Jun. 22nd, 2017

sniffnoy: (Chu-Chu Zig)
I still haven't gone back and removed all those old <tt> tags (they're now gone from entries from 2010 and later!), but prompted by Ben Hsieh, here's a bit of politics.

I've seen this dichotomy of "should the Democratic party stick with bland centrism or should they go socialist/leftist" occasionally lately. I don't think this a good dichotomy. This might, admittedly, describe the Democrats' possible options that they could easily get support for, but otherwise it's bad.

Problem #1: It assumes that political positions can be meaningfully described on a left-right axis. Like, as much as people make fun of the "political compass", at least it recognizes that a one-dimensional scale does not suffice. In truth, I don't like the use of axes at all; I think Taymon Beal has the right idea here when he talks about the Magic color wheel:
The notion of dividing the universe based on some kind of philosophical and/or metaphysical alignment system is well-established in fantasy, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better execution of it than in Magic. Five is the perfect number; instead of winding up with a bunch of opposites (good vs. evil, order vs. chaos, fire vs. ice, etc.), it lends itself to a far more interesting system of allied and enemy colors. Instead of axes (which have the danger of feeling arbitrary), you have viewpoints. Colors don’t see each others’ actions and perspectives in reverse; they see them at an angle. You know, like real life.
Just so. (Though, y'know, the Magic colors should not be mistaken as a description of the real world. They're not. It's the more general point that's important here.)

This is not to say that you couldn't get by with some large number of axes -- I guess if you allow interpolation, n-1 axes, where n is the number of things you're interpolating between -- but that the axes people tend to actually use tend to be pretty bad. (As a general rule, anyone drawing up a system of political axes will include one axis which is essentially "agrees with me on what I consider the most important thing vs. disagrees with me on that thing", which they will find perfectly natural but others will not.)

Problem #2: It ignores the existence of liberalism or implicitly conflates it with other things. Like, liberalism is an actual thing, you know? It is an actual principled position that one can hold. It is not lesser leftism -- a moderated, more "realistic" version -- it is an entirely different thing, that happens to agree on some issues. Similarly, it's not "centrism" -- what the hell is "centrism", anyway? I get the impression it's just a mishmosh of compromises and compartmentalized, undigested ideas and compromises. But liberalism is an actual set of principles, you know? (Well, OK, it's a general term pointing to a particular cluster. Obviously there are different ways you can run with it, as the libertarians e.g. demonstrate.)

Here's a tangential point, one I've made many times before, but will repeat here -- the word "extremism" really conflates two different things. One of these things is, well, just object-level positions that are extreme. You tend to end up there if you try to take some set of principles to their conclusion, because the ideas that most people consider normal are not very coherent. Try to actually make something coherent and you end up in weirdo-land that most people would consider "extreme". The other is "meta-level extremism" -- resorting to threats and violence and all that. (Of course, this is really just illiberalism. Or an aspect of it, anyway.) Note that there's no logical connection between these two meanings! There seems to be an unfortunate correlation between them in people, but there's no necessary connection here. Extremism in the first sense is often a good thing. Extremism in the second sense is very much a bad thing.

I, for one, would like to see some extreme (in the first sense) liberalism. It would be quite a different thing from leftism.

Problem #3: This is a lesser problem than the ones above but -- seriously, as per #1, there's so many other ways you could go. I'm sure you can think of some.

And what about, like, the things that everyone agrees on? The things that don't show up on a "left-right" spectrum, because the entire mainstream spectrum agrees on them, but which are possibly -- or in some cases, clearly -- wrong? If "raise the minimum wage" is left and "lower the minimum wage" is right, where's "Actually, wage subsidies is a much better idea than minimum wage"? There's even some things we keep doing that it just seems that nobody wants -- not experts, not the populace... the one population that wants these things is entrenched interests with lots of money. Where on the spectrum is "Actually do all those things every expert says you should do but which politicians completely just ignore"? Where on the spectrum is "We never should have been using purely electronic voting machines"? Which is something I hear people say all the time, that people have been saying for decades, yet somehow these machines are still here. That's far from the only blatant one!

Point being: There are way more possibilities out there than going socialist on the one hand and business as usual on the other. As I said above -- some people may be disappointed that the Democratic party is "centrist" rather than leftist; I'm disappointed that it's "centrist" rather than seriously liberal. (Of course, the leftists complaining that it's centrist are often complaining about the parts that I like!)

-Harry

July 2017

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