Monday, April 12, 2010

Towards a New Paradigm, Part 1

Probably all of you have seen the outmoded political spectrum that puts all voters at some point along a straight line. Reading it from left to right, we see communists, socialists, liberals, moderates, conservatives, fascists, and Nazis. One of the major problems is that the spectrum presumes that all political behavior is based on political philosophy; but most people aren’t political philosophers. It also presumes that all people are motivated by the stated rationale for political positions rather than attitudes about freedom.
In recent years, the sort of grid you see below has come into vogue. For simplicity, I've left out the numbers and lines that are supposed to show—based on how you answer a set of questions—where you fall on the grid.

This grid is an enormous improvement on the straight line because it more realistically addresses the attitudes that citizens have concerning the government’s place in their lives. It’s still lacking in one area in that it labels the people in the center of the grid as populists. This label presumes political motivation for a group that is noted for its lack of political interest.
The classic explanation of the word populist is, “Us against them.” Owing to a lack of political interest, most people who are considered political centrists can't be called populists or moderates.
Most of them are politically oblivious until a couple of months before an election. Then they listen to the rhetoric and vote for the candidates who offer the best rhetoric. Never mind that everything a candidate says may be a lie; they don’t know it because they haven’t bothered to look for the facts. Never mind that candidates may completely contradict themselves by, for example, describing themselves as fiscal conservatives and social moderates (government actions cost real money regardless of how they’re packaged.) They’re like thin reeds that sway with every gusty speech and are often most influenced by who most recently spoke to them.
The illustration below more accurately identifies the voter in the middle of the illustration.

According to the paradigm we’ve heard all out lives, pandering to swing voters is the key to winning elections. In my opinion, pandering to swing voters is the main reason that freedom has lost out in the overwhelming majority of elections.
Think about it in terms of Game Theory. Everyone has some understanding of Game Theory even though very few people call it that. Most voters view each election as a one-time, zero-sum game. Understandably, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians would rather give up some of what they’d wanted in order to avoid losing all of what they’d wanted. As a result, voters occupying each position choose the centrist candidates just to keep the other two groups from winning.
That's why authoritarians gain ground with each election. For one thing, there will be other elections. For another, the position defined as the “moderate” position—“centrist” is more accurate—is a lobster trap that moves the electorate closer and closer to the authoritarian position.
The authoritarian strategy is a combination of “The Prisoners' Dilemma” and good cop/bad cop. Two suspects are kept apart and each is given reasons to suspect the other of ratting on him. Although each prisoner knows that it’s to the benefit of both prisoners to remain silent, each incriminates the other in order to get what he's told is a better deal.
The good cop/bad cop scenario is played out like this: “Conservatives” get elected and deprive the people of some of their personal freedoms. “Liberals” loudly oppose the move. Swing voters and everyone else are offered false alternatives. Instead of voting for a principled liberal, the liberals settle for someone who is considered "less conservative." Why? The “less conservative” candidate is presented as most agreeable to swing voters;thus, he's said to be most likely to win. If the “conservatives” lose power, the “liberals” come into office and do nothing to change the injustices wrought by “conservatives.” Instead, they deprive the people of some of their financial freedoms, which the “conservative” officeholders ratify when they get into office.
The old paradigm of the swing position being used to play liberals, conservatives, and libertarians against each other—to the benefit of the authoritarians—has caused all three groups to lose their liberties. What we need is a new paradigm in which liberals, conservatives, and libertarians unite against the authoritarians.
There are three major challenges to that idea. The three groups aren't communicating with each other, and I see no reason to hope that they'll learn to do so in time for the 2010 congressional elections. The three groups don't trust each other, and I don't expect that situation to change any time soon. Lastly, each group realizes that, in cooperating with each other, the gains and losses will not be equally distributed among the three groups.
How do you coordinate three groups that aren't communicating, don't trust one another, and see an uneven distribution of rewards and costs coming from cooperation with one another? I'll answer that question in my next article.

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