[LINK] Up Vs Down is the new Left vs Right

post by Stabilizer · 2013-12-23T15:33:00.840Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 27 comments

This is a great article at Aeon magazine. The author argues that the new ideological dichotomy is going to be between people who have great faith in technology and human innovation (Up) and the people who believe that humans are much more tied to their biology and the Earth (Down).

LW of course is a very Up community.

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comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-12-23T17:16:22.321Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that a much more accurate picture could be had by talking about alliances between interest groups than by talking about ideological spectra. Ideological spectra don't really make much sense once things get multidimensional.

People with widely varying ideological heritages will sometimes ally on particular issues. One example that always comes to my mind is the 1980s-era alliance between Christian conservatives and a faction of radical-feminists in the U.S., in support of anti-pornography laws. This led to the oddity of radical-feminist Catharine MacKinnon supporting the work of anti-feminists like James Dobson on the Meese Commission. And suburban environmentalists who find hunting distasteful (and frequently also support banning guns) are sometimes surprised that hunters are some of the most reliable supporters of wilderness protection. ("How could they really care about protecting wild animals when they want to kill them?")

Replies from: CronoDAS, satt, Douglas_Knight, None
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-12-24T00:22:16.685Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One example that always comes to my mind is the 1980s-era alliance between Christian conservatives and a faction of radical-feminists in the U.S., in support of anti-pornography laws. This led to the oddity of radical-feminist Catharine MacKinnon supporting the work of anti-feminists like James Dobson on the Meese Commission.

I can't help but be reminded of this.

See also: Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens being pattern-matched with anti-Arab racists.

comment by satt · 2013-12-24T10:25:32.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I broadly agree with your comment but disagree in one respect.

Ideological spectra don't really make much sense once things get multidimensional.

I wouldn't go that far. The electromagnetic spectrum still makes sense even though light waves differ in more ways than just frequency. And the left-right axis is still meaningful even though there're extra dimensions of political variation, although one has to think carefully about operationalizing the left-right axis, and remember that it explains only, say, 40% of variance in political belief, rather than 100%.

Replies from: fubarobfusco
comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-12-24T13:00:04.447Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thing is, not all possible combinations of issue positions actually exist as factions, to say nothing of factions with any influence in society. And the degree to which people are willing to get along with each other, express common political identities (such as parties), or work politically toward common goals, doesn't seem to particularly agree with the projection of their views onto a left-right spectrum. Factions and the links between them are sparse and discontinuous, and people accept or reject others on the basis of specific issues that matter to them. These are all much more interesting facts than that we can project them all onto a spectrum if we want to.

I suspect that each combination of {racist, anti-racist} × {transhumanist, bioconservative} × {socialist, libertarian} exists, and that they don't all agree on which of those issues is the most important to whether they can get along with each other.

Replies from: satt
comment by satt · 2013-12-24T18:20:47.109Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thing is, not all possible combinations of issue positions actually exist as factions, to say nothing of factions with any influence in society.

That's true.

And the degree to which people are willing to get along with each other, express common political identities (such as parties), or work politically toward common goals, doesn't seem to particularly agree with the projection of their views onto a left-right spectrum.

There's a grain of truth here, but overall I disagree. A person's more likely to get along with someone similarly left- or right-wing (even if they disagree on a specific issue) than someone with an utterly different ideology (even if they agree on a specific issue); people are more likely to express an affiliation with political parties that identify as left- or right-wing than to reject such affiliations (e.g.); and people tend to recruit people with similar ideologies to work for some political goal, as opposed to chasing after the ideologically distant.

Factions and the links between them are sparse and discontinuous,

I'm quite sceptical. I don't know whether you'd count them as factions as such, but when I think of political parties (large & small), think tanks, student societies, free-standing political clubs, newspapers, intelligence agencies, and other political institutions, the thing that strikes me is how incestuous & interlinked they look (at least to my lay eye, looking in from the outside). Even obscure, extreme grouplets, infamous for being made up of splitters, ultimately originate in the formerly continuous faction they broke away from.

and people accept or reject others on the basis of specific issues that matter to them.

