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].)