Political Compass #8: Class division vs. international division.

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. I will also suggest what I think is the “weighting” given to the various answers in terms of calculating the final orientation.

It might 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.

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.)
The first 7 propositions were authoritarian/social-libertarian in nature and I consider myself strongly tending towards the latter. The next dozen or so pertain more to economics, and so I feel a brief summary of my economic worldview might be useful in order to place my responses in context.

I self-identify as a utilitarian and thus my political philosophy is to maximise “the good”. Now, even this in itself causes no little bother: What the heck is that exactly? Some have considered it to be “happiness”, and thus the best policy is the one which increases happiness to the greatest extent. However, I take a slightly different tack: My personal view is that utility is better derived by minimising the bad. I find it far more useful to ask not how one might “increase happiness”, but how suffering might be decreased.

An example is to take 10 people, each starting equal, playing the game of life. There might be one “big winner”, seven who came out roughly “even Stevens”, and two “big losers”. Looking at happiness here is tricky; How much of the medium happiness of the seven Stevens is cancelled out by the glumness of the two losers, if any? Is the rich man so happy that the average happiness is increased overall? Studies suggest that whatever “happiness” is, it does not increase linearly with wealth, and that one does not need so much wealth in order for one’s happiness to remain above a threshold most find acceptable. However, if the losers have lost so much that they very genuinely suffer, then this is far more apparent - it is even directly accessible via analysis of physiological stress indicators. I believe that suffering is the thing which “exists” - happiness is merely its absence. And so, if the rules of the game of life are such that someone in otherwise good mental health exhibits strong stress indicators when they find themselves so poor that basic needs hang in the balance, suffering could well be minimised by changing the rules via state intervention.

Of course, too much intervention causes suffering in other ways: If hard work or innovation is not rewarded adequately, progress is retarded. Hence eg. a future victim of a medical condition, which would otherwise be curable with a novel treatment if only progress had continued apace, would be suffering unnecessarily.

And so, I cannot advocate either pure Marxism or Law Of the Jungle (LOTJ) Capitalism since both entail unacceptable suffering, yay even injustice; the first because I think it unjust for a hard-working doctor to receive the same as an idle layabout, the second because I feel it unjust for a human being to go hungry, homeless, uneducated and medically vulnerable in a country of plenty. My economic approach is to keep markets as free as possible and intervene solely where suffering demands it. However, since I believe that a welfare system paid for by non-hungry, housed, educated and healthy people neither retards progress unacceptably nor causes these people “suffering” at all (“inconvenience” is perhaps a more accurate term), I place myself on the Economic Left, as will become apparent in discussion of the propositions themselves. Speaking of which:

***Proposition #8: * People are ultimately divided more by class than by nationality.

SentientMeat (-5.12, -7.28) ticks Disagree.
Clearly, this is posed in order to find the strong leftists amongst us. It speaks the language of Marx and its focus on “division” is perhaps a not-so-subtle nod towards the notion of Class Struggle.

The dubiousness of the dichotomy becomes apparent when specific examples are considered. Does an English worker feel more “divided” from his or her boss than from Japanese or Zulu workers? Does the Indian landowner look upon his subsistence farmers from across a gulf, with Queen Elizabeth II calmly sipping her tea on his side?

I cannot deny that differences in language and culture often lead to a feeling of arbitrary division between people of different nations, and I wish this to decrease as humanity progresses towards a One World viewpoint. But to suggest that there are even bigger divisions between people of the same country having different (even massively different) levels of wealth seems to me to be simple unsubstantiated dogma.

(5.00, 0.77) - Disagree.

To add to your analysis, who is in which class (even in the Marxist sense) and how well they live or how strongly they identify with their own class varies enormously from country to country. Some who is considered part of the industrial bourgeousie in the US or Canada is going to live a radically different life from someone who considers himself a capitalist in the Third World.

I don’t think the whole notion of “class consciousness” works all that well in the US or Canada. Most of the populace self-identifies as “middle class”. They thus want to benefit the middle class. Thus, they want what is in the interests of the majority.

Another factor is the disproportionate voting power of retired people in the US. Those who are living off their retirement funds and Social Security have a very strong vested interest in maintaining the health of the means of production, which they own in the form of investment accounts and pension funds. But they still identify with the interests of their children and grand-children, who are still wage slaves. Thus there isn’t as sharp a divide in “class consciousness” as classical Marxism would predict.

Marx was wrong. His view both of history and of economic development was too provincial, based too much on what he thought he saw in industrialized Great Britain and Western Europe.


Jon the Geek (-2.88/-7.49 on last retake) ticks Agree… I think. This is one where I really don’t know, so I was riding the fence. On the one hand, as mentioned above, most Americans put themselves in the “middle class”, so there’s not much division (and I don’t think of myself as fundamentally “different” in any way from poor people or rich people). On the other hand, I’ve met far more people of different nationality than millionaires.

Chances are I’ll tick Disagree if I retake, but it really depends on what I’m thinking at that exact moment.

(0.75, -5.00)

Strongly disagree.

