While I’m not a huge fan of Zizek’s philosophy, which is often deliberately arcane to obscure it’s own ridiculousness, I’ve always been a fan of one book in particular: Tarrying With the Negative, a book that analyzes the way that ideology functions within society.
Ideology represents a coded way of thinking about things. Ideologies are essentially banners for similar kinds of thinking, enabling like-minded people to flock together and engage in mutual discussion about intellectual interests. Ideologies, naturally, can be almost anything, since almost anything can be thought about. Religions, political beliefs, sets of desires, disciplines of trade, and many more all fall within this category.
Ideologies often come with barriers to entry. High-end capitalism, for example, is an ideology that can be held by the poor but which is typically held by the rich, who benefit the most from it. Belief in a religion entails a certain level of devotion, in terms of rituals and prayers which must be submitted to regularly to prove one’s level of faith. Others have linguistic barriers, in the form of unique terms and code words which enable ideologues to easily identify and communicate with others within the ideology - philosophy and its numerous self-made terms being a prime example.
Zizek’s analysis of ideology in Tarrying With the Negative is complex, and it’s honestly been a long time since I’ve had time to read through the book in its entirety. However, the main takeaway from his argument is this: that ultimately, ideologies don’t benefit us.
Belonging to an ideology feels good. It places us into a defined in-group of people who think like us, and that means connection and recognition within that peer group. Human beings are highly socialized animals, and that means that in general, we tend to appreciate such things. By pooling intellectual resources, we can get a lot done - see any examples of really pretty cathedrals, and you get an idea of what ideology has done for art/architecture.
Unfortunately, belonging to an ideology ultimately means becoming more rigid and set in our ways. As we develop these patterns of thinking, they grow and harden, leaving less space for anything else. We refuse to consider opposing viewpoints and even if we do, our methods of communication and debate are likely keyed into our specific ideology and probably won’t translate well into understanding and debating with others of a differing one.
Zizek argues that unfortunately, the benefits that we get out of the ideology are nearly exactly equivocal to the side effects that we get out of participating - or in other words, there’s no real net positive or negative change in our lives. However, we’re now wasting time going through supplications to our ideologies which could potentially be better spent elsewhere. His ultimate recommendation - to tarry with the negative - essentially means that we should try to avoid ideology as much as possible, enabling ourselves to be infinitely more malleable in our ways.
A good example of this effect can be found in the fact that within any movement - even religious ones which aim to make us more moral - there are both “good” and “evil” people. Religion has given us plenty of amazing art and architecture - and also lots of wars, genocides, oppressions, etc. While plenty of people get good things out of religion, and I’m certainly not knocking people who feel that it’s greatly enriched their lives, there are also people who use it as a cover for their bad acts. This isn’t unique to religious ideologies either - feminism and communism spring to mind. While barriers to entry do guarantee some standard of behavior, they leave a lot more to the individual, and it’s ultimately the individual that decides what their interpretation of that ideology means.
It is absolutely true that the climates of certain ideologies will attract certain types of people, and that this means that they may be somewhat homogeneous in viewpoints, certain ideologies being inextricably linked with others. For example, we know that heavily Christian types will probably be more conservative in the United States. While this may enable us to generalize about ideologues, this is a sticky situation since it’s very possible that an atypical individual won’t hold the same views as their colleagues, even if they hold this one ideology in common.
Of course, Zizek understands that it’s impossible to avoid ideology completely. Thinking is inevitable, and as long as we’re thinking, certain patterns are going to develop, even if we try to avoid them. Personalities, preferences, and methods of interacting with the world, even on a basic level, represent the most primitive form of the more developed ideology. No matter what we do, we’re going to fall into some sort of ideology or other. This is the dual meaning of tarrying with the negative: we know that we can’t help but stumble into ideology sooner or later, but we might as well avoid it as long as possible - tarry with the negative, because we know it doesn’t last.
This same problem happens all over the place. It happens in fitness. Rabid devotees to specific brands of training represent a symptom of this. It’s a lot less sexy and easy to say “I use a diverse style drawing from all different kinds of training to get you the best results” than to say “I do kettlebells”. But ultimately, we know that the more tools you have in the box, the more precisely and effectively you can tailor your workouts to your clients and the circumstances of your training space.
It’s the same with anything else. The less rigid your thinking, the more of the world you can accommodate. This is why, even across many ideologies, we see children revered for their flexibility of thought - they don’t yet have any prejudices or inbuilt ideas, and so their innocence is boundless and they have an amazing capacity for learning. (Though I’ve also heard it argued that the cultural fetishization of children is ultimately a very heteronormative thing. Not that I really stand by everything this author believes, but an interesting take.) It’s a concept that we also find common in eastern philosophy - the glass that is full must be emptied in order to be refilled, etc.
While ideology can never be completely avoided, taking an open stance and avoiding dogma is generally the first step in self-enrichment. Do what you can to avoid getting set in your ways, and accept the possibility of a variety of viewpoints. If that's impossible, then at the very least - learn to love your symptoms!