AND MY IDEOLOGY IS…
February 5, 2007
Now I’m not much of a philosopher but I’ve been having this problem with ideology lately. I mean: what the hell am I?
I’m not a socialist because I don’t think you can run an entire economy like the Department of Public Works without rendering reality a greywash’d yawn stuffed full of a million unnecessary forms.
On the other hand I don’t think that just ‘cause you’re born rich you should have carte blanche access to the best education and career paths. And, let’s face it, that’s exactly where this country’s heading. The argument comes: well if you’re poor and smart you can get a scholarship.
Why should you have to? Why should some Toorak dumbass become a barrister just ‘cause her/his daddy/mummy was and so on back to viscosity? My view: if you have the brains to be nothing but a bull-wanker then be a bull-wanker regardless your place on the social register.
And more: if you’re rich and you get a rare disease you have access to the best medical care. If you’re poor, then sorry your policy doesn’t cover it – kindly fuck off and drop dead. Why? How is that justice?
So in that respect I am a ‘socialist’.
But wait. If I want to start up some kind of business I really don’t see why I have to get permission to do so from some state authority. Sure if I’m feeding people or delivering their babies there are standards to be met. But what if I’m just offering to ghost-write their life stories. Is that anyone’s business save that of me and my client?
Maybe I’m a capitalist.
So I started taking some online tests. I mean that’s gotta be reliable yeah? These days they have this nifty new map structure. One such, the political compass rightly asserts that:
The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’, established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?
Furthermore in Stalin’s day were his rigid supporters conservatives? After all Stalinism was the status quo. So were those opposed to him ‘left-wing’?
It’s a funny old world.
People and systems don’t fit neatly into categories. And as the site asks: “how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi?”
The quiz presents you with a map divided by two axes. Along one is the standard left-right economic criteria: government control, intervention, moderation, laissez-faire. The other axis regards personal freedoms: free speech, sex, etc. I guess we can call these the capitalist-socialist axis and the authoritarian-libertarian axis.
In the centre territory there is a circle representing the intersection. On some political tests this central territory is labelled ‘centrist’ on those sites obviously pushing a libertarian barge this territory is labelled ‘statist’.
Questions differed from test to test but I pretty consistently scored on the libertarian side and slightly to the left of the capitalist-socialist axis. I’ve been classified a moderate, liberal or left libertarian.
This would alter depending on the questions some of which were specific to another country (eg the US), some of which were irritating either/or scenarios. My favourite in this latter category is:
What do you think is more important?
A/ Controlling inflation.
B/ Controlling unemployment.
Well as they’re inter-related aspects of the economic cycle they’re both important. High inflation leads to high unemployment which ‘cause no-one’s got nothing to spend tends to bring prices and wages down so then they get jobs and start spending and the prices go up and around we go again.
That’s how it works in the textbook. In real life, that can be another story.
How ‘bout option C: Thinking one’s important and the other isn’t, is dumb. There was no such option C.
Another example of this is on the Liberal Democratic Party’s site. Question two of the ‘social’ side of the test asks:
2) What should the governments role be with regards to issues of sex such as prostitution, pornography, sexual orientation etc?
a. There should be no laws with regards to issues relating to sex
b. Pornography, prostitution and sexual choice should be allowed and slightly regulated
c. Some pornography, prostitution and sexual choice should be allowed, but slightly discouraged
d. Some pornography and sexual choice should be allowed, but discouraged
e. There should be strict laws banning prostitution and pornography and controlling sexual choice.
Okay I picked option b. But that’s not exactly what I meant. Pornography, prostitution and consenting sexual choice are different things. In the case of the latter, it’s the business of those who’s loving (or just makin’ mo’ better). The government and everyone else butts out.
Pornography? Well some people don’t like it and some do. Therefore I believe that you should be able to get it if you want it but you should likewise be able to avoid it if so inclined. That’s one aspect for regulation, there are others: no kids, no chainsaws.
In the case of prostitution you are dealing with an industry that can and does become very ugly if unregulated. So, whilst I’m inclined to let business be business, in the case of prostitution and other industries where the absence of regulation is disastrous I think maybe um… some rules.
But the point is given multiple choice answers to decide your politics is an over-simplistic guide to ideological (read doctrine driven) thinking. I’m …ist, therefore I believe a, b, and c are good and x, y, and z are bad – always no matter what. This way of thinking, or avoiding thinking, is something I’m deeply allergic to. Just writing about makes me feel itchy.
You can tell you’re slipping into this trap when you answer every question in reference to someone who never really had a job: Marx said this, Hayek said that, Chomsky said so and so but Foucault says blah blah blah and Nietzsche etc. Not to impune the work of these gentlemen but remember:
THEY”RE ALL WRONG!!!
So the test, or mode of tests is not exactly bullet-proof. I’m not trashing it just saying you can take a much more nuanced stand on something particularly if you know whereof you speak. And remember: mostly you don’t – there are questions that baffle. The first question on the aforementioned quiz relates to how much government control of what percentage GDP. There was no option X: How the fuck would I know?
Still it’s really useful to be able to summarise my myriad and oft contradictory thoughts with two words. When I go to parties and people ask my politics I can say I’m a left libertarian. Great. Now no-one will like me.
There was a recent discussion on Catallaxy in which the subjects of Gandhi and the path of non-violent resistance were broached, (scroll down to comment 191.)
For those who can’t bothered many of the commenters wrote Gandhi off as an impratical mystic who precipitated more damage than good. Whilst I’m not certain I can agree I am in agreement with Orwell’s criticism of Gandhi’s rather impratical advice to the German Jews in 1938:
what has today become a degrading man-hunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. It will then be a truly religious resistance offered against the godless fury of dehumanised man.
The whole text can be found here.
Needless to say the Jews on the whole did not/could not resist the Nazis and we know what transpired. However Gandhi’s adherance to pacifism is certainly impractical and as Orwell has said a fact unacceptable to pacifists is that they can only “‘abjure’ violence because others are committing violence on their behalf”.
Orwell reflections on Gandhi can be found here.
Perhaps the new political maps cited above are as yet incomplete. We have the authority/liberty axis, the command/laissez-faire axis. On this map I appear quite close to Gandhi. However I would not have advised Jewish people to non-violent action in 1938. 1938 was too late anyhow. In 1933 or earlier I would’ve said: Get out and/or get a gun. These people are out of their minds!!
I don’t like (non-fictional) violence but sometimes you gotta fight. To finally get to my point maybe a third axis is required: idealism/pragmatism – a three dimensional political map. Hard to design I reckon, but liable to be ultimately accurate.