A Nameless Blog

I make various projects regarding technology, politics, media, and philosophy. If you wish to stay updated, follow me on Mastodon.

Thesis: Capitalism must be understood as a wholly structural concept; in contrast to moralistic concepts, we cannot judge it by right/wrong, but rather instead look at its internal contradictions. It is not created/maintained by one person or a group of people, but rather instead, the result of countless abstract societal relations and understandings.


Quite arguably, the most important legacy left by Marx's work was the “science of socialism”. This move to rationalize the socialist movement, of course, would contrast heavily with the utopian tendencies of the socialists of his time.

For the utopians, socialist society was their logical starting point; their analysis of the world around them and the process of socialism had to be extrapolated from their vision. While this allowed for stretched imagination and expanded discussion, it was not something sustainably pursuable. There had to be a move forward towards something more concrete.

While there is debate over whether Marxism is technically a science or not, the sort of cold, objective attitude associated with science was definitely present. More specifically, the “science of socialism” usually refers to Marx's structural analysis of capitalist society itself; the utopians formulated their critique in relation to their ideal, while the critique of Marx had to begin with the negation of the present.

And following the fallout of the Cold War and the breakdown of Marxism-Leninism, we seem to have reverted back to a state that hasn't just rejected structural analysis, but has instead forgotten it. Unable to conceive anything outside of capital, social democrats, anarchists, and state socialists have found themselves all retreating back to the same view of socialism as a moral struggle; this is exactly why I feel it is necessary to restate the structuralism that is capitalism.

The Historical Basis of Economy

It's important to include a historical element to our analysis, not just for establishing precedent, but because history gives us a look into how production evolves and manifests. History isn't static, and limiting yourself to one frame of reference, whether it be past or present, prevents you from getting a fuller picture of the situation at hand.

This section is a relatively brief restatement of historical materialism, as a simple matter of laying foundation.

As materialist historiography dictates, we see history take upon different stages that gradually brought a dispersed humanity consisting of hunters and gatherers into a society based around industrialization.

While there is a lot to be said regarding the specifics of the various stages, I'd like to focus on the key insights we get here.

Firstly, that the catalyst of this process is the introduction of trade into human relations. We can tell this for two reasons:

  • One, we see a coherent pattern arise when discussing historical progression, in that the evolution of production and society always precedes the evolution of society. Production itself is an extension of the relations of trade.
  • The trade relation is inherently axiomatic in that it presupposes all other social and material relation. Concepts of currency, ownership, industry, and value rely on this as a foundational justification for their existence.

So what exactly is the trade relation? I think the best way to explain it is to start by constructing a controlled environment; obviously there's going to be issues doing this empirically, so we'll have to rely on a hypothetical here.

Assume you are one of two people in a pre-civilization world. You have an excess of fruit you've picked, and the other person has an excess of crude knives they have crafted. For whatever reason, both of you want to eat some chopped fruit, so you decide to give him some of your fruit if he gives you some of his knives.

It's a rather basic example, which is why it's useful for a closer analysis. The first question each participant has to resolve is: how much fruit is worth how many knives? Intention is unimportant here; whether or not they are looking to make a fair deal or get a bargain, they still will need to make a mental judgement on this in order to decide.

Whatever answer they come up with determines the exchange value of each product. And once you begin creating more and more trade relations between different products, you create a relative system of value.

  1. Currency acts as a universal language of exchange-value, so to speak, aggregating all these trade relations into a numerical scale. As currency becomes the language of commodities, it becomes a necessity to survive: you accumulate currency by selling goods you produced, and industry is born out of many people producing and trading simultaneously.
  2. In order to ensure that a commodity can be produced steadily, industry takes control of resources that are essential to reproducing these commodities, control justified by claims of ownership, claims we call property.
  3. Because ownership is fundamentally exclusive in nature; there are going to be those who do not own property. What they do own, however, is their own productive capacity, their labor, which is a key component of transforming a raw resource into a commodity that can be traded.
  4. In order to convert that labor into the exchange-value necessary for survival, they negotiate with those who own property: they supply their labor to ensure the reproduction of the commodity being produced, and the property owner supplies them with just enough compensation to ensure they able to continue working and reproducing said labor.
  5. Ownership in name only doesn't do much; a person who rejects the claims could take whatever is being owned for themselves. So in order for the ownership to be protected and recognized, a state must be created, able to use force to maintain the validity of the claims of ownership.

Of course, there's a lot of concerning implications to this, but that's not the focus right now. Right now, above all else, what we are establishing is that, yes, all of this is interconnected and foundationally based upon the trade relation. I must stress this because before we can even get into criticizing structural economy, we have to first acknowledge that structural economy even exists.

The Necessity of Capitalism

So now, we have established economy as a structural process, but we still haven't talked about capitalism: after all, capitalism is not synonymous with economy but, rather instead, a stage of economy.

And in this sense, capitalism is a necessary evolution: it's an unsustainable and ultimately contradictory one, but it must be maintained it is necessary, not in the sense of “holding together the glue of society”, but rather instead necessary as the predecessor to communism.

It's an angle a lot of socialists seem to ignore, and the ones that don't usually misunderstand this as evidence supporting a gradual approach.

And I think its that conflation with reformism which tends to scare a lot of revolutionary socialists from acknowledging this fact. When we refer to communism as “seizing the means of production”, this has to be understood as an appropriation of it, not as the disowning of it. In simpler terms, there has to be production to seize before one can seize it.

And this truth reveals itself rather morbidly when we look at what capitalism has brought us.

  • English becoming a language of international communication required the ruthless destruction, erasure, and subjugation of countless communities and cultures.
  • Rail, telephone wiring, canals, and infrastructure required the central planning and the enslavement of countless in order to make sure things didn't just advance technologically, but also advanced in a coordinated fashion. It's much easier to build a new road than it is to build the entire interstate from scratch.

And it is precisely here we see Marxism break from moralism. Was any of this right? No, not in the slightest. Did the advances at all “redeem” or “justify” the countless atrocities in its wake? Absolutely not.

This analysis of capitalism is where Marxism immediately breaks from moralism; because capitalism is structural as opposed to humanistic. Yes, these actions have morality to them, but the morality has to be assigned in a non-structural context; those who do have to either reject Marx's approach, such as in the cases of the post-structuralists, or create a different structural interpretation as in the case of Federici.

The Structuralism of Class

One of the most glaring examples of this sort of structuralist/moralist divide can immediately be seen in the intense contrast between Marxist and “leftist” class analysis.

The common conception of class seems to be rich/poor, the haves and the have-nots. These are vague and relative terms, easily to project your own ideals onto. This is why politicians may be comfortable talking about the “one percent”, the “billionaire class”, or “the establishment”. It lacks any concreteness to be offensive. To the moralist, the billionaire has a duty to be a “responsible capitalist” and to fail to do so is a moral failing. It ultimately fails to do much beyond making people feel good and passing the buck to “the bad apples”.

The structural approach takes class in reference to its role in maintaining economy.

  • The proletariat is defined in clear and objective terms as the class of labor, key to the production of value. They do not own productive property, and they are forced to sell their labor to survive.
  • The bourgeois are defined as those who own the means of production, and thus own others' labor.

This distinction isn't meant to be one of good/bad or us versus them, but rather instead one that acknowledges the intense divisions and specializations of the whole productive process.

The proletariat isn't privileged for their moral superiority or their victimhood. Sure, they may resent the bourgeois, but that is due to the nature of class conflict; their interests remain diametrically opposed, and they only find freedom in the repression of the other. No, rather instead it is that as the class that is responsible for generating value, they alone are the only class inherently capable of putting an end to the capitalist structure.

Dangers of Humanizing Capitalism

And this humanization of capitalism is what tends to leave so many leftist tendencies and organizations stuck in the possibilist trap.

  • For the social democrats, they humanize the politicians, media figures, and brands whose ideology they deem “closer to the left”, regardless of if their actions match their words or not.
  • For the Marxist-Leninists, they humanize the states that take upon a communist aesthetic, despite their economies still maintaining the very same economic base as the countries they deem “the real capitalists”.
  • For the anarchists, they humanize unions and co-ops, even though “boss-less capitalism” is still subject to the repressive forces of economy itself.

To some of you, this sort of totalization in left-wing ideology might sound familiar, and that's because this criticism has been leveled before, most notably by the post-left. The Situationists, acting as a bridge between Marxism and this post-left current, echo this sentiment in their theory of the Spectacle.

The Situationists' seminal text, Society of The Spectacle, defines the Spectacle as the following:

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation. The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

I've gone through the trouble to bold the important parts here, read the full text if you wish, it's actually incredibly insightful. The whole book is a collection of theses, so the prose might be rather jarring. I'll try my best to restate exactly what is being said.

