The Difference Between Having An Ideology And Having An Agenda

It’s one thing to have an ideology, another an agenda. An ideology is a habit of mind, often not wholly conscious to its possessor. It functions as subtext for behavior.

The ideology of consumption, for example, takes it for granted that consumption is a good thing. Part of Greenpeace’s ideology is that fundamentally altering nature is bad, and so Greenpeace adherents take for granted that genetically modified foods (GMOs) are bad–even if they’re perfectly safe to eat.

In ideology, one leans, say, left or right, but may also swing center, or, on occasion, to an opinion actually inconsistent with one’s underlying ideology. One has a bias, to be sure, but it’s not a disciplined bias. It’s not wholly predictable.

By contrast, an agenda is driven in a wholly disciplined and predictable manner. It is strategized, as when a religious believer, in possession of a traditional monotheistic ideology (Islam, Judaism, Christianty), drives it with systematic apologetics (“an intellectual defense of the faith”).

And think of a career court prosecutor. S(he) has an agenda. S(he) strategizes in advance what themes will be brought into court. These will be presented to a jury with repetition, manipulation (rhetorical appeals), appeals to evidence, etc. A prosecutor’s role is to make a case. S(he) possesses a point-of-view. It is undergirded by ideological assumptions; it is driven. The prosecutor is an advocate on behalf of a client, and is under no obligation to provide a positive case for the other side. Balance is provided by the defense attorney. A court room is adversarial.

Another example. NBC and The New York Times have an ideology that is center-left, but their executives do not strategize in advance an agenda that will be driven by repetition and manipulation of an audience. Fox News, by contrast, functions much like a prosecuting attorney. It has at once an ideology (far-right) that they treat as a client, and an agenda that is relentlessly executed by repetition and manipulation on behalf of that client.

For instance, if Donald Trump comes onto Fox News’s Hannity program, Sean Hannity functions as akin to the friendly defense attorney speaking to the defendant on the stand, leading his client with softball questions before the jury. The questions are designed to lead the audience to certain conclusions. Hannity gives Trump opportunities to walk back or clarify statements he might want to clarify, limiting damage that Trump might have inflicted on himself in other contexts (as in a botched interview with an adverserial journalist, or a loose comment while campaigning, etc.). Hannity’s interview is not adversarial, but driving an ideology and candidate.

So Fox News is Fake News. It’s not really news, it’s advocacy.

Fox News, by repetition, calls itself fair and balanced, but it is, in fact, the opposite. It is not attempting to be either fair (in the sense of giving competing ideologies equal time) or balanced (in the sense of making room for competing advocates on the other side). And when Fox News, on rare occasion, goes off-message, it is for purposes of bolstering credibility–or because a host or guest went rogue–in which case, there is a quick wrap-up and cut to commercials.

So wherever Fox News goes off message, you can generally bet it’s a head fake. And that head-fake into the realm of calculation, manipulation, presentation, and insincerity is the difference between merely having an ideology that is tugging on you as a subtext in your life, and having an agenda.


Here’s a wonderful clip of Zizek on ideology as subtext.




About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in atheism, donald trump, feminism, God, Politics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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