Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Nolan Chart of cynicism

I used to think that I had a cynical attitude towards major American institutions --primarily the government and big business. I even remember a survey that placed me into a "disenfranchised" group (or something like that) -- basically identifying me as a lower income white guy (which is not quite accurate). Occasionally I would run into other libertarians who were more cynical, but outside of that bubble, my impression was that most people were pretty satisfied with how our country operates. But these days, I feel like I've been outflanked, and am running into lots of people from across the political spectrum who are even more cynical than me -- even people of greater socio-economic status than me.

So, I need to rethink the political spectrum.

I used to think mainly in terms of the Nolan Chart, and derivatives of it. Basically you have the "left" (defined by Dems as the center-left) and "right" (defined by Repubs as the center-right), with a second libertarian/authoritarian axis. On such charts, I typically landed as left-libertarian, which seemed correct to me. However, these charts are very much tuned for a pro-establishment polity. They define things in term of the policy disagreements between the two big parties. How would you capture the fact that people would happily abandon those parties?

So, I imagine a coordinate system based on cynicism. One axis is cynicism towards major institutions, the other is cynicism towards regular people. The four extremes would be:
1. Authoritarian. Trusting institutions; distrusting people.
2. Anarchist. Distrusting institutions; trusting people
3. Anti-social. Trusting nobody.
4. Pangloss. Everyone is as good as can be expected.

Of course, this is a gross simplification -- trust in institutions could be broken down between trust in the state and trust in big business (to give the conventional left/right divide among liberals). Similarly, "trust in people" often means trust is a specific subset of the American population -- whether just trusting one's own race, one's own religion, or one's own political coalition.

But still, I think there's something to this. On this scale, I think I'd be in the center-Anarchist region (perhaps with public figures like Glenn Greenwald). Establishment politicians tend produce propaganda in the Pangloss corner, spouting platitudes towards the American people and the benevolence of govenment and business (at least when they are in charge). I think in reality, they are a bit more authoritarian than that, and that faith in the state is often built of distrust of regular people. A lot of libertarian propagandists are near the anarchist corner, but I think most real libertarians are a bit more suspicious of some of their neighbors (at least suspecting that their neighbors are authoritarians), so would shift up towards anti-social. I'm not sure where to put the Trumpists -- before the election, a lot of them were probably in the anti-social corner, trusting only a small portion of the American population. With Trump in office, there's the risk that they'd drift towards authoritarianism... or maybe they just supported Trump the wrecker, and don't care for Trump the Leader.

Anyway, this puts some of my recent thoughts in perspective. A few years back, I said that the the big contribution of left-libertarianism is to expose the elitism of the state (thereby creating more cynicism towards institutions), however, with the rise of the Trump movement, it seems that the problem may be that there is not enough trust among the people, and it's time to put more effort into building a cohesive civic culture for our country -- and world.

p.s. I think this all has something to do with conspiracy theories too -- with trump being the biggest proponent right now.


rulingclass said...

You are starting to see the long-term cumulative effects of living under a 9-11 security state regime. It is getting close to a generation now. Ive always taken libertarianism seriously. The long-term consequences of a security state, consequences that have been well-documented by history, is the erosion of trust(who can you trust?) and an oppressive cultural cynicism that eventually sets in.

America is bit different than the totalitarianism of the past in that it still, to some extent, operates under some semblance of a "free press." Although, frankly, I've long since abstained from Cable/Satellite news. Any time I happen to catch it accidentally, it's like I'm watching a bad 80s Arnold dystopian flick. Add, to a large extent, the free press may not matter all that much. I have found is that the spontaneous order of the polity is the ministry of truth.

Ricketson said...

Good points.
The situation with TV news is odd. I never watch it either, and frankly, I can't imagine watching it (demands too much attention and provides too little information)...yet it apparently is still quite influential. Everyone talks about the divide between different news sources (CNN vs Fox), but I wonder if the bigger divide is between Internet and TV.