Oppositional narrative, myth-shaping and ideological idiopathy


Idiopathy is generally a medical term, but its usage here harkens back to its Greek roots. “Idio-” is from the Greek ídios (ἴδιος), meaning something private or entirely one’s own. “-Pathy” is from the Greek pátheia (πάθεια) meaning “feeling” or “suffering” which in turn derives from pathos (πάθος), meaning a condition or state (generally of suffering).

Ideology also comes from Greece but by way of France. Rather than deriving directly from the Ancient Greek, it is a relatively recent term, believed to have been coined in late eighteenth-century France. Its French form is idéologie, meaning, roughly, “doctrine.” The word’s root, ideo-, is from the Greek idéā (ἰδέα), meaning an appearance, class or style and having come to mean, of course, an “idea.” Etymologists hypothesize that it derives from the Proto-Indo-European weyd, meaning “to see.” -Logy is from the Greek lógos (λόγος), meaning “that which is said or thought”/a subject. It comes from the root légō (λέγω), meaning the arranging or ordering of things.

So, by ideology, we mean a particular arrangement or ordering of ideas or impressions. By idiopathy, we mean a state and quality of feeling and/or suffering peculiar to a particular person or group. Thus ideological idiopathy is a state of suffering tied to a set of ideas. Whether the suffering precurses the ideology or the ideology gives rise to the suffering is what we mean to investigate here.

I’m going to make this brief. To the end, we’ll just look at a couple cogent examples of ideologies wrapped up in a narrative of suffering/persecution. Next we will try to see what we can regarding our above chicken v. egg question.

Donald Trump’s populism

A populist is an ideologue who constructs a narrative wherein s/he is the one true voice of the people. The populist panders to the masses, building a sense of unity without actually unifying. By this last point, I mean that the populist does not truly address differences and build consensus; rather s/he glosses over differences, building momentum and riding a rhetoric-blown wave of good will into office. But all waves rise before they fall.

The far-right narrative that Donald Trump has coopted for his 2015-2016 presidential campaign is one of the quietly suffering majority. It is the Fox News narrative taken to the extreme. It involves the sentiment that the privileged have become downtrodden and that the minorities of the world are involved in some kind of conspiracy to delegitimize and erase the culture and standing of salt-of-the-earth (both in color and values) types.

I watch Fox News, I listen to AM talk radio hosts, I scroll through my social media feeds, I listen to the conversation in the booth next to me at Generic BBQ Shack, and I am struck my the foam-mouthed anger. I ask: Why are these people so angry? You’re a fat, white, fifty-year-old man driving a Mercedes, wearing golfing clothes, porcelain teeth tearing through baby back ribs dripping with BBQ sauce the color of blood–that dark, thick arterial sap; not the thin, watery, subdermal stuff–What do you have to be angry about? What does the world have to offer that you haven’t acquired?


Brexit is the exit of Britain from the European Union. The United Kingdom joined the EU in 1973. In 2016, British voters decided to leave the EU. Various reasons were given, but the general sentiment revolved around distrust of, and resentment towards, poor immigrants–especially ones from largely Muslim countries. Explanations for this resentment vary, but English reportage tends to point the finger at economic angst (think Southpark: “They took er jerbs!”) and a festering fear of cultural and even physical annihilation. The UK Independence Party (UKIP), among others, seized upon and stoked these fires. And who lead the Brexit campaign?

If you guessed red-faced, ham-fisted populists who could be Donald Trump’s doppelgängers, you guessed right. Nigel Farage is a populist cast from the same mold as Trump. Both are privileged white men speechifying about the evil immigrant, uniting through fear, and riding a hate wave they themselves helped fulminate into power. Boris Johnson, a Conservative Party member, takes a liberal stance on some issues (e.g., gay rights) but has come down hard-right when it comes to immigration, going so far as to accuse his opposition of being motivated by antiBritish sentiment.

  • Othered – a verb
  • myth-shaping
  • embedded tales

Beauchamp, Z. (2016, June 24). Brexit isn’t about economics. It’s about xenophobia. Vox.  Retrieved from: http://www.vox.com/2016/6/23/12005814/brexit-eu-referendum-immigrants

Mueller, J.W. (2015, December 26). Trump is a far right populist, not a fascist. Al Jazeera America.  Retrieved from: http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/12/trump-is-a-far-right-populist-not-a-fascist.html

Pruitt, S. (2016, June 24). The history behind Brexit. History.com.  Retrieved from: http://www.history.com/news/the-history-behind-brexit