In the same way economy reduces all material relations to trade-relations, we witness a similar phenomenon occur as commodity begins to enter the realm of ideas. These social relations: our politics, our goals, our virtues, get reduced down to representation, or more specifically, imagery.

Taking this into context, we see the “human capitalism” for what it actually is. It's the incorporation, or more specifically, the recuperation of ideas into the totalitarian reign of the commodity.

This has already happened to the social democrats, it's happened to the Marxist-Leninists, and eventually even the anarchists.

It might be easy to shrug it off as a few idiots buying merch, and I most likely would've assumed the same, if there wasn't a fundamental connection.

  1. They start by humanizing individual structural entities; this is important because what the humanization does is that it fundamentally rejects capitalism as totalitarian. We know this because the idea of “good apples” and capitalist totality are mutually exclusive.
  2. All of these fields (geopolitics, electoral politics, industry) require either cooperation with the current hegemony or a sufficiently competitive counter-hegemony.
  3. Regardless of which strategy you take, you are eventually going to end up participating in the “game of capitalism” and in good faith, no less. Bad faith actors are crushed before they can centralize power, and by the time you do, your organization is too far in to consciously back out.
  4. Participating in the game means generating commodities, in this case, images. Unions need members, politicians need voters, and countries need a military. All of these, as you see in the above examples, require popular appeals, which can only be found by competing in the marketplace of spectacles.
  5. And as part of the marketplace of spectacles, you become just another face of the capitalist singularity.

Structuralism and Humanism

There's a reason I'm juxtaposing the terms humanism and structuralism with capitalism, and that's because there is a sect of Marxists who refer to themselves as “structural Marxists” in order to separate themselves from the “Marxist-humanists”.

It should be noted that the above discussion relating to capitalism is different from structuralism/humanism in the context of Marxism. Within Marxism, this refers to the debate between those who see the individual as subject to the structural and those who see the structural as subject to the individual.

To put it more simply, we've established capitalism as structural, but there still is the question of the individual, and whether or not the individual is capable of acting independently of the structure.

Arguments against the individual's agency usually cite the same social-relations we discussed earlier, which would be correct, if we were assuming capitalism itself is a totality. It is totalitarian, yes, but it is only totalitarian in the sense that it is converging on totality. It has not reached totality. For capitalism to have reached totality, it would have had to have transformed all relations into economic relations.

And this is where Marx's theory of alienation comes in. Alienation implies a dissonance; reification attempts to eliminate that dissonance. However, this proves more difficult than one may think; alienation isn't just man's dying breath, but rather instead evidence of an underlying contradiction, arguably the ultimate contradiction in capitalism. The contradiction of the workers' bond to their work and the economy's claims over everything. For the individual to have been totally recuperated, they would cease to become proletarians, for without alienation, they would remain just as exploited as a machine.

And this is where I do think the theory of the Spectacle outdoes Althusser's ideas of interpellation. Althusser attempts to demonstrate the subjection of the individual first by tying the terms “you/I” to a subjection, and then tying that subjection towards social structures itself. But in the process, he makes an incredible amount of assumptions and equivocates hard on the identity of the subjector. The concept is vaguely in the right direction, but its not concrete enough to carry the claims Althusser makes regarding humanism and the individual.

For Debord and the Situationists, the subjector was clear; it was representation through imagery. And this makes sense, because we can demonstrably see how symbolism is capable of turning abstract ideas into commodity. Flags and logos can be bought and sold, labels for people, movements, and ideas can be tossed around the same way one tosses a brand around.

And its through this understanding of how ideas become integrated into economy, that we get a clearer picture of alienation and how consciousness can come about. Because the individual's subjection requires their expression as an image, there are some avenues for self-autonomy. The Situationists experimented with the subversion of existing imagery to create a distance between the symbol and their actions.

And it proved incredibly effective in the age of liquid-modernity. Of course post-modernity has recuperated irony, but that is to be expected; the Situationists aren't meant to be a movement continuously clung onto for the rest of the time, but rather instead an example, that even during Althusser's time, it is possible to act independently of the structure.

This was discussed earlier in the Introduction document, but one of the main goals of this project is to create a qualitatively distinguished model of politics as opposed to a quantitatively distinguished one. This is important because all current major models/tests still rely on quantitative methodology, which ends up severely handicapping their usability.

Left/Right Spectrum

1D Spectrum

As this model was born out of the French Revolution, it distinguishes people between those who oppose progress and those who support progress; during that time period it was used to distinguish those who supported the Revolution and those who supported the monarchy.

The issue with this is that the definitions of progress tend to be highly relative, and in some cases subjective. What can be considered “left” or “right” is still dependent on what the individual or larger society as a whole considers to be social progress. When we have different individuals, different time periods, and different cultures being cross-referenced, this model finds itself far too situational to be of any use.

If you're interested in a more in-depth analysis on why this is an issue, I'd recommend checking out Whig History by Herbert Butterfield.

Political Compass and 8Values/PolitiScales

2D Spectrum

Unsurprisingly, the problem wasn't solved. If anything, tacking on another axis only served to bring up more questions. Who is authority referring to in this case? One can be authoritarian but believe in that authority being enforced by someone other than the state; the opposite is true too, you can be libertarian in a non-statist sense.

We continued to get more and more models that slapped on more metrics: first there was the aptly named 8Values, but when that didn't work out, the creators of PolitiScales decided to double the axes.

I know some people swear by these tests, but the issue is that the scores don't really hold much application outside of the chart itself. If you just look at the ideologies that 8Values suggests, you'll see almost all of them are either vague, incorrect, or in some cases, completely made-up terms. As for the political compass it's the same

Questions

Keep in mind all of the above is just me discussing the final result and the presentation, we haven't even gotten to the issues with the questions on these tests yet.

Interestingly enough, despite all the novel ways they come up with to try and present information, we still end up with the exact same structure for how questions are asked and evaluated.

Questions

Often times a series of statements are given, and for each statement, the participant is asked to give a rating of how strongly they agree with it. This answer is then taken, converted to a number, then either added or subtracted to a score on one axis.

For example, answering “Strongly Agree” to the above question may give me +3 points on the authoritarian/libertarian axis, while answering “Strongly Disagree” may give me -3 points on the authoritarian/libertarian axis.

This method would be fine, assuming the question is relevant to every participant and could only be answered in two ways; often times, however, that isn't the case. For a lot of these questions, someone could take a position that would lead them to be neither, against, for, or even neutral towards a statement because the statement would make an assumption that doesn't apply to them.

Quantitative Versus Qualitative

The reason all these tests have to rely on scoring systems and linear questions is because they all assume a quantitative model of ideology. That one's beliefs are based upon the intensity of a position they hold, how strongly they feel about something.

And this is why all of these models completely fall apart when they have someone who holds a strong position, but still a position that the test doesn't account for. It's not even that radical positions become discouraged by this model, but rather instead that they become inconceivable, outside the boundaries of what can even be imagined much less supported.

I have just finished up the Identitarian page for the Political Dichotomy Assessment and I think this is a good time to discuss my reasoning behind the selection of information to include on the site.

I'm not going to hide behind any pretenses of neutrality here, I fully believe these types of nationalists are morons to the highest degree. And it seems quite a few of you agree:

Fascists are anti-intellectual by nature. Intellectualizing the anti-intellectual is an exercise in futility that is most likely to be capitalized on by said fascists.

This is common feedback I hear from people regarding the site. I think the topic itself is worth discussing, and as it is a bridge we're going to have to eventually cross, I figured it'd be best to discuss my reasons for including far-right literature in the project.

Quality Control

One of the main goals I outlined in the project introduction was the focus on filtering out “trash politics” in order to create a much more constructive learning environment. So before we discuss the relation between ideology and quality control, it's important we establish what my bar is for “quality”.

I define quality content as content that encourages further learning as opposed to acting as a substitute for it.

To determine the quality of a reference, I judge it by the following metrics:

  • Length: Is this book long enough to make a thorough argument while still being at a readable length?
  • Reputation: Does the author have the background of a professional or one of a celebrity? How has the piece aged? How do those familiar with the topics regard the book?
  • Topic: Is the topic clear and specific enough? Does it overlap with any other references included? Is the topic something an intrigued/new learner could grasp without preliminary reading?
  • Standpoint: Does the book encourage or discourage exploration into the subject? Is it written by a member of said ideological current? Was the author witness to any important historical moments?

YouTube talking-heads and celebrity books tend to not pass this bar for the following reasons:

  • Their content tends to be incredibly abstracted from primary sources, often times quoting out of context or heavily paraphrasing.
  • The product is not the content itself, but rather the personality behind the content; this promotes reliance on the personality as the sole source of information and a shifting of discussion away from ideas and onto personal character instead.
  • Content is not made with the intention of academic scrutiny, meaning that there's less emphasis on backing and creating a piece that's able to generate discussion.

