Ideologies as Contagious Illnesses?

For discussion: An issue involving two current problems.

A paper on the “sociopathy of ideologies” by Dr. Hans Grunicke [1] raises a question whether ideologies can be seen as contagious ‘illnesses’, especially with regard to the way they spread and react to prevention and ‘treatment’. If so, the comparison might reveal helpful suggestions about more effective ways of responding to either one. 

There are important issues about such comparisons that need clarification. For example, there is more common consensus about the state of affairs we call ‘health’ and ‘life’ that is being threatened by a virus, and that it should be resisted and ‘defeated’, than about competing ideologies that each see themselves as the ‘healthy’ state and the other as the ‘unhealthy’ and potentially ‘toxic’ threat. So the definitions of health or ‘soundness’ and unhealthy, toxic features of ideologies will be obvious controversies.

Two first tentative ‘maps’ of the forces and effects involved may help to start the examination of this idea. The ‘epidemic’ map tries to show interventions of societies to maintain or restore ‘health’ and the productive or counterproductive ‘loops in that system, with ‘society’s main intervention agents as ‘government’ and ‘media’. In the ‘ideology’ map the part of ‘health-defending’ party is simply shown as the ‘dominant’ ideology responding to the effort of one ‘alternative’ ideology to become dominant. 

Some first observations concern the role of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ loops or circular forces. The ‘ideology’ map shows a clear patterns of escalating actions and countermeasures that can be seen as a toxic vicious cycle or spiral towards violent confrontation (‘war’) where one ‘ideology’ will remain or win dominance over the other. Each action can be seen as leading to escalation, even when intended as a means of forcing the sequence back onto a ‘lower’ level of confrontation in the system.

The ‘pandemic’ map does not show one clear overall ‘escalation’ loop. Of course there also is escalation, determined by success or failure of prevention and treatment interventions over time. But an equally important role is played by several potentially positive or negative feedback loops, that affect society’s compliance with the needed or recommended efforts: Government measures that prove ineffective to combat the pandemic, plausibly reduce public confidence in those measures, and thus reduce the public’s compliance with those measures, just as their visible effectiveness would increase confidence. But that same confidence that “the pandemic is under control” also can reduce the compliance, inducing a false sense of reduced risk. The effects of government and media communication to the public will further complicate these effects. (The media role in the ‘ideology’ system should be added to the map and investigation.)

The maps show that there are many possible ‘intervention’ points in each network (numbered for further detailed discussion) of each item. Is this contrary to the impression in the general discussion that covers only a few contested issues? Should public discussion in both domains be more concerned with comprehensive strategies consisting of several ‘treatment’ possibilities at the many intervention points?

[1] Dr. Hans Hermann Grunicke: “Zur Soziopathie von Ideologien”: (unpubl. draft 2020), private communication.

Added diagram to March 13 comment.

1 Response to “Ideologies as Contagious Illnesses?”


  1. 1 abbeboulah February 21, 2021 at 12:11 am

    Starting discussion: Raising the question about the ‘Way of Talking’ about Ideologies as contagious pathological phenomena seems to generate sufficient interest to call for further discussion. The numbered items in the diagrams are suggestions for more detailed considerations. Before engaging in this, however, I would like to pursue some general issues of acceptance or rejection, by exploring the questions and arguments for the three different responses to the question ‘Should this perspective be accepted as the basis for societal policies?”:
    1) “PRO”: Reasons supporting the idea?
    2) “CON”: Questions and objections to the idea? And
    3) “Wrong Question?” (Inadequate frame of reference? Better perspectives?).

    Starting with ‘PRO” reasons (no order of significance intended):

    (1): The analogy should be accepted for the following reasons (each needing more detail…):

    + Potential for better understanding:
    Acceptance of this view can lead to better Understanding of Ideologies and their origins, strength and weaknesses, spread and behavior, impact on society, and possible responses for their prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

    + Potential for the development of desperately needed better tools:
    Acceptance of the perspective can lead to the development of better societal responses, policies and practices for the treatment of potentially damaging (‘toxic’) ideologies or aspects of ideologies. (This seems very necessary given the serious damages caused by ideological conflicts in history, and the potential for mutual destruction of both parties to violent ideological conflicts (wars) created by new weapons of mass destruction.

    (2) The perspective should be rejected for the following reasons:

    – Questions of definitions:
    There are no sufficient commonly accepted definitions for the various analogy terms involved:
    ‘Ideology’; ‘Contagious illness’ as applicable to ideologies; “Toxic” aspects of ideologies; the analogy equivalent of ‘Health’ of societies with regard to their governing ideology, and respectively deviations from that state as ‘illness’?

    – Decision-making legitimacy and responsibility
    Who are the appropriate / legitimate persons/ institutions making decisions about the meaning of terms, their diagnosis, and how is that responsibility or right/ legitimacy established?

    – The dilemma of competing ideologies, each declaring itself as the ‘healthy’ state (to be maintained or achieved, or restored) and the other as the threat to that state that must be eliminated…

    – Potentially destructive feedback loops:
    The main common aspect besides the phenomenon and similar mechanism of ‘spread) in both realms is the presence of several negative feedback loops in the system: Measures intended as constructive means of combating toxic aspects or the spread of an ideology with potentially toxic elements can be perceived by diagnosed ‘patients’ as the very demonstration or proof of the toxic nature of the dominat ideology having adopted the perspective legitimating such means, thereby increasing the strength of the ‘infection’ rather than diminishing it.

    – Potential for intervention measures conflicting with human rights
    Can traditional means for combating epidemics applied to efforts of combating ideologies having been accepted as ‘contagious illnesses’ – restrictions of speech, employment, behavior, isolation “quarantine’ or treatment as criminal activity – (‘quarantine’ by incarceration) or worse – be seen as violation of general basic human rights?

    (3) “Wrong question?”

    ? The frame of reference in its basic form is inadequate or incomplete:
    Are there better or more significant aspects to the ‘problem’ of ideologies that should be explored instead?”


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