Tuesday, December 20, 2005

mindCandy: Politics and Why Left vs. Right Doesn't Cut It

I'm a bit of a political junkie, and I find it exceedingly frustrating that our culture generally tries to categorize individual politics using a one-dimensional Left vs. Right spectrum. This concept is inherently flawed as it cannot easily reconcile Social vs. Economic beliefs (just the fact that there are two primary elements with two extremes necessitates at least a two dimenstional map of political beliefs). For instance, someone who is right wing economically generally believes in free enterprise and free markets - typically this means limiting of government control of the economy. If we look at this socially, the same "right wing" person would believe in government intervention to enforce traditional social values and norms. But what about someone (like me) who believes in limited government intervention both economically AND socially (sometimes described as Libertarian)? They have no real place in this spectrum! In fact, they are either lumped in with people whose social views they don't support or people who's economic views they don't support.

Thankfully there are other more accurate means to interpret political beliefs graphically. One of my favourites is the Political Triangle (see Figure 31.2 about half way down the page). This (to simplify things a lot - read the website for a much deeper and more accurate discussion), takes the Left vs. Right and Social vs. Economical dimensions and combines them to create the following extremes:
  • Libertarian: socially left and economically right (i.e. little government intervention)
  • Totalitarian: socially right and economically left (i.e. government intervention on both fronts - think communism)
  • Authoritarian: socially right and economically right (i.e. government intervention in social areas but not economic ones)

Again, keep in mind that I've defined these extremes of the Political Triangle using the classical Left vs. Right definitions, which is not completely accurate but will do for this discussion (you'll note that there's no obvious mapping for socially left and economically left - this would be a strange mix of government control of economy but not social elements, which seems like it would be a rare occurrence - anyone have any examples?).

There are plenty of other ways to map out political beliefs too. The Nolan Chart completes our two-dimensional map from above by using the axes of Personal vs. Economic Freedom (essentially what I've been referring to as Social vs. Economic freedom). The Pournelle Chart is also two-dimensional, but maps Statism (belief in the state and centralized government) vs. Rationalism (the belief that all problems in society have rational solutions). Additional methods (and some great links and pics) are available on the Wikipedia Political Spectrum webpage.

A couple of musings: Canada and the US are very close in a great number of ways, however there are some important differences that are interesting in terms of the whole Right vs. Left spectrum (I'm arguing this along that single spectrum because it more easily allows people to identify what I'm talking about, given that it's the common terminology used in our society). First of all, Canada's Conservative Party, although on the right of the spectrum, are far to the left of the Republican Party in the States (probably more akin to conservative Democrats). Secondly, in the States the media seems to be controlled mostly by the "Right" (think Fox News), whereas in Canada the media is controlled more by the "Left" (think CBC). Obviously Canada is a more "socialist" country than the US (for better or for worse ;-) ), and I think the above two notes are demonstrative of this (BTW, the book "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" has some interesting notions about how many of the differences between our two countries came about because of where Scots from specific regions in Scotland settled when they came to the New World - a great book for the Scottish and non-Scottish alike).

If you want to take a test to see where you stand, give the Political Compass a try. It just takes a few minutes and it gives lots of great information before and after the test (but beware of double negatives in this - bad survey development).
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12/20/2005 08:39:00 PM  

4 Comments:

Blogger K. Holliday said...

Jeff,
i agree with u on the Air Travel chaos..and the politics story was very interesting...keep up the good work....

K. Holliday

December 21, 2005 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely agree. Left/Right has lost any use. We really need to think past these labels and come up with new ideas, instead of repeating the mistakes of the past.

Good call on Settlers, btw.

December 23, 2005 3:05 AM  
Anonymous becky said...

you're right: there is so much grey area in politics today. i too am a libertarian, but this term hasn't totally made it's way into the everyman's lexicon yet.

i have to disagree about the media in the states being controlled by the right though. yes, fox news definitely has a slant to the right.. however, most other media outlets [cnn, ny times, etc] are definitely on the left side of things. in ann coulter's book slander: liberal lies about the american right, she talks some about how the media is mostly slanted towards the left. granted, i know coulter herself is biased, but she backs up everything she says, so it's an interesting read.

December 26, 2005 4:48 PM  
Anonymous becky said...

eek... "its way" not "it's way."

my inner editor is scolding me.

December 26, 2005 4:53 PM  

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