Monday, March 28, 2016

Scott Alexander — A Thrive/Survive Theory Of The Political Spectrum

I admitted in my last post on Reaction that I devoted insufficient space to the question of why society does seem to be drifting gradually leftward. And I now realize that in order to critique the Reactionary worldview effectively we’re going to have to go there.
The easiest answer would be “because we retroactively define leftism as the direction that society went”. But this is not true. Communism is very leftist, but society eventually decided not to go that way. It seems fair to say that there are certain areas where society did not go to the left, like in the growth of free trade and the gradual lowering of tax rates, but upon realizing this we don’t feel the slightest urge to redefine “low tax rates” as leftist.
So what is leftism? For that matter, what is rightism?
Any theory of these two ideas would have to explain at least the following data points:
1) Why do both ideologies combine seemingly unrelated political ideas? For example, why do people who want laissez-faire free trade empirically also prefer a strong military and oppose gay marriage? Why do people who want to help the environment also support feminism and dislike school vouchers?
2) Why do the two ideologies seem broadly stable across different times and cultures, such that it’s relatively easy to point out the Tories as further right than the Whigs, or ancient Athens as further left than ancient Sparta? For that matter, why do they seem to correspond to certain neural patterns in the brain, such that neurologists can determine your political beliefs with 83% accuracy by examining brain structure alone?
3) Why do these basically political ideas correlate so well with moral, aesthetic, and religious preferences?
4) The original question: how come, given enough time and left to itself, leftism seems to usually win out over rightism, pushing the Overton window a bit forward until there’s a new leftism and rightism?
I have a hypothesis that explains most of this, but first let me go through some proposed alternatives.
Slate Star Codex
Scott Alexander
ht Random in the comments



3 comments:

Matt Franko said...

"take the Fall of Rome. Both Greece and Rome were relatively leftist, with freedom of religion, democratic-republican governments, weak gender norms, minimal family values, and a high emphasis on education and abstract ideas. After the Fall of Rome, when Europe was set back technologically into a Dark Age, rightism returned with a vengeance. People became incredibly religious, militant, pragmatic, and provincial, and the government switched to an ad hoc and extremely hierarchical feudalism."

Well this guy does not understand what was going on wrt the transition from a numismatic system (deterministic, based on law ) over to one under metals (stochastic, based on nature) during the fall of Rome...

So he has it backwards... he says "Rome fell..." like that was some sort of stochastic outcome, and THEN govt switched to an ad hoc (stochastic) system implying the switch to an ad hoc policy was a result of a stochastic event of "falling"....

So he says Rome was leftist but I would rather say Rome was deterministic... then for some reason transitioned over to a stochastic system and THEN all hell broke loose...

The ad hoc chaos comes logically with the change over to a stochastic based policy/govt....

Matt Franko said...

iow it was "left authoritarian" then it went over to "right libertarian"...

or it could have been " authoritarian > left " and then it goes " libertarian > right "...

Bob said...

How about dropping the left and right labels in favor of looking at whether people are being idealistic or pragmatic. Only in an environment of abundance would we expect to find a higher proportion of idealists.

Another problem with analyzing left and right labels is the package deal fallacy:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Package-deal_fallacy