Political Identity

If, like me, you find the concept of political identity–where you are on what sort of political spectrum there might be–fascinating, this article by Jonathan Delacour will be a good read.

It inspired two thoughts in me:

1) Quoth Jonathan:

while putting "libertarian" at the opposite end of the spectrum as "authoritarian" is something libertarians like to do, i think it’s ridiculous. "authoritarian" is not the opposite of "libertarian".

"Libertarian", in the political sense, can indeed be the opposite of "authoritarian". In the strict senses of the terms, there is nothing incompatible about authoritarianism and universal health care, for example. There is a distinction between cultural and economic realms of control, and universal health care, with the exception of individualism, is a culturally-neutral institution. You could have communist, socialist, fascist, or nazi universal health care. Likewise, for various reasons, both “left” and “right” governments have banned smoking. A left-liberal government would be very unlikely to establish a state religion, however, and in that sense it’s far more culturally libertarian than a right-conservative government.

That doesn’t mean that Jonathan is a “libertarian,” but it does mean he is slightly more culturally and slightly less economically libertarian than the theoretical middle point.

2) Quoth Jonathan:

* Everything has a cost.
* Our gains rarely, if ever, outweigh our losses.
* The past is precious.
* Progress is an illusion.

Taking a constrained view of human nature doesn’t mean believing progress is impossible; it just means you have to be realistic about how much improvement you can expect and aware that there will be downsides or tradeoffs, but it doesn’t mean those tradeoffs will be equal to the gains in every case. Color me an incomplete constrainer, but I think that over long periods of time, societies can move one direction or another and that shared culture can affect what sorts of tradeoffs can be made…for example, once nobody’s fighting for basic (Maslow’s heirarchy) material wants, as they are in Europe and European North America, the rules can move beyond certain assumptions that people are likely to starve or indulge in warlordism at the drop of a hat.

But then I’m a firm believer in technology being the prime mover of societal change in the short run (in the long run, it’s evolution, whether driven by natural selection, self-directed, or in some fuzzy middle ground), and you can be a better and more magnanimous person if you have an easy time getting water, food, clothing, and shelter.

Oh, and then there’s the question of whether altruism is truly a moral ideal when compared to enlightened self-interest, but I’ll let Ayn Rand take on that one. 😉 I’ll just note that a lot more altruism was necessary in a tribal setting–but it wasn’t universalist. So sacrificing for the tribe was fine, sacrificing for another tribe was out of the question. Now you’re not required to sacrifice as much because the consequences are lower–if you hoard your beans, your neighbor will still have plenty. Beauty of the market–the price mechanism handles it much more efficiently than altruism.