Ideology is a term that refers to the labyrinthine system of values and beliefs each of us ascribes to about the world, the way it operates, and our place within it.
Think of it as a sophisticated "filter" through which we view, ponder and interact with the outside world, thus giving us a way to make sense of it.
Our ideologies incorporate our prejudices (racism, sexism, nationalism, ethnic intolerance, greed, desire for and abuse of power, etc.), our ideals (justice, progress, liberty, equality, the pursuit of happiness, democracy, the pursuit of wealth, etc.), as well as our hopes and dreams.
Ideological values are sometimes referred to as "assumptions." This is due to the fact that ideological beliefs and values are so fundamental to our self-image (both as individuals and as cultures), that they are taken as "natural and" "inevitable."
In other words, we generally assume that the tenets we hold are true, natural, and universal. Indeed, there are ideologies that uphold the status quo and thus are deemed "dominant" ideologies. On the other hand, there are also ideologies that are not mainstream, and these are sometimes labeled "alternative" or, in a pejorative light, "subversive.")
However, because each of us is unique, no set of ideological beliefs is absolute.
Some Examples of Ideological Assumptions:
Native Americans are closer to nature than Americans of other ethnic backgrounds.
A woman is meant -- both biologically and psychologically -- to be a wife and mother, and thus there is something aberrant about women who choose not to marry and/or remain childless.
Whites are biologically superior to other races.
African Americans don't make good swimmers or ballet dancers.
If we work real hard, we will make it up the ladder of success. Thus, poor people have so little material means because they don't work hard enough.
Individuals can't be held responsible for their
actions (whether good or bad) because they are at the mercy of environmental
factors that determine their behavior.
A family consists of a man, a woman, and one or more children.
Ideological assumptions operate, for the most part, on an unconscious level, and are therefore rarely questioned or closely examined. It's often difficult, but always rewarding, to become aware of your own ideological filter, to seek to understand your own positioning, your own received ways of thinking, your own limited perspective and point-of-view, by exploring alternatives to your own ideological beliefs and values, the other ways of looking, of other people.