Redefining Politics

New Political Map

One of the members of our community, Pete Wolf wrote on my Innovation Culture post about,

the way ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are used to apportion the political field in a way that, although it does in some ways respond to existing divisions, also exacerbates certain tensions while suppressing the differences between many diverse interests.

I think the community on this blog is proof that the liberal-conservative identifiers are becoming useless in defining our politics. Perhaps the political compass (above) is more useful in locating us in this multi-dimensional world. Here is an example where some political figures might fit on this map.

Politcal Map

The biggest problem with contemporary American politics is that locating ourselves along a left-right continuum makes for gridlock. Even though there are many differences of opinion on this blog around given issues, my guess is that we all locate ourselves somewhere in the bottom half of the compass in a decentralized, networked society. From that position of common beliefs, it becomes easier to seek common solutions to problems like alternative energy, education and health care. I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

I am about to take an 18 hour trip to Singapore on business, so for the next week I will be on a very different posting schedule. It may be sporadic, but I assume this issue of the political compass may provide grist for the comment mill, while I am offline.

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0 Responses to Redefining Politics

  1. John Hurt says:

    I think this is a valid and useful compass. I would be interested to know where members of this community would place themselves and/or our political type leaders, for want of a better word, on this chart.

  2. STS says:

    I first saw this quiz about 16 years ago when an (ex-communist) libertarian friend showed it to me. It was closer this form
    at that time. I guess putting the purest libertarians at the top is a big part of the message. You can take (one form of) the quiz here.

    I’m curious where Morgan would land on this. He switch hits between aggressive militarism and economic anarchism so quickly it makes me dizzy.

  3. rhb says:

    So do we assume that we can use this compass to find out where our ideas may be taking us or that we can use it to point out where we are now? And if so, what use is it to know either?

  4. Thom Dowting says:

    I think that this compass is a great improvement over the standard dualistic political alignments.

    I think that further diffraction of the political spectrum, that typically come in the colors of blue (left) and red (right) is also possible.

    I don’t have a background in maths but it seems you have divided your x-axis into communist (fiscal liberal – socialist) vs. libertarian (fiscal conservative – laissez faire) and y-axis into Fascist (“centralized”) vs. Libertarian (“decentralized”). If you added a 3rd dimension, a z-axis, you culd make this z-axis social conservative vs. social liberal.

    I drew up a graph but can’t figure out how to put it on the net so as to make it accessible.

    There are many people I can think of who consider themselves to be social liberal who believe in fiscal conservatism. Of these people I can further separate them into those who believe in a strong central government and those who believe in a weak central government. I’m not sure if this distinction can be represented in a 2-D world.

  5. Thom Dowting says:

    Also, I didn’t mean to make that smiley face. I haven’t the foggiest how it got there…

  6. Christopher Scott Rice says:

    Hi, Jon. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog. The compass you blog about here is often used as an introductory discussion piece in Intro to Political Theory classes. This is traditionally followed by critiques of the compass itself, from a variety of perspectives.

    I would argue that the compass itself is a flawed instrument in many regards, only marginally improved from the traditional one-dimensional ideological continuum that was used for so long. There are deeper problems, but a few worth mentioning just on the surface of the thing.

    One BIG problem is that the instrument conflates Libertarianism with the drive for autonomy at the bottom half. In other words, the instrument “privileges” Libertarianism as an ideology, whilst simultaneously negating or ignoring Anarchism. To marginally improve things, one might substitute “Individual Autonomy” or “Autonomism” at the bottom of the vertical axis. Libertarianism does not equal Anarchism. In fact, you would find anarchists at all points of the horizontal axis, just along the bottom of the instrument.

    I would also argue the conflation of Neo-liberalism with Libertarianism on the rightmost point of the horizontal. There is a large and growing gap between Libertarians and Neoliberals, as well as between Libertarians and Neoconservatives. Hence, Libertarians beginning to abandon their place in the Reagan Coalition of the Republican Party, but finding no real home amongst Democrats.

    I think your concept of the Interregnum applies ideologically as well. The old ideological constructs begin to fail us, the new is yet to be born. What the new is, we cannot yet say. We make the path by walking.

    My own suspicion is that Anarchism (both individual and collective) will provide the fertile soil in which the new ideological system will grow. The emergence of open source politics and the Network Society are early indicators of this. Just my two cents.

  7. Agree that liberal vs. conservative is meaningless. G.W. Bush is a profligate big government protectionist and Bill Clinton was a pro-business free trader.

