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Summary: Concept,thoughts and Ideas of the Marx Ideology

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According to Marx, ideology is the governing concept, thoughts, or ideas initiated by the dominant ruling class. He furthers elaborate his criticism towards capitalism and the ruling bourgeoisies as dominant over both material production and mental production. In other words, he stands against the ruling class as being the puppeteers of the proletariat, controlling the working class both physically (labor) and mentally (ideas). This then creates the concept of how the ruling class produces a kind of “false consciousness” that conceals the base, which makes people unaware of the exploitative modes of production. This leads to Marx’s assumption of ideology as a unified chuck of governing thoughts that is implemented in human minds by the ruling class. On the other hand, Louis Althusser did not regard ideology as a set of thoughts, ideas or concepts; rather he regards them as practical and materialistic. He considers ideology as relatively an autonomous ritual that people habitualized and conform to. He focuses on the way the working-class learns to become passive and obedient subject to the ideological views. He suggests the division of ideologies into two approaches: the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) and the Repressive State Apparatus. In which, he points out that Marx’s idea of ideology is the Repressive State Apparatus which functions through suppression to reinforce the ruling class ideas, refer to as “bourgeois law”, into the minds of the working-class. The Repressive State Apparatus is regarded as one, unified, and governed by public domain. While, the Ideological State apparatuses (ISAs) functions through an individual’s consciousness, a kind of mind control, that is regarded as plural and governed by private institutions.

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 The Repressive State Apparatus are the ideologies that conform to the law consisting of the ruling class authority such as government, court, police, military leaders, and so on. On the contrary, Ideological State Apparatuses are ideologies that are practice by private institutions such as, churches, education, family, and mass media. That is to say, the main difference between Marx’s and Althusser’s idea is on how Althusser deconstruct Marx’s ideological understanding into structures and categories, while Marx regards ideology in general as the dominant ideas that is constructed and governed by the ruling class. The similarity of Althusser’s concept with Marx’s ideas lies on how Althusser’s also does not believe that people have any free will. Through his double-functioning ideological system, he suggests that laws are enforced imperatively through both Repressive and Ideological State Apparatuses. In Repressive State Apparatus (RSA), physical control is implemented through structures such as police, military, and judicial courts. These bodies control the working-class by threats or punishments of fines, custodial sentences, and other physical means. While the Ideological State Apparatus (ISAs) is the structure that controls the way working-class think and behave to prevent criminal behaviors through customs, rituals, and habits. These structures are then control by education system, media, family, cultures, religion, etc. For instance, as children we are under our parents control or as students we are subject under our teachers. To elaborate further, in Thai schools, students are conformed to greet English teachers by standing up and saying “good morning teacher”.

 Moreover, it is common in Thai schools for teachers to hit students with a stick whenever they break the rules or conduct misconduct. Furthermore, Althusser goes beyond and observe how ideology makes it seem natural for subjects to submit to the rules and practices confined in the ideologies. This is what Althusser regard as how “ideology hails/ interpellates individuals as subjects”. He points out how ideology had become a common sense for individuals to passively respond to their call. It is as if we are answering a telephone call from someone submissively and unconsciously. For instance, the act of Thai people standing to show respect to the royal anthem in movie cinemas is an act of answering to the call of ideology. Likewise, the Thai conduct of “Wai” by folding our palms together to show respect to elders or superior authority had became an automatic gesture for Thai people as a response to ideology as well. Other kinds of universal practices such as wearing black attires at funerals or dressing up for weddings can be seen as a habitualized practice govern by ideology too. This makes it seems like people are socialized into accepting capitalism without questioning. Althusser’s ideas parallel Marx’s in which both refers to the working class as a passive and unconscious subject. However, Althusser’s idea seems to suggests it is natural for the working class to confine to ideologies, while Marx’s view it as something extremely unjust. In other words, Althusser’s ideas are more resilient and flexible than Marx’s rebellious and assertive ideas. Examples of how “ideology hails individuals as subjects” will be listed in this section. Firstly, the act of going to temples and kneeling down to worship the Buddha idols project how we are subjected to the Buddhist institution. We are conforming to the religious ISAs by believing that participating in the practice of giving alms to monks and listening to them preach will make you gain merit. At the same time, we are expressing our identity as a Buddhist and Thai nationalist. Similarly, in Muslims family, they refrain from eating pork because they upheld the ideology that pigs are impure, unhealthy, and harmful to human. Moreover, the practice of using hands to eat food in the Middle Eastern countries like Nepal or India, as well as, in the Northeast of Thailand amongst Isan people portrays a cultural/ family ISAs. According to Indian or the Hindu beliefs, hands are considered a powerful organ. Therefore, the act of eating foods with your hands is believed to not only feed your body, but also your mind and spirit. 