There is undeniably a lot of this in far-right circles, due to the hero-worship, distrust of reason, and general manipulative character; if you'd like to read further on why this is such an issue, I'd highly reccomend Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism.

This sort of manipulation is why I've taken extra care to avoid shallow works like Mein Kampf and literally anything by Richard Spencer; it's difficult to take the majority of this at face value, so a lot of cross-referencing and structural analysis is necessary.

Asymmetric Ideology

You might notice me refer to fascism specifically a lot here, and that's because it remains the most well-documented form of modern hyper-nationalism. While other far-right sects may have their gripes regarding fascism, they still hold a significant amount in common; hence why people like Marinetti and Evola still supported Mussolini despite the magnitude of their disagreements.

One of these similarities is in how the ideology is structured; other movements usually operate on the assumption that the masses and leaders are on the same page, that there's a level of transparency involved.

It's more complicated with the far right; the intellectuals, the demagogues, and the masses all hold differing (often times conflicting) motivations, positions, and levels of understanding.

  • The demagogue operates on a principle of power; their goal is to accumulate and project strength at all costs; their actions all work towards building themselves up as a personality. Because of this, works by fascist leaders/heroes tend to often be deceptive and self-serving.
  • I think the best word to describe the masses during these periods of reaction is paranoid. There's this overwhelming and emotionally-rooted sense of fear/distrust that the demagogue is able to exploit, both by sowing distrust of all other authorities and by creating a sense of fraternity between all those who share this paranoia. Because the feelings remain abstract and emotional, the ideas don't get further explored, relying on vagueness and hearsay to defend themselves against academic refutations.
  • And then we have the intellectuals, and I think this is where it gets interesting. The intellectuals typically hold some sense of esoteric elitism, which quickly comes into conflict with the reactionary and populist sentiments of the demagogue. Both Rosenberg and Marinetti found their stances on traditional religion to be in conflict with their respective states' usage of the Church, stances which remained fundamental to their thought. In the case of Marinetti, he was forced to integrate Catholicism to remain politically relevant, and in the case of Rosenberg, his hardline paganism was the only thing that kept himself politically distanced from the NSDAP.

Dealing With The Problem

So, yes, I would say this topic would require some caution. Anti-intellectualism can prove dangerous not just for society, but also for the integrity of debate. Often times the tactics employed by anti-intellectuals are often underhanded and encourages the selective ignoring of facts and ideas that contradict one's worldview.

A milder example of this would be Duane Gish, who often would exploit the format of a debate to make his opponent look bad rather than honestly conveying ideas. His tactics would later be dubbed the Gish Gallop. Was it obvious he was playing dirty? Of course, but it didn't matter because he was playing to people's confirmation bias rather than arguing anything of integrity.

Sure, arguing for YEC is harmless enough, but this same cherry-picking of facts gets increasingly dangerous once we veer into the territory of Holocaust deniers and racial conspiracy theorists. This same relationship between the demagogue's thirst for mass appeal and the public's wanting to have their beliefs reinforced creates an atmosphere of ignorance that can be used to rationalize nearly anything.

However, I do think there's an opening, namely being with the far-right intellectuals. These books attempt to lay out a clear, consistent case for the beliefs and in the process give up the demagogue's greatest weapon, the shield of ambiguity. This is precisely why there's such a strong tension between intellectuals and demagogues. Often times, they threaten each others' existence: the leader's absolute dogmatism and the intellectual's absolute skepticism are diametrically opposed.

The demagogue may give lip-service to this or that writer, maybe pepper in an out-of-context quote, but ultimately engaging with their thought in full will only reveal things that serve to question his legitimacy. You'll see this often: reactionaries equivocating hard on what they do/don't believe, because they know if they're forced into specifics, they're going to be held up to much more scrutiny. By forcing engagement with the specific theory as a primary source, what we end up doing is creating terrain in which it is a lot easier to pin down contradictions and inaccuracies with the fog of ambiguity gone.

Regarding the Exclusion of National Socialism

Gonna throw a quick addendum on National Socialism because often times there seems to be questions regarding how to approach it; my stance follows as such:

National Socialism in and of itself is too vaguely defined, baseless, and self-contradictory to the point that it remains more akin to a personality-cult moreso than anything that can be concretely examined. The exclusion of National Socialism from the test is a choice based on its lack of qualitative merit, specificity, and distinctiveness.

This is probably going to be the third of a set of pieces I'm doing regarding design choices for the project, not for self-indulgence, but rather instead for the purpose of getting my thoughts back in order following an immense amount of feedback I've received.

One of the biggest issues facing the test right now is well... the test itself. While the methodology itself proves effective, it's an incredibly dense and abstract test, making it difficult for people who aren't too ideologically conscious to answer the questions; this is an issue because those people are quite literally the target demographic.

So I think it's for the better I take a step back and think about how to approach this, going over the concepts I'm incorporating and so on.

Why use Marxist concepts?

I stated this in the last piece, but I have no intention to pretend to be neutral here; the decisions I make are ones I feel better reflect the true nature of the topic: there's no point to trying to do a balancing act for a balancing act's sake.

However, there is a reason I'm incorporating Marxist concepts apart from solely favoritism. Marxist theory tends to be heavily structuralist and as a result, it's rather “self-aware” for lack of a better term. There's a wealth of discussion regarding its priorities, historiography, and contextual placement of the individual, rather than solely discussing proposals and blueprints.

It should be understood that one's “political position” is not just a suggestion of what should be done but rather instead an understanding of what is going on around you.

So in this sense, so-called scientific socialism is able to act as a template of one specific understanding of society. From there, we can actually extrapolate the model Marxists apply to themselves and see how this can apply to other perspectives and their own understandings of the world.

The Tree Analogy

Since the test itself uses a combination of methods, I refer to it and its various components in the context of a “tree”.

The test can be best divided into two halves, the “canopy” and the “branches”.

Like the canopy of a tree, the first part is wide and full of “leaves” that eventually branch down; in other words, the canopy is actually a table, where the answers to two activities form different combinations which we refer to as “leaves”. These leaves, which are on the top of the tree, act as a starting point for the rest of the test.

Once a leaf has been found, a series of conditional yes/no questions are able to give you a much more specific answer. These are called branches because the questions vary based on your answers to previous questions, designed to conditionally “branch out”.

The Canopy: Spheres of Focus

As stated above, the canopy is a table, with the leaves acting as an intersection of two factors: what you believe society is and what you believe needs to be done regarding society.

This section covers the former, namely gauging how the test-taker sees the world around them.

Borrrowing from Althusser's theories of state apparatuses, we'll divide societal institutions and relations into one of three categories:

  • The Political sphere deals with a society's ability to maintain its order and stability.
    • Words associated with this include: power, influence, coercion, hierarchy, strength, force, conflict, domination, rule, elite, law, justice, violence, peace
  • The Ideological sphere deals with a society's dominant values/narrative.
    • Words associated with this include: culture, morals, ethics, values, ideas, discussion, progress, tradition, common sense, opinions, beliefs, art, media
  • The Productive sphere deals with how a society handles the creation and allocation of commodities.
    • Words associated with this include: economy, currency, production, labor, distribution, resources, trade, exchange, technology

Now that we've established the three spheres, the next step is applying them to the test by using them in a question/activity.

The question we will want to answer is: “how do these elements of society interact with each other?”

In order for the test-taker to convey this, I've reverse-engineered Marx's base/superstructure model. For Marx, this model served as a demonstration of his theory that society is fundamentally governed by economic relations.

Base and SS

In abstract terms, the theory goes as such:

  • The base is the foundation, the root cause of societal outcomes, serving to shape and guide the direction of the other spheres (the superstructure).
  • The superstructure is the reinforcement; it justifies the underlying base that guides it, and ensures that it continues to be maintained.

The neat thing about this model is that it gives a very clear and concise picture of how a communist would understand society. But there's nothing about the model itself that makes it exclusively communist in nature. By applying the same model elsewhere, we can get a structural model for the worldviews of all sorts of political and ideological currents.

A cleric may see sin as the base of our world, a king may see strength as the base, and so on and so forth. By having the test-taker sort these categories into base and superstructure, we get a better idea of their thought process.

The Canopy: Approach to Society

Now that we've determined what the test-taker believes society to be, we can begin looking into the other part of the table, what the test-taker wishes to do about it.

This question is two-fold: first the participant has to decide how they see the individual relative to society, more specifically relative to the existing judgement society has made regarding the topic.

The connection between the individual and society manifests itself in the idea of valuation. We refer to valuation in this context as the assigned worth/merit of an individual relative to the greater community.

