I’m bored

I had every good intention of picking up on a reader’s suggestion that I create a Frequently Asked Questions section of Troppo, to which new-ish commenters could be referred whenever they raised topics that had already been debated ad nauseum, either here or in the blogosphere generally.

Christopher Sheil asserted recently that the irritating raising of repetitive themes was possibly one of the major causes of comment box incivility, and someone else suggested that a FAQ section might help to deal with it constructively. So I thought I’d have a go at writing a rant about the interminable left-right labelling contest which seems to be the blogosphere’s most ubiquitous and irritating recurrent theme. Commenters could then be referred to it for an explanation of why others couldn’t be bothered discussing the topic with them in those terms. But even I found it so tiresome from so many repetitous discussions that I couldn’t bear to write it.

Instead, I’ve decided to refer readers to the Political Compass, an online quizz that measures people’s political viewpoints along two separate axes. One is the tradtional left-right economic continuum, with communism/collectivism at the left end of the axis and neo-liberalism (i.e. extreme market-based approach, minimalist government, low taxation etc) at the right end. The other is a vertical axis measuring social attitudes, with fascism/authoritarianism at one end and anarchism or social libertarianism at the other.

It seems to me that this sort of approach yields much more useful results than a simplistic attempt to label anyone as “left” or “right”. Of course, it’s still subject to a range of objections and qualifications, but so is any classificatory system.

Numerous bloggers and commenters tackled the Political Compass quiz a couple of years ago, and Robert Corr even attempted to maintain a graph of other bloggers’ scores where they submitted them to him (although he never bothered to graph mine). It occurred to me that it might be interesting to encourage today’s “new” generation of bloggers and commenters to have a go at the Political Compass and post their results here. I won’t undertake to graph them, but if someone else can be bothered (once the results are in), I’ll certainly post the image here.

Incidentally, my own result when I tackled the test again yesterday was -2 on the left/right axis (i.e. very slightly towards the left end of the axis, with -10 being the extreme left position), and -2.26 on the authoritarian/libertarian social axis (i.e. very slightly towards the libertarian end of the spectrum, again with -10 being the extreme libertarian position). With all its inevitable imperfections, the Political Compass seems a quite reliable method of measuring individual political orientation. In my case at least, the result confirms my own self-assessment as a fairly “centrist” classical liberal with a very slight social democratic bent and modestly libertarian social attitudes. See how you go.

Of course, even applying the label “centrist” can irritate some people, because they interpret it as a claim to some sort of superior wisdom or virtue. In my case at least, it simply reflects my self-assessment as being fairly near the mid-point on both axes of quizzes like Political Compass.

BTW From memory, my score on the authoritarian/libertarian social axis hasn’t changed at all from 2 years ago, but my left/right economic score has shifted a couple of points to the left.

Update - Tim Lambert has created a facility here that allows you to enter your Political Compass score and see it graphically represented along with any other Australian bloggers who choose to participate.

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About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.

38 thoughts on “I’m bored

  1. “BTW From memory, my score on the authoritarian/libertarian social axis hasn’t changed at all from 2 years ago, but my left/right economic score has shifted a couple of points to the left”

    I have perceived that shift and would put it down to exposure to John Howard over a long period of time and to Mark Bahnisch over a shorter period of time when you gave him keys to the blog. Though having said that, it hasn’t worked on me.

    -2 and more on each axis isn’t very centrist, really. I think you need to work on reducing that figure to around -1.5

  2. “although he never bothered to graph mine”

    Sorry, Ken!

    Perhaps someone with better tech skills than I could create an automated system. (Tim Lambert, perhaps?)

  3. As I say to anyone that asks I’ll say the left/right paradigm is just a way of vilifying anyone you disagree with, as I said over at catallaxy some time ago on their Us vs. Them post.

    There is no left and right just positions you agree/disagree with. And if we’re all sensible and not ideological we’re flexible.

    On PC I’m barely authoritarian or barely not authoritarian depending on my mood at the time and a moderate left economically.

    I find the Party specific tests more applicable there is one at ozpolitics and one at selectsmart.com which has heaps of internet quizzes. I believe yobbo has one too. They’re all the ones I know offhand.

  4. I came out as Economic left/right: -2.25
    Social Lib/Auth: -2.92.

    I haven’t worked out what that means yet as I have to go to work.