Likewise, in Asian countries like Korea, Japan, or China, the practice of using chopstick is widespread amongst several households. This is an evident proof that no one is actually free; everyone is confined to certain ideologies. In addition, through examining the political Ideological State Apparatus, as political parties are consider a private institution, due to the fact that people have multiple opinions and views regarding the party they favor and desire. Before the election, each political party tends to promote their ideologies to the working-class, presenting their promise to contribute positively to the country. Then the working-class is obliged to express their views by voting. Even though, the act of voting may be interpreted as freedom, but by practicing in voting, we are considered as an active participant in politics. 

Therefore, the act itself is an ideology that we are confined to. Although, Althusser may agree with Marx’s idea on how ideology is misrepresented and framed by imaginary images that conceals the exploitative nature of production, he disagree with Marx’s claim on “false consciousness”. As a structuralist, he argues that ideology is actually necessary for the society, since man cannot exist outside culture or ideology. Ideology constitutes who we are as humans, therefore, it should not be regarded as false it is rather necessary. In Marxist theory on base and superstructure, he states that the base is the level of production and the superstructure is the level in which the product is presented as free from its exploitive production process of wage workers in factories. For instance, as consumers, we are obscures from the level of production by images presented in advertisements. In the same way, the ruling class ideologies is presented to us free from its exploitive production process, creating a “false consciousness”. This detachment from the production process can be seen most vividly in media advertisement, while actually it is also incorporated in our daily lives like in the food we eat, the objects or clothes we wear, and many more. For instance, expensive beef that is served in small portions in luxurious restaurants claims to be good in quality. However, due to the fact that we are hidden from its production process, we may not know if it is a false or genuine claim. Still we are convinced and conform to believe the ideas of the ruling class that the softness and the expensive price of the beef can determine its quality. Merely, because of the ideology that soft and expensive beef are good quality beef from well-breed cows makes it automatically true without any evidence. Furthermore, a contemporary example that is widespread in the Thai society is the usage of brand name products. 

The act of using expensive brand name bags or wearing brand name clothes is incorporated with a kind of false ideology that by doing so you will also be part of the higher class society. The ruling class in Thai society had implement and conceptualize a sense of richness and luxurious lifestyle into the objects they use. This conceptualizes many teenagers into believing that using expensive products makes you fit in in the society. However, in reality, the price that is set on the products is an ideology. As consumers, we do not know what aspects makes brand name product expensive than other mundane products. We are prone to believe that the materials used to make brand name products are better than no-name products. In reality, such beliefs are just mere ideologies that we are bound to believe. Finally, I would like to relate Althusser’s concept of ideology with a book called “The Lottery of Babylon” by Jorge Luis Borges to presents the analogy between Althusser’s idea and the narrative. 

The Lottery of Babylon is about a town that is dominated by a lottery system, which is comparable to our modern lotteries in that it offers a monetary reward for people who got lucky numbers. However, the Babylonian Lottery decided to include risk of loss to people by implementing fines on those who draw unlucky numbers as well. The Lottery then grew into corporate that operates through drawing numbers by chance. People then starts to question its system on whether it operates on the base of pure luck or under corruption that benefited only a certain group of people. This can be seen as an allegory to Althusser’s concept of ideology on how certain institution has the power to capitalize the nature of our lives. As it is suggested in the narrative, that chance is an inevitable component of life, regardless of what dominates the system either randomness or an institution. In the same way, how we are inescapable from ideologies. Since, according to Althusser, human cannot exist outside culture or ideology. The secret of the Lottery will always be hidden and no mortal man can ever escape. 

 Althusser’s and Marx’s ideas are different in terms of how Althusser states that the existence of ideology ‘inside’ the society is inevitable and necessary for man to be able to exercise and form their identity. In contrast, Marx’s understandings of ideology states that it is actually better for man to exist ‘outside’ ideology. Since, ideology for Marx is repressive of the ruling class’s dominant thoughts. Despite how Althusser did not believe in Marx’s false consciousness, their ideas overlapped on how they both believe that ideology is an imperative act by force with an imaginary realm that conceals us from the suppressive truth.                   

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