29 August 2014

Why Cultural Relativism is Racist

NOWSA 2014 is over. Thankfully, I was in London for part of it. I do not think I could have been any further away from their discussions of “feminist pornography”, “gender-fluidity” and [insert pretentious, academic term for a concept that is actually pretty simple here]. I wrote this post back in July, while I was in Paris, where I had to walk through an onslaught of expensive clothing in order to get to anything I needed, but I was still happy to be away from university for a week (I told my parents that the semester started in August, haha.) Enjoy this post and feel free to leave feedback in the comment section.

One of the organisers of NOWSA 2014 bragged about it being “the yet intersectional one yet”, what I assume the organiser meant is that the conference featured more non-whites and transsexual organisers/speakers and involved discussions of race, disability and just about everything except for the problems that women face as a result of being women. Liberals claim that they are the true opponents of racism what they term “ethnocentrism”, (unlike all those nasty anti-pornography, anti-BDSM, “white” feminists.) They argue for something called “cultural relativism”, the notion that all cultural practices ought to be “respected” (which really means that they ought to be blindly praised and never criticised, no matter how much harm they cause to women.)

As the title implies, my aim in this article is to convince you that cultural relativism is in fact a racist, pro-West viewpoint. If you are not convinced by the end of the article, feel free to leave a comment explaining why.

1. It Makes Non-White People Seem Like Aliens

Liberals promote the view that nobody who has grown up in the West can ever hope to understand a non-Western culture, at least not without studying it at university for years and giving up thousands of dollars in the process, how convenient, right?

While there are indeed a wide variety of cultures in the world, there are certain patterns as well. The oppression of women is one. Most class-divided societies have some kind of mechanism through which to oppress women. Often this takes the form of a beauty practice like foot-binding or neck rings (which deform women’s collarbones in order to make their necks appear longer) or breast implants or any of the other hundred or so beauty practices that are promoted in the West. Perhaps we are not that different after all. 

Class divided cultures also tend to have supernatural and pseudoscientific beliefs that justify the division of humanity into classes. Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in a monotheistic god who commands the existence of a hierarchical society in which some people are enslaved to others. Hindus and Buddhists believe that the world is a place of punishment that people are sent to (through reincarnation) if they fail to reach Nirvana and thus making life better for the poor and oppressed would defeat the whole purpose of their existence on Earth. Then you have the so-called “scientists” who argued that black people’s brains were naturally smaller than white people’s and that blacks were thus suited to the role of being slaves. While ruling classes have used all kinds of different ideological mechanisms to keep the oppressed in their place (thus creating that “cultural diversity” thing liberals are so fond of) all cultures which are the product of an economic system that divides people into classes are fundamentally about the same thing, maintaining that class division. 

Cultural relativists ignore these patterns in favour of a narrative that makes non-Western cultures seem so different to the culture of the West that those who belong to the former might as well be aliens. Of course they do not call them aliens, but they do go out of their way to emphasise how different non-whites are to white people and how incapable whites are of understanding non-white people. They also denounce any attempt to point out the similarities between people of different ethnic backgrounds. In doing so, cultural relativists set up a false contrast between the cultures in which women are oppressed by various traditional beauty practices and the Western world in which women are supposedly treated like equals. Then they attack Westerns for wanting to impose their “egalitarianism” onto other cultures which refuse to accept the “Western” notion that women ought to be treated like equals. This whole narrative is of course dependent on the (false) assumption that the West does not do the oppressive things that non-Western societies do. So tell me, who are the racists now?

2. It Makes Non-White Groups Seem Internally Homogenous

If the argument I put forward above is correct, it follows from this that all cultures ought to subject to political critique. While it is clear that white people are capable of critiquing the cultures they grew up in and being part of movements that challenge Western cultural practices, cultural relativists assume that all non-Whites are blind followers of their cultures. Thus criticising a non-white person’s culture is deemed to be highly offensive, because there is absolutely no way that they could be criticising it themselves, right? Non-whites are too dumb for that. 

In case I did not myself clear enough, that last comment was sarcastic. Non-whites are in fact capable of critiquing the cultures they grew up, just as white people do. Hence there are radical leftist movements all over the world as well as secularist movements that seek to combat Muslim extremism. There are even feminist movements that fight for against the enforcement of harmful cultural practices such as burqa-wearing and female genital mutilation. Cultural relativists ignore the existence of such movements and instead assume that every racial group has some kind of uniform culture that had existed for thousands of years before white people came along and messed things up. White people (or rather, a group of rich, powerful men who claim to speak up on behalf of ordinary white people and occasionally enlist their help in order to impose oppression) have messed things up for non-whites, but not in the way liberals think they have. I will have more to say about that, in the next section.

