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The Political Compass

The political discussions of the last century or so have mostly been dominated by the terms "right wing" and "left wing", both of which have all sorts of connotations attached to them. These terms, however, are rather limited. For example, both Stalin and Ghandi were "left wing", but their politics were worlds apart. There is clearly another dimension to their ideals that needs to be taken into account.

The political compass is a way of orienting somebody's political views that looks beyond the simple left-or-right of their economics, also grading the social aspect of their opinions, ranging from authoritarian (at the "top") to libertarian (at the "bottom"). To give you an idea of how this works, have a look at where some major historical figures stood:

political compass of major historical figures

There is an online test that gives you 62 statements on various issues, and requires you to agree or disagree, strongly or weakly, with each one, using your answers to position you on the compass, and show you where you stand in relation to others. Recently, a bunch of my (mostly CLUG) friends took the test, and Michael hacked together a nifty script that automatically generated a graph which plotted our positions against each other:

political compass for CLUGgers

As you can see, we all kinda cluster in the lower left corner, with the exception of a few fascists and capitalist pigs. This is probably to be expected from a bunch of freedom-loving open-source geeks, but the wide spread of our opinions got me thinking. We're all rational, intelligent people (well, almost all), and I've always had the (possibly rather naive) opinion that if people could just talk about stuff, and see each other's points of view, they'd agree. Or, disagree less. Bearing that in mind, and bearing my current campaign (which will become increasingly obvious) to raise the signal-to-noise ratio of our local internets, I balked at the simple "this is my score" posts that some of us were doing. Accordingly, I asked my friends to actually write up their test results, instead of just giving their scores - that is, to go through the test question by question, and actually explain their reasoning, so that we could see why our scores were different. So far, my call has been heeded by Stefano and Jeremy, bless their pasty white skins.

You will notice from the above graph that Jeremy (labelled as jerith) falls on the bourgeois-money-grubbing-lapdog-of-the-imperialist (that is to say "right") side of the economic spectrum, while I am fairly far left (vhata at about -5,-5), and I used this to perform an experiment when drawing up my analysis. First, I did the test as normal, and wrote down my answers. Then, I read through Jeremy's rationalisations (or "reasoning", if you must), and re-did the test, but bearing his thoughts in mind the second time. While nothing he said actually changed my mind (except for one question which I had misunderstood, and which was clarified by his answer), it did have some effect in strengthening or weakening my convictions.

This is exactly what I had hoped would happen (and I promise I didn't do it on purpose): getting an insight into the mind of another person whom I respect made me empathise with his opinions more, and drew me slightly towards his world-view. It turns out that my results after redoing the test pushed me just over two full points to the right, towards Jeremy's position. It also strengthens my belief that if we could just engage in proper dialogue, instead of always falling back on over-defensive rationalisation and emotional attacks, there would be a lot less conflict in the world.

Before I give the analysis of my answers, I want to quickly discuss the political compass of a few other people. The people at have put together charts for all of the European Union countries, and for all of the people running in the US presidential elections. They give some nice discussion, especially of the elections, so I won't duplicate that here. What I will say is that it is no surprise that almost all of the nodes are in the top-right corner: being below the x-axis means you don't like the government meddling with you, and it's not surprising that governments and politicians aren't in favour of that. What is pleasing is (a) how close to the centre point a lot of Europe is, and (b) where Barack Obama stands. Walton Pantland at Red Star Coven puts it really well, so once again, I won't re-say it here.

On to my analysis!

Propositions concerning the country and the world

  • If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.
    Strongly Agree - trans-national corporations are an economic/political construct. To suggest that something should serve their interests instead of the interests of the human race which created them is simply frightening.

  • I'd always support my country, whether it was right or wrong.
    Strongly Disagree - again, to suggest that you would support something that you know is wrong, simply because it's "your" country is terrifying.

  • No one chooses his or her country of birth, so it's foolish to be proud of it.
    Disagree - you can be proud of the fine achievements of the country you were born into, just as you can be proud of your own natural talents (which you were born with, and did not earn). It's when you take that pride to levels of nationalism, and attack others because they're not your people that it gets bad.

