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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Menagerie, Part 1, or, Dimensions of Perspective

The Menagerie, Part 1,
Dimensions of Perspective,
by Liviana (Giovanna L.)

For at least several decades, we have been presented with a single line continuum, which purports to explain "politics" in terms of a one dimensional view.  Here is a typical example:

This old one-dimensional line continuum going "Left to Right" and equating one end with "Liberal" and the other with "Conservative" (and the center with "Moderate") is an expression of bifurcation fallacy, the plague of Western societies for some 1,500 years.  It's part of monopolistic dualism, the metaphysical, ethical, and political worldview of those who have not liberated their minds from this dogma.  It is also extremely simplistic.  It is a limited perspective, and it seeks to limit our own perspective.

Reality, though, is not simple.  In fact, there are no less than six or seven distinct axes on which all of this can, and should, be measured, not just one.

Left/Center/Right is about Economics.  Liberal/Moderate/Conservative is about Society and Culture (these are two distinct axes, and ideally, distinct terminology should be used for the two separate axes, but the two overlap at some points, and people are accustomed to looking at them in similar ways, even when they recognize the distinctions).  There have been times when "liberal" was used in Economics, but in those cases, it has always meant "Right Wing," in that it's about license for the corporation, and not economic liberty for people.

I shall elaborate on these more, a bit later, and give some explanation of terms, but before I get into that, I will present some other schemes for understanding perspective, which expand from one dimension.

One of the earlier efforts was what is sometimes called "Horseshoe Theory," which took the one-dimensional line and bent it to form a parabolic or horseshoe-shaped line.  This was a transformation from one dimension into two, and, while it left the two poles assigned to "Left" and "Right" or "Liberal" and "Conservative," it also posited "Tolerant" and "Intolerant" dividing the line into an upper and lower, with the curve above and the two ends below.  It was said that those above the line were "Tolerant" and those closer to the poles were "Intolerant."  That those closer to the poles had very different ideas, but very similar practices.  However, the horseshoe makes it seem like the only "Tolerant" perspective is somewhere in the center of the parabolic line, and that's just not so.  You have an entire sheet of graph paper, but the only possible points in the horseshoe are on that one parabola, and not all over the page;  this was obviously better than the one-dimensional line, but still left quite a bit to be desired.  While this theory is attributed to French writer Jean-Pierre Faye, and dated to 2002, I know firsthand that the concept was in use as early as the 1970s, as I saw it in the doctoral dissertation of one of my professors back in the early 1980s, as he was showing it to me and explaining, one afternoon when I had gone to his office to discuss religion and politics, so I do not know where Faye got it, but I do know it was not a new idea when he published.

Perhaps the best known of these efforts to expand understanding of perspectives is the two-dimensional (employing two axes, whereas the single line continuum uses but a single axis) diagram used in the "My Political Compass" test, which, as far as I have been able to discover, came out sometime in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, but which is based on earlier conceptions like the Pournelle chart and the Nolan chart, both devised in the 1960s.  The "Political Compass" chart looks like this:

This is certainly a more complete picture than what we have seen for so long, in that it separates what it labels a "social scale" from the economic scale.  While an improvement, it is still too simple for a complete understanding of the way in which we think, because it has omitted other axes which are also relevant.  I have taken this test a number of times over the years, and my score is fairly consistent;  I am always in the green quarter of the graph, which results in my being labeled a "Left-libertarian."  This term is more widely used outside the United States, and has no reference to the American political party known as "The Libertarian Party."  Due to this political party, "libertarian" when used in the US to refer to a perspective which is generally called "civil libertarianism" in the US (and it certainly is used in this sense in the US), is usually if not always left without the initial letter capitalized.  The results I get are usually something like this (this is the result I got sometime back in the latter years of the past decade, so sometime around 2009):

My Political Compass Test Results (circa 2009)
Economic Left/Right: -7.12
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.72

My Political Compass Test Results (August 2016)
Economic Left/Right: -7.5
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.79

I'm not satisfied with the older result, for a number of reasons, but mostly because I view myself as more "socially libertarian" than that test showed (I also think the more recent test doesn't measure my views on "social libertarianism" accurately).  The first time I can recall having taken it  (sometime around 2007), I scored a bit less Leftist and a bit less "Social Libertarian," and on a more recent test (sometime in the past 2 years), I was about the same as far as Left and Right, but a bit more "Social Libertarian."

