Redefining the Political Spectrum (Version 2.1)

23 01 2011

A slight revision of my recent redefinition of the political spectrum along psychological lines. I’ve replaced the Beautiful-Safe World axis with the simpler Safe-Dangerous World. The safe-dangerous spectrum is already talked about quite a bit in the literature, particularly concerning Bob Altermeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale, so I should stick with that.

So here’s the updated chart:

The x axis represents the extent to which an individual perceives the world as a safe or dangerous place (which can scale to the world-at-large, their society or even their local community – with political attitudes possibly varying for each).

The y axis represents the extent to which an individual perceives the world as being just, such that someone gets what they deserve, either good or bad. If reward/punishment are perceived to be the product of luck or randomness, that’s an unjust world. If you live and breathe (and see the world through) the Protestant work ethic, you see a just world.

The ideologies located on the diagram are those that appeal to individuals at that location. Each ideology might be defined in terms different from safe/just world, but ultimately, I’d suggest they’re responding to the concerns of people that hold that particular worldview at that location in the chart.

Note, I also added a couple of new entries:

Utopianism (high Safe world; high Unjust world): by “utopianism” I mean the view that we can become a society where everything works perfectly, and everyone will cooperate for mutual benefit without defection. This isn’t strictly a political ideology, just an example of extremist thinking, in this case optimistic about the world around us and optimistic about human nature to a fault. You see flashes of it when people say “why can’t everyone just get along” and when people sign off with “peace.”

Honour culture (high Dangerous world; mid Unjust world): those who adhere to an honour culture view, particularly when they aren’t required to, see the world as a dangerous place and other people as potentially untrustworthy. As such, reputation management is crucial. To earn a good reputation is hard when there are many who would fake a good reputation in order to exploit others. Being slapped with a bad rep effectively makes one an outsider in their own community, almost an ostracism. Yet it’s a system and mentality that emphasises community standards that ought to be followed, even to the letter at the cost of the spirit.

Also, talking about Right-Wing Authoritarianism, I’d say high RWAs reside in large bubble on the far right of the chart, centred on Authoritarianism. High Social Dominance Orientation (Sidanius, Pratto et al.) would be in a bubble in the top right-hand corner of the chart. I’ll add them to the chart – when I can figure out how to do so in an aesthetically non-disruptive way…

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17 responses

23 01 2011
Paul

I’m really enjoying this series of posts. I think that it is a very good, simple model with a lot of explanatory value. I think that it might help the sort of feedback loops that keep some nations poor and make others prosperous. For example, I think that most of the difference between Italy and Sweden is rooted in vastly different emotional reactions to the world, which are probably justified that Sweden is a very safe place where one is treated fairly, and Italy isn’t. Anyway, a fun topic to think about.

24 01 2011
GTChristie

The type of analysis this is (or can become) has merit. Mapping psychological motivations to political persuasions is a fascinating idea several people have explored and it’s worth doing. It does invite quibbles (maybe even squabbles), though. To make it work in a scientific sense requires a huge reservoir of insight about motivations, one one hand, and (ideally, to be “scientific”) an equally huge empirical dataset to correlate the inner states (reported or tabulated needs/wants/perceptions) with the associated political persuasions. In principle, this should be possible in a lifetime or two of work (LOL). In the meantime, the categorizations of “mental types” or “motive profiles” can be quite problematic and now you’ve got me wondering how much data already exists in studies that would help in the correlation …. hmmm….

I’ve linked my blogroll to this site after exploring it for awhile. I always appreciate competent philosophy, regardless of how much I agree with it. And I’ve found a lot here I agree with, so … thumbs up.

12 02 2011
Tom Rees

Some nice research from OKCupid showing that the best way to find out if your data is conservative or liberal (without asking them directly) is to ask “Do you prefer the people in your life to be simple or complex?”

http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-best-questions-for-first-dates/

11 04 2011
Francois Tremblay

Uh, what? Why is Anarchism on the top left? I am an Anarchist, but I definitely fit your definition of “utopianism,” minus your condescending attitude about it. And on your chart, I rate as a fascist (!!).

You seem to have defined Anarchists as people who believe the world as it is, is just. I’m sorry to tell you this is horribly false.

11 04 2011
Tim Dean

Hi Francois. Not sure if you read my previous post outlining what I’m trying to do here and the psychology at play. It’s pretty important to understanding the chart.

Maybe you can explain your conception of anarchism, and how you see yourself as landing on both utopianism and fascism on the chart. That would require you to see the world as both safe and dangerous simultaneously.

And if you disagree, how about suggesting an improvement to the chart.

11 04 2011
Francois Tremblay

It’s not “my conception” of Anarchism. Anarchism is, fundamentally, against hierarchies. This fact, coupled with the fact that most institutions that exist are hierarchical, must lead Anarchists to believe that the world is NOT “just.”

