At high school one day in Year 9 my class was introduced to the concept of the continuum line. My teacher wanted us to answer a question where the options were something like “Strongly agree”, “Agree”, “Neutral”, “Disagree”, “Strongly Disagree”. I cannot remember the question, but he drew it on the white board and told us to go write our names above the choice we most identified with.
When I think about that today, though I am fairly sure this particular case was non-political, I think about the left-wing/right-wing political spectrum. How advanced it seemed then to my non-political mind and yet how overly simplistic it looks today when talking about political spectrums.
How quick we are to say “Oh, she’s a socialist – she wants to spend tax payer money on education” or “Oh, he’s a conservative – he wants money to spend on the military” and all the while not really looking at why people adopt the positions they do. In conversation broad brush strokes that might tar an entire segment of the spectrum are used. This simplistic approach ignores many many shades of grey and they do not fit comfortably – if at all into the simplistic and out moded “left vs right” political discourse that typically defines politics.
I have tried, as have others to look at politics in something other than a simple continuum line. Some people like a two-dimensional model with a Y-axis as well as an X-axis. This enables criteria such as statism/anarchism, libertarian/authoritarian to be added. Suddenly the whole view may change. So, is one now a left wing anarchist railing against the I.M.F., the military industrial complex and corporations or they a right wing authoritarian like British Prime Minister Theresa May or her female predecessor Margaret Thatcher?
My thoughts are that the political spectrum is actually a sphere with an absolute boundary defined by extremism. It could exist as a two dimensional model with the rim o the sphere being characterized by people of extreme beliefs who believe that armed force, destruction of property, violence is necessary to achieve an end. These might be called radicals for their perceptions of society and their role in it would have been radicalized, but since society would tend to view this kind of action as extreme, extremist or extremism is perhaps a better description.
The well known Political Compass website, which is used by people to determine where on the political spectrum they are located, shows some interesting results regarding the New Zealand General Election 2017. New Zealand First for example is shown as slighly socialist, but moderately authoritarian; National – despite being a party that promotes smaller Government also appears surprisingly authoritarian.
So, as we go forward in the campaign period, it is perhaps worthwhile everyone remembering that politics is not simply a one dimensional thing. It is multi-dimensional and the left-wing/right-wing obsession of the media is silly and simplistic. There is more to your politics – and mine – than just a simple continuum line like the one at high school.