Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Culture: The Missing Link

The standard one-dimensional left-right spectrum is incredibly fallacious. It represents a false dichotomy, and therefore a two-dimensional spectrum has to be introduced in order to resolve the contradictions of the one-dimensional spectrum. What is meant by this is that the one-dimensional spectrum has no reasonable way of being able to categorize anarchists and a whole host of specific political positions, and that it generalizes the matter to the point where people who differ very much are placed close together on the “left or “right” and people who aren’t that different are placed on opposite ends. Hitler is placed on the “far right” and Stalin on the “far left”, but in reality there is hardly a dime’s worth of difference between their political positions.

Thus, the two-dimensional spectrum corrects this problem by splitting things up into an economic and personal axis. Consequentially, it better distinguishes between different types of the political “left and right”. Two people can have similar economic views but differ on personal liberties issue, and two people can be identical about personal liberties issues while having very different economic views. For example, Ron Paul and Adolph Hitler are both on “the right” but differ considerably in both economic and personal liberties views. And Benjamin Tucker and Stalin are both on “the left” but differ radically in both economic and personal liberties views.

But the two-dimensional spectrum is also flawed, for theoretically one can have a very low personal position and a very high economic position, and be put on the “far right”, yet the political “far right” doesn’t consistently favor economic freedom. And vice versa, the political “far left” doesn’t consistently favor personal freedom. Thus, a third dimension is needed to resolve this conflict as well. The addition of a third dimension seems to clear a lot of things up. The third dimension is culture. Consequentially, the revised political spectrum looks something like this:

Axis A - Economic
Axis B – Personal
Axis C - Cultural

The economic axis represents questions such as government ownership vs. private ownership of the means of production, government regulation of material property and government redistribution of wealth. The personal axis represents questions such as war vs. peace, personal privacy, free expression and in general one's ability to control one's own person free from force. The cultural axis represents questions such as one's views on subjects such as the family, religion, ethnicity, art and one's consumer preferences.

Two people can be fairly identical on the economic and personal axises while differing radically between their cultural values. There can be two anarchists (Roderick Long vs. Hans Herman Hoppe, for example) or two totalitarians (Stalin vs. Hitler, for example) with virtually identical political positions, but different cultural values. At the same time, an anarchist can theoretically share a lot of cultural values with a totalitarian while simultaneously being at opposite ends of the political and economic axises.

Hans Herman Hoppe's cultural values are "conservative": separatism, traditionalism, religiosity and opposition to multiculturalism. Roderick Long's cultural values are "liberal": cosmopolitanism, opposition to racism and sympathy with some feminist elements. Yet their political and economic positions are virtually identical: they both favor a free market anarchist society. There's not a dime's worth of difference between them on non-cultural criteria. Where they differ is mainly on their cultural preferences and ideas as to what cultural values are most conductive to reaching the goal.

Culture is always the "zinger" that potentially produces tension with political and economic principles. It seems that left and right is just culture. It is not politics or economics so much. It is not easy to more or less maintain a "cultural centrist" position (I'm admitedly a wee bit to "the left" on such criteria, since I oppose racism and encourage voluntary multiculturalism). When culture is taken too far "left" or "right", a scenario arises in which one must choose between their cultural tenets and their political or economic principles. When the cultural tenets override the political or economic principles, then the individual has created tension or cognitive dissonance within a given movement.

Culture also obviously produces tension between groups of people. This is manifested every day in politics, by a multitude of interest groups warring over what should be taught in schools, how marriage should be defined, what specific class/group of people should be privileged, and so on. In short, these things are personal preferences, and when mere whimsical preferances are superimposed into the political and economic domain, one has the choice between exercising restraint or advocating some kind of government intervention. It is very hard for people to separate their cultural views from their politics. Consequentially, they often end up using politics as a means to their cultural ends, rather then persueing their cultural ends within a voluntaristic framework.

Two people can share cultural values while differing greatly over the means they persue to cultural ends. For example, I think that racial discrimination is a horrible thing and wish to combat it, but do not support political interventions such as affirmative action laws. Many modern liberals, however, think that such means are proper, and indeed that they are the only possible means to their end. For another example, many people on the "religious right" support government patronage with and subsidization of religious institutions, but the "voluntarist" religious person opposes such measures and quite likely views them as a corruption of their religion with the poison of politics.

In many ways, politics depends entirely on culture. Career politicians try their best to appeal to people's cultural values in order to get their support. People's cultural identifications with the overall territory (territorialism), concern for the poor and disabled, particular religious creeds and concern for the state of health are exploited by political power (and many people representing such views in turn use political power for their own gain at the expense of others). In this sense culture is a poison that provides the rationales given to the masses for political power.

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