Millman’s Taxonomy ctd.

PicassoDonQuixoteSancho William summarizes Millman’s taxonomy (and doesn’t that roll off the tongue? You almost want to capitalize ‘taxonomy’: Millman’s Taxonomy – as if it were some well established thing…) thusly:

  • liberal vs. conservative (attitudes toward the individual and authority)
  • left vs. right (attitudes toward social/economic winners and losers)
  • progressive vs. reactionary (attitude toward past and future)

There is something missing from this, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I suppose I’m having trouble figuring out exactly how to place myself into this structure. My own political syncretism has left me feeling more and more homeless in the political scheme of things – but I’ll give it a shot.

Liberal vs. Conservative (attitudes toward the individual and authority)

For all my localist talk and all my digs against the ‘rugged individual’ construct, I still think that at the end of the day I tilt much more toward the liberal side of this equation than the conservative. I have very little faith in authority, perhaps because I find authority a cheap and meaningless substitute for voluntary virtue. Law and order is best achieved through knowledge of one’s neighbors, by foot traffic on well lit streets, through mutual respect between free people. Or at least that is how sustainable order is achieved. I am all for order, for balance in society, but I still believe that in the end all we have are individuals making choices. We can hope they make choices for the good of their communities, but one can hardly force that sort of thinking down another’s throat. So I am a liberal in this sense – if a somewhat collectivist liberal with a healthy skepticism toward the capacity of the individual. I have a great deal of sympathy for classical conservatism, just not a lot of faith in it.

Left vs. Right (attitudes toward social/economic winners and losers)

I don’t believe that success is a very good marker of one’s ability or talents. We are all influenced far more by the constraints of our birth than we’d like to admit – both our socio-economic starting point as well as the biological hand we were dealt. These have huge impacts on where we end up later, and on the chain of events that gets us there – though admittedly it never hurts to also be driven or work hard, etc.. Having been born to a white, middle-class, highly educated set of parents I was from the very outset more likely to achieve. I believe that a strong commitment to public education and some form of safety net for the more disadvantaged is necessary and good, though I am again cynical that much can be done to really change or alter a cycle of poverty – at least quickly. This is not really because I have an attitude one way or another toward success and failure; rather, I believe that social order is important and that it is society’s moral duty to maintain that order. I am perfectly willing to look at ways that competition and market ideas can help the poor, and am also aware that jobs are often a much better salve to poverty than welfare ever could be – but not everything can be achieved this way. Some form of redistributive state is necessary. Some version of a market economy mixed with a social democratic state is where we are headed, and probably where we ought to be headed. I think this still puts me slightly to the left on this equation.

Progressive vs. Reactionary (attitude toward past and future)

This is a tricky one. I’ve spilled much ink on the idea of the ‘civilizational tango’ and the need for a progress informed by the past. Perhaps that makes me a progressive realist. I’m certainly not a reactionary, though I’ll admit to being a hopeless romantic. If anything I was more of a reactionary as a child, and have grown to accept the present as I’ve grown older. In any case, I’m not sure that these two can so easily be separated from one another. Sure, some people would rather toss a match into the whole edifice of the past, and others dream of the good ol’ days as though they were something tangible that could be retaken and reshaped into the here and now – but I think more people recognize that progress and tradition walk hand in hand. And if they don’t realize (or care to think about) this, then it’s nevertheless born out in daily life. We are not so easily divorced from our pasts, nor is there any chance we’ll stem the tide of progress. Learning to navigate the two is the trick. Progress is not a de facto boon to society, nor was the past anything but a mixed bag. I guess I come right down the center on this one. Perhaps I am a romantic fatalist.

So where does that leave me? Apparently I am a liberal-left-romantic-fatalist. Maybe a liberal-left-reactionary. Maybe a liberal-left-progressive but only just. No wonder I’m a lousy partisan. More on this later.

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41 thoughts on “Millman’s Taxonomy ctd.

  1. Romantic?

    Maybe that’s the missing piece.

    Romantic vs… what? Realist is too loaded, “rationalist” doubly so. Cynic?

    Would it boil down to Optimist vs. Pessimist?

    Maybe that’s the last piece.

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      • @Mike Farmer, Quite true. I think what you’re describing would be Progressive Conservatism a la Teddy Roosevelt or Eisenhower. Forward thinking, willing to accept or even pursue change, but adhering to some notion of tradition and cultural norms. The question is, in our current hyper-partisan climate and with the Left in charge, can Progressivism exist on the Right? On a few issues it does (education being the shining example) but it struggles.

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        • @Mike at The Big Stick,

          I think a redefined progressivism can exist, but it will entail Republicans articulating the progress in terms of private sector empowerment, a new moral direction, voluntary and innovative, enlisting fresh young brains to put their compassion to work replacing the failing welfare state. It could be a dynamic, exciting direction, but Republicans lack the vision and courage, so far. Our society needs such a challenge and they need the responsibility and involvement — and I believe they would willingly take it on. Our power exists in the hearts and minds of the people, not in politicians perpetually running for re-election. One of the parties needs to break free from the cold chains of statist solutions. Such a direction could inspire the young, women, minorities and independents who are disgusted with the status quo. We have no visionary leaders.

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  2. It’s a bit of a stretch to call Blond a Reactionary Will when he’s saying that both Libertarianism and Socialism come from the same litter and should have been smothered at birth!

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  3. When I read Millman’s taxonomy, I thought he had his tongue firmly in his cheek and was using it, with a glimmer in his eye, to gently poke fun at those who feel a compulsive need to categorize everyone on the political scene. That so many seem to be taking it seriously makes me appreciate the joke even more.

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  4. I’m still stuck on the conservative/liberal distinction. You write:
    “I have very little faith in authority, perhaps because I find authority a cheap and meaningless substitute for voluntary virtue.”

