A couple of weeks ago, I gave you an idea of why a breakup of the United States is likely to look like 1980s Beirut, on steroids, and with an extra special helping of atrocity sauce. But even the mottled diagram I borrowed for the purpose hardly covers the thing in full measure, because it is only giving demographics by political party, and even that crudely. It’s much worse than that, though. If we split, it’s going to be along every line imaginable, political, yes, but also racial, cultural, religious, you name it. And people are going to be forced, as a matter of personal physical safety and safety for their loved ones, into alignments with which they are today most uncomfortable.
Contemplate, for example, Dr. Thomas Sowell or General Vincent Brooks1 being forced to shelter amongst the Black Panthers because the Panthers are their only defense from the Klan. Contemplate Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio co-chairing the steering committee for a new “Pan Latin Party for the Extermination of the Wicked Gringos.” Contemplate, Bill Ayers making better bombs for the American Nazi Party than ever he did for the Weathermen.
Politics not only makes for strange bedfellows, when life and death are on offer it can make for some outright perversions.
In any case, today, I want to talk about the political as more than a matter of mere party identification. Yes, I’ve been promising to get into this for a while, but it only fell within my portfolio, so to speak, once we got to the point of how it leads to a Beirutesque civil war.
A lot of bright folks – Jerry Pournelle,2 David Nolan,3 the (I think still) anonymous folks who developed “political compass,”4 as well as a number of others – have come up with two dimensional and even more-dimensional ways of trying to describe the real world of politics and political philosophy. There is probably some validity in most or all of those, and yet all of them seem to have flaws, and many share the same flaws. Many share similar delusions. All, I think, share one big flaw, which I’ll paraphrase as: “This is the way the world works, because it makes sense…to me.” And they believe this because…ummm… “I am logical. I am people. Hence people are logical.” No, that can’t be it. Umm…”Because they should be logical.” So what, if, in fact, they are not logical?
A number of the charts seem to assume their conclusions, usually in the form of, “I am an X. I matter. Therefore, any chart purporting to show reality must give considerable pride of place to me.” Libertarians – in terms of numbers and political clout never more than a self-important but trivial fringe group5 – frequently do this. When drawing two axes, the charts tend to exaggerate scale rather badly. They miss how often a stated political position is mere opportunism, completely devoid of principle. Or to what degree something purporting to objective reason (Ayn Rand, I am looking at you) is mere personal fantasy, unsustainable – because physically, militarily indefensible – in the real world. Or to what degree something purporting to be an objective, rational analysis of human economic history is cherry picked, fraudulent nonsense (Karl Marx, I am looking at you). I confess; it eludes me, the utility of charting something as “reason enthroned,” say, when the “reason” is mere fantasy, replete with rationalizations but devoid of reason. I am no more persuaded that a proper political chart should be pulled-based, and on the extremes, rather than push-based, emanating from the tendencies away from center.
One thing the creators and defenders of the various two dimensional charts share is a degree of contempt for the older and simpler Left-Right political spectrum.
I don’t share that contempt for three reasons. One is that I suspect the Left-Right chart better describes how people organize, politically, in the real world. The second is that the Left-Right chart is useful for placing oneself based on what one can and cannot see clearly. The third is that the Left-Right chart seems based on the core political argument that has been going on since before Plato, “What is the nature of man, malleable/perfectible by nurture, malleable/perfectible by nature, or affected by both, but not perfectible by anything?” One might call those, “the three Ns: Nature, Nurture, and Neither.”
Another way to ask that questions is, “Or is he already perfect or imperfect, good or wicked, based on nature or nurture, or would be but for the (take your pick) a) inequities of our rotten, unjust, society, or b) downbreeding from a previous level of human perfection, or c) Man is what he is and there’s nothing much we can do about it?”
Moreover, some of the X-Y charts are actually Left-Right charts.
Let me demonstrate, in words, how that works. Imagine a chart that has an X axis (that’s the one parallel to the ground) labeled, “Attitude to government,” with very negative attitudes on the left and very positive ones on the right. Imagine, further, a Y axis (up and down) labeled,” Attitude to planned social progress,” with very negative attitudes at the bottom and very positive ones at the top.6 The first thing that ought to hit you is that the upper left and lower right corners are uninhabitable by anyone who is both sane and not a moron. What? Yes, only the insane and the morons belong there, because there is no one who has a very positive attitude to planned social progress and a very negative attitude to government, which is the practical instrument for bringing planned social progress to fruition. Similarly, there is no one sane and bright who has a very positive attitude to government and also has a very negative attitude to planned social progress, because if you’re not trying to implement planned social progress, why do you have much use for government? (There is a reason, but one has to include as “progress” maintenance of the status quo, which such a chart would miss entirely and which may or may not be a worthy goal.)
In any case, with any X-Y chart having those or similar or similarly opposed values on X and Y, if you were to plot out a large sampling of random people, you will find they almost entirely fall inside a narrowish oval, running lower left to upper right. There will be a few outliers, of course, some idiots, some lunatics, and some – despite what I wrote above – principled idealists. Those outliers will be fairly few.
Now rotate that X-Y chart forty-five degrees clockwise. What have we now? That’s right, we once again have a Left-Right chart, but with some minor up and down differences.
(At this point someone is going to toss in the standard objection, “Why are you stuck on using a political spectrum based on how delegates to the French Assembly seated themselves over two centuries ago?” Answer: “Why are you not considering why they seated themselves that way, and, if it is natural to do so, if they saw natural common interests and had natural common outlooks, why should we not continue to see it and seat ourselves in that natural way, if we also have natural common interests and outlooks?”)
So am I claiming the Left-Right spectrum is perfect? Hell, no; none of these are perfect, and the more they try to achieve perfection the less perfect and the far less useful they will become. Instead of perfection, Left-Right is merely usefully descriptive of how people in the main see the world, how they fail to see the world, and how they organize based on those perceptions and lack of perceptions. That last, in particular, is an important question when we continue to discuss, as we shall over the next several weeks, how they’ll organize for the collapse of the United States and Western civilization, if those come to pass.
Next week: The political optical illusions.
1 Hi, Vince. Oh, and for the neo-Confederates who look at where the population and industry have moved since 1861, you should not assume, even so, that all the military talent is on your side.
5 Trivial in the sense of being most unlikely to win any important election to national office. They are less trivial when you consider how effective they are in getting the left elected to office, which they do seem to have succeeded in more than once.
6 This is presupposing that we’re thinking positively, as in, “To bring about the good.” It can change if we understand it as, “to avoid the evil,” but the creators of the charts don’t usually seem to think that way, so we’ll go with the positive for now.
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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