3. It Ignores the Role of the West in International Affairs

In order to defend practices such as burqa-wearing and female genital mutilation, cultural relativists represent such practices as a natural part of non-Western cultures. Cultural relativists would have us all believe that Arab women have been wearing burqas since the beginning of time. In reality, the Arab world was once the site of intellectual progress and religious tolerance, at least compared to medieval Europe (in which strict adherence to Catholicism was insisted upon.) As I said above, class divided societies tend to have cultures and ideologies that reinforce the status quo and these cultures ought to be critiqued on that basis. The Arabic world of the middle ages should not be exempt from such critique, but the religious extremism and violent misogyny of some Islamic countries in the modern era is at least in part due to the policies of the West. It is not purely a product of traditional Arabic or Muslim culture.

A timely example of this phenomenon is Israel’s recent attack on Gaza. Over 1500 Palestinians (most of them civilians) lost their lives during the attack and many more had their homes destroyed by bombs. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has been going on since 1967, inspiring much of the contempt for the West that exists within the Middle East and causing the people of Palestine and the surrounding Arab nations to turn to Islamic extremists who promise protection from the influences of the West (which is not to say that anyone struggling to liberate Palestine is automatically an Islamic extremist.) 
Another source of contempt is the understandable disgust many in the Arabic world feel towards Western culture. Traditional religion is seen as a means of maintaining order and morality in a world increasingly dominated by the shallow, amoral thinking of the West, and yes, ironic as it is, the very people who are pushing cultural relativism (liberal feminists) are part of the problem. If a group of Muslim extremists, or perhaps even some more moderate Muslims who have not yet totally bought into Western ideology, were to encounter a group of liberal feminists who insisted on “cultural relativism”, “sexual liberation” and the supposed “right to be sexy” the Muslims would see the liberals as an example of everything that is wrong with the West and, to some extent, they would be right.

There are of course numerous other causes of the growth of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and the conflict between the Arab and Western worlds, including the fact that the US government provided economic backing to extreme Muslim groups during their fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, even though more secular resistance groups existed. If you wish to investigate the issue further, I am sure you will find plenty of people who know way more about the topic than I do. Noam Chomsky is the first person who comes to mind. For now, I think my point has been made. Culture is an ever-changing thing and at this point in history many harmful changes are being perpetuated by the actions of the West. While cultural relativists present themselves as critics of the West and Western centrism, their viewpoint ultimately winds up justifying the harms that the West causes throughout the world.


I hope I have convinced you that cultural relativism is actually a racist worldview that makes the West out to be far better than actually is. Instead of challenging the conservative view that the West is some sort of beacon of enlightenment for the rest of the world to follow, cultural relativists instead try to convince us that there is nothing particularly good about enlightenment and that we only think it is good because we grew up in the “enlightened” West, thus reinforcing the view that the West is in fact enlightened. Instead of encouraging us to see the oppressive nature of our own culture, cultural relativists tell us to be just as uncritical towards other cultures as we are towards our own, thereby ensuring that Western culture remains uncriticised. I daresay that it is not the interests of women or non-Westerns that are being served by this fake and (ironically) highly westernised, anti-racism.
I would like to offer my condolences to the hundreds of  Gaza residents who lost family members during the time that I spent writing this article and I would like them to know that the actions of the Israel government do not represent the desires of all ethnic Jews.

This article was temporary removed from this blog due to computer problems. It has since been re-posted. I apologise for any confusion this may have caused.

11 August 2014

The Top Five Misrepresentations of those who Reject Post-Modernism

Welcome to my blog. This is a short post I wrote a while back that deals with a pet peeve of mine, post-modernism (I also refer to it as "relativism" sometimes.) You may not know what post-modernism is, but if you are a university student you probably believe in it. Read on to find out more.

