Multi-Dimensional Political Perspectives


photo credit: mkandlez

Jane Hamsher wrote about the 11 Dimensional Chess approach to health care legislation that the Obama administration tried. That sent me back to some earlier thoughts I had shared about how we visualize the political spectrum. The simplest way to view things is one dimensional. Like the opening image here it breaks down into a right/left, red/blue, conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat, or another single-axis spectrum. Many people recognize how inadequate such a simplified view is and various people (including myself) have sought to devise two-dimensional representations of the political landscape.

Of the many maps out there I think the easiest to comprehend is this from the Worlds Smallest Political Quiz:

With an axis measuring personal freedom issues and an axis measuring economic freedom issues it is not difficult to grasp the lay of the land according to this graph. Unfortunately this two dimensional representation, like all other two-dimensional representations, falls short of accurately describing reality.

I don’t know how many distinct axis may usefully divide the political landscape to understand the many varied perspectives that play into our national political debate but I have identified at least one more axis besides the personal and economic freedom axis – there is the power axis that deserves to be considered. How much political power a person has seems to have a distinct influence on their political outlook. Unlike the personal and economic outlook axis, which are virtually independent of each other, the power axis tends to insert some biases into people. The more political power a person attains the more likely they are to gravitate towards some degree of Big Government statism. I’m not sure which is the cause and which is the effect (I suspect they are simply intertwined) but there definitely seems to be a correlation between rising power and rising acceptance of statism. (I wish I could come up with a visual representation for this.)

While it is important for us to recognize that third dimension, perhaps another important insight can be gained from simply accepting the existence of any new axis – our perspective can be deceptive as to the view of others. From whatever your vantage point in the political universe your understanding of other viewpoints will be greatly enhanced anytime you are able to acquire a description of the other viewpoint from a vantage point that is not substantially the same as your own. Without that different perspective your view is reduced to two dimensions or less and you may fail to discern where others differ in their perspectives, or you may fail to recognize the significance when two people (perhaps as different as Ms. Hamsher and myself) agree on a particular point.

3 comments for “Multi-Dimensional Political Perspectives

  1. Ronald D. Hunt
    February 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    The silent nuances between different beliefs effects things more then people realize. The difference between ignorance and indifference, between kindness and pity, between villain and scapegoat are all often ignored and misunderstood and have profound consequences in our politics.

    • February 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      Yes. Those nuances have important consequences in our political system, and also in how we treat each other as individuals.

  2. Charles D
    February 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    The short quiz is interesting (they scored me in the left liberal quadrant and almost dead center on the Libertarian/Statist axis – this was not surprising. For the record, I object to the use of the term “Statist”. That term connotes not only a belief that government can and should act to promote the general welfare, but conveys the idea that sovereignty lies with the state rather than the people. The former is a position held by most liberals and progressives, but the latter is more commonly found in extreme neoconservatives (Dick Cheney for example). The authors tend to conflate the two positions inappropriately. It is possible to believe (as I do) that all government derives its just power from the consent of the governed and believe that the government is and should be the people’s instrument to improve their lives, their welfare and create more opportunity for their children. It is a difference between saying that the government is of, by and for the people and considering that the people are subject to the will of government (the statist approach). Admittedly, my concept is an ideal and one we have not yet achieved, but thankfully the pure statism with a subservient populace has also not been achieved here.

    I don’t know that I agree completely with your idea of a 3rd axis. Certainly power corrupts and the more power one has the more likely one is to be corrupted by it. People who acquire political power in our system, regardless of their original political philosophies, are likely to become more pro-business (promoting giveaways and tax breaks to businesses who coincidentally lobby them and contribute to their campaigns) and more pro-military or imperialist (a position which also benefits large businesses that are major contributors). I see this more as corruption than as a desire for a more “statist” approach to governing.

    Perhaps one ought also to consider the strong desire for self-preservation that politicians acquire as they climb the rungs of power. It often appears that the chief raison d’etre for most politicians is to win the next election, and they do whatever is required to ingratiate themselves with either those who have the capability to fund their campaign and/or those groups whose votes are deemed necessary to win. For Republicans, this dimension leads them to pander to religious groups, right-wing activists, talk-show hosts, and the tea party “movement”. For Democrats, it leads them to pander to Wall Street bankers, trial lawyers, and transnational corporations. It has had the effect of moving both parties to the right.

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