Ideologies are masks. And if we add to this Althusser’s idea that “Human societies secrete ideology as the very element and atmosphere indispensable to their historical respirations and life,”[i] then we start to get an image of the veiling process of human society in the falsifying process of mask-making. It is through the creation of masks that society paints (in a secreting way) its own suitable, fake reality around itself. Any reality that is secreted or painted on must be regarded as a false one.
Once we have recognised the existence of the ideological mask we must ask ourselves: what is the real condition under that mask? Is it so ugly or so drab that it needs a mask to make it interesting or presentable? Of course the mask bearer erroneously thinks he or she is looking at his or own reflection in the mirror – and in this way we must see ideology as a bewildering hoax or scam, and the society as a clever grafter who has its subjects in its pocket. But why is it that the subjects are so susceptible to this hoax?
The first mask is the name which itself comes out of a language that frames us within that name. And here we have the paradox of language: it frees us by allowing us to communicate but enslaves us by making us subject to the requirements of the other’s communication. Without language our society and culture, indeed humanity itself, would be inconceivable, but it is not until one can escape into another new language that one can ever be aware of the power contained in the mask that we were given in the first place. Language unites but also separates us. It makes us different to those who speak other languages and unites us with those we immediately understand. They who speak our language are our own, but this is another restriction. If language is our most human trait, it is also our most anti-human as being the prime cause of human division and our lack of species consciousness.
The masks of cultures make demands on us and ultimately strive to condition our existence, pushing our self-perception towards a sense of belonging to a part of humanity that is different to, separate from and better than the rest of humanity … and this is the fundamental error.
Emphasis on difference is always there whilst the dividing lines are clearly and deliberately drawn, and emphasis on differences engenders the competitive spirit – the struggle against the others; the creed of us and them; the multifarious masks of isolating identities.
Ideologies grow like mushrooms, sprouting out of the damp earth of separation and the fertile soil of competition. Ideologies look for their antithesis to give them purpose, furbishing them with the power of dialectic against the rivals and enemies. Ideology needs to coexist with its ideological antithesis in order to give itself meaning. “We only makes sense whilst we stand by Them,” is the unmasked motto of all ideologies. Ideologies coexist in order for them to compete and clash, and it is in this coexistence that these opposing forces seep into each other, muddying each other and forcing each other to evolve into hypocritical absurdities that eventually become unsustainable.
The falsity of the mask can only be maintained for so long. Eventually all lies must be seen for the fictions they are. Reality will always push its way through to the surface of the artificial cover that is hiding it. Our own Moloch system is a massive ideological mess of a mask which is rapidly starting to peel and crack.
[i] Louis Althusser, FOR MARX, London, 1969, p.232