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The rebirth of ideology criticism

The phenomenon of Trump has given new impetus to ideology criticism.


Ideology production is greater than ever. Critical journalism is weakened as public relations agencies, spin doctors and communications advisers pack
the love into cotton. The trend has been clear since the turn of the millennium. The disinformation and undermining of the press we now see in many countries has not happened overnight.

Language criticism can counteract this tendency. Rolv Mikkel Blakar pointed out in the classic Language is power (1973) how politics was expressed when talking about Americans' involvement "rather than" warfare "in Vietnam. But often such points are difficult to put into practice: Even in the newspaper Class Fight, the frequency of the word "employer" is still 20 times as large as the more relevant "job buyer". And "professional" is used 20 times as often as "professional".

We cannot get enough of this kind of language criticism. The replacement of the word "problem" with "challenge" has annoyed many, including Thorgeir Kolshus, who wrote a nice criticism in the Aftenposten in 2013. Such rewrites that turn something negative into something positive don't have to be ideological, but they can be: Positive thinking covers real contradictions and conflicts. Start talking about "problems" again!

Mythologies and steak. Some children wonder why Uncle is always gone when Santa comes to visit. Suddenly they see the connection: Uncle Santa is Santa! Ideology criticism has made its first entrance. Arild Asnes in Dag Solstad's novel believed in Mao as a kind of Santa. In his article "A Mouthful of China" (1991), Terje Tvedt showed how Asnes projected her salvation needs into the cinema: Orientalist dream dreams were mistaken for reality.

Munich, Germany 1938. Teachers and students in the streets make the Nazi lift towards Hitler.
Photo: Archive / SCANPIX

Some have regarded ideology criticism as a kind of mask: Once you find the key, everything can be translated into what things "really" mean. Nazi ideology has been analyzed based on this pattern. Here, "peace" really means "war", "truth" means "deception", "freedom" means "coercion" and so on. This is similar to the form of newspeak George Orwell introduced in the novel 1984.

Unfortunately, not all ideology is as easy to unmask. This is partly due to the fact that ideology criticism itself easily becomes ideological, to say the same with Sigurd Skirbekk. Roland Barthes did in the classic mythologies (1957) is guilty of its own ideological projections in many places. He wanted to "in detail explain the mystifying process that transforms petty-bourgeois culture into universal nature ”. To reveal how social creation appears to be natural, must continue to be an object of ideology criticism. But how did Barthes perform in practice? Often, Barthes's everyday phenomena were compared to classical mythology without any justification. In doing so, he projected into the mythology he wanted to reveal. For example, he did steak to a suspicious, ideologically infected object:

"It is obvious that the steak's prestige is related to its semi-raw state: the blood appears here in its natural form, visible, dense, firm and cutable at the same time; one can well imagine the ancient ambrosia in the form of this heavy substance which melts in the mouth in such a way that one can at the same time feel its original power and its plastic ability to dissolve in human blood. "

The suspicion of suspicion. Fortunately, one can continue to eat medium roast beef without being the victim of ideological delusions. Barthes confused his own fantasies about the birth of the gods with ideological criticism. "You may think" a lot of wonder, but where did the case to be criticized? If we are now to avoid eating steak, it would rather be because this type of food comes out poorly in the climate accounts. 15 years after Barthes sigh stated that the myth analysis itself had become mythological: "Today, there is no student who is unable to reveal the bourgeois or petty bourgeois in various forms of life, thoughts or consumption."

The philosopher Hans Skjervheim (1926–1999) pointed out that if you only perceive your opponent's views as a mask for other interests, they are reduced to object. Anyone who deprives others of freedom, but assumes their own, becomes "self-referential inconsistent". This simple thought model repeated Hans Skjervheim in many of his essays. Ideology critics confused action with events, and viewed others as objects.

But Skjervheim himself manipulated those he criticized: They had to be made to fit his model of "self-referential inconsistency". IN Ideology analysis, dialectics, sociology (1973) he distinguished between the particular and the total concept of ideology. He stated that “everything social is conveyed through ideologies or cognitive valueorienteringyear". But if this is true – what point of view can one criticize from? The particular concept of ideology distinguished between one's own point of view and the ideology one analyzed. This distinction breaks down in the total concept of ideology. Here, the thought structures themselves are made suspicious, not just individual opinions. If or is false consciousness, how can one criticize something? When the so-called "hermeneutics of suspicion" inspired by Marx, Nietzsche and Freud become total, one becomes part of the problem itself.

