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The beauty of any ideology is that it’s simple. Any project that advances the ideology is good. Anything that hinders the ideology is bad. This clear division between right and wrong makes it easy to take action. Once the project has been measured by the ideology action is a short step away.

This black/white division based on ideology is common. One example is the US debt ceiling debate. Republicans are stridently insistent that there should be a cut in spending. There is no scope (in their ideology) for tax increases. Democrats see revenue increases as necessary. Each party being motivated by their ideology. Republicans see tax increases and government spending as wrongs. Democrats see tax increases as a necessary part of the redistributive function of government.

Ideological people are extremely visible. They focus on ideology and assess every project quickly and efficiently through this perspective. They’re decisive. They have strong preferences. Often they express these preferences vocally.  Their ideology gives them certainty. They know what matter to them and they’re not shy about demanding that their view should be the central priority.

The opposite of being ideology driven is to be pragmatic. Pragmatism sees the world as a chaotic confluence of facts, goals, desires, ends and means. None of which ends the way anyone intended. Chaotic systems have to be redesigned and refined. There is no simple way to evaluate good and bad choices. Every project has to be assessed by its own merits. In a world where nobody knows what counts as a merit.

The problem with pragmatists is that they’re messy people who add to the complications in our life. Their focus on a problem only reveal more unknowables. These unknowables make decision making difficult. Things appear to pragmatics to be complex and they resist the simplifications required. So decisiveness yields to indecisiveness. Its hard to vocally advocate a position when you can see both sides of the issue. You cannot be certain of your views when you accept that even the best thought out plan will have identifiably bad consequences and immeasurable unknown side effects.

There are very few pragmatic people. If you think you’re a pragmatic person, then you should think twice. Most people are ideologues of some stripe. What varies is how strong an ideologue they are and how stridently.

In a straight competition, pragmatics can’t ever out-compete the ideologues. They’ll never be able to get out a message with the needed clarity, consistency and volume. They can’t adhere to a message with the necessary determination. They won’t be willing to make hard sacrifices for the sake of pure consistency. Getting a good result outweighs the compulsion of ideological orthodoxy.

If you’re truly a pragmatic, you’ll never be able to work with a strong ideologue. Their insistence on making the same choices in every situation will irritate the pragmatic beyond tolerance. The pragmatic will perceive it as stubborn irrational choices. The ideologue will see it as necessary maintenance of the core ideology.

An ideologue will never be able to work with any conflicting ideologue. Their stubborn insistence on their own choices will not cancel each other out. Insofar as there is hierarchy present to resolve the conflict, there will be work done. But it will rarely be done happily.

You need to know your ideology. You need to know the ideology of those around you. Otherwise you’ll know why when there’s a conflict.

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