(this is narcissistic mostly, but to an end)
Recently I considered whether Peace were now the most important concept in my life, whether more than all else I would seek inner peace, inter-personal peace, and world-wide peace. I very quickly gave up this notion, recognizing the most important concept for me by a long shot, is, always has been, and always will be, Freedom. Freedom is not a monolithic concept, of course (e.g., the freedom to spend money and the freedom from having to work are usually, for most of us, mutually exclusive freedoms). For me the concept of Freedom is bound up with existentialism (freedom of choice, and also free will on a cosmic level, i.e., the freedom of Adam and Eve in "Paradise Lost"--btw, italics aren't working for me on this computer, so you'll get the grammatically infuriating quotation marks around titles of long works), in equality (the idea that every man and woman is my equal is an important part of my freedom), and my time (I'm peculiarly protective of how I am able to use my "free" time), and individualism (it is not like I'm out fighting for freedoms of groups, though I do believe in freedom for groups and do take up such causes; however, I live very much in the assumption of freedom of groups and focus largely on individual freedom.
So why is Freedom the most important philosophical ideal in my life? Many reasons.
1. I'm an American.
Growing up in America, I've imbibed the ideals of liberty and equality every day of my life (perhaps if "fraternite" were added to the ideals of "egalite" and "liberte" here, I would view the world differently). Liberty and equality have never exactly been regular practices in America (it's only recently that they were truly expanded as ideals to include those other than white males--and even that is not fully in practice), yet the ideals have been hanging around. I am foolish enough to believe in these ideals. My ideals would obviously be quite different if I were raised in a different country and/or culture.
2. I'm a Protestant.
I grew up in a Protestant tradition. Protestantism has a much greater emphasis on freedom, individualism, and equality than Catholicism (I base this on my experiences and studies with the ideology and practices of both Protestantism and Catholicism; I could go into greater detail giving examples, but I join Bartleby in asserting that "I'd prefer not to"). If I had grown up in a Catholic tradition, perhaps I wouldn't have such an emphasis on Freedom as a concept, or at the very least, my idea of Freedom would be different (after all, as a Protestant I was encouraged to read the Bible on my own, and was left largely to interpret it on my own. So much of my worldview is still based on my adolescent interpretations of Jesus as a guy who doesn't fight, cares about the poor, hangs out with social rejects, and forgives people). It would clearly be even more different if I had been raised in a non-christian religious tradition. Doesn't Islam mean "submission"? Don't many Eastern religions particularly de-emphasize the concept of self?
3. I'm a reader.
I read, and many of the things I've read have had a strong influence on my thinking (I realize it's hard to say whether I'm drawn to certain works based on my ideas, or whether certain works form my ideas--I call this "The Seinfeld Dilemma," since I don't know whether it formed me of drew me in because of what I am). And the readings that stick out to me emphasize freedom. Henry David Thoreau's "Life Without Principle" remains the essay that informs my ideas about work and self. Jean-Paul Sartre's writings on existentialism have pretty much become my frame for viewing existence. And John Fowles' novels exploring the meaning of individual freedom in society, particularly "The French Lieutanant's Woman" and "The Magus," have informed my more recent views on freedom of choice and behavior. My research on censorship has further convinced me of the need to allow the individual freedom against the norms of society.
So now I reach the paradox of my ideology. Quite clearly I believe strongly in individual independence from the limitations and expecations of groups. But here's the contradiction: THE REASON I BELIEVE THIS IS LARGELY INFLUENCED BY MY GROUPS. I emphasize Freedom largely because I am a member of two groups: Americans (loosely) and Protestants (even more loosely). It is the country, the culture, the worldview of the groups that have made me so emphasize separation for the individual from group expectations. Even reading, the most individual of activities, for me has been framed in the context of academia (the values and practices of the academic community have impacted what I read and how I read it, therefore, the values of another group influence my emphais on individual freedom).
I believe strongly in individualism because of the groups I was raised with/in; that is the nature of the paradox of my ideology.
And that is an illustration on the meaning of Ideology.