  5. In the spirit Ken, maybe we could give some repetitive arguments numbers. We could call our argument over faux-centrism, for example, Argument 54, and now imagine we have had it.

  6. Vee

    I’m aware of most of the other political quizzes you mention. Political Compass is IMO by far the best of them. Robert Corr linked to another one in the last couple of days (see http://www.politicalsurvey2005.com/). However, it’s very UK-oriented and quite poorly thought out. With due respect to Yobbo’s effort (jointly with John Humphreys from Aust Libertarians blog, if I remember rightly), it was very half-baked indeed and not worthy of serious consideration. By comparison, the Political Compass test is a prety serious and scholarly attempt at creating something that yields meaningful results. Have a go at it and see how you do.

    I agree that a straight left-right labelling exercise is invariably worthless and merely pejorative. But combining it with an analysis of social orientation, and approaching the compilation and analysis of questions in a scientific way turns the exercise into something much more substantial. Labelling someone as a slightly left-leaning social libertarian doesn’t have anywhere near the same pejorative impact as calling them a “leftie lunatic” or similar, and conveys useful information about political orientation.

  7. Just left of center -1.13 and -3.03 Libertarian. It’s probably a load of old bollocks, but it kept me amused for a couple of minutes.
    I will try harder on my authoritarianism
    I will try harder on my authoritarianism
    I will try harder on my authoritarianism

  8. Chris

    Here’s what the Political Compass people have to say about one of your usual arguments about faux-centrism, namely that the mid-point is variable over time and between societies, because of changing political fashions (and that a label like “centrist” is essentially almost meaningless:

    “Some critics have argued that, because the universal political centre has moved to the right, our axes should correspondingly move to the right. This, however, would not indicate how far one way or the other society has shifted. It could not convey paradoxes such as the fact that, in the UK, New Labour occupies an economic position to the right of pre-Thatcher Conservatives. Where was the centre, for example, in Apartheid South Africa ? In Third Reich society, such a skewed analysis might show a Nazi opposed to the death chambers as representing liberal opinion.

    Narrowing the standard political goalposts to accommodate merely the range of mainstream opinion within any given society at a given time is not only historically uninstructive; it is unscientific.”

    In other words, they claim to measure political orientation by reference to quasi-objective substantive attitudes to specific issues and propositions, rather than by reference to an inherently relativistic mid-point at a given point in time in a given society.

    Whether they actually succeed in that aim is another question. One would suspect that there are some unavoidable subjective biases i.e. that they are making assumptions about the ideological significance of particular answers, where the resulting assumptions from exactly the same answers would have been different 15 or 50 years ago.

    But the fact that it is impossible to achieve perfect objectivity in measuring something as inherently problematic as political orientation, doesn’t mean that the attempt is worthless or that it can’t yield useful information.

    In any event, I have no doubt that all of us, even you, make mental evaluations about the ideological standpoints of people with whom we deal on political matters. IMO the most satisfactory way of doing so is to be open and transparent about the classificatory process every human being necessarily performs in order to make sense of the world from previous experience, and by so doing continually remind ourselves that, even though any person’s opinion on a given issue will certainly be coloured/influenced by their upbringing and the basic values and assumptions they bring to the question, that should never prevent us from examining their specific arguments strictly on their merits (to the extent that is possible given our own subjective biases and assumptions).

    Anyway, so much for argument 54.

  9. Economic Left/Right: -5.25
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.56

    Me, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Madela and Ghandi lining up for the libertarian left.

  10. Depends a bit on whether you see the centre as a mid-point around which practical change can occur because it represents the popular consensus.

    Or whether it is a more philosophically driven idea, based on pragmatism. There is no such thing as a Platonic perfectible universe, so ideal solution towards which we are struggling.

    If the latter, then the centre is actually a fixed philosophical point which reaches out to achieve the possible. Hence a coherent body of belief, with varying policies.

    In the first sense, I identify with the social democratic left. In the second, I am a centrist. And I think that’s ultimately Ken’s definition as well.

  11. Yes, it has a certain nostalgic charm, especially when the alternatives are the AFL or a dreary movie about World War I starring Paul Hogan as himself (the only role he can play).

  12. I can’t manage those quizes.

    I know that I’m supposed to make allowances for the fact that its just a quiz, but I can’t manage the questions.

