The Political Compass is Worse Than Useless

The left/right paradigm is the Overton window of the world. Almost everyone limits their thinking of politics to that of the left and the right. The ‘Political Compass’ has emerged in the past two decades as a popular way by which people identify their political position, usually by taking a rudimentary test online. This compass has the x-axis, left/right economics, and the y-axis, authoritarian/libertarian government. It seems like an intuitively sensible way to think about the world and it is even fun to take the tests and identify yourself as this or that. There are many young people who latch on to these identities and put so much importance in them that it becomes a sort of astrology. However, I believe it is actually worse than useless as a way to think about the world and it induces a sort of neurotic brain-rot, as all inherently contradictory systems of thought will eventually.

As stated, the two main divides are economic position and government position. There’s always been governments as long as humans have been civilized, and there’s always been some sort of activity that could be called economy. However, the economic divide of the political compass is based on the industrial revolution and the subsequent economic systems that it produced, the ‘left’ and ‘right’. It may be objected that capitalism begun (though, not in proper) before the start (in proper) of the industrial revolution, but the motivating forces at the premise of capitalism tend toward technical development, although not in a totally unrestricted way like with communism, since there are occasions in capitalism where it is more profitable to delay a technical development, usually because the rest of the technical ensemble hasn’t caught up yet. Industrialism and industrial production necessitate an immense amount of organizing, coordination, planning, hierarchy (the proceeding items demand it), and structure. The top half of the political compass makes sense for this reason as the state/companies facilitate these things in industrial development. However, you will find that when examined soberly, the bottom half of the compass is contradictory on such a fundamental level as to make both anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism mere meaningless concepts and, moreover, delusions of a very high order.

Industrialism demands the intervention of the state, even in capitalist economies. People often think of the United States as purely free-market, but in all important industries the federal government coordinates and outlines what should be produced and how much. Ellul observed this in Chapter 3 of The Technological Society:

These elements of a given system, which are important in their specificity, lose importance, however, if, instead of isolating the system, we try to reintegrate it into the complex of society and into the general course of history. What then takes on importance are the elements in their relation. Relations are of the highest im­portance, not mere internal consistency. It is the connections be­tween the economic system and the state (with its technical means, different classes, and structures in national form) which be come characteristic. And we do not mean here theoretical connec­tions, but real ones resulting from the internal necessity of the re­gime. From this point of view, the corporate economy and the planned economy come singularly close together, to the degree that both systems (a) take a firm hold on the economy, (b) manage it on the basis of exact mathematical methods, (c) integrate it into a Promethean society which excludes all chance, (d) centralize it in the frameworks of nation and state (the corporate economy to­day has no chance of success except as a state system), (e) cause it to assume an aspect of formal democracy to the total exclusion of real democracy, and (f) exploit all possible techniques for con­trolling men. The kinship of the two systems is obvious in spite of differences in material structure. The end pursued by both the corporate economy and the planned economy, and the means adopted to reach this end, are identical. Only the outward forms change. It is useless to compare these forms. History will decide which form is best-best adapted to the common end.

Jacques Ellul

The naive among us will think to themselves ‘But we can still do industrial production, it just wont be as efficient because we aren’t chasing profit’. However, communist countries pursue technical development in a more unimpeded manner than the capitalists do because of the aforementioned profitable delays in technical development in capitalism. The Soviet Union was famous for its technical ensemble. The naive will again say that the state would have eventually withered away, but by what means is never even approaching an explanation even by Marx. It is as naive of a self-deception as you can commit. The world is a stage in which many systems are competing for dominance, and as soon as something has achieved dominance, its competition turns inward until it collapses or some other system comes and out-competes it. Communist countries have to pursue technical development to compete with capitalist countries and with each other. There will never not be a time where a group of industrial producers aren’t competing with others, and this competition demands the committed pursuit of technical development. Even if a group was not in competition, the very acts involved in the industrial process from energy production to manufacture necessitate planning, organization, and hierarchy. The state will not wither away and there will not be reached a workers paradise where all people participate in highly organized industrial production and do not compete and sing kum ba ya.

This fundamental contradiction between what is required by industrialism in the realm of human organization and what is pursued by anarchism in the breakdown of organization cannot be overstated. Nonetheless, most leftists consider themselves in the third quadrant (left-libertarian) and most young rightists consider themselves to be in the fourth quadrant (right-libertarian). Not all of these people consider themselves to be actual anarchists and believe in some level of government, but that being less involved that the current government, although the leftists want the government to become more involved by being more leftists but less involved by being more libertarian somehow. Maybe the contradictory involvements will cancel each other out and it’ll be not much of a change, but again even the idea of there being differences in levels of involvement in the government between communism and capitalism is mostly false, as was illuminated by the quote from Ellul.

Not only is the compass fundamentally flawed in that it has two lower quadrants which are totally nonsensical, but its divide that has the most attention paid to it, left and right, isn’t even a meaningful one because of the increasing homogeneity of forms between the communist and capitalist governments. It doesn’t really matter what system wins out in the end because they will arrive at the same place, that being whatever place is best for technological development. People are sheep-herded into this or that school of thought as many ancoms and ancaps are and just end up in a place that doesn’t even matter. No one will ever make a meaningful fight for anarcho-communism or anarcho-capitalism and there’s nothing to even arrive at anyway. In this way swaths of people are effectively neutralized politically and constrained in a state of mind that is to the system’s benefit. There’s an argument to be made that in the long-term historically going in to the future as the technological system matures that even private companies and governments will not have a meaningful difference between them, which has been touched upon by many people who have observed that if huge corporations are left without the government in anarcho-capitalism then they become the government, and the government already can be thought of as a gigantic private corporation, albeit one that is publicly-traded, like all large ones are.

And so, most people spend their time dreaming up what political identity satisfies their psychological needs and spin their wheels in the mud doing so. As I mentioned at the start of this article, letting the political compass invade your mind induces varying degrees of neuroticism in different people, but always neuroticism nonetheless, being just the natural consequence of basing a large part of your thinking about the world on nonsense. It is building your houses on sand, the cracks appear and progress. You can find evidence of the neurotic and even somewhat schizophrenic nature of political-compass-heads if you dare to wander into a place such as r/PoliticalCompassMemes. I wouldn’t recommend staring into the abyss for too long.

Any readers who are interested in exploring these ideas further should read Ellul’s work, The Technological Society.

Until next time,


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