    That’s the thing- I do too, which would seem to put me on the “liberal” side. However, I also recognize that plenty of other people embrace authority and use it to guide their lives. I certainly think there’s something cheap about that too. But, really, who am I to say?

    The problem I have with liberalism, in general, is that it often goes from, “You’d be freer outside of this structure of authority” to, “No, seriously, you need to drop this nonsense and start thinking like us”.

    I think the last time I discussed this issue with a liberal, it was about her comment: “The world will be much better off when people finally stop believing in God”.

    Having said that, the problem I have with the conservative embrace of authority is that it’s often just an unthinking embrace of the powerful status quo as good for the rest of us.

    So, like Steve Martin said, I probably wouldn’t believe in anything if it wasn’t for my lucky astrology mood watch.

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    • @Rufus, I tend to sympathize… I mean, I can think of a handful of authorities that I would defer to. If they would say “you are going to start doing this”, I probably would start doing this. (Mostly because, knowing them, I know that the likely values of “this” are pretty much good things that I don’t do because I’m doing different, not necessarily bad, things.)

      But my Classics professor from my Sophomore Year isn’t going to be mayor anytime soon.

      If you find the right authorities, I’d be the rightmost guy in the room. The folks we have now? There isn’t “left” enough on the chart.

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      • @Jaybird, But I’m not saying there any authorities worth submitting to, nor that I’d want there to be.

        All I’m saying is that plenty of other people choose to willingly submit to authorities, whether it’s studying under their favorite professor as a grad student or moving in with the Branch Dividians or just doing whatever their priest tells them to. What is the liberal response to that? How do we kindly say, “You’d probably be better off if you didn’t submit to that authority”, without eventually coming to saying, “No, seriously, we’re here to liberate you now”?

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        • @Rufus, oh, I see what you’re saying… yeah, that is a corker.

          It’s easy to fall back on the whole “false consciousness” thing. Too easy. You can end up asking “What’s The Matter With Kansas?”

          On the other hand, there is crap like David Koresh out there and you know that those folks were, in fact, nuts following a guy who was, in fact, nuts.

          Yeah, you’re right. I dunno.

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          • @Jaybird, It’s easy to fall back on the whole “false consciousness” thing. Too easy. You can end up asking “What’s The Matter With Kansas?”

            Exactly. Too often, when I’m hearing liberals describe their vision of progress it sounds to me like, “gradually, of course, everyone will come to think like I do.”

            On the other hand, there is crap like David Koresh out there and you know that those folks were, in fact, nuts following a guy who was, in fact, nuts.
            And too often when I’m listening to conservatives talk about authority it sounds to me like, “How dare you accuse those priests of molesting children!”

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            • @Rufus F.,

              > Exactly. Too often, when I’m hearing liberals
              > describe their vision of progress it sounds to
              > me like, “gradually, of course, everyone will
              > come to think like I do.”

              That’s a pointed and appropriate criticism, and I agree. I happen to think the converse problem is just as pervasive:

              “Man, everything was great until people started not thinking the way I do. Get them damn kids off’n my lawn!”

              OP

              I’m starting (just starting) to get a handle on you now, E.D. You’re an interesting cat, that’s for sure.

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          • @Mike Farmer, I haven’t dismissed libertarianism as of yet- which is funny because I’ve sort of bashed liberalism and conservatism in this thread and elsewhere, so it seems like an oversight!

            One critique I would make- and it absolutely does not apply to present company- is that my own personal experience would seem to indicate that some libertarians might have trouble selling their ideas to others because they can be… well, insufferably self-righteous in a way that rivals the hippies.

            But, I guess my own political instincts tend to be 50% libertarian/anarchist, 20% liberal, 20% conservative, and 10% socialist. I’m my own party. I will prevail!

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    • @Rufus, I think most “liberals” in the conventional US use of that term are actually left-wing conservatives. They want an authority that helps the disadvantaged, not an absence of authority.

      Liberals in Millman’s sense – people who really believe that people usually make better decisions for themselves without authority intervening – are and always have been quite rare. Even many libertarians limit themselves to saying that governments tend to make bad decisions, hence the widely varying libertarian attitudes towards other forms of hierarchy and authority.

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      • @Simon K, I think it’s hard to be anything 100% of the time. I have this Sufi anarchist friend who likes to say “we’re all conservatives sometime”.

        Actually, that’s what seems so strange to me about this period in time. I never met people who really seemed to want to be 100% liberal, or 100% conservative, or 100% libertarian before about ten years ago. I did meet people who were 100% Marxist, but they seem to have disappeared.

        I mean, really, all political ideologies have certain areas where they work really well. I generally turn into a raging libertarian most quickly when it comes to unnecessary laws being applied to non-problems. But, overall, I think of political ideologies as akin to a salad bar- use what’s best when applicable and don’t try to load up on nothing but croutons!

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        • @Rufus F., There’s definitely tribalism going on with current liberalism and conservatism. It something to do with the strengthening of the part system, and that outside of Ohio liberals and conservatives live quite seperately. Here in Northern California, I know plenty of people with conservative opinions, but only one person who calls himself a conservative. Its always a bit surprising to me that there are people who want to be 100% libertarian – they seem to be an internet phenomenon, I never meat them anywhere else.

          To some extent all three axes Noah talked about are false dichotomies. Very few people would claim that trusting individuals over authority is appropriate in emergencies, or that authority should run every detail on day-to-day life, for example. So its always surprising that people really want to attach themselves to these extremes. It seems they do though – a lot of political discussion is about explaining away the areas where your particular extremes don’t seem to work, or besmirching your opponents for deviating from them. Which is to say, its much more about reinforcing tribal loyalties than it is about solutions.

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