I believe that we can become a society where everyone cooperates for mutual benefit. This belief is based on historical fact as well as more than a century’s worth of studies on human nature. It is not “extremist thinking” or “optimism,” unless you think facts are “extremist.” But according to you, this makes me a “utopian,” which is different from “anarchist” for some reason.

And from your description of the axes, well… I certainly DON’T believe the world is just and that people get what they deserve, and I DON’T believe the world is safe. Which, from your graph, makes me a fascist. Even though I am an Anarchist. And I qualify for your definition of utopian.

An improvement to the chart? I don’t even understand how your chart is supposed to work. Whether people believe the world is just or safe doesn’t indicate anything about what they think needs to be done socially or politically to make it just or safe.

I guess the first thing I would do is label the whole top-left as “capital-democratic,” since that’s the current ideology in the Western world, and hence people who believe things are perfectly safe and just must therefore support it (at least, I assume that’s your reasoning: as I said, I don’t really see the point of classifying people in this way).

11 04 2011
Tim Dean

I’m not sure you’ve understood what I’m trying to achieve with this chart. I suggest you read the earlier post, then re-read this one. For example, I’m not suggesting that people want to make the world safe and just – they’re responding to whether they see it as being safe and/or just.

In sum, I’m suggesting people carry an implicit worldview that influences which political ideologies appeal to them. These worldviews don’t necessarily apply to all environments – so someone can believe their neighbourhood is safe but the wider world is hostile, thus being a ‘dove’ domestically and a ‘hawk’ abroad.

If someone believes the world to be dangerous, then hierarchical or authoritarian ideologies will appeal more. If they believe it to be just – meaning if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded, and if you misbehave, you’ll be punished – more libertarian policies will appeal.

Add safe to just – so people get what they deserve, and the world will provide – and you get an attitude that is opposed to hierarchy, authority and egalitarianism. That’s why I characterise anarchy to be close to libertarianism. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced I am.

Perhaps you’re more utopian, but you identify as anarchist. The anarchism with which I’m familiar is not communitarian. Utopianism is. Anarchism is more individualist and encourages rebelliousness, individual expression, anti-conformity etc.

And utopianism is extreme according to my chart – it’s the extreme safe-unjust world view. I also contest your ‘facts’ about human nature and utopianism. Perhaps you can point me at these studies. The ones I’m familiar with suggest utopianism is an unstable equilibrium that will almost inevitably be invaded by defectors, descending to a Nash equilibrium, or Hobbes’ “state of nature” – Ken Binmore has articulated this very well.

Also, I’m still not sure how you qualify as utopian and fascist, unless you’re talking about different environments.

11 04 2011
Francois Tremblay

“If someone believes the world to be dangerous, then hierarchical or authoritarian ideologies will appeal more. If they believe it to be just – meaning if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded, and if you misbehave, you’ll be punished – more libertarian policies will appeal. ”

Then you are just plain wrong. Anarchists believe both, and they are fundamentally anti-hierarchy and libertarian.

Your graph is based on invalid premises. Sorry.

“I also contest your ‘facts’ about human nature and utopianism. Perhaps you can point me at these studies.”

Pretty much every study done on human cooperation since Kropotkin argued that cooperation, not competition was the main drive of evolution. Read “The Brighter Side of Human Nature” and “No Contest” by Alfie Kohn for a good compendium of these studies, especially the first book.

“Also, I’m still not sure how you qualify as utopian and fascist, unless you’re talking about different environments.”

I already explained it to you. I fit your definition of “utopian” to a T, and I fit perfectly with “fascism” on your chart. (the world is unsafe, and the world is unjust).

11 04 2011
Tim Dean

A ha. Kropotkin. Now I think I understand where you’re coming from, and why I disagree with your characterisation of anarchism.

Kropotkin was as much communist as anarchist. I don’t see him as representing the ‘anarchism’ that I’m referring to in my chart, which is not unlike libertarianism – little/no government, everybody free to pursue their interests, trusting in people to cooperate spontaneously.

Kropotkin is also utopian in precisely the sense I’m critical of. Not only have Kropotkin’s views on evolutionary biology (i.e. overwhelmingly group selectionist) been overturned, but his political views would lead to a society that would be highly vulnerable to defection.

If you read more of my posts about my thesis, you’ll see that I’m very aware of the literature around the evolution of cooperation, as I am the evolution of self-interested inclinations. Kropotkin and his ilk overstated the former (which is why I’d place his utopianism in ‘safe world’), the Social Darwinists overstated the latter (hence ‘dangerous world’).

I still fail to see how you can consider yourself utopian and believe in “a society where everyone cooperates for mutual benefit” if you believe the world to be a dangerous place, which suggests you are pessimistic about human nature. Wouldn’t a society of spontaneous cooperation unregulated by a government collapse if we live in a dog-eat-dog world where everyone pursues their own self-interest?