Conservatives, radical leftists and other groups with passionate political viewpoints have commented on the emergence of post-modernism within universities and in the culture in general. Though few people label themselves as post-modernists, phrases which promote post-modernist ideas such as “everyone has their own reality” and “everyone’s ideas are valid” seem to be everywhere. In short, post-modernism is the belief that there is no real, objective world and that people who try to convince you that they have a correct understanding of reality are dictatorial monsters who are persecuting you for having different beliefs to them. Post-modernists despise anyone who has a political ideology, moral system, philosophical worldview or a belief in the value of science and who dares to try to change people’s minds because of it.
There is no term for people who reject post-modernism and perhaps there should not be, since post-modernism rejecters have a wide variety of worldviews, personalities and attitudes to truth. Some post-modernism rejecters have very dogmatic worldviews, others have more flexible worldviews. In spite of these differences, promoters of post-modernism view its opponents as one homogeneous, totalitarian group. Of course, post-modernists do not often speak about post-modernism rejecters directly. In fact they hardly ever speak about anything in a direct manner, but what they say does suggest a view of post-modernism rejecters that is inaccurate (or at the very least, not characteristic of most post-modernism rejecters.) Please note that in this context a post-modernism rejecter is anyone who does not adhere to the post-modernist view that reality is subjective and/or unknowable. One does not need to be an open critic of post-modernism to be a post-modernism rejecter.
So without further ado, I shall examine the top five misrepresentations of post-modernism rejecters implicitly promoted by post-modernist discourse (to those of you who are not part of academia “discourse” is just a fancy word for “talk”.)
1. They Think That Everyone Thinks the Same Way 

Opponents of post-modernism are often implicitly accused of failing to acknowledge the existance of viewpoints other than their own. In reality, post-modernism rejecters do recognise that different people perceive the world in different ways. They merely reject the idea that all beliefs about the world are accurate. They believe that some ways of viewing the world are more accurate than others (meaning they better represent the way the world actually is.) This is not the same thing as believing that one’s own perceptions of the world are totally accurate. Truth-orientated people try to adjust their views of the world to match reality and ask that others do the same. Post-modernism rejecters recognise that reality and perception are not the same thing, so while people do have their own perceptions they do not have their “own realities”.
In order to gain a better understanding of the world, one should consider unconventional views and ideas that are contrary to their own. Thus, the notion that post-modernism rejecters simply have not considered alternative viewpoints is condescending and often incorrect. One can consider a viewpoint and still reject it as false. If a person immediately rejects a viewpoint that is presented to them, this is not proof that they have not “considered” it. It could simply mean that they have encountered it in the past and do not feel the need to “consider” it again.
In the same way that post modernism rejecters understand that not all individuals have the same worldview, they also understand that not all societies and culture promote the same worldview. They recognise that ideas which are dominant in their part of the world may not be dominant in other parts of the world. However, they do not believe that any idea a person has because of their “culture” must be correct and may challenge cultural views that they believe to be incorrect.
2. They Think They Are Right about Everything

Those who reject post-modernism do not believe that they are infallible or that they have all the right answers. They merely believe that right answers exist. Usually they also believe that it is possible to arrive at an answer and be reasonably sure that it is accurate. Post-modernism rejecters employ various methods to try to understand the world and have lively debates about which method is correct.
Of course post-modernism rejecters think that the ideas they believe in are true, otherwise they would not believe in them. They also think that contradictory ideas are false, that is also part of believing a claim. This is different from believing that one is incapable of making a mistake or holding a false belief. Passionately promoting a certain viewpoint does not make one close minded. If a viewpoint can be backed up through rational argument it makes sense that one would have a strong belief in it.
3. They All Blindly Follow Some Infallible Authority Figure

Like I mentioned above, rejecters of post-modernism recognise that there are correct answers to things, but don’t necessarily believe that they have found them, nor do they always believe that somebody out there has all the answers. They don’t necessary have a perfect method for finding answers either, but they use the method that they think does the best job of investigating reality. There are other options besides blindly believing everything a particular source says and blindly rejecting all truth claims in the name of not being “dogmatic”.
Truth claims presented by authority figures should be rationally evaluated to determine whether they are correct not. This evaluation may lead one to decide that the viewpoint presented is correct. The fact that somebody happens to agree with something an authority figure has said is not proof that they are a blind follower of that authority figure. It is entirely possible to agree with some things which an authority has said while disagreeing with other things.
4. They Do Not Realise That Views Are Influenced by Society

The fact that a viewpoint is the result of society’s influence does not make it incorrect. The problem is that people tend to think that ideas that are popular in society are true simply because they are popular, ideas like post-modernism for example.
Anyhow, a person may well acknowledge that their society played a role in enabling them to find out things about the world (e.g. if we did not live in a scientifically advanced society we may not know that stars are giant balls of gas light-years away from the earth rather than dots floating around the earth) while still holding an idea to be objectively true. The fact that someone may not believe in a particular idea if they were born under different circumstances has no bearing on whether or not the idea is true.
Post-modernism rejecters can also recognise that the practice of science is influenced by society. In fact, one of the functions of the scientific method is to prevent personal and society-created biases from influencing one’s experimental results. Scientists do not deny that they are prone to bias, in fact, a well designed scientific experiment accounts for such biases (e.g. by ensuring that those participating in, as well as those conducting the experiment, do not know anything that would then cause their biases to influence the results, this is known as double-blinding.)
5. They Blindly Believe In The Ideas of Western Society