While that's one factor, I'd expect broad ideology to be (at least) an equally strong factor. A person and their friends tend to have correlated ideologies.

These are all much more interesting facts than that we can project them all onto a spectrum if we want to.

Insofar as these are facts, they are more interesting facts. But the existence of more interesting facts doesn't nullify a less interesting fact! If I say someone's left-wing or right-wing, I'm communicating some information, even if it'd be more informative for me to enumerate all of their political opinions.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-12-24T05:40:48.640Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't things already multidimensional?

You seem to be implying that left-right is the natural ideological spectrum. Isn't it more likely that it's just a particular axis that is salient at this time? Is it implausible that another axis will become the center of conflict in the future? What is the left-right axis? Is it (a) the eternal key to all ideology; (b) an axis of conflict that many care about today; (c) the contrast between a pair of alliances that are pretty arbitrary? Is there even a difference between (b) and (c)? Perhaps whether the axis drives the alliance or vice versa?

How can you figure out which beliefs are ideological and which are self-interested?

Finally, I'm not sure if you are making an abstract point, or whether you are talking very specifically about this article and saying that this particular article would be better framed this way.


Let me try that again. You contrast "ideological spectra" with "alliances between interest groups." There seem to be three contrasts. I think it is important to treat them separately. One contrast is one dimension vs many dimensions. A second is the existence of a high dimensional ambient space vs there just being a graph of alliances. The third is the origin of beliefs or policies in ideology vs self-interest. You prefer your description, but if you could only correct one of those contrasts, which would it be?

Replies from: Emile
comment by Emile · 2013-12-24T08:44:17.624Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to be implying that left-right is the natural ideological spectrum. Isn't it more likely that it's just a particular axis that is salient at this time?

I'd rather say "left-right refers to the most salient axis at a given time" (approximately). Whatever the big divisive issue of the day is, one side will be called "left", and one side will be called "right", and the label called "left" will be the one that has the most overlap (in terms of supporters) with the "left" side of yesterday"s big divisive issue.

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-12-25T22:48:04.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there is a single divisive issue at any given time, wouldn't people notice that it abruptly changes? Why would there be a lot of overlap between one team today and one team yesterday? The kind of change that seems to me more likely for people to not to notice is if there are many issues and the axis only refers to the arbitrary alliances at a given time. If a small issue switches sides, most people don't care and so there is a lot of overlap.

But people don't just identify with the conflicts of the previous generation. They identify with the conflicts two hundred years ago that introduced the terms "left" and right" and the conflicts a hundred or more years before that under the names Whig and Tory. If the axis were randomly shifting with time, wouldn't that be enough time to destroy the relationship? Do you think that people are mistaken in seeing a similarity?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-23T19:04:26.982Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I quite agree that spectra breaks down when applied to anything nontrivial, but I'm curious as to how you could graphically visualize this alliance structure. The strength of a political spectrum is that it allows for easy visualization and categorization. Great example, by the way.

Replies from: passive_fist, Luke_A_Somers
comment by passive_fist · 2013-12-23T21:14:12.557Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given enough data, this can be done automatically. A simple way to do it self-organizing maps (SOMs). On the top of this wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organizing_map there is an example where members of congress are grouped based on voting patterns.

Superficially it might seem that the SOM has created a left-right spectrum of sorts. Actually this is not the case, as the clustering distances show. Instead, what has been done is just that members have been grouped on a 2-d plane such that members with similar views are closer to each other.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-12-23T20:51:13.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The axes between the centroids of the alliances become 'left' and 'right', whichever weird way that ends up pointing.

comment by Emile · 2013-12-24T08:46:51.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eh, those labels won't stick, who wants to call themselves "down"? That's about as loaded as "progressive vs. reactionary".

comment by Vaniver · 2013-12-23T19:00:15.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See also The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel.

comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-01-04T15:23:08.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really disagree with the idea this article is pushing "greens" are "downwingers" who are inherently opposed to technology. That can be true, but not as a general rule.

