Re: Political Compass

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Thu Aug 30 2001 - 12:56:14 MDT

On Wed, Aug 29, 2001 at 10:11:56PM -0700, Lee Corbin wrote:
> "The World's Smallest Political Quiz" at
> seems pretty unbiased to me. Of the ten questions, only two are even a
> little bit begging for certain answers or make assertions. Can you tell
> me what questions you have a problem with?

Okay ...

"Government should not control radio, TV, the press or the Internet." This
is going to go down well with anyone who's grown up with the BBC -- not.

That's the only obviously biased one in the "personal issues" section,
except that I should note that you'll find fragments of agreement with
all of these -- and disagreement with others -- scattered across all parts
ofthe political spectrum in the UK. For example, conservatives here will
_not_ agree with the proposition in question #5 ("People should be free
to come and go across borders; to live and work where they choose") --
it implies free immigration, and that's a hot button issue.

Section #2 is where the real bias cuts in. Everything is phrased in terms
of free trade orthodoxy; this is _not_ generally accepted in the UK,
where a majority of the public (as of the last polls) would be happy to
pay more tax in return for better services, and where the NHS is a holy
cow that not even the most extreme free marketeer conservatives are
willing to criticize.

Oh, and my girlfriend just pointed out that there are _no_ environmental
issues in the quiz -- none whatsoever. Even if it's just a question
about the ownership of the commons, or how to regulate pollution.

Basically, there's a perception I've noticed among Americans on usenet
that their government is an alien intrusion on their personal liberties.
This perception is not shared by most other cultures, and section #2
of the quiz takes an "us or them" approach to government funding/no
government funding that looks blatantly biased to non-American eyes.

Put it another way: I know ONE Brit who'd click "Y" on every question.
He's a libertarian, and proud of it. He's also an annoying bastard, and
most of us who drink with him regularly suspect his real motive is to
annoy the hell out of everybody. (He comes from a long line of contrarian
troublemakers -- his father was apparently kicked out of every club and
membership association in his home town, _twice_.)

> > Naah. This quiz doesn't actually imply that the people who set it
> > support these positions; it's designed to establish whether you,
> > the person who's sitting the quiz, supports those positions.
> I thought it obvious the mind-set of whoever wrote that test. He
> or she is clearly left-liberal.
You fail to consider the possibility that the mainstream in the UK
is, by your lights, left-liberal. It's the same with the world's
smallest political quiz; you think it's neutral, but you come from
a country where the *default* setting is right-wing pro-business. The
real question that the WSPQ is asking is _not_ "are you pro or anti
capitalism", it's "are you for small, independent businesses or big
monolithic government pork-barrel projects". There's no room to
say "I am a communist!" or "I am a syndicalist and I believe in
abolishing money!" in this quiz.

> Now it *IS* true that in *some* ideologies, vanilla discourse
> is itself to be criticized. Marxist rhetoric is unmistakeable,
> and it's instantly obvious that someone *is not* a Marxist if
> most sentences fail to have certain loaded words and phrases.

Those "loaded terms" as you describe them can also be described as
terms that have well-defined meanings, within the ideology in question.
If I start calling "libertarians" "liberals" this might confuse you,

[ snip ]

> > > In other words, what is really scary is when even slight injustices
> > > aren't confessed as such when they are in the service of ideology.
> > > It's another case of the good ends justifying the not-so-good means.
> >
> > Eh? I don't follow you.
> I have reason to believe that the following does not fit *you* (especially
> since looking at your own quiz). Quite a number of people in the 20th
> century, while they wouldn't come directly out and say so in so many words,
> truly believe that lying or stealing for progressive causes is justified.

Depends what the "progressive cause" is, in my opinion -- and on the
nature of the theft or lie. I won't rule it out, personally. If you
think this is extreme, contemplate the behaviour of many self-proclaimed
libertarians on the "information wants to be free" front, specifically
with respect to circumvention of the DMCA. (Ack, spit.)

Personally, I'd go so far as to say that I won't steal property
that I recognize from people I respect without what I consider to be
an overridingly important reason, and I don't consider ideological
disputes to be acceptable justification for violence or lawbreaking --
unless they've been escalated to the point of violence by the other guy.

> Another factor that breaks the left/right symmetry (at least in American
> politics) is that conservatives are viewed as evil by the left, whereas
> liberals are viewed as wrong or stupid by the right. I've lost track of
> the number of times that I *myself* have been accused on this very list
> of "having no compassion", or suffering from some other similar character
> flaw. Conservatives are viewed by American liberals (in many cases) as
> *morally* deficient; corporation executives are honestly thought to be
> monsters; what tactics aren't justified when you're fighting evil?

I suspect the phenomenon is something else; everybody believes they're
correct -- if you don't, you're a hypocrite or need to get a new belief
system _fast_ -- and we can justify this either by ratiocination against
contrary beliefs, or by emotional response. The rationalist reaction
is to say "they're wrong", then proceed to fabricate after-the-fact
justifications to back up this assertion. The emotionalist reaction
is to say "they're evil", which needs rather less justification to back

*Both* these attitudes are wrong-headed, IMO ;-)

-- Charlie

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