Failing to accept cultural relativism, the post-modernist view that what is true and morally right varies depending on culture, does not automatically make one a worshiper of Western culture. Western culture should be subject to the same criticism that foreign cultures receive. While post-modernists try to protect all oppressive cultures from criticism, genuine radicals ought to ruthlessly critique all class divided societies and the cultures which they create, including the culture of the West.
The ironic thing about this accusation is that post-modernism and cultural relativism are themselves Western ideas, not only in the sense that they emerged within the West, but also in the sense that they reflect the individualistic thinking which is characteristic of the West. Less individual-centred societies would scoff at the notion that individuals could have their own personal realities and that all behaviours are acceptable so long as they are part of your culture. In fact this way of thinking is part of the reason why religious fundamentalists around the world despise what they see as the “decadent” West.

This list does not include all of the misconceptions that those influenced by post-modernism have regarding post-modernism’s rejecters, but it does contain the most common and most irritating ones. I would like to see an end to the promotion of these misrepresentations in universities and elsewhere.
Of course some post-modernism rejecters do have the characteristics that post-modernists accuse them of having, but none of these characteristics are the necessary result of rejecting post-modernism. Religious fundamentalists and dogmatic conservatives do reject post-modernism, but they are not the only ones who do so. Many radical (and even some non-radical) leftists also reject post-modernism, as do scientifically minded people. Thus the mere fact that a person rejects post-modernism does not tell one anything about what that person believes politically, except that they probably have a political belief of some kind.
Therefore promoters of post-modernism should stop universally dismissing its opponents as reactionaries and instead start taking what they have to say seriously. Post-modernism rejecters are not closed-minded idiots who have never heard your way of thinking before.  In reality, post-modernism is the dominant view in universities nowadays and we have heard it all before, so it is time for post-modernists to give post-modernism rejecters a turn to speak.
Thanks for reading. If you are a university student I hope that my article made you rethink some of the things that academics have told you. If you are not a university student, be glad that you do not have to put up with this nonsense.

23 February 2014

Proposing a New Political Map - Part 2

This post is the second part in a series of three posts. If you haven’t already done so, check out the first part here.  
Section 2: An Alternative Political Map

In place of the political map used by the Political Compass site, I would like to propose an alternative method of sorting people into ideological groups, one which recognises that there are three main approaches that people can take with regard to political issues, not two, and thus three types of political ideologies. I believe that equality between human beings is a worthwhile end and have based my alternative political map on this notion, thus classifying different political viewpoints according to where they stand in relation to the struggle for human equality.

The three political ideology types, or “paths” as I will henceforth call them, are the egalitarian path, the anti-egalitarian path and the individualist (a.k.a. liberal) path. Each of these paths includes a number of ideologies, some of which are more radical and others more moderate. An ideology’s path is determined by the philosophical principles upon which the ideology is based. It is possible for two ideologies to belong to the same path, while being in conflict with one another.

Some political positions (e.g. supporting the right to abortion) are held by ideological movements from different paths. This is to be expected since many political issues only allow people to take one of two stances (for or against.) However the political map that I am proposing takes into account one’s reasons for having the position they do and not just the position itself. Hence if two political movements take the same stance on a given issue, one can examine the main reasons given by the movements for taking that position in order to determine which “paths” they belong to. I will henceforth explore these paths in more detail.

This diagram shows the three ideological paths, which I have discussed

The Egalitarian Path

Radical Movements: Communism, Left-wing anarchism, Radical Feminism
Moderate Movements: Non-revolutionary socialism (reformism), Moderate Feminism

Egalitarians value equality and seek to lower the amount of inequality in the world. In particular they are opposed to inequalities of power and wealth, which exist as a result of political, economic and social systems. Thus the most radical egalitarians (described on my diagram as radical leftists) seek to create a communist or anarchist society, devoid of economic and social hierarchies. When I use the word “communist” here I am not referring to dictatorial regimes, like that which existed in the Soviet Union, but to the original communist ideal of a world free from class divisions, in which everyone contributed as much as they could to society and got back what they needed.

Communists, revolutionary socialists, utopian socialists and anarchists share this radical egalitarian vision, but disagree over how the ideal should be achieved. Utopian socialists, who were prominent during the nineteenth century, aimed to create model societies that the rest of the world could then copy, while communists and anarchists call for oppressed classes to bring about a revolution which will reorganise society on a more egalitarian, non-capitalist basis. The precise details of the system which should replace capitalism are a matter of dispute among revolutionary leftists.  

