The Ideological and The Personal

By Ciprian Constantinescu

Thatcher with her twins. Photo: Daily Telegraph


Those who have me as their friend on Facebook know that I’m an avid poster. I like to write short, concise messages because I do not think anyone really has the time or the actual interest to read more complex texts about the views of a second-year student. I do not find it particularly useful to write articles simply restating what other writers, be them international experts or journalists, have said already. However, having read Aristotle’s recent article and the reactions to it in its comments section on Facebook, I felt a strong need to address this topic from a different perspective.

My article will not be about what Aristotle said and what other people said in response. No, no, it should not be about that, for that discussion is sterile, useless, and would only lead to more division. I prefer to write about the background of this behaviour, that is, the ideological and the personal. I do think that way too often we focus on the ideological issues without taking into account the personal backgrounds of other individuals, and even in ‘non-ideological’ matters (well, that is a way to put it, some may argue that ideology is everywhere) we jump way too easily to see the Other’s problems from our own personal background without at all thinking about the very different context in which a person grew to think, to feel, to perceive, to love, to hate, or to dream.

Every individual has a certain personal baggage which affects the way that they see the world, interact with other individuals, and perceive the society they live in. That is the place where the personal affects the ideological – but in this case, the ideological only becomes obvious when the individual has reached a certain level of theoretical background. This could explain why there are so many people out there who experience daily discrimination, but find themselves unable to fight it because they lack the theoretical background to do so. More often than not, these individuals also come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds – their own lives do not and would never permit them to enjoy the privilege of having the time to read and immerse themselves in theory. These people will just go on with their daily lives – they have bigger fish to catch, for instance actually ensuring that they will have enough money to pay the rent or buy groceries.

Then we have students in “elite” schools like ours, on campuses like ours. They study political science and government policies, and maybe they want to get involved in politics at some point. They are ambitious, and they often describe themselves as tolerant, open-minded, progressive, hard-working, principled, etc. Some of them are left-wing, others are rather right-wing, and recently some have been describing themselves as “radical centrists”. They do have one thing in common – they like to argue, they like to discuss ideas, analyze them, and criticize them. Some of them like to do it much more than others – they will go as far as to transform a post on YikYak into a serious debate on a pressing political issue. Others would probably only do it after a glass or two of vodka.

And of course, all this is good and healthy. As students at a prestigious public policy-oriented university, it is necessary for us to be concerned with the ideological, and as individuals it is healthy for us to be concerned with the personal. But these two fields should be treated together as well as separately – it should be understood that they influence each other. And when we rush to judge somebody based on what their opinion on an issue is, we should probably stop right there, take a break, and try to understand the personal background a bit.

If you permit me, the link between the personal and the ideological is similar to what, in Christian theology, we call the Holy Trinity. While the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct, they are at the same time one God, in a perpetual interdependence and unicity in distinctiveness. To ignore this ‘binity’ of the personal and the ideological is to ignore the mere essence of human existence – because even for those without a theoretical background there exists an ideological. Ignoring this ‘binity’ lead to us unconsciously dehumanising ‘the Other’ and also extending ‘the Self’ to ‘Us’, and from this on we know the pathway to division, hate, and war in the entire human history.

It is in this respect that I ask you, the reader of this article, to pay more attention to both the personal and the ideological. It is important for you to see other people from these two standpoints, from this ‘binity’, and not only those who are close to you. And this is the case not just for the effect of the ideological on the personal, but also vice-versa. To give a concrete example, those of us who go to the United States or Canada for the third year abroad know that one of the requirements for a visa is proof of financial resources, which is most simply translated into proof that you dispose (on a case by case basis) of immediate liquidities of at least 10,000 to 15,000 dollars (USD). Discussing with some people about this, which may be problematic for some of us who are less well-off, I heard things such as “Oh, that’s no problem for me, my parents will just wire me the money in no time”. What about those who are having difficulties gathering such amount of money in such a short time? “They should not have applied to Canada or the United States in first place, should’ve they?”

Some of the people with whom I discussed this issue proudly assume a left-wing identity, and to hear such things from them really surprised me. Being more attentive to the diversity of people on this campus, paying more attention to “the personal” and “the ideological”, would not only help us better connect with other people on campus, but will surely also help us better connect with the realities of people who do not enjoy the privileges that we, as students in an elite school, do. In short, it will help us become connected to everyday realities, to leave this superficial existence in the ivory tower of “the Self”.

Before I finish, maybe a few words on Aristotle’s article are also needed. I find it impossible to treat the issue of discrimination, racism, and the impact of words on people in just a few paragraphs in an op-ed article. Doing so would certainly result in over-simplification, needless judgement and a fairly useless analysis on my part. Of course, there is truth in some of what Aristotle is saying, the points he is making should not be simply dismissed because of the simplicity of the arguments he used. Simplicity is always better, but in order for it to be better, the ones who are reading the argument need to be of the same mindset as the author – which is certainly not the case in this context. To be more precise, Aristotle’s article might have been well received by those who are close to him, as they are able to better understand his personal background and the way it relates to his ideological background. To publish such an article in a student newspaper which is widely read on campus is erroneous on Aristotle’s part – people who do not personally know Aristotle would rush to conclusions that are often inaccurate. And this is also erroneous on those people’s part – rather than throwing rocks at Aristotle, they should really make an effort to see Aristotle as a person, and not just as a people-offending-machine.

For Machiavelli, one of the most important qualities that the prince should possess was prudence. Taking a step back, filtering the reality, taking into account the various facets of existence, and of course, thinking about the ‘binity’ that I have been talking about, these are the signs of prudence. And as students at a school where political theory plays a central role, we should know better than everyone else how important is it to be prudent.

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