The valuation of an individual can take one of three forms:

  • Innate valuations are judged upon a consistent, inherent, and transcendent standard. This standard is determined by what was selected as the Base.
  • Mutable valuations are judged upon a constantly evolving standard; all hold equal potential for value, but that potential may have varying results.
  • You can also choose to deny any standard of valuation, seeing the concept as completely Invalid.

The above tells us what the test-taker personally believes about valuation, but we still haven't connected the test-taker's conceptions with society's conceptions.

So the next directive is to understand the test-taker's position towards society's conception of valuation:

  • Agreement, with the wish to either preserve or slightly reform these conceptions.
  • Disagreement, with the wish to control and mold these conceptions to a different standard.
  • Rejection, fundamentally criticizing the conceptions with the aim of abolishing the standard itself.

A combination of both of these will give us the next factor of the table. Now by evaluating the answers of both, we can determine a leaf.

The Branches: Narrowing Down

We have the leaf, which gives us a broad idea of a worldview, but we can still get more specific. Luckily since the Canopy narrowed down the field so far, we can complete the rest through a series of specific and conditional questions, utilizing the process of elimination to come to our final answer.

Once we have established a branch, we have finished the test.

Note: This essay has been shelved. There's a lot with it I don't believe has aged well and it would take major revisions before I can fix it up. I'm open to this, but it won't be for a while.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is an interesting look into the mindset of late-modernity[1]. The book itself remains a rather mediocre and forgettable story written by a relatively obscure Brazilian author with no real foundation or precedent to work off of; yet it remains the second-highest selling novel of all time, so something has to be up.

The story centers around a young boy abandoning his humble life of shepherding in search of treasure following a series of dreams. Slowly, but surely, he journeys across the lands in search of this treasure, finding love, conflict, and purpose along the way. Throughout the book, the boy is beginning to understand he isn't just searching for treasure, but for something greater, a destiny (or as the book calls it, a Personal Legend).

1988 is the year the book was released; this is important to note as the date itself stands in the middle of two eras. Despite the countless interpretations of causes and the implications of the new age, there was undeniably this sense that something had changed. This is why I think it's important to look back on something like the Alchemist, because regardless of its literary merit, it and its success has provided an incredibly useful snapshot of this critical transition period.

Or to put it in simpler terms; as a product of its time, whatever is behind the explosion of this book most likely can shed a light on the nature of what exactly has changed in our understanding of the world.

The Alchemist definitely holds some recognizably modernist elements; the plot on an abstract level centers around the departure of the individual from a quiet and simple existence towards something greater. It is no coincidence that this mirrors the Enlightenment narrative.

However, simultaneously, what we see is that something about the book still feels off. The Personal Legend is vaguely characterized, the metaphors and allegories seem to lack any detail or precision, and despite all the aphorisms and flair, the language is unnervingly hollow.

I call it unnerving in the sense that it is by definition a modern work, but one can't help but feeling as if something is missing. To put it in more vivid terms, it almost feels as if you're looking at a corpse. The body and the matter remain the same, yet you cannot help but feel that on some level, the person that was no longer is.

Broken Modernity

I dislike the term “postmodernity”, because our condition hasn't exactly succeeded modernity. The progressive history, the methodological dogmatism, the calls for democracy, it still remains just as present as before. What's changed is that our expression of these ideas become increasingly more and more absurd as we find ourselves abstracted further from meaning.

It's difficult to describe something concisely, but I'll try in more metaphorical terms: the condition of broken modernity is the death of God's killer, in reference to Nietzsche's allegory[2] of the madman shouting in the marketplace.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever shall be born after us—for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Nietzsche actually wrote this in reference to the birth of humanism, which he saw as killing the religious dogmas of old. A death that he painted as the harbinger of an intense feeling of uncertainty and with it, the reign of the actualized individual, the overman. And yet we stand here over a century later, now reflecting upon the death of man. For many, this wasn't the end they imagined, neither the one they hoped for nor dreaded.

An Autopsy

We know something has died, but what do we know beyond that? Who did the killing, what took its place, how did this happen, where do we go from here?

There's only one real course of action if we wish to solve those questions and that is to reflect on what modernity is, what has changed, and what reactions are occurring in this so-called “postmodern” era.

Dogma: History as Progression

Despite the portrait of the Enlightenment man and dogma being irreconcilable, there definitely is a set of dogmas the modern man continues to cling to, namely the dogma of methodology.

The most notable and continuously challenged of these dogmas is the idea of a progressive historiography: the past, present and future are all defined and juxtaposed in relation to an inevitable outcome. In other words, history itself is convergence.

From the beginning, we had “Whig history” arise out of the Enlightenment. Rapin provided the most well-known of these accounts in his History of England[3]. The goal of the anthology was to justify and give the then-controversial English Constitution (1688) a place in the greater English history. To Rapin, the new constitution was just another step in time towards the eventual conclusion of English liberty.

It is part and parcel of the whig interpretation of history that it studies the past with reference to the present. [4]

Although he would die shortly after finishing it, with future translations and republications, it would prove to be highly influential on public opinion and 18th century politics as a whole. As time went on, various movements and leaders would champion it, placing themselves on the front lines of this new history and the text itself in a place of unchallenged authority. [5]

Reactionaries eventually picked similar tendencies up too, relying on an inverted form of the Whig history. The underlying assumption of history being a conflict between progress and tradition still remained, but with one key difference: the roles were reversed. Even as early back as the 17th century, do we begin to see these sort of anti-Whigs appear. Jean-Jacques Bousset updates Augustine's City of God to the politics of his time, placing the same conflicts Rapin details into a new context: a historical war between the Lord and the Devil. [6]

As to be expected, this interpretation had it's critics: the original account by Rapin, despite its broad influence, found itself having to answer to David Hume and his own take on English history. He consciously avoided presenting history in relation to the issues of his time, positioning himself as the anti-Rapin. He reflects on this in his autobiography [7], having seen his refusal to engage with the present as a mark of objective neutrality.

I thought I was the only historian that had at once neglected present power, interest and authority, and the cry of popular prejudices; and as the subject was suited to every capacity I expected proportional applause. But miserable was my disappointment, I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation: English, Scotch and Irish, Whig and Tory, Churchmen and Sectary, Freethinker and religionist, Patriot and Courtier, united in their rage against the man who had presumed to shed a generous tear for the fate of Charles I and the Earl of Stafford.

As it should be clear, the public did not take it well, but of more importance it should be noted the groups he lists. Whig and Tory, English and Irish, Patriot and Courtier: the stark contrasts in each of these pairings shows that whatever Hume attacked is something that goes deeper than any political allegiances.

And upon reflection, it becomes obvious: the historical dogma was exactly what his work challenged, and regardless of the disagreements in usage, the method itself remained so strongly uncontested.

Dogma: History as Progression (Continued)

With the 19th and 20th centuries, we were given a new wave of historicism based off the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He retained a compatible, if not similar view of history, however by drawing from the Idealist traditions of his time, he was able to further expand upon and justify the interpretation. History became a process by which contradictions in our world become resolved: it progresses in tandem with our understanding of humanity in relation to the larger picture. [8]

And just like with Rapin's ideas, we quickly see that thinkers of all persuasions incorporated Hegel into their framework. Karl Marx built his theory of history by applying Hegel's historical/dialectical framework to the underlying logic of economy.

The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. [9]

On the other side of the coin we see reactionaries adopt another form of inverted historicism. In Spengler's Decline of the West (quite possibly one of the most influential books for the 20th century fascism), he still details a linear history but one in the direction of decline rather than progress. For him, it was a story of tragedy rather than triumph, watching the greatness of the forefathers crumble.

At this level all Civilizations enter upon a stage, which lasts for centuries, of appalling depopulation. The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world-cities, then the provincial forms, and finally the land itself, whose best blood has incontinently poured into the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile. At the last, only the primitive blood remains, alive, but robbed of its strongest and most promising elements. This residue is the Fellah type.

And as with Rapin, Hegel eventually found himself under attack too, this time from Karl Popper, most notably in his book, The Poverty of Historicism[10]. In the preface to said book, he summarizes his criticisms as follows:

  1. The course of human history is strongly influenced by the growth of human knowledge.
  2. We cannot predict, by rational or scientific methods, the future growth of our scientific knowledge.
  3. We cannot, therefore, predict the future course of human history.
  4. This means that we must reject the possibility of a theoretical history, that is to say, of a historical social science that would correspond to theoretical physics. There can be no scientific theory of historical development serving as a basis for historical prediction.
  5. The fundamental aim of historicist methods...is therefore misconceived; and historicism collapses.

For Popper, historicism fails to take into account that we exist within, and thus do not have a full picture of history. He views the rigid system-building as inflexible and often relying on molding new information in a fashion that is compatible with the already-existing theory.

