Sunday, January 21, 2007


Now I’m not much of a philosopher but I’ve been having this problem with ideology lately. I mean: what the hell am I?

I’m not a socialist because I don’t think you can run an entire economy like the Department of Public Works without rendering reality a greywash’d yawn stuffed full of a million unnecessary forms.

On the other hand I don’t think that just ‘cause you’re born rich you should have carte blanche access to the best education and career paths. And, let’s face it, that’s exactly where this country’s heading. The argument comes: well if you’re poor and smart you can get a scholarship.

Why should you have to? Why should some Toorak dumbass become a barrister just ‘cause her/his daddy/mummy was and so on back to viscosity? My view: if you have the brains to be nothing but a bull-wanker then be a bull-wanker regardless your place on the social register.

And more: if you’re rich and you get a rare disease you have access to the best medical care. If you’re poor, then sorry your policy doesn’t cover it - kindly fuck off and drop dead. Why? How is that justice?

So in that respect I am a ‘socialist’.

But wait. If I want to start up some kind of business I really don’t see why I have to get permission to do so from some state authority. Sure if I’m feeding people or delivering their babies there are standards to be met. But what if I’m just offering to ghost-write their life stories. Is that anyone’s business save that of me and my client?

Hell no.

Maybe I’m a capitalist.

So I started taking some online tests. I mean that’s gotta be reliable yeah? These days they have this nifty new map structure. One such, the political compass, rightly asserts that:

The old one-dimensional categories of 'right' and 'left', established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today's complex political landscape. For example, who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?

Furthermore in Stalin’s day were his rigid supporters conservatives? After all Stalinism was the status quo. So were those opposed to him ‘left-wing’?

It’s a funny old world.

People and systems don’t fit neatly into categories. And as the site asks: “how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi?”

The quiz presents you with a map divided by two axes. Along one is the standard left-right economic criteria: government control, intervention, moderation, laissez-faire. The other axis regards personal freedoms: free speech, sex, etc. I guess we can call these the capitalist-socialist axis and the authoritarian-libertarian axis.

In the centre territory there is a circle representing the intersection. On some political tests this central territory is labelled ‘centrist’ on those sites obviously pushing a libertarian barge this territory is labelled ‘statist’.

Questions differed from test to test but I pretty consistently scored on the libertarian side and slightly to the left of the capitalist-socialist axis. I’ve been classified a moderate, liberal or left libertarian.

This would alter depending on the questions some of which were specific to another country (eg the US), some of which were irritating either/or scenarios. My favourite in this latter category is:

What do you think is more important?

A/ Controlling inflation.
B/Controlling unemployment.

Well as they’re inter-related aspects of the economic cycle they’re both important. High inflation leads to high unemployment which ‘cause no-one’s got nothing to spend tends to bring prices and wages down so then they get jobs and start spending and the prices go up and around we go again. And of course that's only the way it works in Grade 10 economics textbooks.

How ‘bout option C: Thinking one’s important and the other isn’t, is dumb. There was no such option C.

Another example of this is on the Liberal Democratic Party’s site. Question two of the ‘social’ side of the test asks:

2) What should the governments role be with regards to issues of sex such as prostitution, pornography, sexual orientation etc?

a. There should be no laws with regards to issues relating to sex
b. Pornography, prostitution and sexual choice should be allowed and slightly regulated
c. Some pornography, prostitution and sexual choice should be allowed, but slightly discouraged
d. Some pornography and sexual choice should be allowed, but discouraged
e. There should be strict laws banning prostitution and pornography and controlling sexual choice.

Okay I picked option b. But that’s not exactly what I meant. Pornography, prostitution and consenting sexual choice are different things. In the case of the latter, it’s the business of lovers who’s loving the government and everyone else butts out.

Pornography? Well some people don’t like it and some do. Therefore I believe that you should be able to get it if you want it but you should likewise be able to avoid it if so inclined. That’s one aspect for regulation there are others: no kids, no chainsaws.

In the case of prostitution you are dealing with an industry that can and does become very ugly if unregulated. So, whilst I’m inclined to let business be business, in the case of prostitution and other industries where the absence of regulation is disastrous I think maybe um... some rules.

But the point is given multiple choice answers to decide your politics is an over-simplistic guide to ideological (read doctrine driven) thinking. I'm, therefore I believe a, b, and c are good and x, y, and z are bad - always no matter what. This way of thinking, or avoiding thinking, is something I'm deeply allergic to. Just writing about makes me feel itchy.

You can tell you're slipping into this trap when you answer every question in reference to someone who never really had a job: Marx said this, Hayek said that, Chomsky said so and so but Foucault says blah blah blah and Nietzsche etc. Not to impune the work of these gentlemen but remember:


So the test, or mode of tests is not exactly bullet-proof. I’m not trashing it just saying you can take a much more nuanced stand on something particularly if you know whereof you speak. And remember: mostly you don't - there are questions that baffle. The first question on the aforementioned quiz relates to how much government control of what percentage GDP. There was no option X: How the fuck would I know?

Still it's really useful to be able to summarise my myriad and oft contradictory thoughts with two words. When I go to parties and people ask my politics I can say I’m a left libertarian.


Now no-one will like me.


Iain Hall said...

It is a bit of fool's errand to try to find a single simple lable for oneself but I do think that the journey ,as you discribe it, has som merit in sorting out where you stand on the important questions.

I know you have only recently changed the look of this blog but could you put the text into a bigger font? it is rather hard to read and hard on this old Codger's eyes :o)

Jason Soon said...

adrien - is there any chance you can make your blog more reader-friendly?
you've got lots of good material here.

phil said...

Adrien - I'm with them two on the presentation - lots of squinting is bad for you.

And I think I'm with you on the never-ending task of self-discovery and the search for labels (in lieu of meaning, which is what we're probably all actually looking for). I come across as way 'left' on my blog but that reflects more my anger/despondency about our current political overlords than any deep-seated attached to a particular 'ism'. Your analysis of the various political/economic 'tests' around mirrored what many others have found - they're diverting but hardly authoritative.


samson said...

all I know is I'm a samsonist.