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[personal profile] flewellyn
So, as some of you who have read me might know, I'm rather political. I care a lot about various political causees, such as social welfare, women's rights, GLBT rights, racism, class struggle, civil liberties, and so on. This is no secret of mine, and I've never been shy about expressing my opinions.

More to the point, however, political theory and philosophy has long been a passion of mine: one of my college majors was political science, and I have been interested in not just the issues, but the fundamental mechanisms and philosophies of politics since I was a child. In that time, I've noticed a few things.

One of the things I've noticed is the tendency in our political discourse to "flatten" the broad array of political beliefs in the world into a one-dimensional "spectrum", the familiar "Left-Center-Right" spectrum. It's an hisotrical relic of the first French Revolution, and I admit, a convenient shorthand for some belief systems.

But I have come to believe very strongly that, ultimately, this "political spectrum" is a harmful mental framework. This is for several reasons.

First of all, obviously, it's limiting. The notion that political beliefs should naturally align along a one-dimensional spectrum, when talking about a four-dimensional world, does not make a great deal of sense. I have seen some efforts in the blogosphere to correct this with two-dimensional graphs, but this again is limiting, because the "dimensions" are determined by whoever frames the graph.

There is also the problem that, in the "classic" spectrum, it's not entirely clear what's being measured on the axis to begin with. The nearest I can make out is that the spectrum represents "degree of change/progress desired". That's not very helpful, to be honest; it's simultaneously vague and overly narrow.

But the real problem, the reason that I hauled out "Considered Harmful" for the title of this essay, is this: I believe the political "spectrum" gives bad ideas too much legitimacy.

Schools of political thought such as orthodox Marxism, anarchism, fascism, ultranationalism, fundamentalism, and such, are simply placed on a "spectrum" as "left" or "right", when they should be placed in the trash can of history as "just plain wrong". Similarly, legitimate schools such as democratic socialism, sociocapitalism, minarchism, noninternventionism, and such, get lumped in with these bad ideas as well. On the "left", you find a cluster of philosophies which have some few characteristics in common, but are so wildly different in most other ways that they might as well exist in separate universes; the "right" is the same, except (in my opinion) for the proportion of good ideas to bad.

The "center", of course, becomes some kind of "compromise" ground, where these philosophies are supposed to somehow melt together into some "moderate" whole, which does not make a ton of sense on its own. Consider: a political philosophy will, naturally, prescribe certain policies, and proscribe others, in order to achieve its stated goal. While it's reasonable to try synthesis of two or more philosophies, you can't do this when some of them are diametrically opposed to others. For instance, it makes very little sense to try and blend anarchism with fascism, or sociocapitalism with minarchism.

So, what do I propose, if using a spectrum, or even a two-dimensional graph, is not a good idea? Well, I believe it's more useful to discuss political philosophies according to several questions, which do not necessarily fit on any "spectrum", but at least allow a basis for comparison. The questions I ask are these: what is the goal, that is, what kind of society does this philosophy want to bring about? Who is on top in that society, and who is left out? How are resources allocated? How are decisions made, and who makes them? How flexible is this society, and how does it deal with dissidents and elements that just don't fit? Are new ideas welcomed, or suppressed? What historical examples do we have of societies that tried to embody this philosophy?

Using these questions, I think, it makes the political landscape make more sense. For instance, I can discuss the difference between a Marxist and a democratic socialist, or a sociocapitalist (think FDR for this one) versus a corporatist, or a fascist versus a fundamentalist. You can also say to someone who espouses what they term "liberal" or "conservative" beliefs, "Sorry, that doesn't mesh with my beliefs because of XYZ", rather than "well, I'm not THAT liberal/conservative". And, finally, you can say to someone "that's not leftist/right wing, that's just WRONG, and here's why."

AND, you can see parallels and similarities between groups that the traditional "spectrum" puts on opposite ends, such as Marxists and Rand-style Libertarians.

Date: 2007-05-14 03:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pope-guilty.livejournal.com
Only liberalism, conservatism, and weak-ass, defanged pussified socialism (that is really capitalism with the necessary social programs to keep it propped up) are viable systems.

Good luck with that idea.

Date: 2007-05-14 05:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
As we've seen in recent years, conservatism (as it's currently defined) is not viable.

Date: 2007-05-14 06:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pope-guilty.livejournal.com
Judging by this post, I doubt your capacity for evaluating the viability of political programs.

Date: 2007-05-14 07:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
If you're going to be a jerk, I'm not going to discuss this with you.

Date: 2007-05-14 06:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pope-guilty.livejournal.com
I'd also like to know how orthodox Marxism and anarchism can be thrown in the dustbin of history. Doesn't a theory generally require, I dunno, testing?