Dogma: Scientism (Hayek)

Dogma: Language of Symbols (Baudillard)

Protomodernity – Rousseau

Last Man/Overman – Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarasuthra)

Liquid Modernity – Bauman (Liquid Modernity)

The Left's Response

The Right's Response

Most of what was above has already been covered by previous, more in-depth works by authors such as Fisher and Reynolds, but I think it's important we take the analysis a bit further than just a simple restatement. I want to look at how we've attempted to challenge this dilemma politically.


1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8:

Credit to Claudius for helping me remember the word “closure”. :P

Thesis: “The left” as an ideological grouping is best defined by its ability to question what is taken for granted; it is through criticism that our understanding of the world evolves, and when we sacrifice criticism in favor of maintaining the coalition, we fall into ideological absurdity.


There's often a joke that goes around that the one thing a leftist hates more than capitalism is other leftists. Leftist infighting is not at all a new phenomenon, we've seen it from the original rivalry between Marx and Bakunin to the countless Trotskyist splinter parties.

The expansion of liberal imperialism and the rise of reactionary regimes throughout the 20th century only served to make the chaotic and fractured left seem incompetent in comparison. There was this sense, both among authoritarian and libertarian socialists that there needed to be a united front in order for the left to slay Goliath.

Yet, here we remain, little over a century after the initial Bolshevik insurrection, and we have to ask ourselves, what has our organization brought us? Yes, it's unfair to take a cursory look and write off the approach, so instead, I'd like to take a closer look into these centralist ideas and where they have brought us.

Democratic Centralism

Lenin's influence on political thought cannot be understated; what he brought to discussion was one of the first serious attempts at answering this question of Left Unity, in the form of democratic centralism.

What followed the First Internationale of Marx's time was a wave of various decentralized leftist insurrections and organizations, each one eventually either sabotaged or crushed in a counterrevolution. Lenin noted this, and came to the conclusion that a revolution must not just overthrow power, but also maintain it. The Bolsheviks' military success in the Russian Revolution only served to further cement this notion; it was clear they had successfully seized power. As the 20th century continued on, countless revolutionaries across the world followed the Leninist example and found themselves in control.

The interesting thing here is that due to the widespread influence of Marxism-Leninism, we actually do have an incredibly wide array of case studies to reflect upon.

Wide not just in the sense of quantity, but also in the variety of pre-existing conditions. This is important, because Marxism-Leninism, especially the more recent incarnations, make it a focus to adapt their theory to the differences in pre-existing conditions.

To quote Mao Zedong[1]:

Now, there are two different attitudes towards learning from others. One is the dogmatic attitude of transplanting everything, whether or not it is suited to our conditions. This is no good. The other attitude is to use our heads and learn those things that suit our conditions, that is, to absorb whatever experience is useful to us. That is the attitude we should adopt.

If we wish to level a critique against Marxism-Leninism, we'll have to account for the varying conditions. Luckily, the aforementioned “wide array of case studies” gives us an opening to do this.

First we must ask, what is shared? Yes, there are conditional adaptations, but ultimately, the underlying theory is going to remain consistent in an abstract sense. The most obvious answer is the existence of the workers' state, the dictatorship of the proletariat so to speak, as the ultimate expression of the will of the worker. It remains forceful, yet democratic, crushing all opposed to the proletariat while remaining as the vessel of the proletariat.

The two most obvious threats to this model are internal and external: internal, in the sense that an unchecked vanguard may lose their integrity, and external in the sense that these states are prime targets for imperialism. And to the credit of the Marxist-Leninists, these remain front and center topics for the majority of their theory.

Yet, historically, what we see is that the Marxist-Leninists have struggled greatly in maintaining the power they ever so effectively seized. Hauntingly, there seems to be this sense of gradual decay coming in from all angles.

I'll be focusing within the context of the Cold War for two reasons: one, enough time has passed that we're able to make clearer analyses, and two, the role these states played in geopolitics at the time were significant enough that it serves as a sufficient test of the effectiveness of the methods.

Within the Cold War, we see these states take upon one of two roles:

  • A proxy role, due to the aggressive containment policies of the West. Vanguards that were vulnerable either due to not having completely held power or just a lack of scale were targeted often due to being the “weakest link”. The survival of these states is highly dependent on the international aid they can receive from stronger vanguards. Class wars became global ones as the US funded rebels and counterrevolutionary groups across the world.
  • Much more developed and powerful states took upon the role of the hegemon, as their own survival was dependent on the survival of the others. They were too strong to be attacked directly, so they had to remain on the alert for espionage, sabotage, and revision. As major superpowers, their decisions held incredible weight, and the decision process was where they were most likely to be attacked.

Like I said before, all of was not some new revelation to the Marxist-Leninists. They played their cards in a fashion to compensate for these weaknesses, yet the results don't show.

Why did the Soviet Union collapse under its own weight? Why does it seem that, as the years pass, the PRC becomes more and more assimilated into the world economy? Why do the sites of countless international revolutions seem so desolate and unrecognizable today?

It's easy to respond that this was due to the influence of revisionists such as Deng and Khrushchev, that the dependent nations cannot be expected to hold a revolution for so long against such an aggressive and powerful enemy. These are all fair responses, or they would be if the goal of democratic centralism wasn't specifically to prevent this sort of outcome.

I specifically attribute this to democratic centralism itself not just because the results have been replicated across a variety of circumstances, but also because often times the cause of these failures can be directly tied to the centralist model.

  • Both Cuba and Cambodia were instances in which the organized left united behind CIA plants in the name of anti-imperialism. Of course Pol Pot and Batista had their critics, however the mass line was able to be weaponized against the left instead of by them. The revolution didn't just stall, it became a counterrevolution, as the truly radical critics were able to be isolated and silenced.
  • The USSR is an interesting case because it is the one state that Lenin was directly involved in. There's a lot that can be said about what occurred in between, but I find it hard-pressed to believe that the eventual outcome of the USSR was by any means a success. The Bolshevik Purges, regardless of your opinion on them, acted as a pivotal turning point for Soviet history; the administrations of Khrushchev and his contemporaries would not have been possible without a Stalin to juxtapose themselves against; and because of the elimination of the majority of critical factions, the subsequent policies of liberalization and eventual capitulation were able to carry through much easier.
  • The shift from the Cultural Revolution to the post-Mao China seems jarring to many ML-Maoists, however, I'd argue there was most definitely precedent for the Deng-era. The Red Guard dedicated itself to eliminating the revisionist elements of the party, creating an atmosphere that fostered dogmatism and solidarity over criticism. The Gang of Four was efficiently and quickly deposed due to the same paranoid atmosphere they were once sowing shortly before.

And what worries me even more is that to this day, Marxist-Leninists are doubling down rather than taking their analysis to a theoretical level. Sure, there's a willingness to criticize individual leaders or acknowledge the crushing heel of imperialism, but these are treated as the cause of failure rather than failure itself. Revisionists and imperialism are exactly what the system of democratic centralism is intended to prevent, yet what we see instead is the united front work towards its amplification.

Platformism

Marxist-Leninists aren't the only ones guilty of this reliance on coalition-building: similar sentiments seem to pervade anarchist circles as well. Of course the anarchists have their gripes with the centralized model of the state-socialists, but their response ends up as less of a rejection of left-unity than just simply a reinterpretation.

One of the earliest and most-cited of these reinterpretations is the 1926 The Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists [2]. True to its libertarian roots, the Platform seeks to unite the left on a banner of abstract principle as opposed to party. The platform calls for anarchists to hold to four fundamental principles:

  • Theoretical Unity
  • Tactical Unity
  • Social Responsibility
  • Federation

The goal of the platform is to “reconcile the independence and initiative of individuals and the organisation with service to the common cause”, or in simpler terms, create a liberty free of egoism. The first two sections deal with unity, both in thought and practice: their should be common principles and concentrated action that corresponds with the greater anarchist movement.

Instantly, we begin to see the first problem an anarchist platform has to contend with: being authoritative without being authoritarian. What ends up resulting from walking this tight line is an incredibly vague sort of anarchist fundamentalism.

The Platform itself undeniably sets boundaries and direction for the anarchist movement, but the given definitions of the principles remain incredibly open-ended and unclear on how it should be read. Exactly how does the platform get revised, if at all? Is it inclusive or conclusive? If there's varying interpretations, how does one decide which interpretation is the correct one?

The Platform ended up facing severe criticism from other anarchists due to these issues, many of whom would go on to create “synthesis anarchism”[3]. Synthesis anarchism focuses on reconciling the three dominant currents (anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, and individualist anarchism) in a positive fashion; in other words, instead of constructing a platform for people to align with, they emphasized the commonalities the different branches share in their struggle.