A lot of people who think about the future both are very optimistic about the possibilities of new and developing technology, and are concerned about resource depletion and other environmental issues. In fact, the two are often linked; a lot of people support pushing exponential growth in technology because they think the current course of our industrial civilization is unsustainable unless we move to a higher technological level then, say, burning coal to make electricity.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-12-26T01:57:09.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like David Brin's two dimensional ideological model.

Everyone here presumably understands the corners marked Stalinism, libertarianism, anarchism, but the upper right quadrant isn't as obvious. It corresponds, roughly, to medieval feudalism, with corrupt dictatorships being the closest modern example. Mencius Moldbug's ideology is probably the purest expression; the king owns the country, so he gets to rule it and control the people who live there.

Replies from: fubarobfusco, Jayson_Virissimo, JoshuaZ
comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-12-26T14:22:14.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is, by the way, largely equivalent to the "Political Compass", and bears a certain resemblance to the "World's Smallest Political Quiz" or "Nolan chart" of libertarian propaganda.

The notion of dictatorship as a property right suggests a useful third axis: concern for political equality. This seems to weakly correlate with opposition to state coercion, although not entirely.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-12-27T04:00:36.753Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not surprising. David Brin deliberately used the "Nolan Chart" as inspiration, and the link was a speech given to a meeting of the Libertarian party...

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-12-26T03:30:24.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The fact that a sizeable minority of libertarians are anarchists should cast doubt on a model that places them on opposite ends of a spectrum. Also, I think your suggestion that the top right is represents feudalism (if true) would actually make the model even worse, since feudalism is horribly misunderstood by the general public (even more so than fascism, in my opinion).

Replies from: fubarobfusco, CronoDAS
comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-12-26T14:29:55.100Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The fact that a sizeable minority of libertarians are anarchists should cast doubt on a model that places them on opposite ends of a spectrum.

Brin is probably using "anarchist" to mean the movement that goes by that name, and not merely the adjective meaning "anti-state".

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-30T13:48:59.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But some right-libertarians also call themselves anarchists (though left-anarchists take objection to that).

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-12-26T03:50:44.645Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll just quote a paragraph from the original article...

Stalin believed nobody should own anything, but that he could and should feel free to torture his opponents to death. Therefore, he is placed in the upper left corner as both coercive and anti-property. Ferdinand Marcos, Anastasio Somoza and Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, ran their nations as personal fiefdoms, enforcing programs of inherited family wealth and power to benefit their oligarchic supporters. They were classic coercive aristocrats of the kind that dominated nearly all human cultures since agriculture and metallurgy came along, feudalists who believed they could by right both torture and own people. That puts them at the upper right.

Maybe North Korea is a better example than medieval feudalism...

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-12-26T17:34:27.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There seems to be an almost deliberate political mind killing when one has a graph where Stalin and Hilter are on the opposite side of anarchism and libertarianism.

Replies from: fubarobfusco
comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-12-26T22:02:45.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps you're unaware of the poor reputations that anarchism and libertarianism have for many people in the center.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-12-27T00:16:20.877Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm aware. I don't see how that justifies making a graph that implicitly says "yeah, we're the opposite of the baddies".

Replies from: fubarobfusco
comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-12-27T03:51:10.536Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What figures would you put at those corners? Lenin and Louis IV, maybe?

Replies from: JoshuaZ, Yosarian2
comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-12-27T13:33:32.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure. But I'm also not sure putting figures there is at all necessary. Putting figures in only some parts of the graph and not in others seems unhelpful to start with.

comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-01-04T15:28:19.282Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would say that the bottom left quadrant (limited state control/ pro-individual freedom/ some suspicion of property) is mostly the domain of modern liberalism, although that would more be in the center of the square then in the extreme.