1.8. Why Ideologies Are the Biggest Obstacle to Progress

Progress is hard because anyone who wants to do good has to wade into this ideological mess, and somehow keep their integrity.

In the past few videos, we’ve talked about fight-or-flight, and the physiology of daily life.

We’ve talked about socioeconomic competition, and how our politics, economy, and media intentionally stress us out.

We’ve talked how the rapid pace of change nowadays makes us feel powerless, and how the story we tell ourselves about American history sets us up to expect a fall.

But the worst thing—the thing that most prevents us from having a positive, productive state of mind, and bringing about real, lasting social change—isn’t any of those things.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Those things are plenty bad, and make progress a lot tougher.

But the single worst obstacle is how we get bogged down in our ideological disputes.

“Bogged down” is actually a generous way of putting it.

It’d be more accurate to say: any attempt to do good, no matter how noble or well-intentioned, gets sucked into this chaotic vortex of squabbling sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, religions, and other systems of ideas and values.

Any attempt to do good has to somehow navigate through this vicious battlefield of ideologies and beliefs, without being corrupted, or co-opted, or flat-out destroyed.

This is the biggest problem.

Good ideas are a dime a dozen. But the reality is that all these established interests, all these established groups, all these preexisting ideologies are already trying to kill each other for more money, power, and followers.

Progress is hard because anyone who wants to do good has to wade into that mess, and somehow keep their integrity.

Every now and then, through a tremendous amount of skill and luck, someone makes it through to the other side. But most of the time, they either give up, get squashed, or have to turn into a bloodthirsty ideological bully to survive.

I don’t want progress to be so hard. Do you?

I want to figure out how to make this arrangement, this system that swallows up good intentions like a black hole not so ridiculously bad.

It wasn’t always this bad. I mean, people have been fighting over ideas and beliefs and values for thousands of years, and I expect they’ll continue to. But things haven’t always been this divisive, this bitter, this fragmented. That’s a recent development.

There are more harmonious, productive ways we can handle our differences.

I’m sure I don’t believe everything you believe, or vice versa. But I bet, for the most part, I want what you want.

I want a good society. I want good, strong, trustworthy institutions that have things under control, and are doing great things.

I want good governments, good businesses, good journalism, good schools, good civic and spiritual organizations.

We don’t want such different things, even if we disagree on how to get there.

What if, instead of each of us trying to navigate the treacherous path through this ideological battlefield and ultimately fighting each other, we worked together to make that path not so treacherous?

What if we recognized this big battlefield blocking the way is the biggest problem, and we focused on making it more peaceful and productive—so that more good ideas can get through, no matter where they come from?


This is the 20th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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