By Tril Shah, New Age Islam
10 Jan 2012
One existential challenge that humankind has possibly always been afflicted with is ideological supremacism. The belief that one’s belief system—religious or otherwise—is the best or the only valid one almost inevitably engenders conflictual relations with others who don’t share one’s convictions. Such conflict need not always be physical, however, although ideological conflict can easily slip into actual warfare.
Ideological supremacism is often associated with religion, but this is not always the case. Witness, for instance, the terror and horrific violence wrought in the name of Nationalism, Fascism, Communism, Capitalism and Democracy, as votaries of these ideologies have sought to deal with those who dared to differ from them. The violence that belief in the supremacism of these non-religious ideologies has generated has been no less deadly than that blessed in God’s name.
The roots of ideological supremacism run deep in the human psyche. Much of it has to do with the conditioning (or, if you want to be more honest, brainwashing) that we are all subjected to as children. Our parents want to mould us in their image and make us think, behave and exactly as they do because they think they are right. What’s supposedly good for them, they think, is good for us, too. This has been happening since the dawn of humanity and down the generations.
As children, we are carefully groomed to believe that the belief system of our parents is not just right and appropriate but also the best possible one that exists. And so it happens that if our parents are hardcore communists, there is every likelihood of us growing up adoring Marx and Engels as our idols. If, on the other hand, they are Christians, Muslims, Jews or Hindus or worshippers of the free-market, they’ll make every effort to make sure that we grow up to become mirror images of themselves and fervently champion the ideology they believe is the best—not just for us alone but for the rest of humanity as well, and for all time to come.
That, briefly put, has been the basic mechanism of the reproduction of ideological supremacism throughout history.
Besides childhood socialization or brainwashing, there are other key psychological factors that seem to innately drive us towards ideological supremacism. For one thing, there’s nothing more nourishing to our egos than to be convinced that our deeply-held beliefs about ourselves, the world, life and the ‘supernatural’ are the best or even the ultimate or absolute truth. The ego can’t survive for very long without being buffeted by this conviction. You have, as it were, a powerful psychological need to assure yourself that your beliefs are the best, because only in that way can you be convinced that you yourself are the best—which is what the ego is all about. It doesn’t really matter what your beliefs are, but you desperately need to believe that they are indeed the best because they are your beliefs and these beliefs define you. Your beliefs may strike others as utterly absurd or immoral, but that won’t shake your convictions about them. If you permit your commitment to them to sag you can no longer sustain the exalted image that your ego has carefully constructed for you as a believer in, and embodiment of, the supposedly best possible belief system. Hence the widespread phenomenon of believers, including votaries of secular ideologies, desperately seeking to rationalize downright bizarre or horrifically immoral doctrines and denying or whitewashing the crimes committed by their co-religionists or comrades.
If you are a religionist, the belief that your religion is the best in God’s eyes, the only one chosen by God, the one and only path to heaven or bliss, and the best possible solution to the woes of humankind serves to reassure you of your own worth and importance. The belief that you follow the best religion works to inflate your ego: You are the best because you are one among many other co-believers who follow the best religion, and who, therefore, are the best creatures in the eyes of God and hence best suited to reside in heaven. If you don’t believe in the ‘supernatural’, your belief in your irreligious ideological system serves the same egocentric purpose: You are the best because your ideology is the best for humanity, the most scientific, the most up-to-date, the most humane, and so on. Ideological supremacism is thus one lifelong ego-booster.
Since you are led by complex psychological processes into believing that your ideological system is the best or the only valid one that exists, you are, instinctively as it were, also driven to seek to impose it on others. This isn’t always because of any genuine concern for their welfare. In fact, it could simply be yet another means to strengthen your ego—though, of course, you may rarely see it as such. The greater the number of people who share your beliefs, the more secure you feel in them—and that’s yet another way to boost your ego. ‘My belief system must really be the best, otherwise so many millions of people would never have believed in it,’ you tell yourself. ‘If so many millions are accepting my belief system every year, surely it means it is the best. Surely, then, I must be a follower of the best religion, the best ideology, and among the best human beings in the eyes of God or in the eyes of History or the Proletariat or the Nation’.
Ideological supremacism is by nature expansionist. You would like nothing more than others converting to your belief system for it gives a massive boost to your ego. There is nothing more satisfying to your ego than to have everyone else—the whole of humankind, if possible—believing and behaving just as you do. You may think your efforts to encourage others to adopt your beliefs are for a noble cause—for God or for the sake of the Revolution or the Race or Nation—but if you are honest you’ll probably admit that much of your missionary zeal is actually impelled by the demands of your ego: You want everyone else to be like you because that will make you even more sure that you are the best, the model whom everyone else should emulate. Moreover, you just can’t stand the thought of anyone not thinking or behaving as you do. It is too much of a challenge to your ego. How comforting it would be to your ego to have everyone behave and believe as you want them to—so that you, in effect, can be boss! The great missionary endeavours undertaken by many religionists as well as votaries of various secular ideologies right through history have had at least something to do with all of this.
Your almost instinctual need to spread your ideology, to impose your beliefs on others, is also a reflection of certain deep-rooted fears. You can’t fully and cheerfully accept that others may have the same right to their ways of thinking and believing as you do, for their ideological claims clash with yours, and this threatens your ego: ‘How dare others believe that their belief system is better than mine? Nothing can be better than my beliefs. Mine are definitely the best—because they are mine,’ you protest deep within. That others think that your belief system is definitely not the best is simply intolerable for your ego. If they are allowed to believe in what they do and go about preaching it and converting others to it (just as you seek to do), it might threaten your confidence in your own beliefs which fortify your ego. That makes your extremely insecure, being horrifically unsettling for the ego. You are driven to combat—ideologically, or even, sometimes, physically—those who don’t share your beliefs if efforts to convert them to your belief system fail.
And this, in turn, only further fattens your ego. ‘I am fighting for a noble cause. For God. For the Revolution. For the Country. For the Race. For the Nation. I am so great! Such a devoted believer! Such an ardent revolutionary! Such a passionate nationalist! So committed! I shall be remembered as a martyr! I shall go to heaven! Winged angels will receive me! The Nation, the Race shall always remember me!’: All this can work as a gigantic ego massage.
The narcissism engendered by your ideological supremacism can lead you to justify all sorts of brutalities directed against those who don’t believe as you do, and these further work to bolster your ego that has now run completely out of control. ‘My fellow believers (and, I, too) deserve to rule the whole world since we believe in the best ideology, the only truth. I must destroy those who don’t share my beliefs. I am justified in killing them and grabbing their wealth and conquering their lands—God or the Revolution or the Nation or the Race or Democracy ordains it so,’megalomaniacs, utterly convinced about the supremacy of their beliefs and driven by the demands of their egos, announce to themselves and threaten the world.
This is the terrifying egocentric extreme that ideological supremacism can—and, only too often, has—driven men to.