I think the Luddite is right

Ron PaulSpending as much time as I do online, I often forget that most people do not, and that the distribution of political opinions of other members of the general “online community” does not necessarily correspond to those of the much broader “real world.”

In particular, I’ve observed the disproportionate number of libertarians (and Libertarians) online. There are many ways in which I agree with libertarian views, especially to the extent of individual freedoms, inasmuch as if what you’re doing doesn’t hurt anyone else, the government shouldn’t be telling you not to do it. (However, I think the libertarian view often struggles with looking beyond the end of one’s nose regarding the impact of individual actions.)

And so, in this election year, we come to Ron Paul.

Judging by the range of discourse you’ll find on a lot of websites, you’d think Ron Paul has secured 98% of the Republican vote and probably about 60% of the Democratic vote as well. And, based solely on opinions on the issues (as indicated here), even I agree with Ron Paul a lot more than I do with any of the other Republicans. (I have to wonder how many online libertarians really agree with Ron Paul on evolution, though… but I am guessing most of his tech-minded supporters don’t know he doesn’t believe in it.) But the issues don’t tell the whole story, as Wired’s blogger Tony Long (a.k.a. “The Luddite”) explained well in his recent post:

He almost sounds rational. But he’s not.

Like all absolutists — and make no mistake, libertarianism is absolutism as surely as atheism is faith — Paul is ill suited for this particular job. He’s running for president of the United States, remember, not for a seat in some gerrymandered Texas congressional district. If elected, he would be leading the most powerful nation on earth, one whose every action has repercussions in every corner of the world.

The biggest problem I have with libertarianism is its exaltation of absolute, Ayn Rand-esque individualism. Again, the Luddite:

There are 300 million of us now, not 30 million, and we can’t all go running around unsupervised. This is where libertarian ideals get a little unwieldy. Besides, we’re not all John Waynes, saddled up and gazing with flinty eyes across the prairie. Some of us can barely cope. Sometimes, Ron, them dad-gum polecats in Washington jest have to step in and take charge. Dang it all.

And so, we reach the great chasm between my personal beliefs and those of libertarians: individual freedoms are incredibly important, but we don’t all live in our own little, disconnected bubbles. We’re sharing this planet with every other human being (not to mention lots of other species of life — dismiss that if you like, but let’s see how long we can last on our own without them; Soylent Green won’t feed us forever). The things we do affect others, whether we realize it or not, and will continue to do so for generations to come. That’s a heavy responsibility. Perhaps the average online propeller head can dismiss it, but the President of the United States cannot.

The Political Compass

For some time, I’ve had my web browser configured with its start page set to the random article link on Wikipedia:


The effect is that every time I open my browser, a new, random article on Wikipedia loads, which can often be severely distracting (so I make sure not to use this configuration at work!), but it’s almost always very interesting.

For instance, today the random link led me to this site: www.politicalcompass.org

Despite my skeptical view of questionnaires designed to pigeonhole your identity (think Myers-Briggs), I was immediately fascinated with the idea of the political compass, because it addresses a dimension (literally) of political viewpoints that the typical left/right dichotomy completely misses. It acknowledges that the traditional left/right spectrum is primarily (but not entirely) an economic scale, and it adds a second scale for social issues, with extremes it labels “authoritarian” and “libertarian.” I think the terminology is a bit muddled, since left/right would be better described as liberal/conservative or perhaps socialist/free market, but all of those terms have baggage. (Of course, in the United States, at least, so does “libertarian,” and the characteristics of “libertarianism” as described on the site are not entirely consistent with the Libertarian Party in the U.S.) Nonetheless, the terms are familiar enough to give a clear picture.

I was not too surprised to see where I ended up on the chart, although I did find it interesting that I was even farther down in the lower-left corner than the likes of Nelson Mandela and the Dalai-Lama!

(On a side note, writing this led me to another topic: the confusion of similar words. In my particular case, it was the old thorn in my side, farther vs. further. Luckily it seems I got it right. And writing the first sentence in this paragraph reminded me of yet another similar word problem: lead vs. led. I’ve noticed more and more lately, often coming even from respected sources, careless use of the word “lead” when in fact the intention was to use “led” — the past-tense of “lead” as pronounced “LEED.” But I digress [yet again].)