    For instance “I’d always support my country, whether it was right or wrong” is not such a bad question I suppose. I think I know what they’re getting at.

    But another question is “Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment”. Well who wouldn’t want to control the latter if one had the choice between it and the former. The only reason you’d argue against the proposition is that there isn’t a real tradeoff. So how to answer the question?

    Likewise the question about whether globalisation is for the people or the corporations.

    Some questions are so BALD. “What’s good for the most successful corporations is always, ultimately, good for all of us.” Well I kind of agree with a much milder version of this. What’s good for corporations is often good for all of us (well many of us actually). Do I mildly agree, or strongly disagree (on the grounds that the question has been put in such a simplistic way that the statement as it stands is ridiculous.)

    Anyway, I really hate these kinds of questionaires, and I expected to find it a lot worse than it was :). Quite a few of the questions were fairly straightforward and meaningful. So I can’t complain.

    In case anyone’s interested, I ‘strongly agreed’ with everything in the test so I could scan the pages. I was split down the middle left right and 1/3 above neutral towards authoritarianism.

  13. “Me, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Madela and Ghandi lining up for the libertarian left.”

    Perhaps OT but not quite. These quizzes always like to identify the sainted Gandhi and Dalai Lama as ‘the libertarian left’. I wish they’d choose better models.

    Gandhi today would be called an ant-black racist
    http://foreigndispatches.typepad.com/dispatches/2004/09/ghandi_in_south.html
    His views on other matters were also rather medieval. I’m not sure how much he would have approved of gay rights. The Dalai Lama? Doesn’t like gays or abortion either
    http://jeetfiskdo.blogspot.com/2004/04/middle-way.html

    These 2 figures are every much as medievalistic as Ratzinger and don’t deserve the reputations they have among the Left.

  14. I actually like the yobbos poll, put me very near that party of theirs with the generic name, closer to them then anyone else

    the compass poll annoyed me, the question were wrong, and i had no way to enter “this question is badly written”

    i’ve entered the compass score though at tim’s

  15. Fair comments Ken, as I said, I’m either just authoriatrian or just below authoritarian and vary from -2 to -5 economically depending on my mood.

    Ozpolitics and Yobbo’s often yield the same results for me.

    I don’t know how true it is but I’ve come to the conclusion its impossible to be on the economic right and be and anarchist libertarian part of the PC quiz.

    ie the bottom right quadrant.

    I’ve avoided the UK survey as I do not know where their parties stand in correspondence to the US and Aus equivalents.

    Where as for eg. I know or rather infer that the US republicans are a more extreme form of the Liberal Party of Australia.

    I wonder if we’ll ever get a test that says “deakinite liberal” or “howardian centralist”, etc? I doubt it

  16. Re argument 54, the traditional objections to ‘centrism’ stand.

    The concept of a ‘centre’ is owed to the French revolution, afterwhich the assembly broke into left and right sides of the speaker, and the short-hand terms were adopted, as if to imagine that political ideology could be conceived as a continuous spectrum. The ideological composition and balance of the assembly would determine where the centre fell, and hence it was purely relative.

    The quiz appears to have recreated the idea of the ‘centre’ by imagining two separate ideological spectrums, and then representing them as if they somehow intersect at the ‘centre’. The very act of simplistically bifurcating the already simplifying spectrum metaphor is highly ideological, promoting abstract divisions between the social and economic orders on faux-scientific grounds – immediately burying one of the most crucial questions of current political debate: why large numbers of people today, on either sides of politics, vote against their ostensible economic interests on social grounds. In the world of your quizz, this paradox is implicitly normalised, and taken off the table. Whatever, the real world continues to turn.

    Getting back to Argument 54. The historical connotations attached to centrism remain, as points of objection to the self-proclaimed varity, even if the attachment to the idea of ‘centrism’ is sincerely held.

    First, laying claim to the centre carries debating advantages, implying someone who can see all sides, who is fair and neutral, who is not constrained by hidebound ideology, the last reasonable white man. Those denied this debating advantage will resent those who claim it for themselves, and will feel like taking the piss, to deny said advantage.