In 2002, Max Barry published an online "political simulation" game called "NationStates."  In this, he had devised a scheme using three dimensions to understand perspectives.  These three dimensions were explained in three axes pertaining to Politics, Civil Liberties, and Economics.  A cube was used to illustrate, with names for his game which are not very helpful for my present discourse.  However, someone (perhaps Barry himself) did another graphic illustration, which I reproduce here:

Now we're starting to get somewhere.  During the time when I played this game, my rating hopped around between what the image above would characterize as "Everyday Liberalism," "Utopian Socialism" and "Liberated Socialism."  I however must disagree with the characterization of "Economic Freedom" positing the Far Right as "libertarian."  While such a usage is consistent with the irrational pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand, which forms much of the basis for the American political party known as "the Libertarian Party," it's not particularly realistic (and therefore not particularly helpful for explaining perspectives).  Economic Freedom should be seen in terms not of corporations, but of people.  The further to the Right a society's economic system goes, the less economic freedom the ordinary citizen will have, while economic freedom will become increasingly limited to an ever-shrinking number of citizens, the wealthiest.  This is because economic freedom is not freedom of corporations from government regulation, but rather, the freedom of people to act, to consume, to strike, and so on.  The less wealth the masses have, the less freedom they have to act, to choose what they consume (and how much), and to risk their employment by going on strike.  Nevertheless, a three-dimensional scheme for understanding perspectives is superior to a two-dimensional scheme, and certainly superior to one which is merely one-dimensional.  However, even this is too limited to explain all that makes up perspective.  Unfortunately, moving on to additional dimensions becomes challenging to represent with imagery, or even to conceive as a shape within the mind.  However, we must press on if we are to gain a more complete picture, and I will offer a very ... "allegorical" ... attempt to represent the more expanded dimensional measure later.

The Center for a Stateless Society, more commonly known as "C4SS," an anarchist group which holds as its ideal a society without government, came up with a five-dimensional measure.  For several years, their quiz has not been giving results.  However, sometime very recently (I believe it was in August of 2016, so this very month, as I looked near the end of July of 2016, and it was still saying that it wasn't giving results), that changed.  That is not all which changed at the time;  the test is now different, the results are ordered differently, and the names of the categories have been changed.  Here is a comparison:

My C4SS Ratings (circa 2009)
58% Economic Leftist
63% Anarchist
79% Anti-Militarist
67% Socio-Cultural Liberal
80% Civil Libertarian

My C4SS Ratings (August 2016)
67% Economic Leftist | 33% Economic Rightist
89% Social Liberal | 11% Social Conservative
100% Civil Libertarian | 0% Civil Authoritarian
48% Antistatist | 52% Statist
90% Anti-Militarist | 10% Militarist

In the older scheme, I objected to the conflation of Social with Cultural, because the two are similar and related, but not identical.  In  the newer scheme, the name has been altered from "Socio-Cultural" to "Social," but I think the test still measures both as if they were the same thing, and this is not so.  In my view, a sixth axis should be added, to distinguish Social and Cultural into the two dimensions which they represent.

So what exactly do all these terms mean?  What are these different dimensions and the axes used to measure them?

~ Right/Center/Left is, generally, about Economics.  This concerns wealth, production, management, regulation, labor, and so on.  The extreme Left would be Collectivism (Communism or Communalism), and the extreme Right would be Unbridled Capitalism ("Rugged Individualism" and "Greed is Good" perspectives typically associated with "Objectivism," an irrational pseudo-philosophy which was produced by a damaged personality) or even further right, State-Supported Corporatism (Fascism).  There are also Socialists who are on the left, but are not Marxists, and don't believe in Collectivism.  They believe the producers should own the means of production;  that's not Collectivism because the factory/farm/workshop would not belong to everyone, but only the workers.  And a bit less to the Left are Tribalists, who also don't believe in Collectivism, but rather, in Cooperativism.  I myself am a Tribalist (which is probably fairly accurately measured both in the Political Compass results above which have me at "-7.12 Economic Leftist," in the earlier results and "-7.5 Economic Leftist" in the more recent Political Compass results, and the more recent C4SS results which have me at "67% Economic Leftist").

