Ideology is Moral Blindness

Many moons ago, even before Roe v. Wade, I taught an ethics class that consisted of 16 students. At the outset, I used an anonymous questionnaire to learn about their respective stances on abortion. The class was split in half, with eight accepting abortion and eight opposing it. By the end of the course, all 16 were pro-life.

At that time, abortion was an issue. Pertinent information, a bit of understanding, and the employment of reason were decisive. In the ensuing years, all that has changed. Abortion is no longer an issue: it’s a battlefield. Consider, for example, Cape Breton, where a furor erupted when a pro-choice billboard was erected to counter a few pro-life ones. That was obviously not a dialogue between people of good faith. Abortion has ceased to be an issue that people can discuss rationally and become a fight that no one can win.

How did this come about? One factor relates to the nature of ideology and how it can induce moral blindness in its most loyal adherents. History is replete with examples of this phenomenon. The ancient Greeks found it common enough to justify coining the word scotosis, referring to an intellectual blindness—a hardening of the mind against unwanted wisdom. Pythagorean mathematicians came to the erroneous belief that everything in nature could be reduced to rational numbers. When they discovered that the hypotenuse of a unit square was the square root of two—a non-repeating, irrational number—their ideology was contradicted. In a desperate attempt to preserve their non-scientific ideology, they placed a death curse on anyone who would bring such embarrassing truths “out from concealment.”

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In the early 18th century, chemists advanced the “phlogiston theory.” Adherents believed that when a metal, for example, was burned, it released “phlogiston,” thereby reducing the weight of the metal. In fact, when burned, copper gains weight as it forms a heavier substance called copper oxide. Upon being presented with this new data, the loyal phlogistonites, rather than abandon their ideology, argued that sometimes phlogiston has negative weight. The phlogiston theory, as well as the rational numbers theory, ultimately passed into oblivion.

Advancement in science helped to open people’s eyes and cure them of a temporary case of scotosis. Science is self-correcting, but over the years, moral problems tend to repeat themselves.

In 2018, the once-popular chain Toys “R” Us closed all of its 735 stores in the United States. In the wake of the closing, 33,000 workers were left unemployed. Ironically, a chain that was (quite naturally) dependent on parents having children was also a long-time donor to Planned Parenthood. Toys “R” Us also owned several stores called Babies “R” Us, but many potential consumers were beginning to read “Abortions ‘R’ Us.

In its bankruptcy proceedings, Toys “R” Us cited declining birthrates as one of the reasons for its declining sales. Was the company unaware that it had been planning its own demise? According to one researcher, the fact that “Toys ‘R’ Us executives failed to connect the dots between the number of babies and its bottom line is staggering.” By supporting Planned Parenthood, Toys “R” Us was eliminating its future customer base.

Here, allegiance to an ideology (abortion) was accompanied by a certain moral and practical blindness. It was as if Colonel Sanders had started a vigorous campaign to promote veganism.

Esteemed economist Peter Ducker has pointed out that the purpose of a business is to create a customer. Has such an obviosity been lost on the business leaders of America? In 2016, Target made a curious announcement to accompany the political correctness that seems to be blinding people’s good judgment: “We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity”. The boycott and negative publicity that predictably followed was not in the best interest of Target’s balance sheet. Why would it capitulate to the whims of a few and ignore the needs of the multitude? Why would it want to endanger its hard-earned customer base?

Here’s another statistic: according to statistics, PG-13 films make, on average, more than three times as much money as R-rated films. One wonders why Hollywood continues to produce movies that so few of its customers want to see.

Allegiance to an ideology like political correctness, or simply the desire to be on the “cutting edge,” can be self-defeating. Businesses cannot survive without customers.

Ideology differs from philosophy in that the latter seeks the truth of things and relies on reason and common sense. Ideology, on the other hand, is a construct that, at best, is only loosely connected to reality. History’s most salient example of an ideology is Marxism, which constructs an artificial category of people (the proletariat) and pits them against another equally arbitrary class (the bourgeoisie). The inevitable consequence is a clash in which there’s much anger and a large number of casualties. There are no shared principles able to unite the two “classes,” which is why the forum is replaced by the battlefield.

We presently have reason to believe that the Republican and Democratic parties are behaving in Marxist fashion. They are involved in a feud that cannot be resolved by alluding to shared moral principles, for these political factions have so little in common.

Although reason has been suppressed in so many vital areas of American life, it cannot be extinguished. No matter how deceived people may be, they still possess the ability to reason. Therefore, hope remains alive that in being thoroughly fed up with self-defeating ideologies, people may return to reason, and in so doing re-establish a bridge of communication with their former adversaries.

Photo credit: Rachel Goodhew/


  • Donald DeMarco

    Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus of Saint Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the Saint Austin Review and the author, most recently, of Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding.

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