Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ideology and pragmatism

Perhaps I failed to mention the most important point in the thing I posted about capitalism the other day. Actually, I've been thinking about analogies between distributed software architecture (big systems) and society (a big system) for long, but I regret having spent most of the post about it because that kind of ego-centered pattern-matching is usually in itself pretty tiresome to read about.

A more interesting point is that of ideology versus pragmatism.

Interestingly, there's a similarity to them. When you believe in an ideology, you'll defend your choices with the end justifying the means. We may leave the poor bastards in the mud or we may kill half a million Iraqis or we may suppress people who think different from us and destroy the historical monuments of our past, but in the end we're defending freedom or equality and that's more important than anything else. It will prevail, and everything will be better than it once were.

When you believe in pragmatism, you'll defend your choices with the end justifying the means. We may spend ten times as much fixing the minds of violent criminals as the traumatized minds of their victims, we may have to see half of our help to poor nations disappearing in corruption, we may have to accept that people with big salaries get the lion's share of a tax cut. But in the end, we can prove that everyone is generally better off than with the alternative.

Religious pragmatism (from Flickr)

Pragmatism is discomforting. A true pragmatist will defend actions that are against the values that person believes in. Of course, ideology is discomforting too, as it requires you to suppress the truth.

This is all fine in theory. Most people will probably agree that we should base political decisions on ration and facts rather than beliefs.

However, in practice nobody knows for sure what the future outcome of a decision is. This is worse in some fields than in others. There's also the aside that without strong personal beliefs, lots of the valuable work being done in this world would probably cease to happen. Ideologically founded people will put lots of energy to an unselfish end in satisfying their drive.


I'm personally ideological when it comes to environmental issues. I would like to think, self-indulgently, that it's because I'm thinking further ahead than people in general but the truth is that I don't know why. As the windmill production in Denmark has grown to an international leadership, this has become more of a pragmatic decision. To my dismay, the right-wing in Denmark then blocked the whole windmill programme for most of the 00s out of what I see as ideological issues (money rests better in people's own pockets).

However, in other areas I find it easier to be pragmatic. Dismissal of known facts is something not to be taken lightly. This is especially true when it comes to issues where the ideological argument is persuit of justice or equality. The world is not just (sometimes children are molested), and we're not born equal, and although there's nothing wrong with building a system that tries to ameliorate these things, it's important to keep focus on reality, not the ideas.

Actually, that leads me software design again, but I think I'll save that for another blog post. :-)

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