    I’m a libertarian so the following questions are how I place people on a spectrum:

    1) Do you prefer emergent or top down solutions?
    2) Does everyone have the right to do, say, believe, and behave as they see fit as long as they don’t interfere with those same rights for other?
    3) Does it make you queasy when politicians talk about “our” children?
    4) When someone gets rich, does it make someone else poorer?

  8. Ken Ballweg says:

    I’ll start, since it’s so frickin’ obvious anyway…

    Using the quick test STS pointed to, I come out a 90 Personal, and a 30 Economic. Only surprise is that I’m not huddled down in the far left corner.

    Ah, but consider the context: Boomer (right on the front edge), raised in poverty in the Pacific Northwest, therefore a Child of the New Deal, watched the Army Mcarthy hearings on B&W, pro labor (til the mob took over, wasn’t kidding about the WWW family influence), reading existentialism before high school, opposed to the Nam war when speaking out presented a very real physical threat from the ROTC boys and FBI dossier, coming of age urban experience was San Francisco too late to be Beat, too early to be Hip, ….

    Sigh, I am so hosed by the current shift of the term Liberal, the center of which now sits roughly where Goldwater Republicans did in my student days.

  9. Ken Ballweg says:

    Opps, that should have been “pre-Boomer” (therefore no generational moniker).

  10. Morgan Warstler says:

    STS, A with 9 of them – I do want the draft, not some weird peace corp, americorps thing either, a military draft.

    Even after 9/11, I was against the draft, but I’ve come to admire Israel’s approach and I think if we had a draft, that YES we’d still have invaded Iraq, but it would have been safer / sooner – we would have been stronger. It is a dangerous world, it’d be good for hippies to have to know it. :)

  11. garyb50 says:

    Right on Warmonger, er, Morgan War…

    Here’s a partial list of the non-military-serving non-hippies who KNOW it’s a dangerous world: Dick Cheney, Dennis Hastert, Tom Delay, Roy Blunt, Bill Frist, Mitch McConnell, Rick Santorum, Trent Lott, John Ashcroft, Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, Saxby Chambliss, Paul Wolfowitz, Vin Weber, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eliot Abrams, Richard Shelby, Jon Kyl, Tim Hutchison, Christopher Cox, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Dana Rohrabacher, JC Watts, Jack Kemp, Rudy Giuliani, Spencer Abraham, John Engler, Ronald Reagan, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, George Will, Paul Gigot, Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Bill Kristol, Kenneth Starr, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Ralph Reed, Michael Medved….

    BTW, I’m an ex-hippie who did serve. How ’bout your sweet self? :)

  12. Morgan Warstler says:

    Nope. In fact the war that happened when I was that still almost that young, the first Gulf War, came in on time and under budget, and I think convinced me wrongly, that we could do without it.

    I think after 9/11, we should have woke up, moved to Israel-style draft service… rich poor, black white, men women. I don’t know if all the people above, or even most of them, will agree to a draft.

    We are a military nation, the most military nation ever – in some regards, and I think it is only in those terms, we’ll quickly move to We need a War Garden mentality.

  13. Pete Wolf says:

    I feel a little bit honored to have been quoted, so thanks Jon. It’s been a number of years since I last took the test, but I’m still pretty much where I was I think, maybe a little less extreme in either direction, but not much (-6.62 Left, -5.13 Libertarian).

    However, I must urge a word of caution on the decentralized, networked society. As I’ve said before, decentralised systems are great, but they only function under certain conditions, and they can develop pathologies (i.e., produce counter-productive results). We should never assume that some system is so perfect as to either always achieve our collective goals (or the best approximation of them) or to be an end in itself (this means you, free marketeers).

    The only way to identify and deal with those counter-productive situations is to have some centralised mechanism of power which can regulate the conditions under which the system functions and correct for pathological tendencies that develop. The trick is to have a decentralised method of determining what our goals are, and so as such what is counter-productive relative to them, that is to have decentralised wielding of centralised power.

    This is democracy, the decentralised system of rationally (in principle) determining our collective needs and servicing them through centralised power. The paradox of democracy is that as itself a centralised system it requires its own hand to regulate its conditions and correct its pathologies. This is the problem we are stuck with: further decentralising democracy via itself. This should not necessarily be equated with the reduction of the centralised power democracy wields.

  14. rhb says:

    Well, Pete, I certainly feel centered. Thanks.