While this ended up addressing some of the issues of The Platform, synthesis anarchism ends up feeling less of a synthesis and more of a peace treaty. Both Voline[4] and Faure's[5] writings on the topic focus less on the synthesizing and moreso on decrying infighting, hence the focus on the most politically-relevant strains of anarchism. The underlying issues of “anarchist organization” still remain: what is the limit of tolerance in this unity, how should coalition and principle be balanced? It makes sense that the critics of this approach tend to be individualist anarchists; what do egoists have to gain when this idea of a united front is one born in social anarchism?

The political origins make synthetic centralism feel like a political Hail Mary; casting aside fundamental debates of Ego versus Collective in the name of making sure the Left can live to fight another day.

The Left, Criticism, and Revolution

From what I can gather, these failures of centralism stem from a misunderstanding of revolution and the Left's relation to it. The main reason Marxism gives primacy to the proletariat is not because of their moral superiority or victimhood, but because as the class that is responsible for the production of value, they alone are capable of bringing an end to capitalism.

Yes, one could argue there's crossover between the proletariat and the Left to some extent, however there remains a clear distinction between the two by definition. The proletariat is economically defined, the Left is ideologically defined.

One can be part of the Left and still not hold that economic role, in the case of Sartre and Kropotkin; does this mean they are somehow “invalid Leftists” or worse people for being so? No, because morality is irrelevant here; what's important to note is that an ideological grouping alone is inherently incapable of bringing about material revolution.

One of the most damning examples of this was the fallout of the 1968 French riots. This is an especially interesting case because we see the actions of both the proletariat and the Left and what they lead to.

  • We start with the Situationists developing a critique of the social relations within capitalism, with an emphasis on subversion and tackling boredom. These critiques were highly influential, directly challenging the ideology of late-modernity, giving room to a dystopian vision of the current conditions and exploring relations between the individual and larger society as a whole.
  • As tensions heat up, the most pivotal moment occurs: the unplanned, simultaneous strikes of five million workers. At this point capitalism had adapted to utilizing unions as a negotiation tool, so the spontaneous movement of workers with no room for bargaining or concessions was devastating. This is precisely what led De Gaulle to flee the country and the country to enter a panic.
  • What happened next, however, was the Left attempting to take upon the role of directing revolution.[6] The PCF negotiated another election in which they brutally lost, the student anarchists were won over by reforms to policy, and the proletariat, the one class with no demands or negotiations, found themselves suffocated and forced to return back to their role under capitalism.

The Left, as an ideological grouping, found themselves successful throughout the period of their ideological critique. However, their challenge against the material hegemony ended up becoming destructive because they, definitionally, did not hold the same fundamental stake in the class war as the proletariat. They could be negotiated with, their demands met, and their movement rendered useless.

Because they saw themselves as the class of revolution, their actions were centered around this faulty principle. The victories they fought for were victories for the Left, increasing awareness of their movement and passing “leftist” reforms. They compromised their own critical nature out of fears that the fate of revolution hinged on their own popularity. And as these vanguards grow, the dissonance between the will of the proletariat and the will of the Left becomes more and more apparent. The spark of revolution stems from class unity, not left unity.

Is this to decry the left as useless? Absolutely not. The Left has a key tool up their sleeve, and that precisely is criticism. Communism is the ruthless criticism of all that exists. It's our constant and unyielding critique that serves to break down the boundaries of liberal mythos and bringing inspiration for the revolutionary movement itself.

Which is why it remains so important that the critical spirit of the Left remains, because without it, you end up recreating capitalist ideology under a different name. Theoretical developments have always come from a place of criticism, whether it be Marx's attack on the classical economists or Lenin's polemics against the reformists. It's through criticism and not coalition building that our understanding of the world around us evolves.


Referenced Works:

  1. On The Correct Handling of Contradiction Among The People by Mao Zedong
  2. The Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists by Delo Truda Group
  3. Reply By Several Russian Anarchists To The Platform by several Russian anarchists
  4. Synthesis (Anarchist) by Voline
  5. The Anarchist Synthesis by Faure
  6. Letter on The “May Events” by Louis Althusser

Here's a quick insight into the progress I've made since I've started this project, hopefully it gives you a better idea of how something like this comes about, and the level of effort I've put into making this project.

Disclaimer: All sections before October 2019 were written in retrospect.

May 2018

As part of some of the changes I was rolling out to an old Discord server of mine, I had the idea of creating a test to help people choose roles. The two main differences from other tests at this point were:

  • The test is integrated into the Discord server's custom bot I made, so there's no need for an external site.
  • Instead of approximating through a score, the test was purely operating on Boolean logic in an attempt to guess someone's beliefs through process of elimination.

Version 1

While this proved accurate for more common beliefs and had a clean front-end, behind the scenes it was scaling horribly: the amount of questions and possibilities to be accounted for grew exponentially as the scope of ideology broadened.

July 2018

Following some discussions and the retiring of the old bot, I returned to the drawing board and began drafting a chart in an attempt to categorize ideology; the main purpose at the time was to prove that a political center did not exist, and that ideology was not a left/right gradient.

I used the Political Triangle as a model, basically drawing on top of it in OneNote. As you can see, it was incredibly crude and inaccurate in a lot of places. A lot would have to be fixed, but you can begin to see concepts being ironed out such as the usage of a table before the logic gates.

Unsurprisingly, it got posted on /r/badpolitics; mocking aside, I actually did end up getting important feedback on the design from a few people in the thread.

Version 2

August 2018

The triangle itself was rather confusing without a proper explanation, and up until this point I had simply gave the explanation on the spot whenever I posted it; I felt it was more efficient and sensible to bundle the explanation with it onto a “poster” of sorts. It came with a warning and a guide to what each of the various colors represented.

Version 2.5

October 2018

The chart design badly needed an update, not just due to how ungodly ugly it was, but also because making changes was difficult when all the layers get merged on a standard image.

So I decided to sit down and remake the chart from scratch, but as an SVG this time. This would allow me to change colors, text, and positioning easily without affecting the rest of the image. This ended up being a good move, because over the next few months, the chart would go through countless minor revisions here and there.

Version 3

November 2018

I concluded my design was too complex for solely a chart, not just in a matter of execution, but also due to the nature of the topic itself. Too simple and it becomes just as inaccurate as the other charts I intended to replace, too dense and it's incomprehensible.

So, a new idea came to me: the other charts are known to use websites which are able to set up a test of sorts to walk people through the process. With a test I'd be able to convey these concepts without overwhelming the user with the information density.

At this point in time, I had no idea what I wanted the site to look like, so I focused on the more mechanical parts of the test with minimal CSS.

Main Page (11/18) Canopy Page (11/18)

I settled on a model that fused the table-chart with the flowchart questions of May's design. The chart would narrow down the person to a specific “leaf” or sector of ideology, and then the flowchart would narrow it down to something specific.

In order to do this, I drafted a list of final results, or “branches”, and began making questions to bridge the leaf to the branch.

Branches Brainstorming Questions Brainstorming

December 2018

I eventually got around to setting up the site's CSS, using the aesthetic theme of another website I was running as a model. Things felt a lot more organized now that I could visualize the direction the test was taking and I had a clearer idea of how I wanted to execute the project.

Main Page 12/18 Canopy Page 12/18

April 2019

After an extended hiatus, I returned back to work on the site, finally creating the page for the second question and changing up the color palette.

Second Canopy Page 4/19

June 2019

With the site coming further underway, and the SVG going through its countless revisions, I decided to shift my strategy. If I were to work on the questions first and make the results later, any changes I'd make to the results would force me to rework the questions that are dependent on them too.

I decided to go back and rework the branches themselves, since a lot of them were mostly either filler or too similar to others. I took notes until I settled on a balance of around two to three per leaf. This greatly helped me narrow things down and get a better understanding of exactly what I was adding to the test instead of just taking everything I could find off of Wikipedia.

Branches Sketch

July 2019

Now that I had narrowed down the branches and started to get a more consistent idea of my plan for the leaves, I began my strategy of working backwards. In order to better complement the quiz portion and make the whole project more accessible to people newer to political theory, I'd shape the info/results pages for the leaves and branches around the goal of giving people a primer on the various ideologies that are being discussed in the test.

My plan was to provide a definition for each one, some key facts to clear misconceptions, and also a list of historical figures who would fall under each category.

Notes on People

August 2019

By this point, the project had been moved to GitLab for a few months. It was around this time I began taking my planning from July and began on the execution. The list of historical figures got scrapped: the difficulty of accurately pigeonholing was not worth the effort when a list of names didn't exactly serve as a useful reference for those who weren't already familiar with their work.