~ Politics is about who has a voice in political decisions, and ranges from pure Democracy, where every damned thing is determined by referendum, and a majority rules (without necessarily having any concern for the rights of the minority perspectives, and so may be nothing more than mob rule), where everyone  who is a citizen votes, to autocracy, where one person decides everything for everyone else.  C4SS used to say "Anarchy" is one end and "Autocracy" is the other end, but that's because C4SS is "Center for a Stateless Society" (an anarchist group), and therefore idealizes Anarchism.  I'm in favor of a democratic-republic with sophocratic tendencies.  Politics is also about centralization vs decentralization, which should probably be its own dimension/axis.  On this question, I'm somewhere in the middle, in that I am inclined to prefer decentralization of government power, but still believe that some centralized authority should deal with foreign powers, mediate between member-states, and ensure civil liberties for all citizens, regardless of the views of the smaller, more local communities.  In either case, the C4SS rating I have on Anarchist/Antistatist vs Autocraticist/Statist puts me somewhere near the center, the older results putting me more in favor of Anarchy/Antistatism, and the more recent test having me fairly centered on the question, but slightly toward the opposite direction.  I suspect the more recent results are more accurate, not in putting me on the side of Autocracy/Statism, but in putting me nearer the center.  I do believe in the need for government, but I believe it should be limited in what it can do, especially insofar as it might interfere with individual liberties.

~ The next dimension has to do with "Militarism" and "Anti-Militarism."  I prefer to see it rather as a contrast between "Imperialism" and "Non-Interventionism."  You can have a military for defense without going around waving your penis in everyone's face.  In fact, I think it's important to have a military, but I do not think using it for conquest, or imposing one nation's will on other nations, is a good thing.

~ Social and Cultural.  Two different things.
So here we have some different options.  First, let me distinguish between "Social" and "Cultural."  It's not a huge challenge to see the distinction, although those who have not thought about it may assume an identity of the two.  Society in the U.S. is one thing, and I'm not going to get into social classes in American society here, because social classes in America overlap, to a large extent (but not entirely) with economic classes, and that's not a natural way of making distinctions.  The natural way has to do with family, work, and proximity, and not with who has the most wealth.  Since I don't want to get into social classes in this post, I'm just going to focus on society as a whole.  America has its own society, and Americans are all part of it, regardless of our social and/or economic class.  However, in spite of there being only one overarching society in America, there are multiple cultures within that society.  Gaelic was spoken widely in North Carolina until the beginning of the 20th century.  There are vestiges of Broad Scots throughout the South, especially in the Smokies and the Ozarks and Ouachitas.  Certain areas of Louisiana are still very much Cajun French.  San Francisco has Chinatown.  Any large city likely has a barrio.  There is an area of Texas where the majority of settlers were of German and/or Austrian origin, so you have German communities, Bohemian communities, etc, where they continue some of their ancestral cultural traditions and have festivals every year, like the Wurstfest in New Braunfels, and most of them have a very prominent Oktoberfest.  Boston has a strong Anglo-Irish culture.  Chicago and Brooklyn have strong Italian communities, also a Greek community in Chicago and a Jewish community in Brooklyn.  There are a lot of Italians in northern New Jersey, too.  Minnesota and Wisconsin have a lot of Norwegian and Swedish cultural tradition.  And so on.  Point being, there is one society here, and that has to do primarily with how society is ordered by concepts of what is "acceptable" or "not acceptable," but there are many cultures, and that has to do with tradition and heritage (by "heritage," I mean not DNA, but culture;  culture is not genetic, but must be taught/learned).

Both society and culture are considered in terms of Modernist (or Liberal) to Conservative.  The extreme Modernist would be iconoclastic and radical, and the extreme Conservative would be traditionalist and reactionary, and of course there's some Moderate in the middle in each case.

I think society should always be open to change, so I'm more or less Modernist (Liberal as in permissive/relaxed rather than uptight and insisting on maintaining the status quo, or Progressive as in being in favor of progress rather than resistant to [or cautious about] change which is Conservative, or hostile to change to such an extent as to want to roll it back which is Reactionary) on questions of Society.  The more recent C4SS rating I have on this question puts me at "89% Social Liberal."  I suspect that's probably fairly close to an accurate assessment.  But next is where we go all aglee.

