Thursday, March 03, 2005

Multi-dimensional thinking

“His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking.”
-Capt. Spock (Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan)
In the above quote, Spock was referring to a deficit in Khan’s tactics. Khan was thinking like the 20th Century human he was, not taking into account the third dimension when maneuvering. However, in our political debate, two-dimensional thinking would be an improvement.

Our current debate revolves around the left-right continuum, which has only one dimension. Currently, every position is categorized as some variation of left or right, with the occasional position being left out entirely if it really doesn’t fit. The problem is that this really limits our understanding of issues. For example, I’m for homosexuals being able to marry, but am against enshrining it in law. My position is that the government shouldn’t be granting permission to marry to anyone, period. My personal opinion is that government should document civil unions for legal purposes, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual. The current debate, however, only has room for government recognition or no government recognition.

I propose a different model for charting positions that has three axes: anarchist/authoritarian, individualist/collectivist, and idealist/pragmatist.

The first axis, anarchist/authoritarian, would represent how little or much an idea relies upon government coercion. For example, my marriage proposal would be on the anarchist side of center since it involves no actual government control. This compares with the left and right positions in the debate, which are on the authoritarian side since they want government’s permission one way or the other.

The second axis, individualist/collectivist, would represent whether an idea favors the individual or society. In this case, my marriage proposal would be on the individualist side of center, since it allows individuals to make mutually beneficial civil union contracts instead of seeking a marriage license. The left and right positions, on the other hand, would be on the collectivist side since they attempt to use the shape of government to represent the attitudes of the people about marriage.

The third axis, idealist/pragmatist, would represent how closely an idea conforms to its proponent’s ideology. In the marriage example I’ve been using, all three positions would be on the ideological side of center since they all conform to their proponents’ ideology. An example of an idea that would fall on the pragmatic side would be me suggesting changes to NCLB and the Federal Department of Education when my ideology says neither should exist.

While it would be possible to add many more dimensions to this, I propose for graphing purposes that we keep it to three.

Clarification: Brad, the Unrepentent Individual, pointed out that the Political Compass does something like this for people, except in two dimensions. Part of the thinking here was based on the political compass, and the first two axes are essentially the same as those on the compass. The third axis is intended to measure the distance between the proponent's compass score and that of the idea he's proposing. As it turns out, this is more of an extension of the compass which allows people to look at the ideas someone is proposing rather than the person himself.

TOPIC: Politics