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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Captain Kirk and the Yin/Yang of Politics

In the Classic Trek, there was an episode called The Enemy Within that saw Captain Kirk split into two halves (best seen to be understood).  One of the halves was empathetic, patient, but indecisive; this Kirk lacked strength of will, authority, bodacity.  The other Kirk had all the things the other Kirk was missing; decisiveness, boldness, but also belligerence, aggression, and hyper emotionalism.  The message the episode tried to convey was that it was the combination of these two halves that made Kirk the leader that he was. 
To me, this is a great metaphor for the political spectrum.  To woo voters, Parties of the Left and Right will attempt to define each other as being at the extreme of the left-right political spectrum, as wholly separate creatures from themselves.  This is a conceit Parties and Party leaders sell to themselves as much as they sell it to us.

Truth is, the best and most successful governments hover around the political Centre.  When they move too far in one direction, they divide the country and impact voter intention.  This can be strategic, or not.

But is the left/right sepctrum the only way to look at our politics?  I tend to think otherwise.  Governments from the political left and right can be equally controlling and opaque.  In fact, a more reflective political spectrum might look like this: 

I look at politics through the eyes of an anthropologist - what I see more than the left-right divide is a selection-of-the-fittest vs a support of the collective divide. 

Little or no social support, little or no public education, tough-on-crime, gun ownership, pro-life and pro-capital punishment - these positions are all about empowering people to be naturally tough, able to survive completely independently.  It's a fun theory, but in a social context, the weak don't die off, nor can we simply ostracize them, round them up and lock them away or simply do away with them.  Weak people in a general populace leads to crime, epidemics, etc.  Plus, in a power struggle, there are always subjective decisions that get made about what traits count as more genetically fit than others.  That's not an approach that ever goes over very well.

On the other hand, complete social support doesn't work, either.  If you give people everything, they atrophy.  The don't develop the capacity to think critically or emotional and physical resiliency, etc.  The example I hear most often is the playground; if you ban monkey bars so that kids don't get hurt, how will they learn how to not get hurt in the concrete jungle?  Even more important - if everyone's on the receiving end, who's delivering?  Who's innovating?  Nobody, is the answer.  We've seen how poorly that plays out, too.

The best political advice one can offer, then, is hold to the centre - on both spectrums.  View your competitors not as enemies, but as essential threads of the fabric of what makes a nation great.  The whole is more than the sum of its parts, etc.

Opposites create each other – and the opposite of hate is not love, but indifference.  Wedge issues make for great politics, but seldom great policy.  People aren’t dumb; they pick up on the pandering and become disaffected and disengaged. 
And an indifferent society makes for a poor democracy.


  1. The problem with this is that the center shifts based on current economic conditions. For instance, both Canada and the United States have seen the entire spectrum pushed toward the right via neoliberal interests. The second problem is that massive progress is pushed through (think civil rights or social security) by so-called radical groups -- who might be a politically minority but nonetheless trigger effective popular movements.

  2. While I get what you're saying, I don't think it's the centre that's moving - we're talking about a spectrum, so it's the Parties that shift further one way or the other. Perhaps it's a bit like driving, Parties over course-correct when they're startled or shift lanes when they see avenues of opportunity. Politics is opportunism, after all.

    Your second point is fascinating. I think I'm going to write a post about it. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Are you saying that the Right is the side of toughness?
    And yet you put the nazis on the left!?? The ones who tried to make everybody tough, and killed off the 'weaklings'?


    And the anarchists are on the right...!? Are they "tough-on-crime" and "pro-life"!?
    The anarchists are the criminals

    And since when do christian values, or any religion for that matter, constitute any form of "selection of the fittest"?

    A selection of the fittest would encourage eugenics and euthanasia, which is contrary to the pro-life fanatical stance of Christians

  4. And the all and every single fascist movement in Europe was Christian and very conservative in nature

  5. Miguel, thanks for posting. It's a different perspective that realocates some traditional positioning. Are libertarians about being tough on crime? Isn't allowing more people to have guns about letting people take the law into their own hands?