Radical leftist movements seek to abolish capitalism, for they view it as a class-divided and therefore anti-egalitarian system. They believe that capitalism should be replaced with an economic system in which the economy is under the democratic control of ordinary people rather than capitalists (owners of corporations) and production occurs with the intent of meeting human need rather than generating profits for a small group of people. The ultimate aim of radical leftists is to put an end to the existence of economic classes and thus abolish the power inequalities which arise from the division of society into such classes.

However, the egalitarianism is not merely an economic project. A consistent radical leftist would also call for an end to the domination of men over women, the domination of whites over other races and the domination of some nations over other nations (what egalitarians sometimes call “imperialism”.) Radical leftists may even wish to, in the wrong run, abolish the division of humanity into nations (Marx and Engels argued for this in the Communist Manifesto.) It is with these ideals in mind that radical leftists approach social issues. Radical feminism is an example of a radical leftist movement which focuses on social issues (specifically those pertaining to gender and biological sex.) Radical feminists wish to abolish male domination (a.k.a. patriarchy) as well as the gender roles which reinforce it. The ultimate aim of radical feminism is to create a world in which masculinity and femininity no longer exist and people see themselves mainly as human beings rather than men or women. They believe that the struggle for women’s liberation is tied in with struggles against other hierarchical systems such as capitalism and white supremacy.

Egalitarians who are less radical (and who are described on the diagram as moderate progressives) seek to create more equality by working within the systems of capitalism, electoral democracy (often called “bourgeois democracy” by radical leftists) and gender. In the economic realm, moderate egalitarians argue in favour of creating and maintaining a welfare state which aims to meet the needs of the poor, thus lowering the degree to which wealthy corporations can dominate and exploit members of the lower classes. Moderate egalitarians also advocate taxing and regulating large corporations, further lowering the gap between rich and poor, not just in terms of wealth, but also in terms of power. Since moderate progressives promote modifications to the capitalism system as ends in themselves (rather than as means to more radical ends) they are derogatorily referred to as “reformists” by radical leftists.

In the social realm, moderate progressives also endorse racial equality and feel compassion for those who suffer from poverty, oppression, war, dictatorial rule and harmful working conditions in what is often called the third world or the global south. They also claim that they wish to end male domination, but their approach to gender resembles their reformist approach to capitalism. Moderate egalitarian don’t view the abolition of gender as necessary or possible and hence advocate in favour of what they deem to be healthier forms of masculinity and femininity.

Both radical and moderate egalitarians are often referred to as liberals. This is due in part to the fact that egalitarians and liberals take common stances on controversial issues such as gay rights and abortion. They are both opposed to conservatives (who belong on the anti-egalitarian path.) However, as we will see later on in this article, egalitarianism and liberalism are in fact very much opposed to each other.

The Anti-Egalitarian Path

Radical Movements: Fascism, Nazism, Dictatorial “Communism”, Islamic Extremism
Moderate Movements: Conservatism, Traditional Christianity

Anti-egalitarians are opposed to equality and consciously seek to either maintain or increase the amount of political, economic and social inequality in society. They believe that society works best when everybody knows their place within a strict hierarchical structure, in which those who belong to the higher levels of the hierarchy give orders and those who belong to the lower levels obey them. Those who promote the most extreme form of this ideology are the authoritarians (also labelled as dictatorial on the diagram.) Authoritarians aim to replace democratic rule by the people, with rule by an unelected entity (usually a political party), which enforces strict ideological conformity among its members and within society generally. These parties are highly hierarchical and often headed by a single leader who demands strict obedience.

While all authoritarians endorse a hierarchy of some kind, they disagree over which entity should be at the top of this hierarchy. Every patriotic imperialist wants their specific nation to rule the world, while religious theocrats want people to obey their god and no other. Anti-egalitarian movements may also differ from each other in terms of which hierarchical system they choose to focus on the most. For example, Hitler’s anti-egalitarian vision placed a great deal of emphasis on ensuring that the Aryan race and the German nation would dominate the world, while Franco (the leader of fascist Spain) sought to maintain the influence of traditional religious ideals (specifically those of the Catholic Church.)

Throughout history, a variety of economic systems have been endorsed by anti-egalitarian radicals. Fascists (such as Hitler and Franco) sought to maintain capitalism and its class structure. To this end they banned trade unions, suppressed leftist parties and denounced class struggle. Under fascism, the state and the corporations worked closely with one another and a belief in the need for national unity encouraged workers to view their capitalist rulers as allies. Dictatorial “communist” governments also sought to maintain rigid class divisions. Though the economies of these “communist” societies were planned rather than market driven, the economic system in place was highly hierarchical due to the undemocratic nature of the governments doing the planning. Other examples of hierarchical economic systems, which authoritarians may endorse, include caste systems (in which individuals are assigned to economic classes at birth), feudalism and slavery.  