Perhaps you can clarify your position. As I hope you can see, I’m interested in finding answers, not in being right. I value contrarian opinions if they can improve my theory.

11 04 2011
Francois Tremblay

“Not only have Kropotkin’s views on evolutionary biology (i.e. overwhelmingly group selectionist) been overturned”

Funny how an “overturned view” keeps being confirmed by scientific studies.

“but his political views would lead to a society that would be highly vulnerable to defection.”

I have no idea what your deduction is on that one. How does a society based on cooperation instead of competition lead to a society vulnerable to defections? Studies on game theory seem to argue completely against your point, but I’d like to hear exactly where this fallacy comes from.

“I still fail to see how you can consider yourself utopian and believe in “a society where everyone cooperates for mutual benefit” if you believe the world to be a dangerous place, which suggests you are pessimistic about human nature.”

I am not pessimistic about human nature. I told you already, I agree with Kropotkin. I also agree with Anarchist thinkers like Proudhon when they say property is the root of social evils (I believe Rousseau also said this, although he was not an Anarchist). It is not inborn.

“Wouldn’t a society of spontaneous cooperation unregulated by a government collapse if we live in a dog-eat-dog world where everyone pursues their own self-interest?”

Why? How do you think this would be brought about?

“Perhaps you can clarify your position. As I hope you can see, I’m interested in finding answers, not in being right. I value contrarian opinions if they can improve my theory.”

Your position mystifies me about as much.

11 04 2011
Tim Dean

Funny how an “overturned view” keeps being confirmed by scientific studies.

Statements like that are unhelpful without references (not to mention unhelpful in tone).

There are many studies that have challenged Kropotkin’s brand of group selection in the 1960s and 1970s (Dawkins, 1976; Maynard Smith, 1976; Williams, 1966) and more recently (West, 2007). The proponents of group selection today (DS Wilson, EO Wilson, Sober, Boyd) offer a different model, more often referring to multi-level selection, which acknowledges gene-level selection and kin-selection, or they emphasise cultural selection. As far as I’m aware, Kropotkin group selection is no longer a going concern in evolutionary biology circles.

And game theory is precisely what supports my notion that a society based on cooperation without some laws or policing is vulnerable to defection. It’s all in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Without laws and policing to change the payoff matrix – i.e. to make defection more costly – then the Nash equilibrium is to always defect.

I don’t doubt your convictions and your identification with anarchism. I just think you offer a somewhat confusing account of what anarchism is. Once again, I encourage you to read more of my blog so you can better understand where your views fit in to my framework.

11 04 2011
Francois Tremblay

“And game theory is precisely what supports my notion that a society based on cooperation without some laws or policing is vulnerable to defection. It’s all in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Without laws and policing to change the payoff matrix – i.e. to make defection more costly – then the Nash equilibrium is to always defect.”

I still don’t get your point. The cost of defection is the loss of all the benefits that were brought to you by cooperating with others. You lose the game. So how is it equilibrium in a cooperative society to “always defect”?

11 04 2011
Tim Dean

It seems you’re unfamiliar with the Prisoner’s Dilemma and its payoff matrix. Defecting against a cooperator yields a greater reward than mutual cooperation. This makes the Nash equilibrium in the PD mutual defection, where no cooperation takes place and everyone loses. Understanding this is central to understanding social interaction and my account of political psychology/philosophy.

11 04 2011
Francois Tremblay

Yes, I know the Prisoner’s Dilemma. But you are applying this to real-life societies. You live in a Catalan city during the Spanish Civil War. Your agricultural work is shared in common, and so everyone benefits from everyone else’s efforts. What’s your incentive to defect?

11 04 2011
Tim Dean

Unfortunately I’m low on time at the moment and can’t respond in detail until later – but your comments suggests you need to reflect deeper on the implications of the PD on social interaction.

Mutual cooperation can indeed persist for mutual advantage – but such as society is vulnerable to defection. All it takes is a few individuals – outside invaders or ‘mutants’ from within – to defect and the cooperation breaks down. And it appears inevitable that such individuals will eventually emerge.

An example might be reaping the common fruits of the agricultural work while putting in less work than others. You’re incurring a lower cost and gaining a proportionally higher reward. You’re defecting. If everyone started doing this (a tragedy of the commons), the cooperative system breaks down.

I’m afraid I’ll have to stop commenting until later this evening – really must get on to work!

11 04 2011
Francois Tremblay

The Tragedy of the Commons is actually misnamed because, if you read the actual report, it only applies to unowned resources. A commons is not unowned. So you can’t use that as an argument.

As part of a commons which is cultivating a piece of land, why would I accept that some people work less than I do for the same benefits?

1 11 2011
Beyond OWS: Problem #2: The Problem with Politics « Ockham's Beard

[...] it helps to understand the worldview of each side – which is something I explain in these two posts in more detail – but here’s the [...]

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