Also, "noninternventionism" as viable policy. Woodrow Wilson would like to have words with you.

Date: 2007-05-14 07:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] xuincherguixe.livejournal.com
I think this came up in an earlier post. But basically both systems seem to think that in the absence of a government interfering in things, people will magically not form any sort of new authority structure.

You know, rather than be faced with new one that is less afraid to do whatever it wants.

Date: 2007-05-14 04:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyneidas.livejournal.com
Feudalism seems to be a very common ground state.

Date: 2007-05-16 08:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pope-guilty.livejournal.com
That isn't anarchism's argument at all, though it's one of the most common strawmen used against it. We believe that people will choose to self-govern if given the chance.

Date: 2007-05-16 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
And how will they do so? How will they arrange for collective decisionmaking? Because, y'know, it's sometimes necessary. So how would they handle this?

Date: 2007-05-16 09:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
That's not a terrible idea. Doesn't scale up well, though.

And it requires a heavy investment of time. I mean, I'd love to be involved in a direct democracy, but I have to work.

Date: 2007-05-16 09:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pope-guilty.livejournal.com
It's cute how people think that they're entitled to only spend an hour every four years engaging in politics. It's also depressing, being an example of how authority fucks up your ability to reason and your sense of entitlement.

Date: 2007-05-16 10:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
Now hold on just a damn minute. I didn't imply any such thing.

I asked how the business of government would be accomplished in a system where every person had to directly participate in the decision making. It was an honest question; I am quite politically active myself, and I would say that I devote about 30-40 hours a week of my time to political pursuits, including activism, communicating with my representatives, and just plain staying informed.

That's a decent chunk of time, you know. I don't begrudge it one bit, I do it voluntarily. However, this is just me acting in the role of "concerned and active citizen".

If I was required to be a decision maker? Well, I imagine that the "communicating with representatives" time would go away, but that still leaves a good deal of time spent on pushing for causes at the local citizens' assembly, speaking and arguing, voting on things...when would people do all of this?

The information age might (repeat: MIGHT) give us something of an edge, in that people could voice their opinions more quickly. But in a direct democracy, we'd still need to assemble the citizens' assembly once a week at least to discuss and vote on issues. How would you see this working? The assembly would need leaders of some kind, even if they were only facilitators to keep the meetings from becoming chaotic.

So, c'mon, I'm asking you honest questions here. How would this WORK?


Date: 2008-03-22 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meta44.com (from livejournal.com)
I don't think it is a sense of entitlement that compels people to participate for only 1 hour every 4 years. I think that one hour of participation is in spite the the over arching sense of disenfranchisement they feel with regards to the political system. I think for a lot of people voting is a ritual without content. Something they feel they should do but no longer really understand why or understand exactly what they are doing.

The political system , as controlled by "authority", has a interest in people being disengaged but not TOO disengaged. Saddam Hussein thought it at least somewhat beneficial to have elections even though they were a complete fraud.

To refocus i'm saying that low and purely ritualistic participation does not come from a sense entitlement but from a sense of disenfranchisement. Think of the lapse Catholic who just keeps on showing up to church on christmas and easter. The person is no longer participating in the Church (a perfect example of a highly authoritarian structure) so only participates in the bare minimum of rituals so feel like a member of some kind of community even if that community has last all meaning or relevance.

Date: 2007-05-14 04:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyneidas.livejournal.com
People enjoy complexity to different degrees, and in different areas of their lives. Naturally, those who like it in any particular area would be a minority. I do believe that most people can be made to understand complexity in their non-favored fields, but until and unless we have political science classes in the regular curriculum of the schools, and starting early enough to hit the ones who might be dropping out before completion, most people aren't going to be made to take the effort with politics as a whole. Maybe they'll choose to develop a deeply grounded understanding of their own perspective, but the whole landscape? Don't think so.

Date: 2007-05-14 06:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
Maybe they'll choose to develop a deeply grounded understanding of their own perspective, but the whole landscape? Don't think so.

To be honest, I would be happy enough if people DID choose to develop a deeply grounded understanding of their own perspective. Too many people just don't THINK.

Date: 2007-06-06 08:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] epa-flip.livejournal.com
For the thoughtcrimes of this entry and the phrase "creepier than a Fred Phelps Christmas album" you are sentanced to being friended on my LJ. May God have mercy on your soul.

Date: 2007-06-06 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
You think that's bad, go check out some of my back posts.

Date: 2007-06-06 09:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] epa-flip.livejournal.com
Seeing as I'm bored at work, with no samples to run, and the prep work already done for tomorrow, I think I shall!


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