In the social realm, authoritarians typically place a strong emphasis on religion (in its more traditional form) and the nuclear family structure. Traditional religions, which include Christianity and Islam, are favoured by anti-egalitarians because they promote a strict hierarchical order in which God is at the top, religious leaders are just below him, followed by adult male adherents of the faith, then by women adherents and finally by children. Women are required to submit to their husbands and take on the traditional role of being a housewife and a devoted mother, while children obey their parents, so long as said parents show the proper level of commitment to the hierarchy being endorsed. There are, of course, less strict, less traditional versions of Christianity and Islam, but these are typically not favoured by authoritarians. Authoritarians may also oppose traditional religion and insert their charismatic leader into the position of god.

Unlike authoritarians, less extreme anti-egalitarians (those labelled on the diagram as “conservative”) are satisfied with the anti-egalitarian order under which they live and do not see the need to remove it and replace it with a new, stricter system. Though conservatives believe that everyone should “know their place” and obey authority figures (assuming that they are the “right” authority figures), they do not seek to replace democratic regimes with dictatorial ones, but instead vote for or form political parties which create policies aimed at encouraging people to conform to religious, economic and gender hierarchies.  They endorse the economic system under which they live (nowadays this usually means endorsing capitalism) and oppose attempts to reform the system in ways that make it more egalitarian.

Conservatives support traditional religion (though not necessarily Christianity) and believe in what they term “family values”. To believe in “family values” usually means favouring a hierarchical nuclear families and traditional gender roles. They agree with the authoritarian belief that men should rule over women and oppose family structures in which this principle is not adhered to (e.g. families which include gay or lesbian couples.) Conservatives fear the chaos that comes with social upheaval and therefore dislike those who might cause such upheaval such as revolutionaries, progressives, adherents of other religions (including moderate or liberal adherents of their own religion), secularists and social liberals. Due to their desire to keep society stable, conservatives are particular frightened of crime and advocate a “tough” approach to dealing with criminals.

The Individualist Path

Radical Movements: Libertarianism, Anarcho-capitalism, Voluntarism
Moderate Movements: Social liberalism, Liberal feminism

Individualists believe in removing restrictions on behaviours engaged in by individuals, regardless of the consequences of these behaviours. They aim for neither equality nor inequality (though they may speak of the “equal” right of everyone to do what they want without interference) but instead support deregulation for the sake of deregulation. The more extreme individualists (labelled as “libertarians” on the diagrams) see government of any kind as an automatic enemy of freedom and either believe that governments should either be abolished altogether or limit themselves to the role of defending private property and protecting people against murder, rape, foreign invasion and theft.

Like the other paths, the individualist path contains variations. I have classified both libertarians and social liberals as individualists, because while they may not always agree with each other, their arguments come from the same basic assumptions and values. The disagreements emerge when individualists try to implement these values.

Libertarians believe that both individuals and corporations have the right to do what they wish with their property and oppose any government laws which interfere with this supposed right. They are strong supports of capitalism and believe that unregulated competition between businesses will maximise economic efficiency and that such efficiency is the key to human well-being. They also wish to minimise or abolish both taxes and social spending (which requires taxation.) Libertarians who wish to abolish government (sometimes called anarcho-capitalists) differ from egalitarian (or leftist) anarchists, in that the former has no objection to the existence of corporate hierarchies, given that anarcho-capitalists are of the opinion that people freely choose to be part of such hierarchies.

When it comes to social issues, libertarians believe that the government should not do anything to interfere with people’s personal choices and behaviours. Such “interference” includes not only laws which ban certain behaviours, but also government policies and programs aimed at discouraging behaviours which are deemed to be harmful to one’s health or safety. Such policies include the plain-packaging legislation introduced in Australia in 2012, which aimed to discourage people from smoking. Libertarians argue that policies of this nature deprive people of essential liberties and contribute to a repressive “Nanny State”. However, as defenders of free speech, they support the right of individuals to have moral opinions (regarding sexual and health related behaviours) and to express them. They also support the free speech rights of those with highly controversial opinions (e.g. people who are blatantly racist or hateful in some other way) though they do not necessarily endorse such opinions.