  15. Jon Taplin says:

    Well Pete, sitting here in Singapore with the sun just coming up on a Monday morning, I am challenged by your latest thought. How large does the entity that provides these services need to be? Can it be a state like California? or a city-state like Singapore?

  16. Pete Wolf says:

    Glad to provide food for thought.

    The answer that I think is right, but that I think some people won’t like is that there needs to be something like a democratic system (decentralised wielding of centralised power) at least as large as every decentralised system that needs (in the very strong sense) regulating. So for example, biting the bullet, I think that implies some level of global democracy to deal with the global economic system (we have no such thing currently).

    However, this doesn’t imply that there needs to be one large democratic state controlling every aspect of everything at every level. There shouldn’t be (in principle) an upward threshold on Democracy. Democracy should scale, but it should scale in a balanced way. This means proportionate power effectively controlled by the locality all the way from the town you live in, via county, state/province, to nation, to region, to globe. This also means importantly that these scales are co-ordinated, rather than being conflicting or redundant.

    I agree that this is, at the moment unrealistic, but the twin notions of the necessity of democracy and the necessity of proportionate centralised power linked to it provide the direction in which we should be heading.

    I’m not sure I have a perfect definition of such scaling yet, but I’ll try to give you a better idea of what I mean (with some examples) when I’m less tired.

  17. Hugo says:

    A scholar of culture could take one of these compasses as a text of its designer’s ideology, a statement of ideological autobiography. I dislike these things, and not only because like anyone I don’t like to be pigeonholed. They are facile by definition because they abstract in the interest of simplicity. What color are you? Don’t think pink!

    I’m much more comfortable with narrative. For example, when presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was asked by an interviewer to clarify the pulse of radical conservatives, he answered by asking, “What in hell is a ‘radical conservative’?” It’s worth knowing why Winston Churchill and his father called themselves “Tory democrats”, but please don’t ask a Churchill scholar to grid that out for you; if nothing else, the exercise would ruin a good story or four or five.

    I reckon the closest I could come comfortably to an ideological compass would be etymology. The lexicographers have to sweat these things, and theirs is an earnest and proud discipline. I’d just as soon leave it to them to try to explain why I would label John McCain either delusional or devious, or both, for continuing to insist that he is a conservative; or why I locate Jeremiah Wright in the Neo-Marxism that flourished in the late-1970s and the 1980s.

    It’s a story, not a picture—and not a color or a label or a pinpoint. I’m OK with stories. We’re narrative creatures. Even my dog likes my stories.

  18. Jon Taplin says:

    Hugo-My dogs like stories too. Here’s a juicy one from McLuhan that taps into your Neo-Marxist worries.

    “(the 50’s and 60’s)would have seemed a natural moment for the intellectuals to have taken over while the governing class was touring Disneyland, as it were. So it must have appeared to Marx and his followers. But they reckoned without understanding the dynamics of the new media of communications. Marx based his analysis most untimely on the machine, just as the telegraph and other implosive forms began to reverse the mechanical dynamic.”

    BTW-As you can see by my current Singapore post, I believe this Wright is a Marxist trope is not germane to anything important. You’re beating a dead horse.

  19. Hugo says:

    I don’t really care about Jeremiah Wright and his half-baked social theory. Don’t even care about the old liberationists who mattered here and there, now and then. It was just an immediately current example of somebody who doesn’t fit onto the grid of ideological acceptibility just now. Some of the best don’t fit; some of them don’t. And some of them—McLuhan, for example—do their damnedest to send us searching for them in the wrong quadrant.

    The Canadian was right about Marx winding down along with the importance of the dynamo (a Ruskin schtick anyway) , but everybody’s favorite Nazi, Martin Heidegger, foresaw in 1943 (!) what even McLuhan didn’t see coming still years later: that the world would be awed and cowed by a great scientific breakthrough that in truth would not be a creation of science at all but rather of engineering—a machine capable of nothing more than retrieval. (I certainly hope that Prof. H. wasn’t corresponding with Prof. Turing at the time.)

    And in my own defense, I’m not beating the Wright horse; all along I’ve simply said that there was a horse there and that it was going to take a beating. There are other horses now that the Wright one is beat to death, but I’m not into horse-beating. I want to understand, if possible, the larger meaning of all the animal cruelty. Which is to say that I want more than a mere label, e.g. “swiftboating”. What’s really going on here?

  20. Azmanon says:

    Pete Wolf you’re one of the few I’ve read who openly considers the role of scaling in democratic (and also social) systems. If any further discussion or examples can be had on this issue I’m for it.