History and current events demonstrate that people divided by nationality are not unified by class. The American working class feels more strongly bonded with the American upper class - not with the Iraqi working class. The Palestinian poor are in league with the Palestinian ruling class, not with the Israeli poor. Even where the conflict is not so great… for instance, I believe a Canadian working class person would identify himself more with a Canadian tycoon than with an American working joe.

I don’t know what else I can add to the OP’s examples. There is certainly a division between the classes, but it’s a stream. The division between nationalities is a chasm. Nationalism is, unfortunately, still a great maze of walls that divides us.

(5.05/-5.28) Strongly Disagree-

I vascillated here between just plain Disagree and Strongly Disagree. That comes because I understand that the American answer to this question will be very different from what the European, Asian and African answer might be. Being an American though, the best I can do is answer the questions from my point of view with the understanding that my viewpoint is in no way universal.

I am always amazed at the fringe that believes class struggle remains on the horizon in the US. I think class, as the term is used here, is relatively unimportant, and nationality far exceeds it in importance. Perception of difference is much more keen between the average person and a person of similar income who lives in Korea, for example, than it is between two Americans, one making $50,000 a year, the other $200,000.

The first step is to define middle, lower and upper class. This can be done two ways. Economically you can separate them into fifths. The lowest 20% is lower class, the working class is the next 20%, middle is the next 20% and so on. This is problematic and inaccurate as economic definitions really have no impact on this question. What is important is self-identification of class. Most Americans self indentify as middle class. Three quarters of people making over $100,000 per year consider themselves middle class. Half of households making between $20,00 and $50,000 a year describe themselves as middle class. I can’t believe I’m citing the Washington Times, but the article is pretty good on this subject.

I don’t see how class can be of great importance if the large majority consider themselves as belonging to the same class. Class struggle requires a strong self-identification with a certain class, and a lack of belief in class mobility. Neither of those criteria are present in the US, class striation is minimal. It seems a little like focusing on race as a dividing line in an all-white country.

I would also say that most Americans continue to believe strongly in class mobility. In the end it doesn’t matter whether this belief is illusory or well founded. If I believe that I can be wealthy, or well-off, however that is defined, I am not likely to believe in a struggle between my current self and my imagined future self. Class would be more important if I believed the system was rigged to prevent me from moving upwards over my lifetime and my children’s lifetime. Many people not only don’t believe that, they take it for granted that their children will be of a higher social standing than they are.

I haven’t discussed nationality because I answered the question based on the problematic nature of class in the US. Absent a strong class based identification, nationality would have to win out. Race is another dividing line that remains stronger than class in America. I would also have strongly disagreed if nationality was replaced by race in the question.

(5, 0.5) - disagree

Pretty much as outlined by posters above.

Haven’t taken the test, so excuse my lack of scores.

I think I’m going to buck the trend here, and say strongly agree.

That may have a lot more to do with my reading of the question than disagreement with any particular post to this point. Specifically the “ultimately” part of the statement. I agree that the nationality bond (and division) is by far more common, but I think that in the end it’s a “class struggle” that usually allows a nation to fight with itself, trumping the nationality card. Now whether the class struggle exists or whether those inciting civil war are just adept at creating that impression is debatable on a case by case basis.

Strongly agree. I feel a lot more kinship with an Ontario working stiff than I do with Bill Gates. Your having been born on the same soil as I means squat- your facing the same daily struggles means more.

How about the Jalalabad working stiff to whom Gates outsources your job? Naah, bad example, we’d still have Gates to blame for underpaying him. But people will more readily and instinctively identify with others that at least look, sound and act familiar.

Now, it may be that this is a contingent situation – that those of us in the Western “First World” (industrialized liberal democracies: US-Canada, the EU, Australia-NZ) may well be at a point where we can afford the luxury of thinking about transnational solidarity. Or that those living in the totally abject conditions of raw LOTJ survival economies will not give a flying hoot for the nation, as the “nation” neither is edible nor provides shelter from the cold. Yet the examples abound when the latter is the case and still, the proletarians will hack each other to pieces over tribe, religion, race, etc. rather than unite and rise against The Power.

The evidence of the eyes and ears is too heavy to discount, however well-argued the theory. Unless in extrairdinary situations, I’m safer looking/sounding/acting the same as those that surround me, than identifying with the same social cause.

[-2, -3.28] Disagree.

econ -5 soc -3.38

I agree. I think technology is going to impact classism tho due to the new method of distributing knowledge. Technology is so complex that the rich people don’t know what they are buying anyway. Check out STEREIPHILE magazine. $10,000 for a monaural tube amplifier. Buy two for stereo.

Computers are getting hilarious. Sound cards don’t specify frequency response but claim CD quality sound.

The internet makes it possible to give away information and mess with the global distribution of knowledge. Who needs school? Read the right book. Attack the Morons In Authority by telling people what they are not supposed to know.

Accounting is supposed to be mandatory in high school so we all know to not go into debt buying junk. When are the politicians talking about education going to get their act together. In the meantime read:


WALL STREET by Doug Henwood

Dal Timgar