Assume the Position

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Did Somebody Call A Plumber?

Look's like it's about time to expect a flood of leaks: "The commissioners are scheduled to meet every 10 days to two weeks, and a staff of 40 is being hired."

Ah Say...Ah Say...Ah Say, That Ain't No Way Ta Tell A Joke, Son

"I think all Americans - and this is a joke! - all Americans, even if they're from the South and 'stupid,' should be represented."

-- Wesley Clark, as dished out by Lloyd Grove
Ah say, ah say, lookit here son, ya done stepped alllll ova the punchline. What's folk gonna think, they read that? They gonna think, "Here's a guy can't tell a joke." Worse, they gonna think, "Karl Rove is writin' his jokes." That's what they gonna think.

Ah tell ya, son, you best be findin' a new writer. Ya make more cracks like that, afore ya know it, folks be think'n "an officer 'n a gentleman" means two people. And ya best not let nobody know ya was thinkin' the "Stars 'n Bars" was the O-club, neither.

Sunday, November 09, 2003
Origin: Nowhere

Jacob Levy finds the Political Compass questions "hopelessly weird." Colby Cosh explains where the questions seem to come from:

…The test, rather oddly for one that claims to be purely "political", combines questions designed to ferret out hidden psychological motivations with questions about explicit political philosophy. The latter are poorly designed, and the former are predicated on old research--undertaken by Hans J. Eysenck and Theodor W. Adorno, among others--which claimed to have explained the rise of European fascism by positing the existence of a particular "authoritarian personality." (Readers of Norman Dixon's cult favourite On the Psychology of Military Incompetence may recall his chapter about this theory; at least three or four books by Eysenck go into a fair amount of detail about the work.)

The transatlantic postwar research into the "authoritarian personality" has been somewhat forgotten. Partly this must be because the psychological profession is now embarrassed about having regarded right-wing authoritarianism as a pathology while paying no similar attention to the Stalinists and fellow-travellers who, at the time, were well-represented if not dominant in the arts, the universities, and magazine journalism. ("Sheila and Pete can't have an authoritarian personality--why, I have lunch with them every day at the Faculty Club!") But mostly, as far as I can tell from the accounts I've read, the number of inductive leaps involved in the enterprise would have made it ultimately untenable. Testing disclosed that anti-Semitism and other forms of race prejudice were statistically grouped with whatever passed for "economic conservatism" at the time. Inductive leap one: you had to believe that this was not merely an artifact of the historical circumstances but a permanent truth about human personality…

How the questions were apparently selected:

Anyway, some of the questions on the Political Compass test, presumably the ones which move your score back and forth on the "authoritarian/libertarian" axis, are snipped from the multiphasic personality quizzes used back in the day to establish the existence of the "authoritarian personality". … There isn't the slightest indication that the Political Compass authors have borrowed these items in anything but a totally haphazard manner, and the telltale true-false items don't seem to have been updated. At the very least they would need to be re-tested for contemporary statistical validity.

Colby also takes a quick kick at the "halfwit fever dreams," those charts represented as the work of a purportedly "diverse professional team [that] has assessed the words and actions of globally known figures to give you an idea of how they relate to each other on the political compass."

Orwell certainly wouldn't have put Gandhi in a "libertarian" quadrant, and anybody who puts the Green Party here is in desperate need of a kick in the spleen.

In addition to Colby's objections, I find the most telling sign that the entire enterprise is suspect is that, while the test-taker's results are presented as Cartesian coordinates to two decimal places, the origin (0,0) is never defined. But if you look at the graphs of "globally known figures" or the US Presidential candidates, the origin appears to be halfway between Jean Chretien and Gerhard Schroder on the former, and halfway between Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean on the latter.

The entire authoritarian/libertarian scale is a misrepresentation — it just represents social attitudes (conservative/liberal) without actually addressing authoritarianism. Look at the positioning of Al Sharpton down in the anarcho-syndicalist/libertarian-socialist lower-left quadrant. Joe Lieberman (mid upper-right quad) would probably support civil fines for people who pissed on the sidewalk, Al Sharpton would probably want to jail people for the "hate crime" of complaining about people pissing on the sidewalk. Authoritarianism—the exercise of power—is a means to an end, and the authors of the Political Compass conflate liberal ends with libertarian means.

Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.