Political Compass Project at the Zoo

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I participated in this because I though it would be fun and because I planned to blog about it later. I'm not sure when (or whether) I'll get to that at greater length, but since I promised a return link to Sandor at the Zoo, I figured I'd oblige him now.

I remember seeing two-axis grids like this for the first time back in the late '80's. They were frequently used by Libertarians to show you that you weren't really a conservative or a liberal, but -- surprise -- a Libertarian! This results from the fact that each broad political coalition in America is inconsistent. Liberals favor (less and less it seems today) personal liberty, but they also want economic controls. Conservatives, economic liberty, but governmental enforcement of religious mores. Most Americans, to put it in the terms of this test, want the government out of their bedrooms and out of their wallets. This is a consequence of the fact that Americans are on the whole an individualistic, freedom-loving people. At the root of both the economic and social preferences of Americans is the desire to have one's individual rights respected by the government. Libertarians claim to support "freedom," but don't even go so far as I just did (which is saying a lot) to explain even what "freedom" is. They were simply trying to take advantage of the known preferences of Americans and the known inconsistencies of conservatism and liberalism to pass themselves off as the right party for the individualist. The problem is, there's no such thing at the moment and won't be for quite some time. But that's a blog for another day.

At any rate, I am sure that tests like these are used by political organizations of all kinds to gauge public sentiment for other purposes. So my question is this: is this test really all that good for measuring where someone's attitudes fall along two scales that are fairly widely accepted in today's political discourse? I'm not so sure, especially about the "Authoritarian/Libertarian" axis.

Having said that, I take issue with two particular aspects of the test: (1) Many of the questions (which are hypercorrectly called "propositions") have no good answer to a thinking man. (2) The social axis seems pretty goofy. My scores were 7.1 economic and -1.6 social. I advocate laissez-faire capitalism for crying out loud! I should have been a 10. But one proposition was: "It's a sad reflection on our society that something as basic as drinking water is now a bottled, branded consumer product. " I "disagreed" vs. "strongly disagreed" with this. As it was in the "economic views" section of the test, I imagine this reduced my score on that axis. But this is not a solely economic question. Let me just come right out and say this: I think it's a waste of money to buy bottled water. So yes, I think it says that our society as a whole are suckers for buying bottled water. This doesn't make me any less of a capitalist: just someone who doesn't go along with the "wisdom" of the crowd. I'm not calling for an end to this industry, am I? There were a few other questions of that sort that I couldn't answer strongly either way and for similar reasons.

On to the more serious flaw: the social axis. Proposition: "All people have their rights, but it is better for all of us that different sorts of people should keep to their own kind." I mildly agreed with that, thinking of how immigrants, for example, seem to prefer the company of other immigrants on the whole. But do I favor legal segregation? No. Would a redneck enjoy the company of an opera aficionado? Probably not. Let them go their separate ways. This question has nothing to do with politics. Consider this proposition: "There are no savage and civilised peoples; there are only different cultures." I totally disagree. That doesn't make me more "authoritarian." Or this: "When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things." Which way does the wind blow on that one? (Lefties seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders: Maybe the "libertarian" answer is to dwell on unpleasantness. But then, what about the lefties who use drugs? This question is very nearly the basis for an entire parlor game!) "Abstract art that doesn't represent anything shouldn't be considered art at all." Again, I totally agree. How does that make me more "authoritarian"? (Oh, right! Freedom-loving hippies and academics are supposed to like it, or pretend to everyone, including themselves that they do.) Anyway, I'm a -1.6 social despite the fact that I favor legalization of marijuana, homosexual unions, and a strict separation of church and state. As well, there were assorted loony-left type propositions concerning the environment and paranoia about globalization, and I'm sure my answers to these also skewed me to the "authoritarian" side. But since environmentalism and anti-capitalism both represent threats to individual freedom, these factors are weighted the wrong way. In other words, while it seems easier to scale someone's opinions on economic issues, it is apparent that the oddities and remaining virtues of the left have been conflated to cause the social axis to place true libertarians close to the center.

Anyway, I'd be interested in seeing how others do on the test and what they think about it. Feel free to take it and comment on it below or email me. Copyright considerations preclude posting any more than ten of the propositions (as they call their "questions"), so refrain from posting any of the actual propositions. (I asked.) As a courtesy to Sandor, I'll send you there via his blog. Scroll down nearly all the way.

-- CAV

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