Culture, I think, should only change when there's an actual need to change, but even then, it should only change in ways which will not add things inconsistent with the underlying worldview of the culture.  So here, I'm somewhere between being resistant to change and hostile to change.  I do not think, for example, that a culture should be eclectic.  I think that if any external concepts are brought in, they should be consistent with what's already there (so syncretic rather than eclectic).  I'm not absolutely opposed to change, nor even to adapting things from other cultures;  I'm just extremely cautious about it, to the point that I think some things which have been added may need to be removed.  Like societies which are predominantly Celtic in culture?  Should be speaking a Celtic language as their first language, should teach a Celtic language from birth and certainly in school, should teach all classes in that language, should have their own television stations, radio stations, and newspapers in their own language, and NOT in English (Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Ireland) or French (Britanny).  English is certainly a very useful language internationally, but it should not erase distinct cultures, and language is the primary vehicle of culture.  That all said, however, I will note that the kind of "change" to which I refer is not growth.  Living cultures grow and change as a result of that growth;  without growth, a culture is dead.  We will not always sing only the same limited number of songs;  more will be composed.  We will not always tell only the tales which exist now, read only the books which have already been written, watch the television shows and movies which have already been made, play the games which have already been made, etc.  Innovation is perfectly acceptable, if it be done within the cultural context, and in a manner consistent with the worldview of the culture.  If the C4SS test no longer conflates Culture with Society (and it may well not, seeing the rather significant difference between my earlier results and my more recent results, and my own perception that it is probably a fairly accurate measure of my Social viewpoint), then I would have to rate myself in this dimension, and I would put myself somewhere around "70% Cultural Conservative."  Bear in mind that I am distinguishing Social and Cultural, as I have been at some pains to explain.  Also note that what some in the US refer to as "culture wars" are actually "social wars."  America has not yet developed a unique culture of its own, although it is on its way to doing so with things like Baseball/Softball, American Football, Star Trek (which I regard as the American Epic in the same sense that Homer's works are the Greek Epics, the Aeneid is the Roman epic, the Nibelungenlied is the German epic, etc), and assorted other "pop culture" from previous decades, as well as having developed its own musical genre, Jazz, which, however, has spread beyond the US and is now part of multiple cultures.  What these ideologues are battling over is not culture, but society.

~ The last category is about civil liberties and goes from libertarian to authoritarian.  the extreme on one end is licentiousness (absolute permissiveness, no law) and the other extreme is dictatorship wherein everything is legislated, what you can do, what you can't do, with no room for individual or tribal or cultural or whatever choice, but rather, everything dictated.

Obviously (to those who know me), I'm on the libertarian side of this, but not so far as to be licentious (so I think that 100% rating I got in my more recent results from the C4SS test is inaccurate;  it's probably somewhere between 90% and 100%), far enough that most people wouldn't consider me to be a moderate on the question and would recognize me as libertarian and opposed to authoritarianism.

Although representing six or seven dimensions visually, even in three dimensions, is challenging, I shall nevertheless offer what might be an "allegorical" attempt to represent them here in a two-dimensional image:

We see the blue triple intersection as our traditional three-dimensional axes, with X representing depth, Y representing width, and Z representing height.  The other letters here are shown at the corners of the cube.  A line from A to H would symbolize a fourth axis, another line from B to E would symbolize a fifth dimension, another from C to F a sixth dimension, and one more from D to G a seventh dimension.  We might then say that the the X axis represents Politics in the sense of Statism vs Anti-Statism, the Y axis represents Economics, and the the Z axis represents Civil Liberties, just as in Max Barry's ideocube.  But then we have A-H, B-E, C-F, and D-G as well.  I will arbitrarily assign these as follows:  A-H = Centralization/Decentralization, B-E = Imperialism vs Non-Interventionism, C-F = Social Views, and D-G = Cultural Views.

So then.  If I were going to rate myself, using the six or seven dimensions I perceive, and as I understand them, my perspective would be something like:

59% Decentralist
90% Non-Interventionist
90% Social Liberal
70% Cultural Conservative
50% Statist/Anti-Statist
70% Economic Leftist
95% Civil Libertarian

Finally, on each of these axes are a number of positions;  to engage in polarization, seeing only the perspectives at the poles of each axis, is still Bifurcation Fallacy.  The extremes are not the only options, but instead, there are many shades of grey between black and white.  All of these schemes have ratings along the various axes to plot a person's position on any given axis, as you can see from the percentages given in the C4SS and my own schemes, or the -10 to +10 ratings on the My Political Compass test.

The title of the post comes from Star Trek (The Original Series), Season 1, episode 11;  episode 12 overall;  production code 16.

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1 comment:

  1. This is probably the best deconstruction of politicial viewpoint I've ever read. You cover such enormous ground, but do so in a way that is easy to follow, and does a wonderful job making sense of extremely complex subjects.

    You're right - the real world is messy as Hell, and the bipolar mentality of (U.S.) Americans is both dysfunctional and inaccurate. I love the alternative models you present, along with their history, and links to online quizes, so those of use who like our models as complex as our minds, can muck about and better understand both reality and ourselves.

    Kudos and thank you!