Ideology*

*From the article “The Others Are Coming: Ideology and Otherness in Lost” found in the book “Lost and Philosophy.”

To say that something is socially constructed is to stay that it is created by society; it is inherent, natural, or the norm because it is normalized, or taken for granted. No other way of looking at the world is even considered. This process is how ideology functions. An ideology is a belief system, but in order for it to be effective, it must be perceived as the truth, rather than seen as one of many possible belief systems. An ideology is like a pair of glasses you don’t know you’re wearing. You look through those lenses at the world as if it were the only way of seeing the world. Not only do you not know you’re wearing glasses but you also don’t even realize you might see the world differently through a different pair of glasses. Ideology ceases to function when it is seen as an ideology; to function properly it must be subtly presented as “truth” and taken for granted. An ideology you’re aware of loses its power to construct your worldview. Like a pair of glasses, such an ideology can be removed.

Philosopher Louis Althusser (1918-1990) calls the process of individuals becoming indoctrinated into an ideology “interpellation.” For interpellation to work, an ideology must be presented as a given so that it will be believed and taken for granted. Althusser describes two different methods of controlling people: Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) and the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). RSAs function by force, like the police, or the military. For example, in the first half of Lost’s third season, the Other’s imprison Sawyer and Kate in outdoor animal cages. This method of control is tangible and easy to see. ISAs like religion, school and family, on the other hand, operate based on the power of ideology. People are being interpellated into a particular ideology and then take that belief system for granted as the only way of thinking, without ever realizing that they were interpellated in the first place. Rather than being placed in a literal jail, they are placed in a figurative jail, an ideological jail, without knowing it. Continuing with the earlier example, not only is Sawyer imprisoned in a literal case, but he is also tricked into believing that a device is monitoring his heart rate and will kill him if his heart beats too quickly (“Every man for himself”). The actual jail confined his movements to a certain degree, but then Sawyer himself contains his movements that much more for fear of triggering the device. He is taught to believe the device exists, when in fact it never did. He is interpellated into an ideology that controls his movements and makes him paranoid.

The notion of otherness works on this ideological basis. To identify someone else as as “other” is to identify that person as marked in some way, whether is is based on skin color, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, or some other category of difference that we use to divide people. Marking someone as “other” indicates a power relation because the one who has the power to identify someone else as “other” is by definition normative, not-other, and unmarked. Perceiving someone else as “other” then becomes a process of identifying that person as inferior. While the basis for otherness is often perceived as natural (like race) it, like all categories of difference, is socially constructed, and one must be interpellated into a certain ideology in order to identify “otherness”.

**anyone who likes Lost, and enjoys philosophy has to pick up this book.!!!

The publishers, “Blackwell Publishing” also do a “South Park on Philosophy”, “The Daily Show and Philosophy”. etc!! I’m working on getting the whole collection.

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2 thoughts on “Ideology*

  1. Thanks for the post, this is definitely related to our conversation today.

    Want some food for thought?

    Althusser wrote (In “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”):

    ideology hails or interpellates individuals as subjects. As ideology is eternal, I must now suppress the temporal form in which I have presented the functioning of ideology, and say: ideology has always-already been interpellated individuals as subjects, which amounts to making it clear that individuals are always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects, which necessarily leads us to one last proposition: individuals are always-already subjects. Hence individuals are ‘abstract’ with respect to the subjects which they always-already are. This proposition might seem paradoxical.”

    what are your thoughts?

    • Yah, it’s nuts. Which is why what Eastern Philosophy says about the self and nothingness makes so much sense to me. Where is the subject that all of these events and experiences are happening to? When you honestly audit who you are you fail to find an enduring self and instead I believe we’re an ever changing mass of cause and effect, as well as social conditioning. There’s nothing inside me that I can call “Joel”, there’s just the body and the brain that interprets signals that scurry about its interior. What people fail to realize is that we’re socially created beings. If there was no one else to talk to or to interact with, would there be a self? We think about ourselves in terms of NOT being someone else, if that makes any sense. We tend to perceive an outside world and an inner world; a me and them world. We were actually talking today on our break about why female nudity (in this case breasts) were taboo. What makes nipples (which Men also have) and skin have such a stigma attached to them. It’s all social/cultural norms, which can be changed. Wow, I’m really sorry if no one gets this, this is really all over the place and I’m just babbling now so I’ll stop. But thanks for the great comment Daniella!! 🙂

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