The development of the “primer” aspects of the leaf and branch pages involved the following:

  • The aforementioned definitions and key facts were kept, as they still served a use.
  • An FAQ page was added, it explains the process of the test, and acts as a “wiki” of sorts for the whole site.
  • Each leaf was given a key term that showed what concept is at the core of their worldview, and also a few statements explaining the leaf's relation to the previously answered questions.
  • Reading lists are given for both leaves and branches, with the consultation of various people across the political landscape to ensure they are both introductory and also comprehensive. I put priority towards primary sources and texts that covered historiography, theory, and action.

Branch Pages

September 2019

As per the feedback I was receiving, I went ahead and made cosmetic changes to the site. Icons were added for each leaf, the triangle was completely recolored with contrast toned down, and the site was minimized, with unnecessary patterns/effects removed and the theme reduced to three main colors.

I started by sketching the icons, then eventually found similiar ones online that matched what I was going for. I edited them to match the color scheme of the site, then imported them in.

New Site and Icons New Triangle

October 2019

A large chunk of October was dedicated to finishing up the bio pages for the various branches. As of the 31st of October, 19 out of the 34 pages have been completed, with 87 books being linked as further reading material. Some of these books were more difficult to get than others, especially the Futurist Cookbook, which I am still working on getting together.

The Futurist Cookbook by F.T. Marinetti is an incredibly fascinating work, with one caveat. Digital copies are region-locked to the United Kingdom. So instead, I have taken to manually transcribing a physical copy I found at my library using LaTeX. Here's a preview of what I've done so far: Preview of Futurist Cookbook

On top of that I've been experimenting with a few ways to improve the bio pages.

One of them being a “metadata” block for each book, detailing important information such as length and difficulty: Metadata planning doc

Another one was having specific, traceable schools of thought mentioned on the branches with a short definition, to give people something to connect to. Not sure if I'm going to keep this idea or not, but it's still a possibility for the time being.

Definitions

November 2019

By the end of November, I had finished up all the pages in the Radical and the Reformist clusters. A lot of this month was dedicated to cleaning up the various reading materials and grinding out a lot more of the boring stuff as we approach the end of the results pages. As for transcribing The Futurist Cookbook, currently I have completed a third of the whole thing.

Behind the scenes I have been consulting others for advice and beginning work on preparing for manually testing this with focus groups. I'll most likely begin putting this into action when the results are more concretely laid out.

February 2020

The months of December and January were mostly dedicated to finishing up the results pages. As of today, only two results pages have to be done and I have already begun work on the next step in the process, which is creating the questions to filter from the leaves to the results respectively.

The methods of filtering vary depending on how many branches are contained in each respective leaf, but the overall format is the same. At first, I was doing logic-gates to filter; however, I scrapped that idea as the ordering of questions would simply introduce too much bias. Instead, I've decided to do it in terms of meters; each meter contains a principle which distinguishes the specific branch from the other ones within the leaf.

The core concept is similar to the meters present in 8Values, but the execution is very different, as you'll see very soon.

8Values

The most basic implementation of this is on leaves with two branches, such as the Moderate leaf. Within the Moderate leaf, the two branches are Syncretic and Pluralist.

  1. I started by asking myself about what fundamentally separates a syncretist from a pluralist. What I decided is that they are both varying approaches to reconciling ideas; the syncretist resolves differences in opinion by fusing elements of ideas while the pluralist believes in the mutual conflict of ideologies and interests in order to keep each other in check.

  2. We'll label our principles as Competition and Cooperation for the sake of simplicity. And this is where the inspiration from 8Values comes in; a set of ten binary questions will be asked, each contributing varying amounts to either Convergence or Coexistence, depending on their individual importance. For example, if I asked: “Are the best solutions typically found in the middle?”, that would give some points to the Cooperation but not to the Competition side of the meter.

  3. And because we only have to filter between two, evaluating these results is as simple as comparing which one has the majority of points at the end.

The next level of complexity occurs if we have four branches on our leaf, such as what occurs in the Communist leaf. Within the Communist leaf, we have Autonomist, Councilist, Syndicalist, and Vanguardist as branches.

  1. Now that there is more than one, let us introduce the concept of matchups. Our meter system gives us the ability to evaluate one branch against the other, but we won't be able to add any more into each comparison. We will have to break this down into one versus one.
  2. Since there is an even number of branches, we can make our first matchup a two versus two. We will need a shared characteristic for each pair however, as to fit it into the 1v1 nature of the matchup. These shared characteristics we will label Democratic and Organic respectively.
  3. We can do this because both the Syndicalist and the Vanguardist branches ascribe to democratic forms of organization while both the Councilist and Autonomist branches ascribe to organic forms of organization. Being able to know which the test-taker fits into eliminates half the field.
  4. Because half of four is two, we can simply use the same process we used for the two-branch for each remaining pair, to get our final result.

And finally, let us discuss what is by far the most complex implementation, the three-branch. The reason I made it more complex is because we deal with an issue known as the Condorcet Paradox. In simple terms, it just means that when applying a matchup method to a field of three candidates, there is a specific scenario in which no winner can be determined. Due to the way we're applying the matchup method, this scenario is a lot more likely to occur than it normally should be, so we will have to find a way around this.

To demonstrate this, I'll use the Anarchist leaf, which happens to have three branches (Pacifist, Intersectionalist, and Communalist).

  1. I begin by deciding that we will need every combination of matchups between each of the three candidates for the results to be evaluated fairly. The required combinations and their principles are as follows:

    • Pacifist v. Intersectionalist – Clemency/Retribution

    • Pacifist v. Communalist – Nonviolence/Insurrection

    • Communalist v. Intersectionalist – Majority/Minority

  2. In the situations where a candidate wins twice, the dilemma is quickly solved; however, what happens if each one wins once? A possible fallback could be to check margins of victory: perhaps one victory is stronger than the other. However, that would introduce another issue, which is: what if the margins of victory are equal? We'll end up back where we started.

  3. So, instead I have devised a definitive fallback, known as disqualifying matchups. To explain, let assume our winning principles are as follows: Clemency, Insurrection, and Minority. Insurrection as a principle is inherently antithetical to Pacifism, outright disqualifying it from being a possibility. This leaves Communalist and Intersectionalist remaining, and we have the Majority/Minority matchup to tell us which one wins. In this case, the “tie” would result in Intersectionalist being the final result.

April 2020

April was an unexpectedly productive month for the project. Starting with the minor changes:

  • Post-Left branch got reworked into New Left
  • References for the majority of branches were redone
  • The Monarchist branch was completed
  • The “schools of thought” idea has been implemented; branch pages have been given a section listing real-world ideological currents
  • Cleaned out junk files and properly organized the resources folder

The two major changes for this month is the overhaul to the manual/FAQ and the progress made on the filter questions.

Beginning with the manual:

  • The link to the quiz itself has been removed, as it was causing too much confusion. The quiz is long outdated and it remaining accessible misleads people into thinking otherwise.
  • I've begun rolling the manual into a GitLab wiki-page. It'll be easier to edit and will create less clutter to the site itself.
  • Another reason I am doing this is because one of the long-term plans is to rewrite the HTML from scratch once the methodology is fully laid out. Currently the code is rather messy and chaotic.
  • I may or may not self-host the rewritten site, depending on whether or not a static page (which GitLab offers) is a hindrance to the site.

The filter questions have been developed for both the Progressive and Proprietarian branches, and the layout should follow the below template:

Filter Questions version 1

As for other long-term goals, I'm planning to implement the metadata pages I was considering following the site's overhaul. For now the main priority is finishing the filter questions.

June 2020

May and June were mostly wrapping things up with the branch pages and making actual progress on filter questions:

  • It is now official that all thirty-six branch pages are done, marking off a major milestone for the project.
  • I've gone ahead and made a directory for the various filter questions which can be found here.
  • The divisions for each filter set has been decided (barring the Egoist vs. Post Left division). Currently, 11 out of the 32 expected sets are completed.

These filter questions are subject to revision as I am constantly testing them with various people I know from online political communities.

August 2020

One of the things I didn't expect to complete by now was the metadata, but it has been added for every branch page. I put these inside drop-downs as not to overwhelm the reader with information. Check the wiki to learn more about how it works.

Metadata

When creating these drop-downs, I had to consider how I wanted to split up the information. At first I was considering setting up a section for Importance, but eventually decided to roll that into a Seminal type for the key readings.

Even after I decided on the list of tags, there were still things I had to reconsider. A rating for Length is one of these, as the site currently contains documents ranging from 1 to 1000 pages. The original plan was to make every star worth 200 pages and every half-star worth 100, but ultimately this left a lot of resources with either a one or two-star length rating. Eventually, I decided to take into account what the most common page ranges are and developed a solution: ranges would get wider on the fringes (with incredibly short or incredibly long documents) and narrow towards the middle. This means that a two-star rating might cover a range of about 50 pages (books between 250 and 300 pages long), while a five-star rating would cover triple that (books between 850 and 1000 pages long). This would allow for nuance between the ratings of books of average lengths.