  • Our race has many superior qualities, compared with other races.
    Disagree - I firmly believe that all humans are created equal: no race is inherently superior to another race. The reason this isn't a strong disagreement is that there are quantifiable physiological advantages that some races have in certain areas (Kenyans can run, French people can pronounce things nobody else can, Polynesian pearl divers can hold their breath for ages), but this is no reason to claim "superiority".

  • The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
    Disagree - the relationship is not black-and-white: both being against one thing does not mean we are both for the same things. Any teenager at highschool should know this.

  • Military action that defies international law is sometimes justified.
    Agree - very, very rarely, a military force might conceivably have to breach international law to achieve some greater good.

  • There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.
    Disagree - I didn't understand this question until Jeremy pointed out that this fusion meant that we could no longer tell the difference between fact/reality, and fiction/entertainment, and this made me realise that this fusion can lead to wars and governments being treated like viewer-run reality shows. I changed my opinion to Agree after that.

The Economy

  • People are ultimately divided more by class than by nationality.
    Agree - In this era of globalisation, I don't feel that cross-border differences are anywhere near as important to our world-views as the differences of income and class.

  • Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment.
    Disagree - if everybody has jobs, they will have money to spend and circulate, and inflation will decrease. I don't think the reverse will happen as readily.

  • Because corporations cannot be trusted to voluntarily protect the environment, they require regulation.
    Agree - They cannot be trusted, being primary money-creating machines, and the environment does need protection, so some form of regulation is required. It's not a strong agreement because I think my views that they can be (self?) regulated by consumer opinion and pressure to be ethical doesn't fall under the spirit of the question.

  • "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is a fundamentally good idea.
    Strongly Agree - it may not be implementable in our current situation, but it makes perfect sense that everybody does what they can, and gets what they need - it's just plain old efficient.

  • It's a sad reflection on our society that something as basic as drinking water is now a bottled, branded consumer product.
    Agree - I don't judge people for wanting luxuries of this sort, but I do think it's unfortunate that society makes people seek happiness in this form.

  • Land shouldn't be a commodity to be bought and sold.
    Disagree - land should be treated like other means of production. This isn't a strong disagreement because I acknowledge that it is still a more important means of production than most others, and maybe still deserves some slight special-casing.

  • It is regrettable that many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society.
    Agree - big-ups to them, but I would much prefer a world where you had to actually give back to society in order to be successful.

  • Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade.
    Agree - occasionally, factors are such that greater harm will come from allowing a big corporation (or similar) to manipulate the market forces to destroy a small local economy (for example), than would come from putting restrictions on the free market.

  • The only social responsibility of a company should be to deliver a profit to its shareholders.
    Strongly Disagree - this leads directly to destroying the environment and having trade union leaders murdered in order to stop costs and wages going up. Companies should have a strong social responsibility to improve the community, etc. (Whether they ever will or not is not the subject of this question.)

  • The rich are too highly taxed.
    Strongly Disagree - They're not going to get any sympathy from me by whining that their huge salaries aren't as huge as they could have been, because some of it is being used for public good.

  • Those with the ability to pay should have the right to higher standards of medical care.
    Agree - excellent medical care is expensive and scarce - not everybody can obtain it, so let those who can pay for it do so, and make sure that everybody else gets medical care that is good enough.

  • Governments should penalise businesses that mislead the public.
    Strongly Agree - lying to the public to improve profits is just plain evil

  • A genuine free market requires restrictions on the ability of predator multinationals to create monopolies.
    Agree - to really let the free market forces work, you need to stop people with undue influence (be it the government, with the power to legislate, or corporations, with the economic power to crush competition) from creating artificial forces.

  • The freer the market, the freer the people.
    Strongly Agree - I don't think this contradicts the previous point, or the earlier one about protectionism - the most powerful voice people have nowadays is their consumerism, and they need to be free to wield it.

Personal Social Values

  • Abortion, when the woman's life is not threatened, should always be illegal.
    Strongly Disagree - that's intervening in somebody's life on dubious moral grounds to force them to take on a massive burden unwillingly.

