How to Really Screw Up: Getting Too Deep Into An Ideology

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Us humans are really weak and fragile beings. We’re scared and we don’t want to be alone. We like to feel important and get attention. When I say We and I say Us, I mean me.

As I was progressing through life I would get these ideas and the ones I liked I would cling to. If I saw that other people liked my ideas or I got attention, good or bad, I would cling to them even more. I began to think that if I felt strongly about a subject and I repeated what I thought often enough and loud enough, then what I thought became a fact.

I would hide behind my made up facts. What would I hide behind my “facts”? My insecurities, manias, and failures. I would become an authority on my “facts”, these became my ideology. Being an authority figure made me feel good, it gave me a sense of feeling important.

It didn’t matter if I was actually correct in my ideology. I felt confident about it so I must be correct.
Definitions are important in the business of communication, so let’s make sure we define what we’re talking about so we’re all on the same page. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Ideology as:

• A systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture
• A manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture
• The integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program

These are some fancy sounding concepts. They’re ok, but I tend to think of an ideology as “How you feel about a certain topic.” I like this definition because it gets at the heart of the matter; we get attached to the way we feel about things.

How do you feel OR What do you think about (same question, different wording) global warming, politics, religion, or… the price of oil? It doesn’t matter what the topic is, the topic doesn’t need to be controversial, it can be as simple as your favorite sports team or your opinion of your boss at work.

We tend to pick a side of an argument and stay on that side. We will look for any bit of information that confirms the view that we have already taken. In the process we get stuck. We get too deep into an ideology and our thoughts become closed to outside influences. We can’t learn because when we come across new facts or ideas that challenge our cherished ideologies, we toss them aside. We lose our objectivity. We cling, we cling to our beloved ideas! …And we get all cabbaged up. We get stuck.

I first began to realize the problems of getting too deep into an ideology when I first started investing my own money. It was just after the financial crises of 2008-2009. The government was bailing everybody out. The economy was in a panic. And the government was printing as much money as they could to calm everyone’s fears. Massive inflation must be right around the corner.

The only way to protect from massive inflation? Precious metals.

The price of gold was shooting higher. The price of silver had some catching up to do to the historical ratio of silver to gold, which is about 16:1. I bought stocks in silver companies thinking they were about to rocket higher. The silver investments I made rocketed… but they went in the wrong direction, they rocketed lower. My thesis was still intact. The economy was still in crises mode, the government was still printing money like crazy. If my thinking was correct, the price of silver should have gone straight up, yet the opposite happened. I lost a large percentage of money.

I got too deep into an ideology and it cost me. I was completely wrong. Because my wrongness affected my bank account and not just a favorite idea, I had to figure out where I screwed up because I couldn’t lose any more money. I began to understand the dangers of having a set opinion.

Then an avalanche beat the life out of me. All my ideas were vaporized. I was crying, just trying to hold on to life. Then I stumbled upon the teachings of Charlie Munger. Munger frequently warns of the dangers of ideology. At the very least ideology will prevent you from learning new ideas. Since I wanted to become a “learning machine”, I had to reexamine all my cherished beliefs.

I began to see that getting to deep into an ideology can affect all manner of important decisions from investing and business decisions, to decisions affecting our health, to our relationships with those we’re closest to. And politics? Politics is all about choosing an opinion and sticking with it no matter what. Politics is the definition of getting too deep into an ideology.

So, how do you NOT get too deep into an ideology? Objectivity maintenance will help. Always think that you could be wrong, not that you always are wrong, but that you could be wrong. Look for disconfirming evidence, the holes in your argument or idea. John Maynard Keynes is credited with saying “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Always examine, and re-examine the facts. Be open to change.

Life is crazy. Change is the only constant. You must be prepared to pivot your thinking.

Ideologies are easy to fall into. If you find yourself deep into an ideology, it’s not the end of the world. No one is immune from ideologies, not you, me, or Charlie Munger. Maintain your objectivity.

Be open to people who have the opposite idea.

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