There is a fairly well-known website presenting a political quiz that calls itself The Political Compass, see it here. The creators of this quiz try to point out what is actually obvious, but for some reason still ignored, namely that the political spectrum is not linear. More precisely the point of the political compass and other similar presentations is to show that “left” and “right” are economic terms that refer to economics only, being a left-winger means that you are a socialist and the other side capitalist but it says nothing about issues such as the death-penalty, drug or alcohol policy, immigration etc.
This should be fairly simple to understand and it is certainly not really new idea in any way, so why do people seem to simply not get it?
A good example of how people do not get it is the current political discussions going on in Europe. There is a clique of European parties that are all referred to as the “far right”, but what is actually meant is that they are nationalists, not that they are capitalists. You might think that this means that people just use words in a different way than me and that it doesn’t matter, that I’m being neurotically pedantic about definitions etc. But this phenomenon actually ruins all discussion about politics.
Consider for example the political parties in the United Kingdom. The three main ones are, from left to right in the way the terms are commonly used, the Labor Party, the Tories and UKIP. So far all is well and good, their respective economic policies do line up in that order. But then along comes the so called “far right” BNP.
Comparing the immigration policy of these parties, the order indeed does go Labor, Tories, UKIP, BNP. But when it comes to the actual difference between their economical policies, ignoring their immigration stance, BNP and Labor are socialists while the Tories and UKIP are capitalists. Compare how these different parties speak of matters such as privatization of public property, and the groupings become clear. Making this distinction is relevant, since these different orderings are obviously mutually exclusive.
Another clear example of this nonsense I try to highlight is how military interventions are being referred to as right-wing policies. The late Christopher Hitchens is often said, by otherwise intelligent people, to have taken a “right-turn” when he went from opposing the first Gulf War to supporting the second. Yet his economic policies never changed, he was at all times in favor of tax-funded schools, hospitals etc, and socialist countries sure are haven’t been any strangers to military interventions, historically speaking. Hitchens didn’t become less socialist, his change happened across an axis perpendicular to the socialist-capitalist spectrum. But out of convenience political ideologues often like to claim their opponents are all the same.
A lot of you reading this will now think, like I hinted at before, that you already know this. But the way the political discourse goes, commentators have been ignoring this so much that I am obviously not only preaching to the already converted. Some people need to stop their nonsense and get a sense of perspective. They may wish to put it so, but all their enemies are not necessarily playing for the same team.
You hear it all the time, whether it is the communist claiming that anyone who isn’t a communist is motivated by personal greed or the neo-nazi who claims that Vladimir Lenin, Ayn Rand, Churchill, McCarthy, Che Guevara and Napoleon Bonapart were all part of the same, grand, centuries-spanning jewish conspiracy. Or for that matter the anarcho-capitalist who claims that the only two categories of people out there are people like them and statists/communists.
These idiosyncratic descriptions often appeal to morons, since when a new opponent appears they don’t have to think about what motivates that person, they just stick to the same textbook explanation. The rest of us, however, must start objecting to this lest the entire political discourse be befouled. So for the third and last time, cut it the hell out, all your opponents don’t necessarily have the same goals or motivations.