Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Political Spectrum?

Chart from Kevin Drum that he thinks explains a lot about American politics.

I wonder about this. It is true that those psychological tests show "openness to change" as the most salient difference between conservatives and liberals. But openness to what sort of change? I suspect that I would fall in the middle on this chart, but I find that in political terms that puts me on the American left. The change I fear is the kind that libertarians and pro-business Republicans like Paul Ryan want, this brave new world in which we all have to be Change Agents who market ourselves and struggle our way to the best slot we can find on a grimly steep curve of inequality, all the while planning our own retirements, finding our own health insurance, choosing our own schools, and so on. Brown people moving into my neighborhood doesn't bother me, but dissolving the public schools into a network of charters weirds me out a little.

Somehow in America libertarians have mostly gotten sorted onto the right with the Trump voters. Intellectually this makes no sense to me, but I suppose it could be that some people fear the government as the really dangerous agent of change – school busing, Move to Opportunity, etc. I think that is short-sighted, because really it is the alliance of capitalism and science that has remade the world. And over the next twenty years Artificial Intelligence will change our lives a lot more than immigration.

4 comments:

David said...

Hear, hear. I've long thought that attitudes toward "change" were a poor determinant by which to simplify political divisions.

Musing on this, it strikes me that one factor that may explain which half of a spectrum one fits on is which extreme one finds most unacceptable. If, for example, you find "stone racists" absolutely unacceptable, but can't quite work up the same hostility to the Occupy crowd (even if you find the latter's ideas wrong and even stupid), then you probably fit somewhere on the liberal spectrum.

I also wonder if there isn't some sort of instinctive, tribal sorting mechanism at work that may be almost impossible to articulate effectively in words. There's a certain kind of anti-governmentism that seems to fit on the right, and that's been labeled libertarianism. There's also a kind of anti-governmentism that seems different from the first kind, and to fit on the left, and we call that anarchism. I'm not saying the instincts or whatever factors lie behind these categorizations are necessarily correct--but they are important and worthy of attention.

Stuart B said...

As a European, I am reminded of a comment by the blessed Gore Vidal that American politics consists of one party with two right wings. But of course charting political attitudes is multidimensional - hence the wondering over a simple vector classification. My favourite SIMPLE chart is two-dimensional with one axis being individualist/communitarian and the other authoritarian/anarchist. This can at least catch the robber-barons of the high-capitalist right (but sadly does not cover the fact they are authoritarian in attitude to the lumpen proletariat) and the dippy-hippy movements scattered throughout the last hundred years (though they are authoritarian towards the gods of capitalism - The Corporations). Keeps social commentators and academics in employment I guess...

leif said...

this is why i frequently use the tool at politicalcompass [dot] org, which demystifies so many things. i wish this one simple test (and its related knowledge of political bent) would be required reading for everyone who wants to talk politics.

David said...

I confess I wonder about the capacity of even two-dimensional diagrams to represent our real political divisions and alliances. Many American liberals, for example, are probably not that troubled when the federal government's coercive power is used to enforce civil and voting rights for minorities, or to force companies to conform to environmental regulations. Does that make them "authoritarian" or libertarian"? Likewise for rightists who may not be that troubled if liberty means corporations are free to treat their employees or customers badly--are those rightists libertarian or authoritarian? Or is it all really about a tribal preference for whose liberty and whose authority you happen to identify with (or be bothered less by)?