Proposition #12: Sad reflections in branded drinking water.

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 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.

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.

*Proposition #12: * It’s a sad reflection on our society that something as basic as drinking water is now a bottled, branded consumer product.

SentientMeat (-5.12, -7.28) ticks Agree.

I agreed for perhaps slightly different reasons than others who might do the same. I think it “sad” merely because I think people who pay for branded drinking water over the superior stuff that comes from a tap are idiots, and in those mainly urban cases where the tap water is inferior, I think it sad because a so-called civilisation cannot even supply decent quality drinking water to its citizens. (Luckily, my tap water beats any bottled stuff I have ever tasted, but that’s Wales for you!)

In terms of political sentiment, this proposition is asking us how we feel about anything being considered a “consumer product”, with all the flashy advertising and psychological manipulation such status entails. The proposition could have used other such necessities to make its point; that something so “natural” as water is still subject to the sleazy business of buying and selling.

Now, there is a world of difference between thinking something is “sad” and actively advocating intervention to prevent it - seeing a family torn apart by alcoholism does not for one moment have me calling for Prohibition. One can wish with all one’s heart that people were more responsible with all this freedom that they’ve gained in the last few centuries, but in the end a certain level of irresponsibility seems to be an inescapable human trait. All we can do as a society is ameliorate its harmful effects (and in the case of bottled water there really aren’t any of consequence).

I think it’s a shame when large groups of people indulge in consumer behaviour which I find utterly moronic, after some kind of “brand hypnosis”. However, I appreciate that the right to act like a harmless dickhead is a central feature of the Open Society and therefore would not dream of regulating such nonsense (unless there was clearly some exploitation going on). All I can do is use my free speech to opine that I think the bottled water industry is a sad reflection on our society’s gullibility, and laugh at the dental problems of those who deny themselves enough fluoride in the name of “cool”.

Economic Left/Right: -4.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.38

I really don’t know what to say on the bottled water thing (I was so much wishing for a ‘don’t know’ option on so many of those questions in the test, but I guess they excluded it specifically to force people down off the fence.

I suppose I view anything where the brand is more important than the content as rather absurd, but if sheeple want to throw their hard-embezzled credits at frivolities, who am I to stand in their way?

The proposition is not terribly useful in a political compass IMO as it merges three independent issues:

  1. branding being important for products that the proponent considers identical (i.e. the triumph of advertising over reality)
  2. the public water supply not being thought palatable in some places (i.e. incompetence on the part of the public utilities)
  3. the question of bottled water being consumed (i.e. a question of mere taste and custom)

I’ll refer to the third issue only: This is entirely a question of taste and drinking bottled mineral water is not the ludicrous custom that some people think it is. Neither is it a result of the public water supply not being up to scratch.

I for one buy my favourite kinds of mineral water by the crate at the supermarket, at prices that compare favourably to soft drinks. The taste is characteristic to the source (i.e. branding is really useful here), and it differs as much as between wines (and connoisseurs of wine are generally not criticised for their oenological pickiness, or expected to drink grape juice mixed with industrial ethanol as it is “the same thing, really”).

I expect, of course, the public drinking water supply to be perfectly safe and adequate for cooking purposes.

Strongly Disagree

What business is it of mine what people drink?

Sure, it’s a waste of money to buy exclusively bottled water to drink. But, not nearly as much of a waste as buying cigarettes. Or giving money to a preacher on TV, or people that buy those “no fear” stickers to put on their cars, or…

I don’t drink soda. If I’m thirsty and I’m at a convenience store, I just may buy a liter of water to drink. This isn’t a sad reflection of anything, it’s capitalism meeting the needs of consumers. I happen to be a big fan of it.

I think I checked agree originally, now I’m leaning toward disagree. As long as there are people who think that bottled water is desirable and there’s enough demand to in induce someone to provide it, where is the problem? Certainly I have better things to worry about than whether someone buys water by the bottle or not. In any event, how this is supposed to illuminate our political personality is beyond me.

Meh, maybe you’re right. I don’t feel strongly here, and my agree might even nudge me slightly towards Authoritarianism since I am reacting negatively to “those crazy kids and their silly fads”. I could tick Disagree with a clear conscience, I guess.

Economic Left/Right: 6.88
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.97


Can’t add much to what Debaser said, other than: If you think this is about “drinking water”, you’re mistaken. It’s about status. It is fundamental human nature to crave status symbols. The richer you are, the more likely you are to have or crave such symbols.

If you think this is a “sad reflection”, then you don’t understand human nature. Essentially you are saying that we shouldn’t be what we are.

Jon the Geek (-6.5ish social, -2.8ish economic) ticks Disagree for the reasons that Debaser listed. It didn’t get “strongly,” because I have to admit I laugh when people buy the more generic bottled waters that are just bottled municipal water.

I agree that it is not that sad in this case, John, but I would note that the quoted sentiment could be used to excuse some pretty unpleasant manifestations of “human nature”.

I actually had a pre-emtive response to that in my original post, but deleted it before submitting it because I wanted to think thru the whole situation a bit more before posting. :slight_smile: But I do recognize that certain aspect of human nature (eg, jealousy or greed leading to murder) need to be kept in check by cultural norms (which then evolve into laws). These are areas where “human nature” can result in physical harm to one another.

And while we certainly need to keep those urges in check, it’s unclear to me that I would want to eliminate them (ie, genetically) if we could do so. Could we eliminate the urge to kill without also eliminating the passion to love another human as we do now? I don’t know, but I suspect not.