  21. Jon Taplin says:

    Azmanon (and Pete)- I am also intrigued by this notion of scaling and coordination between local and global. Is there a role for technologies of cooperation in this ?

    Hugo-I too would like to understand what is behind the MSM’s willing participation in teaching the young man from Chicago to wait his turn?

  22. Christopher Scott Rice says:

    Jon – I think what John Robb is currently thinking about in terms of the Resilient Community over at his Global Guerrillas blog is an important step toward thinking about how to scale and coordinate between the local and global.

    Interestingly, Robb is thinking about not only technologies of cooperation, but also technologies of localization, such as personal fabricators, local energy production and distribution, etc.

    Scaling for a more sustainable and humane globalization requires thinking about technologies of cooperation and technologies of localization. I suspect that for globalization to succeed, localization will have to be realized not as its opposite number but as its complement. This will also take getting beyond the ideological boundaries placed around globalization and localization by both the Left and the Right.

    As for Pete, I’m curious as to why he feels that coordination and centralized power are necessarily related? Perhaps I am misunderstanding his earlier comment, but I don’t quite understand “the necessity of proportionate centralized power.” Could Pete perhaps make a stronger argument for why centralized power is a necessity? Also, it begs the question of who gets to decide what is the proper proportion. Not to get all Foucault on you, but doesn’t centralization of power of any sort imply domination of some by others?

    The notion of resilience being explored by Robb, Cascio and others is perhaps a first step for thinking a way out of this dilemma.

  23. Azmanon says:

    Technologies can only help facilitate cooperation. Finding the global need for the actual cooperation is another issue.

    I would rather use the term centralized authority than Pete’s “centralized power” as a means for regulation. Authority does not imply power, but a means that can justify the use of power and in many cases seems necessary. If such a thing as decentralized authority exists then we may have a way to regulate how power is used and why.

    I think this blog is a good example for both issues. The technology works fairly well given that all the hardware functions properly (and the software is even “free” and open source). Even though all the contributors may not agree on what is being discussed we are still in fact cooperating. The main question here is then about who or what is the authority. Is it the aim of Jon to be an authority or is the authority relegated to a sort of collective opinion stemming from the discussions? Its a fairly open question at this point since there is no stated goal (making the discussion easier).

    But again, we’re talking about scaling which means the structure of cooperation will look different when dealing with 60, 6,000, 6 million or 6 billion people. We have to look at how technologies of cooperation would function at every level. Take the internet for example. We know it works well somewhere in the middle, but is the a need for it with 6 thousand people and can a sustainable infrastructure be built for 6 billion?

  24. Hugo says:

    “Hugo-I too would like to understand what is behind the MSM’s willing participation in teaching the young man from Chicago to wait his turn?”

    Jon: Me too. That nails the question. Why would this silliness be the only story line on which the MSM has been in front of the voters? They’ve been two or three steps behind at every other step. And they do not vet anymore. They just don’t. They let the new media do their gumshoeing for them—which is reprehensible—or else they rely on the feedings they get from the campaigns themselves. They thought nothing of subverting the presidential debate process. I don’t get it. The old rules don’t apply at all. It doesn’t make sense if you try to pin it on GOP attack machines. It doesn’t even make sense in the context of the corporate consolidation of the MSM. And the MSM mess goes way beyond the pressure to entertain in the context of proliferating outlets.

    I’m stumped. But something smells really rotten.

  25. Ken Ballweg says:

    Or a system that has become so self referential that that it covers itself, toping itself, toping itself until that becomes the story.

    Cable and blog “reporters” are actors playing roles to generate eyeballs, and clicks. The sad thing is that volume (audio and quantity) pass for proof of the importance of message. I don’t think the media as under control of it’s masters as even they think. It’s become as much about the money as the political agenda of the owners.

  26. Hugo says:

    I’m sorely tempted to finger the J-schools, frankly. (I’m limiting my thinking to the “Press”, as distinguished from slow journalism, e.g. of the belletristic variety, and as distinguished from the entertainment industry.) I mean, maybe the field’s credentialism—which after all is still a young development—was a mistake, like the MBA craze of the early-’80s. Were faulty training and recruitment at the heart of the problem, it could be addressed; much as Pershing modernized military training. But the problem is so obviously more complicated than faulty training. Moreover, its remediation seems pointless, as the notion of the Press already conjures a kind of artifact, like the cavalry charge.

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