    Second, the short-hand terms as applied to real politics, and to the sphere, are arguably more misleading than revealing. The world has changed a good deal since 1789. There is a strongly organised and well defined political right in Australia and the world today, and this is not the movement for stability and order that originally owned the right-wing label. Indeed, adherents to the original idea of conservativeness are as likely to be found in opposition to the present order, along with the rest of the ill-defined and disorganised residual, where things are more complex, and the left has been largely disabled over the revolutionary tradition and the idea of progress.

    To insist on a ‘centre’ in these de-centred conditions is thus to constantly breathe life into a metaphor that is fundamentaly distorting, conjuring up political battalions that do not exist. There is only one big battalion on the field, and the heterogeneous rest of us. I suspect it will only be when the current direction exhausts itself that we will be able to really get some definition on the future ‘left’, to find out who we have been keeping company with as we contest the Big Right Turn.

  17. On the other hand cs, I’d say argument 27 with bit of 14 thrown in.

    And I don’t think 32 stands up logically if that how yer thinking of responding.

  18. Can’t beat that elegance, Nabakov.

    Reminds me of the old joke about the prisoners, all lifers, who became so familiar with their vast reservoir of jokes they only had to yell the number. “No 10″, one would say, and everyone would break-up. “No 38″, another would crack, reducing everyone to tears. Then, from over in the corner, “No 22″ ventures a third, and there’s deathly silence. “Some blokes,” observes a senior lifer, “just can’t tell a joke.”

  19. What drives you mad is not so much when a newcomer stumbles in and restarts a debate that’s been run before, as when some old regular rehashes without alteration an argument they have offered previously, and which you have already tellingly, elegantly and wittily rebutted.

    Regarding the compass, the composers’ chart is more interesting than the quiz. I’m very sceptical about the placement of Beethoven, who I’m sure would have been much further to the south-west along with me (-5.5,-5.13) and Bartok, rather than up next to insipid types like Ken and Rob.

    More seriously, I’d love to know what everyone responded to ‘People with serious inheritable disabilities should not be allowed to reproduce.’ I found I had neither a gut feeling nor a reasoned position on this, but suspect it has the ability to sort the real libertarians, left from right, from the posers.

  20. -8.00
    -6.36
    I always feel as though people who describe themselves as ‘centrist’ are just being safe. However, they are possibly just less ideologically blinded than me…

  21. no, no, cristy

    -.5
    -1.28

    in my case it means I just don’t have any opinions at all, certainly none that might not change tomorrow or even sooner, or maybe later.

  22. Unhappy with my first result, which seemed inappropriate for a RWDB, I had another, less hurried go.

    Came out L/R: -1.63 and L/A: – 4.05.

    Closer to the centre and more libertarian seems right, but what do you have to do to get over the line and become really right-wing? I’m suspicious of something, somewhere….

    Someone has doctored the quiz to make everyone come out on the left.

  23. It does seem to me that the Political Compass is slanted to the right a little, so that most people appear to be lefties. It would be interesting to see how Americans place on it, given that they consider the political centre a lot further to the right than the rest of us do. Overall it’s not important, though: the really interesting bit here is the comparison, and getting upset because your views are comparatively where you thought they were but very odd-looking when compared to an arbitrary “centre” is rather silly.

    And Rob, you can’t be a RWDB, no matter what the test says. You’re not nearly stupid enough.

  24. I don’t know about a bias to the left, but it does indeed seem hard for right-wing libertarians to establish their libertarian credentials. Someone like me can get cheap libertarian points just by approving of abstract art. But the type of person who is obsessed with ‘getting government off our backs’ and that sort of thing (not something that concerns me at all) doesn’t have much oportunity to register it. So lefties, even those who don’t mind a bit of state muscle-flexing here and there, end up down there with Ghandi, while a Hayekian is likely to be placed alongside all the common or garden right wingers. But I guess they’re used to being misunderstood.

  25. I think James is right. It’s all in the way the questions are framed. for example, I ‘agreed’ on the question of abstract art, because some of it is great. An awful lot of it is crap, as a visit to any museum of modern art (will attest. So technically I both agree and disagree. Also, one can ‘agree’ that marijuana shold be legalised but not for the thumbnail rationale given in the question.

    Also, ‘the rich are too heavily taxed’ question invites disagreement. If the question had been ‘it’s perfectly alright for a writer to have almost half of his or her hard-won earnings confiscated by the government’, you might have got a different set of results.

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