So, you might ask: If we can sanction the use of laws to curb certain aspects of human behavior, then why not sanction their use to curb any aspect of human behavior? I don’t think I have a fully satisfactory answer to that, but it certainly seems reasonable to allow human nature to run its course in society as long it doesn’t cause physical harm to other people. That’s about as far as I’ve taken it for the time being.

Shodan looks for the “who gives a rap” option, doesn’t find one, so picks “Agree” almost at random.

It is mildly stupid to pay these prices for water. I don’t, but I don’t care. You want to waste your money, it’s nothing to me. The only reasonable objection I can think of - and I had to think for a while - is that the bottles are plastic, and therefore cost money to recycle.

I use one to hold drinking water at work, but the water in it came from the cooler.

De minimis non curat lex, and neither do I.


That could almost inspire a sig. Not that I’m saying you’re a genius supervillain, mind.


I, with strong negative numbers in both directions, chose “agree.” That doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about it, any more than I’m going to start a revolution over the fact that Wonderfalls was cancelled in favor of The Swan. But I’m depressed over a culture that supports a bottled tap water industry.


This sort of thing have been going on for about 75,000 years.

I think it depends on which of the adjective “bottled, branded, consumer” is emphasized. I think I selected “disagree”, although I also wanted a “don’t care” option here, and IIRC I am slightly negative on both scales.

I, myself, purchase bottled water once or twice a year, when I go on road trips. I buy one bottle, then refill it at drinking fountains the rest of the trip. I am not seeking “Status”, despite whatever “brand” the water is branded with. In fact, I purchase the cheapest water in whatever size is appropriate. I, too, think it is ludicrous to brand bottled water. But for the few who think there is a difference in taste (and there actually is, in some instances,) live and let live.

But I am not sad that it is a bottled and consumer product. What’s the alternative, gas stations giving away bottled water for free?

I actually chose Strongly Disagree

Economic 5, Social -5 (roughly)

This question seems to come from the wellspring of discontent with the present that is part and parcel of social conservativism. Social conservatives are convinced that this generation is on its way to hell. Water is a pretty obscure barometer of this, but I lump it in with all other complaints about life ‘these days’. I am certain this same lament was made when suburbs started to phase out wells and move to water service. I am sure people complained that it was sad that they paid the government for their water.

I also don’t really give a shit what people do with their money. I rarely drink bottled water, and DC, despite its faults has good tap water. It does get me all warm and fuzzy knowing that we are such a prosperous society that we can spend money on water in a bottle just because we feel like it.

Economic, -5.50
Social- 1.85

Bottled water issue- I selected agree.

Although I must say that when I’m thirsty, not near a faucet, and don’t want soda, I like having the ability to pick up a bottled water, although for the most part, I will select an off brand if it’s available because I think a dollar is too much to pay for a bottle of something that falls from the sky on a regular basis in most parts of the world. Really, nearly all of them taste exactly alike anyway…

but then there’s Fiji. Fiji bottled water rocks.

Economic Left/Right: 8.12
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 8.08

I strongly disagree. Bottled water may be considered frivolous to some, but so what? It is a consumer product, which consumers choose for a variety of already listed reasons.

I don’t drink much water, unless it is really hot with coffee beans, cream and sugar, but when I do, it is generally while sitting in traffic, drinking some of whatever brand. For me, the brand is not important so much as the convenience of being able to get a bottle (portability and ease of use) of cold water (refreshing), when I want.

One may as well reflect on the ‘sadness’ of people buying sacks of dirt for their yards. By golly, dirt is free, and if you need good topsoil, you should just compost, etc. Nope, I like the convenience of running down to the garden store and buying a sack of what is lying all over the place.

I strongly disagree. If we live in society where people have enough disposable income to pay good money for bottled water (which is only marginally better that tapwater), I think it means our economy is very strong, and even most of the lower class can afford small luxuries. Wealth is a relative thing, but true poverty is absolute.

(-1.88, -4.82) In some ways, I think it’s silly to drink what is essentially expensive tap water, when tap water is available, though I certainly wouldn’t advocate telling someone they couldn’t do so. In that way I suppose it is a sad reflection. I think about one of Carlin’s bits, something to the effect of, “How is it that people can no longer walk one block without carrying a bottle of water, are you that thirsty? If I get thirsty, I use a drinking fountain.”

Given the choice, I’d rather drink from a personal supply, than use a public fountain, so his idea doesn’t entirely work for me. However, it does appear at times, everyone and their uncle is carrying a bottle of water around. Carlin points out how we dealt with thirst before, drinking something before we left home, school, work, etc. I do think he has a point.

I also remember thinking how silly it was when bottled water really began to catch on. Instead of being marketed to the energy drink, energy bar crowd, it was shown as a status symbol. Something along the lines of Perrier. I’m sure some of it is superior to tap water, but I believe a lot of it isn’t, unless I include the fancy packaging. It’s not like people didn’t know before Dasani came out, “If I go on a hike, to an outdoor concert, take a road trip, etc. it’s probably a good idea to bring some water with me.” It’s water, everyone needs it, and it’s silly for me to think of a basic need as a status symbol. With that in mind, I chose “agree”, though I believe there are a lot of legitimate reasons for buying bottled water. The question included the term “consumer product”, and I focused on the marketing aspect. I’d probably feel the same way, if the advertisements for salt, shifted in this way.