3/03/2013

Charting Ideology in Two Dimensions


The website Political Compass offers a two-dimensional template for charting political ideology that promises to improve on the standard 'liberal vs. conservative' binary model that saturates contemporary discourse.  Here's a glimpse of the visual design from their website:


The X-axis is representative of the economic spectrum, while the Y-axis indicates social issues.  The website, the developers of which remain anonymous, correlates the far left with collectivism, or communism, and the far right with neo-liberalism, or libertarianism; this is the proposed spectrum in terms of statist intervention per the economy.  The top of the chart is analogous to fascism, and the bottom with anarchism; this would be the breakdown of social issues with respect to personal liberties.

One interesting feature of this model is the potential classification of political attitudes by quadrant location.  Nearly all contemporary political discourse, for instance, seems to be firmly rooted in the blue quadrant.

I'm not, however, satisfied with the axial distinctions, since the X-axis implies relative readings of state authority despite vested executive state power being the major focus of the Y-axis.  To ameliorate possible confusion, I would like to propose an alternate schema to amend this.

We'll keep the authoritarian designation at the top of the chart, and pair it with individualism at the bottom.  I intend this distinction to better express the central question of power centralization.  Are individuals empowered to actualize their natural freedoms for good or ill?  Or is that something arbitrated by an instituted state?

Since the Y-axis incorporates a degree of government intervention, we can do our best to eliminate that from the X-axis altogether.  We can instead reference the philosophical underpinnings of economic theory.  The far right is represented by propertarian-libertarianism, in which sovereignty of private property is assumed, and its pursuit considered beneficial through competition and innovation.  Opposite, on the far left, I have put economic-egalitarianism as the opponent doctrine, in which emphasis is placed on an entropic ordering of resource distribution where uniformity, guaranteeing relative security, is preferred.


An alternate way of framing the X-axis dynamic is through a discussion of alterity.  The far right and far left are thus self-regarding and other-regarding, respectively.

I believe this is comprehensive enough to begin identifying political ideology by quadrant.

The red quadrant above, in the Northwest, I have as tending toward state socialism.  The communism of Stalin, for instance, would fall into this category.

The purple Southeast quadrant, opposite state socialism, corresponds with market anarchism, in which the functions of the state are privately operated on a contractual basis.

The blue sector, in the Northeast, represents a tendency toward corporate capitalism.  As mentioned previously, most governments appear to be moving toward this outcome, including the United States.  Under corporate capitalism, state policy considerations are subsumed by large business interests propped by a populace whom, it is presumed, participate as "trickle-down" beneficiaries through willful perpetuation of those interests.

The green sector, in the Southwest, represents something rather enigmatic, as it does not seem amenable to either the idea of government or preoccupation with economic growth.  It is this sector I tentatively intuit as tending toward neo-potlatchism, or radical liberality.  The idea is an other-regarding economic model based on voluntary associations wherein the individual is empowered to express freedom through volitional acts of shared generosity.  Understanding this particular quadrant may pose some difficulty since it seems to lie opposite our current trajectory.

It does, however, seem to be the one most interesting to me.  Even taking the Political Compass test online exposed a predilection for this particular sector (though the questions themselves may be phrased and/or weighted sub-optimally--it's not entirely clear):


Expect me to commentate further on the ideological implications of radical liberality in the near future.  But for now, I would advise a middle path.  The center of this chart is most certainly representative of the position of the skeptic.

4 comments:

Bruce Lee Phunzjyn said...

The green quadrant is very reminiscent of the gift economy and non-commodification prinicipals of Burning Man, amongst others. I would also argue that corporatism as practiced in America has been trending blue away from its purple roots and ideals.

Art Novice said...

Yeah it might be tempting to make reference to visible exceptions to the ubiquitous profit-based economy, by pointing at things like the emphasis placed on gift-giving for the weeklong Burning Man event.

The problem with this is that Burning Man still relies on the profit-model to exist, at its core, much in the same way our conceptions of holidays like Christmas rely on the profit-motive in their current state. In order to successfully participate in Burning Man, one needs to fulfill a set of criteria, such as acquiring enough resources to purchase supplies, transportation, and entrance vouchers. The principle of radical self-reliance is therefore more in keeping with the American Dream than with the logic of the green quadrant, and seems to even mitigate the gift economy to some extent.

What I see as the critical issue is the widespread belief that wealth is materially expressed. Christmas thus becomes about buying the latest corporate offerings because one has no time or ability to compose unique or nonmaterial gifts. It can even be argued that mass produced "gifts" only serve to suborn the individual will by preparing the recipient for immersion in the hustle after "success" material. This is only exacerbated by the profit-logic of strategies like "incremental dissemination" in which "deliberately downgraded versions" of products are offered.

Contrast with this the measure of wealth in radical liberality as a function of generosity, rather than in terms of accumulation-potential endemic to Western education, and you begin to see how the inception of Burning Man looks more like a compensatory performance symptomatic of a profound psychological imbalance in the collective unconscious than the formulation of a complete alternative system.

Your observation about political trends is quite probably correct, in the historic analysis. I may comment more on this in the future.

Bruce Lee Phunzjyn said...

Point taken, although I tend to see Burning Man more as a social experiment trending green with a purple base, definitely in the bottom row of the y axis, at any rate. Anarcho-communitarianism or a loose tribal confedracy (Do-ocracy).

Art Novice said...

For sure, I think it's potentially very valuable in that sense. There are traces of authoritarianism (just because it has not been disengaged completely from the surrounding federal milieu) due to the presence of law enforcement and regulations regarding entry and exodus, driving, and so forth. But I agree it does offer a unique opportunity for many participants to experiment with alternatives to socially constructed and maintained conventions; in fact, if enough people experience that aspect of it there's a pretty good chance that can affect what those same participants invariably conceive as default culture.

But I maintain a fair bit of skepticism on the matter just because I can detect a degree of homeostatic symbiosis.

To me, something like neo-potlatchism represents such a profound challenge to comprehension because it runs counter to our commonsense narrative assumptions regarding survival and sanity.

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