Triaxial Epistemology

By way of Popehat, Arnold Kling on a root problem with contemporary political discourse, summarized in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Kling’s three “languages” are ways of talking about politics and government, and they align roughly with the progressive, conservative and libertarian viewpoints. Progressives, Mr. Kling thinks, typically express opinions using an “oppressed-oppressor axis”: societal problems are envisioned mainly as forms of oppression of the weak by the strong. Conservatives favor a “civilization-barbarism axis” and worry about how to defend traditional values and institutions. Libertarians use a “freedom-coercion axis” in which the threat is governmental encroachment on individual choice.

Sometimes you’ll come across a framing so neat and concise it’s hard to imagine how you made such a mental hash of the problem yourself before. As here, at least for me. Of course we’re all talking past each other, and of course everyone else’s axis of political conflict countenances evil, because their axes miss the point completely. You’re moving on the irrelevant X axis, when what matters is how much Y you have, and who the hell are those people over there talking about Z? (Comments directed to NaPP.)
Burt LikkoBurt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.

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2 thoughts on “Triaxial Epistemology

  1. Burt, thank you for this; it’s awesome. I frequently find myself challenging some folk here, Roger, Jason in particular. This isn’t always because I disagree with them, I often think I actually agree on some core central idea, but I’m challenging the language and perspective.

    That said, I do take so umbrage with ‘oppressed/oppressor’ axis for liberals; because ‘oppressor’ suggests active agency to oppress; and I don’t think ‘oppressing’ is the goal so much as a side effect. I’d prefer an axis of opportunity, perhaps disadvantaged/advantaged.

    This helps me to more clearly think through that language; to perhaps frame it in ways that help us find the centers of agreement.

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