Dr. Thomas says..."Excellent. Intelligent, perceptive, and well-written. Spledid."
Ideology can best be described as a basic and general set of assumptions
that allow a person to operate by giving a view of society and their place in it.
Ideology is built upon a semiological system of values, myth as depoliticized speech,
and the desire of a society to maintain its conditions of reproduction. It is a
social process worked through every possible social subject and everyone takes part
in it, whether they "know" or choose to. Ideology becomes reality itself. To
understand the functions of ideology and its relation to individual subjects, one
must first understand the structure upon which ideology is built.
"Myth is a system of communication" [Barthes 109], Barthes writes. It is
created by the circulation of meanings appropriated by society, its primary purpose
to justify an historical intention and to make the contingency that created the myth
appear eternal. It is a type of speech with the express function of turning "history"
into "nature". In this context, history is described as beginning when man produces
and maintains the conditions of their own existence. Maintaining conditions means the
upkeep of labor power and, more importantly, construction of a mindset, a set of rules,
by which to live. It is purely fabricated by man and powered by the world that supplies
the historic reality. That is, the bourgeois capitalist class, those that own the means
of production, are the suppliers. Over time, myth and its dialectical relation begins
to lose its historical quality and return a natural image of this historical reality.
Myth does not proclaim its "mythness", it is just the way things are and have always been.
It "organizes a world which is without contradiction because it is without depth...and
wallowing in the evident [Barthes 117]." Myth creates a semiological system of values,
signifiers and signs, through which meanings are extracted by society and adhered to.
Semiology as a science is the study of signifiers separated from their actual
content. Semiology forms a relation between a signifier, the acoustic or mental image,
and a signified, the concept, to postulate a sign, such as a word. For instance, in the
simplest terms, when the marks "D", "O", and "G" are formed together with the sounds of
the marks, they produce signifiers. They are symbols used as a system of reference, known
as letters. When placed together to form "DOG" they become the signified, the concept, or
the actual object. The end result is the word "dog", the definition of which is a furry,
four-legged animal usually kept as a household pet. This end result is the sign. This,
or any, semiological system is a system of values [Myth Today 116]. These values come
together to form a system of communication, and communication is usually mobilized by
speech. This system of communication is reflected and represented through words and images
to create reality.
As a signifier, its most essential characteristic is that is it unique and
different from other signifiers. This differential system identifies one signifier from
another. A signifier is not self-sufficient, as it relies on an antithesis, or other
signifier, to separate itself from others. This is known as constitutive otherness.
It makes the signifier what it is.
As an infant, one does not relate to constitutive "otherness". An infant is
undifferentiated from the rest of the world. It does not separate, or signify, itself
from any other object or being. But, as Jacques Lacan writes, there is a definitive
"mirror stage" when an infant does recognize him- or herself in the mirror and comes to
the realization that he or she is, in fact, separated from the rest of the world. The
infant has a moment of self-recognition, and can finally discern itself from others. The
infant becomes a signifier by the very fact that he or she realizes its "otherness" and
its relation to the other signifiers around it. The concrete individual will soon become
the concrete subject.
Althusser writes that "every social formation arises from a dominant mode of
production" [Ideology 1484] and for that social formation to survive, it has to maintain
its conditions of reproduction and keep its commodities. Survival is ensured by the
reproduction of certain conditions. First, the labor power must be able to gain material
means, such as wages, with which they can reproduce themselves. Humans must gain something
tangible to maintain submission to the bourgeois. Second, they must reproduce the
existing relations of production [Althusser 1484]. The social formation must maintain a
particular mindset, or ideology, to ensure the reproduction of its conditions.
For example, as Althusser states, children are sent to school to learn to read,
write, and add. They learn "know-how". But, at the same time, they are also learning
the "rules". These are rules such as good behavior, morality, civic and professional
duty, and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination [Ideology
1485]. Reproduction of labor power requires not only the reproduction of the skills
needed to keep up the means of production, but also the reproduction of its subjection
to the ruling ideology. Althusser calls this subjection the Ideological State Apparatus,
which is primarily defined by its repressive power operated by the interests of the
ruling class and implemented through school, church, or government, among other things.
It is the implementation of ideology, or lessons in proper and acceptable social behavior,
that is required to maintain societal conditions. The implementation of this ideology
is to recruit a concrete individual into a concrete subject with natural assumptions, or
what Althusser calls "obviousnesses". Thus, turning individuals into subjects through
the "imposition of obviousnesses as obviousnesses."
For example, it is only obvious that people should wear clothes. It is more natural for
a person to wear clothing than to walk around naked. The natural assumption before one
walks out of his/her house in the morning is to get dressed. This is a standard social
practice, obvious in its obviousness, and a natural inevitability. However, clothes were
not always around. As man when first created was without them, an infant is also born
without them, and also born without speech or signs, the ability to discern itself from
the world, proper behavior, expectations, a job, and many other things. The infant must
acquire all of these things to finally become a human, a subject, accepted into society.
Finally, after becoming human and subject to particular repressive state apparatuses, the
individual must relate all of this inevitable and obvious ideology to their own reality.
Reality comes to be understood as the result of how things have come to be signified.
They do not do this by creating their own ideology, or extracting new meanings, but by
maintaining recognition of things already known. This recognition is mostly reproduced
through the shaping of the infant by the parent, who already recognizes these already-known
things, but also by visual and written texts, such as television and books. These are
things which hold credibility or truth in modern society, and, therefore, its signifiers
and meanings are taken for granted. These texts are ultimately reproducing "reality" by
simply regurgitating an already accepted empirical statement.
Ideology moves constantly within a closed circle to produce this recognition, rather than
new knowledge, or any knowledge at all [Hall 1057]. According to Marx, ideology works
because it grounds itself in the appearance of things. Ideology has become a natural law
without history [Hall 1058]. In serving the illusion of naturalism, it is serving its
primary functions of turning what was once an historical reality into nature, while also
turning a concrete individual into a subject of these already-known statements. Ideology
is reproducing norms at the level of reproducing human identity itself. It is a necessary
and essential element to the historical and natural life of society, and, according to
Althusser, "indispensable in any society if men are to be formed, transformed and equipped
to respond to the demands of their conditions of existence."