23 December 2007 by Published in: in my life 1 comment

Periodically, every 1.5 to 2 years, I take the Political Compass test. I’ve considered blogging about it before, because I find it a very useful tool for examining my own politics, and figure others would find it useful for examining theirs. Then I let the negative arguments in my head tell me no one really cares to examine their own politics, and it’s just this oddball habit that only I have because of my weird ex-patriate upbringing. Any one who cares has surely already seen it, right? I decide I should be blogging about cute kittens instead. Or parfaits (“You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. Have you ever met a person, you say, ‘Let’s get some parfait,’ they say, ‘Hell no, I don’t like no parfait’? Parfaits are delicious.”). Or, you know, one of a thousand petty annoyances of my day. But not politics, no one wants to hear it.

But truly, the political compass is smart work. They’ve set out a grid instead of a spectrum for classification. And the test is a bunch of ethical statements, and if at least one of them doesn’t make you pause and wish you had some third alternative that wasn’t agreeing or disagreeing, I declare you a replicant. Their grid, with social and economic axes, makes sense to me in ways that left/right doesn’t. Well, I don’t recall if I’ve ever posted my results before, but I’m sure it will surprise no one to know I’ve always come up in the lower left quadrant: I’m an individualist (thank you, Heinlein and Rosseau and evangelical protestant upbringing!) who subscribes to libertarian social views and I’m also an economic socialist (yes, I believe the state should regulate the economy. I know this declaration is making you free-marketers foam at the mouth. Deal with it.) I’m into voluntary. I’m into collectivism.

So there I’ve always been, hanging out in the lower left quadrant, pretty much alone in American politics. I’ve copied a graph of the current 2008 primary candidates from the site. As you can see, all except Gravel and Kucinich are upper right quadranters. It’s not a question of whether the bulk of the candidates are socially authoritarian, it’s a question of how authoritarian they are. Apparently, Alan Keyes is going to be in your bedroom telling you when to turn out the lights every night, whereas, Ron Paul, the least authoritarian of the bunch, is probably not going to bust into your bedroom but once a year or so and apologize on his way out.

Political Compass US Primaries 2008

Have I mentioned that I love Kucinich? Possibly not by name, but he’s the mystery “candidate I would have voted for with a skip in my step” in this rant about Democrats and third parties, from 2004. Sadly, I don’t know who Gravel is, but I’m going to look him up after I’m done here.

At any rate, the reason I went back and took the political compass test again recently was because my friend John just took the test and blogged about it. And lo and behold, he is on the lower left quadrant, just as I am. What do John and I have in common? Well, we’re friends, but we’ve had very few political conversations. We’re in the same writer’s group but he tends to write poetry and I tend not to. We are both spiritually oriented people who think a lot about theology and religion, but he’s Jewish and I’m Christian. We both live in St. Louis (maybe it’s something in the water?).

I took the test again. I’ve moved even further to the left since I last took it, a couple of years ago. I am now, according to the test, practically a communist.
Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: -8.62
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.10
Moving, moving to the leftI can’t say I wasn’t a little shocked. I am comfortable with being socialist, sure. Socialism makes sense. It’s practical and Scandinavian, like Ikea is practical and Scandinavian. But communism? Isn’t that the territory of extremists? As I told my friend John, if I were any further to the left, they’d have to add squares on, just for me. I don’t know if this is reactionary on my part but I suppose I can be grateful not to be living during the McCarthyist era. I’ll cop to a contrarian bent. The spectrum of American politics is so narrow it chafes.

I’m interested in tracking my own political changes over time. I have noticed shifts in myself and in others, but I sometimes find that people think their current political position is the only logical one, and therefore one they’ve always held. This can apply to stuff other than politics of course. Everyone has experienced someone saying they’ve always liked something you know they didn’t or that they’ve never liked something you shared together. My guess is that it’s a fiction of the cognitive self, who seeks to unify the instances of self through time by constructing a narrative, a permanence. If my guess is right (and it’s just that, a guess) then this peculiar short-sightedness is part of the human condition. We all do it. It’s a beam in your own eye issue.

Helps to lay everything out, though. To self examine. Keeps one honest.

As you probably guessed from my regularly used online nickname (Anarkey), I once leaned strongly toward anarchy as a political philosophy, particularly as a teen and in college. Then I lost some naiveté regarding other people. I say some, because I suspect a large number of people I interact with see me as fundamentally naive. I’m actually ok with that, so long as people respect that naive != stupid and give me the benefit of the unaffected and natural bent of the word as opposed to the lack of wisdom bent. So I realized people are a – idiots and b – evil and so alas anarchy remains a utopian ideal like unto the kingdom of heaven…not of this earth, in other words. I still hew strongly to individualistic ideals and personal liberty drawn from the anarchic tradition, but I believe the greater social circle (the economy, for example) should be rigorously controlled.

I think what caused the big shift leftward for me in the last couple of years is that, in general, I increasingly have trouble with American held notions about property. Katrina shed a lot of light into the dark corner of property as notationally of higher value than human life in our society, particularly if that human life is black and/or poor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to stand up and declare all property is theft. Nor, for that matter, that all life is sacred. I don’t object to ownership of land (or other physical objects) for their own sake. I’m fine with people owning land, it just doesn’t seem to be intrinsically logical or necessary. One of the interesting statistics that has taken up a lot of my imagining and thinking time lately (both for future fiction and for geopolitics) is the U.N. estimate that by 2030 half of the world’s population will be living in slums. How does bargaining for pieces of territory make sense when fully half the world cannot hope to participate in the exchange? That disenfranchisement seems enormous to me. And dangerous. You have to have participation in the system for it to work. I did not believe Neuwirth’s 1 in 7 people are squatters stat when I first heard it a couple of years ago, but if it’s true (and I haven’t found the counter to it), then clearly the system we’ve set up to demarcate property does not work, and it’s pointless to pretend it does.

Conventional wisdom says that as people gain property, or a stake, then they become more fiscally conservative and more entrenched in the status quo. Usually this corresponds with aging. Nothing like your parents dying and willing you the farm to make you against the estate tax, right? So it’s interesting to me that I seem to be going in the opposite direction. I haven’t run out and sold my house or anything, but I do feel increasingly less strongly that property is an inviolate right. I wonder if, in reaction to future events, I will change my mind again, and whether I’ll turn more socially authoritarian or slide back to the right economically (though I’d have to slide a long, long way to ever be a free-marketeer). I find it a curious notion that, in general, American voters seem to view someone with a long congressional record which shifts on issues over time suspect. I would view such a candidate as intrinsically more trustworthy. It shows they are involved in their moment. Geopolitical situations change. I expect politicians, especially if they’ve had long careers, to change their mind about stuff as they live and experience and learn new things. If they don’t ever shift on any issue, isn’t that more scary than if they do? Doesn’t that mean they approach every problem with a prior notion of what the solution is based on their views instead of examining the issue and its various angles?

Meanwhile, there I am, all alone on the left, entertaining crazy ideas like the redistribution of property. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the tale of how I turned into a communist while I wasn’t looking.

So here’s my challenge to you. Go take the test. Report your scores, here in the comments, or on your own blog and put the url in your link here (please remember, more than two urls gets you discarded as spam, and the comment function urlifies anything starting with http://). Reflect and react to the results; let me know if you’ve seen a shift in recent years if you’ve taken the test before. And for bonus points, see if you can find someone out there that’s further to the left on the economic scale than I am. Then I’ll feel less like one lone voice crying in the wilderness.


Tue 05th Feb 2008 at 10:12 am

I’m pretty much where you are. Maybe a little further right and down, but not much.

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