  • All authority should be questioned.
    Strongly Agree - there is no authority that is above having to prove itself worthy of being an authority.

  • An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
    Strongly Disagree - perpetuating attacks and counter-attacks is just going to end up with everybody hurt. Forgive.

  • Taxpayers should not be expected to prop up any theatres or museums that cannot survive on a commercial basis.
    Strongly Disagree - Art and Culture should not have to be commercially successful to continue existing - the benefits we get from them supercedes this.

  • Schools should not make classroom attendance compulsory.
    Disagree - Children below a certain age aren't capable of making the decision as to whether or not they will benefit from something they simply see as unpleasant. I know I refused piano lessons when I was small, because I thought they were a drudge, and I regret it now.

  • All people have their rights, but it is better for all of us that different sorts of people should keep to their own kind.
    Disagree - the differences in other people are how we learn and grow. The need for genetic diversity in a healthy animal population is a simple example of why this is wrong. It's not a strong disagreement because I acknowledge that certain groups simply can't co-exist peacefully with each other (people from Fishoek, and normal people, for example).

  • Good parents sometimes have to spank their children.
    Strongly Agree - this is the first time children experience that their actions may have negative outcomes, a vital lesson in becoming morally mature.

  • It's natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents.
    Agree - everybody has a private inner life.

  • Possessing marijuana for personal use should not be a criminal offence.
    Agree - the (debatable) negative effects of marijuana are far outweighed by the very clear negative effects that criminalizing it has.

  • The prime function of schooling should be to equip the future generation to find jobs.
    Strongly Disagree - Education is to teach us how to live productively in society, and covers far more than simply "being hirable".

  • People with serious inheritable disabilities should not be allowed to reproduce.
    Strongly Disagree - to deprive somebody of a fundamental right (some would say, a biological imperative) for reasons of "genetic purity" is completely unjustified.

  • The most important thing for children to learn is to accept discipline.
    Strongly Disagree - Education is not to teach people to buckle under and accept authority. Children must be taught to question authority for themselves, to discipline themselves, and, in the end, must be given an appropriate moral understanding to realise for themselves when discipline is warranted.

  • There are no savage and civilised peoples; there are only different cultures.
    Agree - there are certainly savage people, but this is an aspect of their personalities, not of their cultures.

  • Those who are able to work, and refuse the opportunity, should not expect society's support.
    Agree - refusing to be productive in no way entitles you to the benefits of somebody else's productivity.

  • When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things.
    Disagree - Sometimes, if there is nothing you can do about it, taking your mind off something is the only thing to do. However, more often than not, burying your head in the sand won't do anything to help solve your problems.

  • First-generation immigrants can never be fully integrated within their new country.
    Disagree - There is nothing inherently alien about first-generation immigrants that mean they are less able to integrate than their children will be. This isn't a strong disagreement because it is clear that actually growing up in the new country will give their children a bigger advantage.

  • What's good for the most successful corporations is always, ultimately, good for all of us.
    Strongly Disagree - I can literally see no correlation between what stuffs the coffers of a big corporation, and what is good for humanity.

  • No broadcasting institution, however independent its content, should receive public funding.
    Disagree - I can easily conceive of an independent broadcasting institution that benefits the whole public, and is deserving of public funding.

Wider Society

  • Our civil liberties are being excessively curbed in the name of counter-terrorism.
    Strongly Agree - it's happening all over the world. Try and disagree with this next time you are forced to throw away your new can of after-shave before you get on the plane.

  • A significant advantage of a one-party state is that it avoids all the arguments that delay progress in a democratic political system.
    Agree - It also has significant disadvantages, but that's not under debate in this question.

  • Although the electronic age makes official surveillance easier, only wrongdoers need to be worried.
    Strongly Disagree - The statement has the underlying (false) assumption that the "officials" doing the surveillance have a purely noble agenda.

  • The death penalty should be an option for the most serious crimes.
    Agree - Sometimes, rehabilitation really is impossible, and you need this option.

