Political Compass #33: Political Compass #33: 'Savage people' vs. 'different culture'

Many political debates here have included references to The Political Compass, which uses a set of 61 questions to assess one’s political orientation in terms of economic left/right and social libertarianism/authoritarianism (rather like the “Libertarian diamond” popular in the US).

And so, every so often I will begin a thread in which the premise for debate is one of the 61 questions. I will give which answer I chose and provide my justification and reasoning. Others are, of course, invited to do the same including those who wish to “question the question”, as it were.

It would also be useful when posting in these threads to give your own “compass reading” in your first post, by convention giving the Economic value first. My own is
SentientMeat: Economic: -5.12, Social: -7.28, and so by the above convention my co-ordinates are (-5.12, -7.28). Please also indicate which option you ticked. I might suggest what I think is the “weighting” given to the various answers in terms of calculating the final orientation, but seeing for yourself what kind of answers are given by those with a certain score might be more useful than second-guessing the test’s scoring system.

Now, I appreciate that there is often dissent regarding whether the assessment the test provides is valid, notably by US conservative posters, either because it is “left-biased” (??) or because some propositions are clearly slanted, ambiguous or self-contradictory. The site itself provides answers to these and other Frequently Asked Questions, and there is also a separate thread: Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading? Read these first and then, if you have an objection to the test in general, please post it there. If your objection is solely to the proposition in hand, post here. If your objection is to other propositions, please wait until I open a thread on them.

The above will be pasted in every new thread in order to introduce it properly, and I’ll try to let each one exhaust itself of useful input before starting the next. Without wanting to “hog the idea”, I would be grateful if others could refrain from starting similar threads. To date, the threads are:
Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading?
Political Compass #1: Globalisation, Humanity and OmniCorp.
#2: My country, right or wrong
#3: Pride in one’s country is foolish.
#4: Superior racial qualities.
#5: My enemy’s enemy is my friend.
#6: Justifying illegal military action.
#7: “Info-tainment” is a worrying trend.
#8: Class division vs. international division. (+ SentientMeat’s economic worldview)
#9: Inflation vs. unemployment.
#10: Corporate respect of the environment.
#11: From each according to his ability, to each according to need.
#12: Sad reflections in branded drinking water.
#13: Land should not be bought and sold.
#14: Many personal fortunes contribute nothing to society.
#15: Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade.
#16: Shareholder profit is a company’s only responsibility.
#17: The rich are too highly taxed.
#18: Better healthcare for those who can pay for it.
#19: Penalising businesses which mislead the public.
#20: The freer the market, the freer the people.
#21: Abortion should be illegal.
#22: All authority must be questioned.
#23: An eye for an eye.
#24: Taxpayers should not prop up theatres or museums.
#25: Schools shouldn’t make attendance compulsory.
#26: Different kinds of people should keep to their own.
#27: Good parents sometimes have to spank their children.
#28: It’s natural for children to keep secrets.
#29: Marijuana should be legalised.
#30: School’s prime function is equipping kids to find jobs.
#31: Seriously disabled people should not reproduce.
#32: Learning discipline is the most important thing.

*Proposition #33: * There are no savage and civilised peoples; there are only different cultures.

SentientMeat (-5.12, -7.28) ticks…errr… Agree.
Gaahh, this gave me a headache. I wanted to express this opinion: The ability or predisposition of a human being to do algebra, survive in the jungle, participate in a democratic election or stone women to death is not governed by ethnicity. I am saying that there are savage and civilised cultures. Peoples (plural) cannot be said to be savage or civilised, since one could raise the jungle-born to eg. attain a degree in computer science just as readily as the wealthy suburb-born.

Where does the above leave me in terms of agreement or disagreement to #33? I bit the bullet and ticked Agree by tacking on “ie. savage or civilised ones!” in my head.

The proposition appears to enjoin people to argue that eg. the jungle tribes of Papua New Guinea are no more “savage” or “civilised” than, say, computer workers a few hundred miles away in Darwin, Australia. I’m afraid I could not argue this. I accept that technology and medical advancement do not engender civilisation in and of themselves. But those computer workers in Darwin do not, as a rule, kill each other out-of-hand over minor territorial squabbles. One would be hard pressed to find a Darwin woman who had been widowed four times by each successive husband murdering the previous one, nor one who had been raped by upwards of ten different men on different occasions (see Jared Diamond’s excellent “Guns, Germs & Steel” for source material.)

