Charlie Munger on How to Battle Ideology

by | Jan 2, 2020

I am concerned about America.

We are more polarized than ever. Based on our political ideologies we hear almost completely different views of the news. It’s not good for our country that we are so divisive.

In that vein, below are some views on being ideological from Charlie Munger, who is known for his wisdom. Charlie Munger is the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett’s business partner. In 2007 he gave the commencement speech at USC School of Law. A very important part of the speech concerned his views on being ideological. Here’s that excerpt:

Another thing I think should be avoided is extremely intense ideology because it cabbages up one’s mind.

You’ve seen that. You see a lot of it on TV you know preachers for instance, you know they’ve all got different ideas about theology and a lot of them have minds that are made of cabbage.

But that can happen with political ideology. And if you’re young it’s easy to drift in to loyalties and when you announce that you’re a loyal member and you start shouting the orthodox ideology out what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in and you’re gradually ruining your mind so you want to be very careful with this ideology. It’s a big danger.

In my mind I got a little example I use whenever I think about ideology and it’s these Scandinavian canoeists who succeeded in taming all the rapids of Scandinavia and they thought they would tackle the whirlpools in the Aaron Rapids here in the United States. The death rate was 100%. A big whirlpool is not something you want to go into and I think the same is true about a really deep ideology.

I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another. And that is I say “I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people do who are supporting it. I think only when I reach that stage am I qualified to speak.”

Now you can say that’s too much of an iron discipline, it’s not too much of an iron discipline, it’s not even that hard to do. It sounds a lot like the iron prescription of Ferdinand the Great, “it’s not necessary to hope in order to persevere.” That probably is too tough for most people, I don’t think it’s too tough for me but it’s too tough for most people.

But this business of not drifting into extreme ideology is a very very important thing in life if you want to have more correct knowledge and be wiser than other people. A heavy ideology is very likely to do you in.

The concept of knowing more about the other side’s arguments before you have an opinion would clear up much of our issues with our country’s polarization. It is hard to do but is quite effective at battling confirmation bias and adopting less extreme views.

Charlie Munger “Unplugged” in the Wall Street Journal last year: Here.


  1. We used to value experience (the apprentice eventually becomes the craftsman). Then, we valued intelligence (the rise of the Ivy League diploma as status). Now we value ‘certainty’ and ‘courage of conviction’, polite ways of describing those with strong opinions. Why is this? Because time is moving much faster. We used to have ‘time’ to become craftsmen, ‘time’ to get educated…. Not any more. It’s all moving so fast, which really means that life is more uncertain. So, we gravitate towards those who are ‘certain’. (Even though they’re certainly wrong.) What’s the new saying, ‘sometimes wrong, but never in doubt’? The answer is to figure out how to get more experiences more quickly and how to apply your intelligence, rather than trusting the charlatans who act like they have the answers. Not easy, and not getting any easier…. (at least this is what I heard on Fox News, so I’m pretty sure it’s right)

  2. I like the suggestion that we should be able to argue the other side better ( I would say as well) as those who adhere to the other side. I will try to get better at that.

    When I talk with someone on the other side from me, I try to listen and ask questions rather than argue. Direct confrontation in my experience is rarely successful in convincing either side of anything. It’s surprisingly hard to ask questions in practice because of trust issues. The other person doesn’t trust that you are asking questions to explore the topic rather than get a “gotcha”. It takes time to build the trust which is often not available. Still, I seize the opportunity when I can.


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