were to prevail, it would not resolve our challenges. In countries where one ideology has triumphed over all others (the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, Nazi Germany), the outcome has not been good.

None of this means that there cannot be vigorous debate over policy. What should be avoided is the temptation to try to silence all opposing points of view or to refuse to compromise.

We must reject the siren song of ideology and learn to work together to solve our problems. It’s the only way forward that can actually work.

Thomas G. McNeill is the United Utah Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, District 3. McNeill has a Ph.D. in computer science and works in the software industry in Utah County. He is a former Republican state delegate.