    Socialist government oppress and sometimes kill, as do Fascist ones. At the core level they're not that much different.

    The Old Testament - eye for an eye. The New Testament - turn the other cheek. There's an interesting story in that, too.

  6. It seems you have a basic misunderstanding of the left-right spectrum.

    "tough on crime" is a mere and unimportant specific policy.

    "Killing people" is another meaningless policy. All countries kill people, that's not an political ideological.

    Fascism is quite different from socialism.
    As any fascist would tell you, they hated socialists, and vice-versa.

    Socialism is based on social equality, Fascism on social inequality. They are opposites

    The Christians, Muslims are others are politically focused on conservative values and tradition. They typically oppose/d any modernist development, including liberalism, capitalism, socialism etc

    1. Miguel is blinkered by too much repeated exposure to false orthodoxy.

      Fascism ("National Socialism") practically equals Socialism.

      Look in detail at what those "isms" ACTUALLY and practically enact, and don't fall for the "we hate each other" nonsense that was perpetuated by their authoritarian leaders.

      Craig's spectrum is a much more true representation of the real political spectrum than the old Socialism (Left) to Fascism (Right) concoction.

  7. Yeah the spectrum is a joke. You need AT least 2 lines. minimum. Social Left/Right and Economic Left/Right. And even that is extremely basic. You know what that abomination up there is? It's what happens when you try to plot near countless factors on a single line.

    1. Well said, anonymous! There are too many different facets to put on one line - after all, the world isn't flat.

    2. I find this commentary on the political spectrum quite interesting; however I disagree with the use of the linear spectrum. As a Political Science-History student I feel that the cyclical version is quite a bit more accurate as all parties seem to feed into each other to some degree. I would be interested to know how the use of a cyclical rather than linear political scale would affect your theories.
      I also find that the use of American political parties as your freedom centre to be debatable. Though I admit, I tend do lean more than a little towards the left, but in Canada all of its major political parties would fall to the left of the supposedly 'freedom' centric America Republican and Democratic parties. This is in disagreement with not only the social structure of Canada itself, but also its position on a global political scale of 'freedom'. This is where one of the commenters above was talking about the whole multiple scales thing, because there are differences in Social and Economic freedom. Freedom in a way seems to be in the eye of the beholder.
      Great point though on how parties are the ones shifting on the scale, not the other way around though. Political parties are as dynamic as the people who vote for them, and as society and their values change so does their leadership.
      and to the commenter above yes while groups such as socialists and fascists are quite different in a lot of ways, they do also share similarities how despite the fact that Socialism in theory may be based on social equality, the idea of common ownership or state ownership is not so different than fascisms state control of society.

  8. Thanks for that thoughtful comment, Kin! The actual spectrum depicted isn't one I designed, I found it online. I think you're on to something with the political spectrum being more of a wheel, like an Ouroboros (snake eating its tail). Parties, whatever their motivation, have a tendency to become increasingly authoritarian and ruled by minority as time goes on - the same happens to any institution. Call it political gravity. So, libertarian-esque governments may talk about shrinking government and empowering people, but they increasingly become about power itself in practice - just look at Stephen Harper's reign. So, Parties are wheels rolling along a spectrum with "state of nature" (survival of the fittest, everyone has only their own agency to rely on) and "distopia" (most people have no agency and are ruled by a scant few with little information or inclination towards the plight of others). The more urban and interconnected society becomes, the more we slide to the top-down model, like an organic system with a brain providing Executive Function. Of course, the best organic systems have a bit of agency throughout the whole and the whole provides information that's received by the centre. Somewhere in the middle of all this is a working social model that empowers individuals to reach their potential, but in a collaborative fashion, directed by leaders who proactively challenge their own ideas and absorb those of othes - a philosopher king. That requires a significant culture change, though - like believing in something more important and consequential than one's own place in the world. Which is why it's fascinating to look at the role religion has played in the urbanization of our species.