  • In a civilised society, one must always have people above to be obeyed and people below to be commanded.
    Disagree - While people tend to naturally organise themselves into heirarchies of this nature, it is by no means a pre-requisite for civilised societies.

  • Abstract art that doesn't represent anything shouldn't be considered art at all.
    Strongly Disagree - Art doesn't have to be "of" something in order to make a statement, or simply be pleasant and appreciable.

  • In criminal justice, punishment should be more important than rehabilitation.
    Strongly Disagree - We are not dogs that have to be repeatedly beaten to enforce behaviour patterns, nor is the legal system a tool for taking revenge on people for the harm they've done. If we can "fix" a criminal, then we almost have a duty to do so.

  • It is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate some criminals.
    Disagree - At least try. I will allow that some criminals may turn out be beyond help, but that is not what this statement is saying. A human life is worth the effort.

  • The businessperson and the manufacturer are more important than the writer and the artist.
    Strongly Disagree - I can't put it better than Jeremy did: "The former allow us to survive. The latter allow us to live."

  • Mothers may have careers, but their first duty is to be homemakers.
    Disagree - Having a child means you have a duty to ensure that that child is brought up properly, it does not mean you have a duty to "be a homemaker". (For example, the father could take that responsibility.)

  • Multinational companies are unethically exploiting the plant genetic resources of developing countries.
    Strongly Agree - Once again, bringing their large economic forces to bear means that they can exploit what they shouldn't.

  • Making peace with the establishment is an important aspect of maturity.
    Disagree - It is important for your personal growth to come to terms with what you cannot change, but as people like Martin Luther King have shown, sometimes you have to refuse to back down and fight for change you know is necessary.


  • Astrology accurately explains many things.
    Strongly Disagree - My personality and fortunes are not governed by huge balls of flaming gas many light years away.

  • You cannot be moral without being religious.
    Strongly Disagree - There are several fundamentally excellent moral systems that are not based on the fiat-ethics that religion often imposes.

  • Charity is better than social security as a means of helping the genuinely disadvantaged.
    Agree - Charity is a distributed, grass-roots system that uses individual case-based judgements to decide how best to help others, and easily trumps social security's klunky centralised attempt at redistributing wealth.

  • Some people are naturally unlucky.
    Strongly Disagree - Randomness is random, and random events do not happen in a certain fashion because somebody has some ephemeral attribute called 'luck'.

  • It is important that my child's school instills religious values.
    Strongly Disagree - It is important that my child's school instills an enquiring attitude, a desire to strive for the truth, and an appreciation for the spiritual in life, so that my child can find (or not find) her own religious values.


  • Sex outside marriage is usually immoral.
    Strongly Disagree - Most sensible moral codes would accept a large portion of relationships nowadays as valid morally, even though they haven't got the official seal of marriage on them.

  • A same sex couple in a stable, loving relationship, should not be excluded from the possibility of child adoption.
    Strongly Agree - I think a child has a better chance of a good upbringing in such a household than in many households these days.

  • Pornography, depicting consenting adults, should be legal for the adult population.
    Agree - Censorship never achieved anything other than driving its target underground.

  • What goes on in a private bedroom between consenting adults is no business of the state.
    Strongly Agree - The state is in no position to prescribe what people can and cannot do, any more than it can make moral calls or restrict freedom in other ways.

  • No one can feel naturally homosexual.
    Strongly Disagree - There are too many gay teenagers who are desperately trying (and failing) to deny their homosexuality to themselves, for me to agree that it's "just a choice".

  • These days openness about sex has gone too far.
    Disagree - Making something a taboo, or creating an aura of mystique about it, is probably more harmful than overexposing it.


So there we have it. Those are my opinions. Every time I take the test my score seems to wobble a bit, although it's almost always somewhere in the vicinity of the -5,-5 mark. My official score from last week is:

Economic Left/Right: -5.38
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.03

I don't expect too many other people to go to the effort of transcribing their reasons (although it is quite an eye-opener, self-awareness-wise, when you do it, and I do recommend it), but I do want to restate that I firmly believe that if this sort of discussion happened more around ALL issues, there would be much less strife than there is in the world today.

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