We might idealise jungle-dwelling communities as peaceful, egalitarian havens living harmoniously, or places like Yemen as alien oases of Eastern mystery, and castigate lazy and arrogant westerners for using the word “savage” at all. But the reality is that violence, atrocity and subjugation of the weak is what “law of the jungle” means. I could not in good conscience witness a woman being summarily stoned to death and simply label such a culture “different”. Arbitrary murder, rape and executions are not civilised. They are savage violations of the victim, and any culture which engenders a vastly higher rate of such violations is a more savage one.

But the “peoples” themselves? Raise a New Guinean in a wealthy Darwin suburb and she’ll be no less likely to become a computer worker (prejudice permitting) - after all, living in the jungle requires just as much ingenuity as installing a database. No, the “peoples” are merely the humans who were born at that time and place, like the white-skinned folks who were born into the savage cultures of neolithic (or, for that matter, medieval) Europe. For various reasons (again Jared Diamond explains them carefully), those pale pink people achieved the heights of “civilisation” first. The effects of that progress have, like an unstirred drink, yet to osmose throughout the globe, such that other regions and ethnicities have yet to reduce their instances of savage brutality to the same extent.

A tricky, ambiguous proposition this. I suspect I’ve got a southwards nudge even though some of the sentiments above might be considered authoritarian (northerly) by nature since I am ‘judging’ cultures different to my own.

Strongly disagree. Not only are there different cultures but some of them are also quite savage while others are more civilized. I know I’m judging other culture by my own standards but I’m ok with that. I also understand that other culture will judge mine by their own standards and come to their own conclusion.


By Strongly Disagreeing are you not saying that there most definitely are ‘savage peoples’?

The following is your opening line,–Many political debates here have included references to The Political Compass, which uses a set of 61 questions to assess one’s political orientation in terms of economic left/right and social libertarianism/authoritarianism (rather like the “Libertarian diamond” popular in the US).

In the above, you state the word popular and as we all know, popular does not mean that it is correct and if your beginning thoughts are flawed, what does that say about the rest of your thinking?

Ah, your second paragraph points out, that you realize the pitfalls, very nice. :slight_smile:

In your next paragraph however, you claim economics should come first. Does that include right and wrong, accordingly, or is economics a hard and fast rule for you and how many more are inclined in such a way? I also see in your third paragraph where you allow for other discourse. Very nice, a thing individual. I would say the whole system is flawed and it starts with the seperation politically, by dems versus repubs. That in itself, divides this country down the middle and gives rise to party line thinking, which has shown special interest rules the day and that leaves us no real choice. By buying into the 61 questions, which you show you question yourself, you show the weaknesses within such.

LOL, in your fourth paragraph, you site the confusion in so many ways.

BoyScout, the quote of my enitire OP was utterly unnecessary.

This thread is solely for discussion of proposition #33.

If your points are tangential or relate to the test in general, may I politley request that you post not in this thread but in another of your own creation or the “Does the Political Compass give an accurate reading?” thread.

Furthermore, I politely request other posters not to respond to BoyScout here either.

I won’t respond on this thread anymore as per your request, but you are the one that has shown that to vote on #33 is as flawed as it gets, by your own words.

Economic Left/Right: 8.12
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 8.08
A. Boy Scout11: Either get with the program. This thread isn’t about nitpicking SentientMeat’s damned fine thread series.

B. Strongly Disagree, and pretty much ditto what MGibson said.

Thank you for complying with my request, BoyScout.

Again, I politely repeat my request that no other posters respond to BoyScout here either.

So, Marc and Brutus, are we to take t that you do think that “peoples” are savage or civilised, not just cultures?

Geeze, I’m sorry his own words show so many dichotomies, that it is wrong to pretend that what he presents matters. His words are the cause of this, not mine.

After much thought, I choose agree. Some people do savage things. The Nazi holocaust was one of the darkest chapters in human history, yet I believe that the majority of Germans would not have gone along given a choice. The current endless and mindless violence in the Middle East on the surface looks like the doings of a savage culture, but then the news cameras don’t show the 90% of the population that isn’t running rampant in the streets. Some nations may be overtaken by thugs with endless capacity for cruelty, but the oppressed citizenry isn’t to blame. Moving on to the example of stoning, this is just an example of different cultures having different norms at different times. We like to think that we are civilized in the US, but earlier in our history we tried people for witchcraft. We enslaved other peoples, we denied voting rights by sex. All of these things seem abhorrent now, but at the time that was the cultural norm. Just because other cultures have norms that currently differ than our own at this time does not make them savage no more than the US in the 1800s was a savage society.

