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To Ideologies for Dummies 

By Bolaji Agbelusi '26

Bolaji's essay recording.MP3Ideology for Dummies
00:00 / 07:09

When you hear the word ideology, the first thing that comes to mind is ideas. To an extent, that is correct, but the concept of ideologies is a bit more complicated than a simple idea. Ideologies are ideas, yes. However, they are ideas that shape entire belief systems and societies. This definition may seem like common sense, but it goes deeper than you might think. There are six types of ideologies: political, economic, religious, cultural, environmental, and ethical. 


To understand fully what ideologies are and how they work, we need to look at the history of ideologies. Depending on your views and beliefs, some might say a religion like Christianity was the first ideology or at least the oldest we know of. This would make sense, considering the whole point of Christianity—or of any religion, for that matter—is to live a life based on specific rules and views that align with that religion. But as I said, it depends on your views and beliefs. 


Furthermore, the discussion of an idea can turn into an ideology. Picture a group of early humans, living in communities thousands of years ago. They were focused on surviving day by day, hunting for food, and staying safe from dangers. Among them, there might have been a moment when one person wanted something that another person had. Instead of killing the person—which is what I assume the average person back then would have done—they thought of exchanging. Therefore, the first person probably went up to the person who had the thing he wanted and offered something in return for it. It could have been an act of service or something that could be eaten. This idea of barter, or exchange, was later developed into what we call capitalism, a system where people own and control businesses and/or services. Moreover, the core idea of exchanging goods goes back to the ancient concept, where today we have a massive industry rooted in competition among corporations that are innovating to keep the industry in a constant cycle of growth. 


Today, most people think that what we believe now is common sense, but that is not necessarily true. The values that some of society agreed on took multiple millennia to be agreed on and accepted, usually out of a need. Certain things that were agreed upon by most people, like killing animals for food, were rarely questioned back then because of the lack of a choice. Were people supposed to die of hunger? Or eat their friends or family members? And if you eat only vegetables every day for centuries, you will eventually tire of it. As people evolved, they began to question some of their lifestyle choices. Their questioning was not unlike the protests today regarding such ideas and practices as veganism, vegetarianism, sexuality, and more. Something that can form a whole society should be concrete, right? However, many of the ideas that we once thought were functional and made sense are being questioned today, including capitalism, democracy, medicine, religion, sexuality, and more. And with questions come disagreements and divisions between people who think they know all the answers. 


Political Ideologies are a set of ethical ideas and principles that dictate how society should work. One type of ideology that is both political and economic is communism. According to an article written by Britannica, “Communism is a system where individual people do not own land, factories, or machinery. Instead, the government or the whole community owns these things. Everyone is supposed to share the wealth that they create.”(Communism, n.d.). In my opinion, the issue with communism is that it does not foster the type of arguably healthy competition that capitalism does. As a result, the economies of communist countries like Cuba and North Korea are not the strongest.. Russia and China are exceptions to this because of their size and trading volume. 


Another example of an economic ideology is capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system where industries are owned by individual people or corporations for profit. Most countries in the world practice capitalism, so this economic ideology is widely known. Let’s compare it with its rival, communism. When the topic of communism comes up, there are usually two sides to the discussion: the people who like communism, and the people who do not. The argument that is usually brought up is that capitalism is better than communism because it fosters good competition within businesses and the market, from which the economies of different countries benefit. In addition, the business owners themselves end up with more money in their pockets. One objection to capitalism is that people in the middle class and below suffer because, to an extent, capitalism is a system built for the rich to become richer. 


A form of religious and cultural ideology is secularism. The simplest way to describe secularism is the separation of religion and government. In a secularist system, religious institutions do not influence the government, and vice versa. Everyone has freedom of thought, belief, and religion.


Finally, there are environmental and ethical ideologies. The example I will give you for this is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the concept that right and wrong are determined by the outcome. At first, this sounds simple, but it’s a bit more complicated than you may think. In terms of utilitarianism, things are defined by their consequences. The complicated part is, does that mean that something bad is good because it resulted in something good? Or vice versa? Is burning a house down and killing a family okay because it saved your own family? Or is giving money to the poor good even if you are stealing money from your friends and family to do so? When you think of utilitarianism this way, you realize that it raises more moral questions than some might think initially. 


Ideologies are a well-known concept. Even if people do not know the specifics, they usually have a good idea of what ideologies are about. The point of all this was to remind people what ideologies are and how important they are to the past, present, and future of the society in which we live. 


Put It All Together

By Ximena López '24

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