In the economic realm, moderate individualists (whom I have termed “social liberals”) advocate policies that appear to be similar to those promoted by moderate egalitarians. This contributes to moderate egalitarians being called “liberals”. While both social liberals and moderate egalitarians (e.g. social democrats) promote government spending (particularly with regard to health care) they do so for different reasons. As discussed earlier, egalitarians are committed to reducing wealth inequalities. Social liberals on the other hand believe in enabling people to do whatever they want to their body (regardless of the impact of such choices on their health) and want those who lack wealth to have access to the same “choices” that those who are rich have access to (e.g. abortion, sex change surgery, etc.) Social liberals even view the decision to work a low paying, non-intellectually fulfilling job as yet another “empowering choice” that people should be allowed to make. Thus their views are very much opposed to those of genuine egalitarians.

Social liberals have an “anything goes” attitude with regard to people’s personal decisions. Social liberals argue in favour of abolishing of laws which are said to “interfere” with the private lives of adults, but they differ from libertarians in that they not only seek to make the government adhere to the principle that “anything goes”, they want everyone to endorse these principles. Anyone who critiques or argues against a particular behaviour is accused of “shaming” those who practise it. According to social liberals, people not only have the right to use censorship against expressions of opinion deemed to be “hateful”, “intolerant” or “shaming” (whether they are genuine expressions of hatred or not.) engage in whatever behaviours they please, they have the right to do so without criticism. Thus social liberals often have little regard for the free speech rights of those who challenge their ideology and will on occasion

Individualists do not explicitly favour the creation of inequality, but in a world which is already highly unequal and in which those with power have mechanisms for maintaining such power (e.g. money, private property, control over the media, social norms, etc.) the individualist approach is likely to ensure that society remains unequal and may even create more inequality.

The upcoming post is the last in this series. The post will discuss the application of my “three path” approach to current political issues and some of the potential problems one might run into when trying to apply it.

11 February 2014

Proposing a New Political Map - Part 1

This post is the first in a series of three posts which were originally part of one article. I decided to post my article “Proposing a New Political Map” in three parts because it became too long for a single post. This article serves as an introduction to my understanding of politics. Ideas presented in this article will form the basis of future posts.

The map of political ideologies which is proposed by the Political Compass site, (as well as by other sites which purport to tell people their political worldview, such as the Political Spectrum Quiz and Politopia) is flawed. While it is an improvement over the traditional left-right political spectrum, I feel that it leaves out certain ideologies, including my own. In this article I will attempt to put forward a different approach to understanding the various political ideologies which people adhere to. I am motivated to do so partially by a desire to understand the political landscape and partially by a need to have my egalitarian ideology recognised as being distinct from liberalism.

Section 1: The Current Ideological Map and its Flaws

According to sites such as Political Compass, people can be sorted into ideological categories based on whether they support more government control over society or less government control over society. Social issues and economic issues are placed on two different axes. As a result people are divided into four different categories Authoritarian Leftists (who want more government control over both social and economic issues), Authoritarian Rightists (who want more government control over social issues but less government control over economic issues), Libertarian Leftists (who want less government control over social issues but more government control over economic issues) and Libertarian Rightists (who want less government control over both social and economic issues.)

By focussing on the Political Compass website, I do not mean to suggest that the problems I am describing are specific to the site. It is merely one example of many sites which use a similar system to classify people politically. I am discussing the site because it is the most popular, most well known site of this nature.

A Different Kind of "Liberal Bias"

The Political Compass site has a liberal bias (though not the sort which conservatives typically accuse it of having.) Before I go any further I should explain what I mean by the term “liberal”, since the word often causes confusion. It is often used to describe people who favour less government influence over the private realm, but more government influence over the economy (often in the form of increased social spending.) It is also used to describe those who favour less government control over the economy. For example, the term neo-liberal describes those who favour the deregulation of corporations and reductions in government spending. In this article I will use the term “liberal” to describe the more general philosophical sentiment that restrictions on individual behaviour (which can exist as a result of laws, social stigmas or philosophical/political ideologies) are always negative and freedom-robbing. This sentiment is used to justify the deregulation of both the social and economic realm.

When I say that the Political Compass site promotes a liberal outlook, I am not suggesting that the test compels people to answer the questions in a liberal way. This accusation may in fact be valid, but I will discuss it in another article. I will instead argue that the site defines people in terms of where they stand in relation to liberalism, making liberalism the ideology against which all other ideologies are measured.

The site divides its users into liberals and non-liberals, while ignoring the fact that there are different types of non-liberals (in both a social and economic sense.) According to the site’s political map, one can either endorse more government control over society or less government control. Governments are evaluated only quantitatively, not qualitatively. In other words, no one is ever asked what type of government they would like to live under or what ends they want their government to aim for. They are only asked whether they want more or less government or to put it another way, big government or small government. It is assumed that all “big governments” (both those which are real and those which can be imagined) are more or less the same and thus all “big government” supporters are more or less the same. This could easily be an example of what psychologists call the “Out-group homogeneity effect” in which members of the out group are seen as being more similar to each other than they actually are. If non-liberals are the supposedly homogenous out-group, then it logically follows that liberals are the “in group”. Even if the creators of the test do not identify as liberal themselves, they are sorting people into ideological groups the way a liberal would.