7.15, -1.15
Strongly disagree.

I think you’re applying a somewhat strained interpretation here SentinentMeat. This is about culture or the people formed thereby not about race. If you raise a New Guinean in a wealthy Darwin suburb he’ll no longer be a New Guinean but Darwinian.

I do think some cultures/civilisations are better than others and I do think some cultures are trash that should be quickly forgotten or eradicated. I do not believe some people are genetically predetermined to create cultures of one or another kind or to be savages.

Yes, there are most definitely savage peoples.


Both people and cultures can be civilized or savage. A group of people who adhere to the mores and standards of a savage society are a bunch of savages.


I understand that charge, Rune, but I am extremely reluctant to label a particular people as “a bunch of savages”. Applying such an adjective to peoples - ie. the actual individuals in a given place and time, stinks of bigotry and colonial supremacism to me.

Had the proposition read “There is no such thing as savage or civilised cultures, only different ones” I would comfortably have Disagreed. Had it read “There is no such thing as savage or civilised peoples, only different peoples” I would comfortably have Agreed.

It is the mixing of the two I find ambiguous. I suspect we are actually of a like mind. I would certainly have no hesitation about labelling Bob’s example of 1800’s America as “savage”. Were they a different people?

Been awhile since I’ve taken this, but I was firmly in the double negative numbers (more so for social than economic).

I reluctantly chose agree. The characterization of certain cultures (rather than cultural practices) as savage rubs me the wrong way. It is possible to take our New Guinean warrrior and scrape away the violent tendancies, leaving something that is different but still New Guinean. A few, mostly short lived aberrations that never fully involved all of a “people” aside (like Nazi Germany, Taliban Afghanistan, or American KKK) there has never been a culture that was entirely about opression and violence. New Guinea “savages” produce fine works of art. Afghan food is great.

Like SM, I’m also concerned about the racial overtones of the proposition. More to the point, the chariactization of certain peoples as savage hints at a “white man’s burden”. This implies that not only is it our job to tell the New Guinean to stop killing and raping (a point with which I may agree, provided that a good plan on how to do so was provided), but also to worship our God, spak our language and dress like us. I believe we can have the former without the latter. The burden argument is also too often merely a cver for opression and exploitation by the more “civilized” groups anyway.

That said, there are certain values that I hold to be universal (don’t kill people being chief among them), and I recognize that some culture recognize them more strongly than others. I’d only slightly chafe at calling a violent culture savage, although I think we’d be better off ecognizing that violence is only part of the culture.

I have a problem labelling 1800s America as savage. This era gave us Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Eli Whitney and the development of a unique American literary genre, the short story. It gave us leaders like Jefferson and Lincoln. It saw the development of the telegraph and the railroad and the rise of industrialization. True, it also saw slavery and relocation and slaughter of the native Americans. But it also saw a war that led to the end of slavery. When you look at the balance sheet- advances in science and technology, great men of literature vs. the racism prevalent in the day, does it make sense to call it a savage culture? I think not.

Come, Bob, our own countries in many periods of history were characterised by lawless anarchy and unjust exploitation when life was, for many, brutal and short. They were savage cultures by today’s standards, even accounting for their redeeming highlights such as Walt Whitman (who, incidentally, said “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?” - how civilised!).
I would simply argue that they are essentially the same people as we are today.

+7/-3 Disagree.

Maybe this is a nitpick, but it says “peoples”, not “people”. To me, “peoples” mean the summary actions of a group, which is the same as “culture”.

It’s also a poor dichotomy. Savage is not necessarlity the opposite of civilized. And civilized doesn’t necessarily mean “nice”. There were/are definitely “savage civilizations”, if we take “savage” to mean cruel and not just “lacking civilization”.

Anyway, this is a VERY confusing question and it seems to be trying to force people into a politically correct position.


Well then, “we” are a differnt culture by now, to a great extent. Cultures evolve, mix, and produce sub-cultures–often fleeting ones–even as certain other aspects endure. Ultimately the array of cultures is a complex, ever changing arrangement that is impossible to fully delineate.

The same people, sure. But I think an important question is should we use 21st century standards to judge 19th century cultures? I think not. Isn’t it likely that the people of the 23rd century will look back at current times as barbaric because we did not allow gay marriage and we allowed civil liberties to erode in the name of security? Yet I don’t think any of us would argue that our own current culture is savage, would we?