The Political Compass, an autopsy

This article is somewhat a third part to a loose trilogy of articles that cover political thought in this last decade, and my experience starting into politics. The first article was about political spectrums, a topic that in my opinion will never get out of fashion. And the second article was on the American Elections and what it means to the world and a generation of people.

In this article, I will tie in those two topics to my personal experience and then later do an autopsy of political compass quizzes and why it matters little to political debate.

The political Spectrum, disregarding the argument if it really is accurate or simply a tool, is used in political debate and thinking. It is somewhat of a logical consequence of human thought. The same way the philosopher Derrida points out the constant duality created by human thought, and this duality being filled with conflict; political thought is full of dualities, right-left, conservative-liberal, or conservativism-progressivism, capitalist-communist, statist-anarchist, monarchism-republicanism.

The reality is that all these dualities have a hard time coexisting due to overlapping and disagreement. Thus, spectrums start being elaborated so political and ideological positions can artificially be separated and categorised. Somewhat of a neuroticism over organizing human thought, even if reality always presents itself blurrier.

If there is a set spectrum or compass, then a quiz could be elaborated to guide people into the area of politics they identify with. Such quizzes are prominent during election time, like the US elections. And it is during these times that we live in, as it was four years ago, that people question what political beliefs they align with and political quizzes become all the rage.

One of such political quizzes, that I did many times, is “The Political Compass”, It is been around since 2001 as its website says.

The Quiz is mostly a series of statements that the quiz taker will choose if he agrees with them or not. The Quiz site states clearly that these are not questions but statements, and that some are vague on purpose to create emotional reactions out of the quiz taker. The problem with this is indeed the reality of it. Some people have taken the quiz seriously and focused too much on it.

I am to blame for this sin, since this is now a second article on political spectrums that I do. The reality, is that there is a problem with such quizzes and political spectrums that I want to point out. Even if possibly arguing against myself here.

Such quizzes are but pointless facts. They are still facts that can be discussed and extrapolated to almost meaningful conversation, but still meaningless.

Is there any meaningful aspect of spectrums and virtual fields of ideology? Yes, to separate and categorise political thought.

Is it possible to account for every political thought known to mankind? No. Spectrums have a habit of being very reductive and thus not give a perfect vision of everything, having to leave something out in the end.

The argument that I want to make is that political debate is being thrown out the window in favour of continuous ideological debate. And ideological debate is not productive, at least not productive if ideologies are not evolving. The pessimists might argue that these debates have happened for as long as democratic societies have existed. But I would care to disagree, ideological talks always existed, this does not mean that debate over real proposals did not exist.

Since the end of World War II, that Europe has been in this ideological battle to see which system has won. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the succeeding dismembering of the Soviet Union, the discourse died down with famous writers like Fukuyama arguing for the end of history and the victory of liberal capitalism. The countries that made up NATO then turned to engage in new issues, and these issues created new problems. Moments like the 9/11 terror attacks, the subprime crisis, the dot com bubble and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe proved that many of the liberal democracies projects would not work out as intended, and the public was not satisfied with such projects. Thus, new ideologies have been brought to the options in democracies, and thus the political boogaloo came back. This dance of ideological debate is dangerous, as we can get stuck for years debating which system is best without deciding one.

What does Political Quizzes and Spectrums have to do with this? They are part of a fundamental way of thinking about politics, and they should be seen as what they are: vague system of sorting ideas and statements through ideologies, that can or not contribute to the decision-making of governments.

My article on Political Spectrums

My article on the US elections

The Political Compass Website

The Politician Independent Newspaper, created in 2020