Unexplained Trends

The political map used by the site fails to explain certain ideological trends. For example, according to the test (which the site uses to determine one’s political alignment) opposition to pornography is a symptom of social authoritarianism (or conservatism.) However, political ideologies which are generally considered to be progressive such as such as revolutionary socialism, communism and radical feminism, have, both in the past and present, taken a stance against the pornography. These movements hold other positions which are labelled as socially libertarian by the test, such as support for abortion rights and an accepting attitude towards of gayness. Some might argue that these movements are therefore centrist (or at least, closer to the centre than similar movements which endorse pornography), at least when it comes to social issues, but this does not match with the way these movements are generally perceived by society, nor does it match up with the way they perceive themselves.

The test does not ask questions about prostitution, an issue which is closely related to that of pornography and which also poses a challenge to the site’s political map. The revolutionary leftist movements referenced above are not the only ones arguing that prostitution should not exist. Countries which are generally viewed as being progressive such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland have adopted the Nordic Model (also known as the Swedish model), a set of laws aimed at ending prostitution by legalising the selling of sex, while criminalising the buying of sex. At this point in time, the left leaning president of France, Francois Hollande, and his government are also seeking to implement such laws. Meanwhile conservative politicians in Norway seek to get rid of the Nordic Model.* This clearly does not fit with the common view that to be socially progressive is to support total “sexual liberation” and that to oppose such an agenda makes one conservative.

Environmental issues also present a challenge to the way in which the Political Compass site divides people into social libertarians and social authoritarians. Questions about the environment are mostly absent from the test. The only environment related question featured in the test is presented as an economic question about whether government regulation is needed to prevent corporations from causing environmental damage. In reality, the issue of environmental destruction deserves more than one question and protecting the environment cannot merely be regarded as an economic issue. The kind of social transformation required to stop global warming will likely involve major changes to the way in which people live their day to day lives.

Environmentalism is typically viewed as a socially progressive movement, not a socially conservative one. However, the sorts of changes it calls for are not compatible with the social libertarian approach of encouraging “individual freedom” within the private realm. For example, environmental activists often argue that governments should aim for a world in which people use public transport or bicycles instead of cars, while a consistent social libertarian would argue that the type of transport an individual chooses to use is none of the government’s business.

Reasoning versus Positions

The last issue I have with the approach taken by the Political Compass site is that it focuses on people’s positions rather than their reasons for holding such positions. This is of course a common problem with political alignment tests. Some sites (such as this one) do inform test takers of the arguments made by both sides of any given political issue. However, test takers are not allowed to indicate which argument they find convincing or what kind of reasoning they used to arrive at their position. Thus such tests do not account for the fact that two very different ideologies can encourage people to take the same stance on a given issue.

For example, some proponents of gay rights do not support attempts to legalise gay marriage because they are critical of marriage as an institution and believe that legalising gay marriage will grant unwarranted legitimacy to marriage. These gay marriage opponents should not be placed in the same category as conservatives who oppose gay marriage because they believe that gay relationships are inferior to straight relationships. When it comes to determining someone’s political ideology the reasons they have for holding their positions should matter just as much, if not more than, the positions themselves.

I recognise that political tests may be created with the intention of helping people decide who they are going to vote for in an upcoming election, in which case the focus on positions, rather than reasoning, makes sense. However these tests often purport to tell people what their political ideologies are without making any references to political parties. Any test which attempts to determine people’s political ideology should be aimed at uncovering the broad philosophical principles that cause people to have the positions they do on political issues. This cannot be done simply by asking people whether or not they agree with certain policies. This does not mean that questions about issues and policies should not be used in political tests, but rather that people’s stances on such things should be seen as symptoms of an underlying political worldview.

*More information on the Nordic Model can be found at these sources

-          http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/why-the-games-up-for-swedens-sex-trade-8548854.html (a pro-Nordic Model article)
-          http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/prostitution-laws-what-are-the-nordic-and-new-zealand-models-1.1603213 (an anti-Nordic Model article)
-          http://feministcurrent.com/8263/podcast-prostitution-not-a-job-not-a-choice-a-talk-by-janice-raymond/ (a pro-Nordic Model speech, which discusses how various countries have responded to the model and to prostitution in general)

In the next post I will put forward a new political map and discuss where different ideological movements belong on that map. I later hope to show how this new map explains the current unexplained trends discussed above.