But how important is this point in practical ideology criticism? To take a well-known example: Inspired by Nietzsche, Hamsun gave in the lectures in 1891 an example of the suspicion of moral motives. An old man lets a small child sit on his back and play as if he is the horse. The naive viewer sees only the old man's goodness, while the suspect discovers other motives: The child gets plagued with the man who self-imposed punishment for stealing food earlier in the day. The action is not motivated by goodness, but by bad conscience. Is the ideology critic's own ideology important for considering this interpretation of the man's hidden motives? No, because this is an individual case. At the same time, if one had to claim that everyone has hidden motives in all cases, this would make ideology criticism more difficult. But that is not enough to say, one must also try to find these motives in practice. And it takes time.

Ideology criticism of Trump. Ideology analysis is important as training in recognizing the principled thinking behind different individual viewpoints. Then there is more talk of ideology as one contents than as false consciousness. But the content of an ideology may be characterized by contradictions – for example, Nazism is a strange and contradictory blend of technofascism and nostalgic peasant romance. This also applies to communism, which wanted to abolish the state, but ended up with a dictatorial party bureaucracy.

To reveal how social creation appears to be natural, must continue to be an object of ideology criticism.

In the attempts to analyze Donald Trump, one sees that the ideology-critical way of thinking has gained new wind in the sails. Firstly, they have tried to reconstruct Trump's ideological platform, and partly to criticize Trump's assumptions as expressions of false consciousness. Trump's rhetoric lays a blanket on his politics: He has created a climate in which the press is accused of creating "fake news" while he himself can apparently lie as much as he wants.

Much of the problem of ideology analysis consists in how to interpret ambiguous statements. If you say the door is open, it may be a discreet signal that it should be closed. Does "safe with the right solar factor" mean that Eirik Jensen reported the weather in the mountains? Or did he signal that the coast was ready for hash smuggling? Famous linguist George Lakoff has analyzed Trump's allegations against Hillary Clinton in connection with the Second Amendment gun laws: "By the way, and if [Clinton] gets to pick [loud boos] – if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can you folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know. ”

Without being told, this was interpreted as a call to shoot Clinton, that supporters of the gun laws should take matters into their own hands. But it can also be interpreted as the need for gun supporters to mobilize politically against Clinton. And Trump himself is blamed: "I don't know."

Many people remember the old ad: "No, no, it is forbidden to brew beer of Moss malt extract, it must be eaten with spoon for health!" Through the ban, information was obtained that it is possible to brew beer of malt extract. By prohibiting something, one also provided information on the possibility of the opposite. Such ambiguities are classic ideological manipulation techniques.

Many people remember the old ad: "No, no, brewing beer of Moss malt extract is forbidden, it should be eaten with spoon for health!"

Trump's ideology has been called "trumpology". The elements are hyperindividualism that focuses on succeeding in bloody competition through hard work, authoritarian leadership and social Darwinism and the application of the friend / foe paradigm in politics, according to a readable study by Christian Fuchs just posted online ("Donald Trump: A Critical Theory-Perspective on Authoritarian Capitalism », University of Westminster, 2017).)

Fuchs believes that ideology is expressed in a frightening way in both the reality series The Apprentice, in Trump's twitter messages and in his plays in newspapers and on television. The question is how much of this ideology will be implemented in practical policy. Trump's ideology is linked to himself as a person – as a successful businessman, as a leader, as an authority person: If you only believe in him, everything will be fine! Fuchs quotes Adorno: "The more impersonal the system, the more important the personality becomes as ideology." Trump promises gold and green forests, "to make America great again." But in order to maintain this ideal he constantly needs enemy images that threaten utopia: immigrants, the media, political opponents and critics. If Trump fails, others will be blamed. Trumpology draws attention from questions of class and economic system by creating scapegoats.

The Trump phenomenon has given new impetus to ideological criticism. Never so bad that it is not good for anything.

Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

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