Ideas over Ideologies

America is an ideological mess. I’m sorry we’re leaving you with such a mess, Vera, but unless something radically changes over the next decade or two, a mess is what you and your generation will be getting.

Today, ideologies rule. We are bereft of ideas and solutions yet ideologies abound. Some people say it’s a matter of political partisanship. But I think we’re giving politics a bad name when we characterize it that way. No, I think it’s fairer to say it’s a matter of ideologies.

They include some that are based in religion, some based in individualism or collectivism, some based in capitalism, some based in consumerism, some based in nationalism or tribalism, some simply based in fear. Whatever the root, we’ve given ideologies power over us and our decision making. Everything is to be judged against the ideology. And that’s the end of the analysis.

Moreover, since it’s a matter of ideology, there is no compromising. The ideology is sacrosanct. To compromise is to reject. Hence, we are rigid and unyielding. Obstinate. Arrogant, even to the point of nastiness. We even become blind to the self-destructive outcomes of our ideologies.

It’s no way to run a country. Or anything else for that matter. Nor is it the way this country was built.

We were once a country of doers. We saw a challenge and went about the task of meeting it. Sure, we had different perspectives and biases. Indeed, our constitution is a document of compromises made by men of different desires. But we got it done. We didn’t allow ideologies to become barriers. Or anchors holding us to the past, an impediment to forward progress.

We have some big challenges — indeed, problems — today. None of them should be insurmountable. Yet they are. Because we’ve become a country of ideologues.

Our problems include a runaway debt, growing deficits, a healthcare system that’s eating us alive, an educational system that is too costly and too underperforming, decrepit infrastructure in many places, unaffordable housing in many places, global warming, depleted and depleting water tables, economic inequality that is creating cracks in our societal fabric, a rising death rate, high incidence of mental and psychological disorders, abnormally high rates of violence including killing of our children, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc.

A country of ideas tackles such problems, not with ideologies but with ideas — ideas that lead to solutions and progress. It matters not what political or religious affiliation one has; every person is capable of generating ideas and entering into dialogue with others to find solutions. But we don’t. And it’s because we have become hostage to ideologies and all the bad habits that entails.

I have to be honest, Vera: I hate living in a country of ideologues. I hate being surrounded by cognitive laziness and can’t-do spirits. Fortunately, not everyone is like that. But many are. Too many. Enough to put the brakes on progress. Enough to cause progress to retreat. For decline and decay to set in.

I remain hopeful that things will change. And perhaps they will. But not necessarily so. In any case, this is the country we are leaving you and your generation. You can still make it better. All it takes is ideas. And the conviction that it’s ideas and not ideologies that are the path forward to a better future.

Never underestimate the power of ideas. And the commitment to get things done.

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