If someone claimed that the best way to launch a rocket was to ignore the laws of gravity, chemistry, physics and propulsion, and instead do whatever seemed expedient to you at the time, the first act of that person's boss would be to fire that person and bar him from the building, for fear that he would destroy lives and property if kept on.
If a police officer claimed that the best way to handle an emergency situation was to ignore the surroundings and his training, and rush in heedless of the danger to his own life and person, this police officer would promptly be barred from the police force, for fear that he would kill himself, any unfortunate individuals working with him, and indeed the very people he was trying to save.
So why is it that the favorite call of the Left when it comes to political policy is to ignore questions of human nature, the historical record, and economic theory and instead rush into the situation heedless of the facts to do whatever you think is expedient at the moment?
I have to ask, because for years I have been hearing the admonishment to ignore ideology in favor of "the real world," as though those who ignore ideology are actually helping people in some way. But before we can assume ideology is ipso facto bad, first we have to know: What is ideology? What is it for? And why do we persist in forming one, even when everyone and their cousin seems hell-bent on convincing us that doing so is such an awful idea?
Ideology is at root, the act of observing the world and forming conclusions about it. It's purpose is to help us explain what happens in the world, make sense of it, and then use that understanding to guide our future course of action. And the reason we try to formulate one is that we literally can not do otherwise. Human beings live and act, and thus need some sort of guide with which to decide their course of action. Not having any sort of ideology at all simply is not an option.
In the scientific world, this ideology is known as scientific theory, and the method by which it is developed is known as the scientific method. A "guess" is made about reality (otherwise known as a hypothesis), the guesser uses logic to predict how reality would behave if his guess is true, the guess is then tested against the facts, and the guess is altered based on how what the guesser thinks should have happened compares against what actually happened. Emotions do not come into it and the objective nature of reality is not questioned. If your theory does not conform to reality, you do not get to claim that you are being sabotoged by a mysterious power. If your results are not replicable, nobody assumes that it is because your guess is true for you, but not for them. If your guess does not work, you do not get a free pass based on your name, position, color or creed. Your guess is simply deemed wrong, and if you persist in pushing forward your guess, you are eventually barred from rational scientific discussion lest your false guesses precipiate some sort of technological disaster.
In the world of recuse work and handling emergencies, the rescue worker is strictly trained to put his emotions aside and focus on the facts. A nurse in a crowded emergency ward practices strict triage based on who is in the ward, how immediate that person's need for medical attention is, and the resources of the hospital. Her heart may twist at the idea of forcing a child to suffer pain for hours while the doctor takes care of more pressing needs, but her emotions are irrelevant to the true problem she must solve: the one of saving as many lives as possible. She does not get to ignore the practices that were painstakingly developed over long theorization and experimentation because she feels awful about something those procedures might force her to do. And if that is something the nurse cannot handle, she is eventually let go lest her compassion ends up killing people.
However, all of the rules we have sensibly developed for things like science and rescue work seem to fall apart when it comes to questions of economic and political policy. Continually we are asked to do more to fight poverty, to fight obesity, to fight rising prices that crowd out the poor from receiving essential services. We complain that the free market is forcing prices up in medicine, and ignore the fact that half of all health care money is in fact spent by government in the form of medicare and medicaid. We complain that tuition costs are skyrocketing, and ignore the fact that prices could never have gone as high as they have without government subsidization of increased demand in the form of government-backed college loans. We bemoan the fall of the housing market which forced so many poor to foreclose on their homes, while ignoring the fact that the reason the housing market spiraled so high in the first place was because of government action in the form of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and an artificially low federal funds rate.
If we had studied the laws of economics, we could have known before we began that low interest rates and government subsides would artifically increase demand and create a housing bubble. If we had acknowledged the reality of human nature, we would have known that subsidizing bad behavior would increase the incentives for people to behave badly. If we had studied history, we would know that some of the worst atrocities in human history were performed by those who proclaimed their goal to be the betterment of mankind. But we do not do these things, because for some reason we persist in believing that there is no rational explanation for human actions and that virtue in the economic and political realm consists of never trying to find one.
I have a political and economic ideology not in spite of the need to act in the real world, but because of it. Our goal should not be to refuse to formulate an ideology, nor to determine when to ignore that ideology based on the suffering of the moment. Rather, our goal should be on making sure that our ideology accurately predicts the real world and strictly following it in order to try and ensure the best possible outcomes for all.
P.S. Watch the link. It is a clip of Richard Feynman talking about the scientific method, and it is quite fun.