Currently, the Difficulty rating I'm doing rather loosely: I read random passages in the book, and judge its difficulty. However, I am considering a rubric of sorts in the future, it would just take some more brainstorming.

Genre was initially limited to a set of about five options (the way Type is handled), but eventually I decided the library is too diverse to keep it limited. Readers should be able to understand what each Genre tag means anyways, so this should not be a big deal.

Type, on the other hand, is using terms with a very particular meaning in this context, so it has to remain limited. I might add definitions for each type in the wiki later.

In addition:

  • Various reference files have been replaced with ones that are smaller and easier to read.
  • We are now up to 15 out of 32 sets of filter questions completed.

November 2020

I'm getting busier, so expect updates every few months from here on out as opposed to every month. So far, no new filter questions have been completed (although there's a few sets which I have started on and am hoping to finish by the next update).

However, during this time, there have been two ideas floating in the back of my head, it's just a question of how and whether I should implement them.

Starting with the simpler one, it would be adding a sort of “Radical Democracy” branch to the Populist leaf. This branch would cover things such as consensus democracy, participatory democracy, and so on, filling the space that used to be covered by the Third Position leaf. Question is what to call it, and whether or not it truly even warrants its own branch, as opposed to just implementing some of the stuff into other branches.

Second is a lot more of a drastic change, and that would be overhauling how the filter questions are done. What I've noticed is that a lot of these sets are me rephrasing the same question and it makes it difficult to come up with them. My thought was that instead of doing a combination of Yes/No questions, I present two passages for people to read (each providing their respective branch's stance on a central question) and asking the user which one they agree with more. However, while I think this could solve the issues that are causing progress on the filter questions to come to a crawl, I think it also has the potential to exacerbate them:

  • Difficulty with applications to certain branches
  • Ensuring the questions are something the end-user can be expected to have developed an opinion on

March 2021

First update of 2021, here's a list of minor stuff to report.

  • Proprietarian has been renamed to Libertarian following my discovery that the former term has a very specific meaning within anarcho-capitalist circles.
  • Some of the references in the results pages have been redone, I won't list them all here, look if you want.
  • The Regenerate cluster has been renamed to “Restore”, which I think gets across the general idea better.
  • It was brought to my attention that someone went ahead and made a test which uses an approach identical to that of my original model from the May 2018 section. While this approach has been long abandoned by me for numerous reasons, if you're curious to see what it may have turned out like, check it out here.

The big thing is that I went ahead and overhauled the branch questions format (pictured below) as per the aforementioned plans. I have now completed 14 out of 32 of the pages in the new style. Below is the one I completed as part of an Assimilation versus Liberation question.

Some stuff I added which weren't mentioned in the last post:

  • A slider is being used for the user input. The slider can be moved into one of five positions, depending on what you agree with more. The CSS is a pain to work with, so I'll add stuff like notches and labels later.
  • Passages are paraphrased in order to ensure they're both of an equivalent reading level and also for the sake of keeping things concise.
  • The overarching question is explicit, rather than implicit with the hopes of making the activity more accessible.

Overall, I'm very satisfied with the change. This method strikes at the core of the distinctions between each branch while also providing the end-user the necessary information to make a choice.

Concurrent to this, I'm doing some light brainstorming regarding how to rework the canopy questions and also how to deal with an issue I've anticipated for a long time but constantly kicked down the road.

Starting with the issue, it's the fact that there exists branches which can completely spill into different leaves/clusters if the test-taker approaches the questions from a different angle. The two most obvious offenders to me are Utopian and Anarcho-capitalist, but there is something to be said about how the Populist leaf overlaps with the Nationalist leaf.

Starting with Utopian, the lines between it and something like Technocracy/Meritocracy, while existing, are blurred. Spitballing for a second here, I guess it could be argued that Technocrats begin from the present and progress from there, while utopian socialists start from an ideal and work backward. Issue is that this distinction has to be resolved at the canopy, not in filter questions.

Same applies with anarcho-capitalism, ancaps' rhetorical focus on stuff like coercion and statism could lead them to fall into the “Political” focus on the triangle, either placing them as left-anarchists or even worse, Internationalist assuming they don't fall in the Abolish cluster. And that speaks to something else about right-anarchists/libertarians. It occupies this level of ambiguity between Abolish and Advance; normally this'd warrant it being placed in between the two on the triangle, but that position is already occupied by Progressive, which IMO is a better fit. In addition, within the same branch ARE reformist libertarians, so it's not like I can exactly take it out either.

To me, I can justify the placement in Advance (even for ancaps), in that they operate on what are fundamentally classical conceptions of property rights and political power. However, it's not just sufficient to consider my perspective, I have to also ensure the test-taker's perspective is accounted for in designing this test. I don't have a solution to this yet, but I figured it was worth acknowledging so I can begin figuring out one.

As far as the actual design of the canopy goes, the current design I feel has to be overhauled. The sorting into base/superstructure and hegemony assumes way too much self-awareness on part of the test-taker, and a test for those who already know the answer is pointless. As a matter of fact, during the course of making this test, I think I've developed a law: there is an inverse relationship between the burden on the test-taker and the burden on the test-maker when designing stuff like this.

An idea I had was to use a series of word clouds, have the test-taker select words which represent concepts in their world-view. Because these concepts are more concrete, it'll take the burden off of the test-taker. Here's a quick barebones sketch of what it may look like:

Perhaps it'd help if I ran key ideological texts or archives of online communities through a wordcloud generator for inspiration. Here's a wordcloud of a chapter ripped from The Communist Manifesto:

Regardless, the main priority right now is getting these filter questions done. I've begun periodically streaming my progress of it on Twitch, which has definitely helped to motivate me, since the process is generally tedious as all hell.

May 2021

Was originally planning to wait until the end of June to write this, but I realized there's probably enough I've completed since March to warrant a relatively minor update.

  • We are now up to 21 out of 32 completed sets of the filter questions. Currently a good chunk of the remaining are half-done, where I'm simply stuck on finding a final lead in order to complete them.
  • The more important news is that I finally ported the site and its manual to my own personal domain/server. I most likely will permanently migrate to here once the site's eventual code overhaul is completed, since using GitLab for all the hosting is rather unwieldy.
  • The manual now runs on MkDocs, there's a nice selection of extensions which I may look into implementing should I ever need it.

July 2021

Strap in, because this is probably the biggest update in almost a year. Right off the bat, here's a minor status update:

  • We are now up to 25 out of 32 completed sets of filter questions.
  • I'm considering renaming the test to the BrownTest so it's easier to remember and there's less semantics about whether or not “dichotomy” is accurate. This is named because... the site is brown.
  • I've been having conversations with the creator of the Three Telos Model. Despite the common triangular-ness, we had quite a few (constructive) disagreements in our approaches on multiple fronts. Having that sort of differing perspective should prove quite useful in reminding me of what I'm looking to accomplish here.
  • Might look into adding a glossary to the wiki given how much I'm having to use neologisms to describe the function of this model.

The big one though is that I finally moved onto working on the canopy questions. And yes, the whole thing has been entirely reworked from the ground up. Here were the major issues with the previous canopy design, stuff I've been meaning do deal with for like over a year by now:

  • The questions were far too direct, expecting the end-user to comprehend and process an incredibly abstract concept. Anyone who is capable of this probably already knows where they fall.
  • Both activities required a paragraph or two of instructions which based themselves on a set of jargon that once again, wasn't something you could just expect the user to grasp. It's very likely their eyes would just gloss over the details.

One of the ideas I had at first was to replace the old two-tiered drag-and-drop instructions with a sort of grammatical approach, so what the user needed to do was more self-evident. Apart from the hell that was getting the CSS for it to work, the bigger issue was that there was just no real way to phrase the sentence in any way which made sense. The idea was quickly abandoned.

I wasn't sure how to else to proceed until I saw a Discord comment which just sort of kick-started a chain of eureka moments for me:

Taking this into account, I broke up all the Focuses into these sort of more specific topics to see what I'd get out of it.

As a reminder, the way the canopy presently works is that its divided into two sections, one for the Focus and one for the Approach. In theory, the Focus questions should determine what is most important to you, while the Approach determines what you plan to do about it.

Yet it occurred to be that I could simplify things down by combining both sections into one, each element being represented by one aspect of the same activity.

How exactly to go about this was unclear, but given the pains I was having attempting to fix up the CSS for the “sentence activity”, I decided to see what parts of the discarded filter questions format I could reuse.

It was around this time I was talking to the Three Telos guy, and I decided to take a look at an online test someone made based on his model. Overall it was about what I expected, but for some reason the way its questions were structured with the dropdowns gave me an idea.

Rather than just let the user select the answer via drop-down, I'd also force them to select the question via drop-down.

Let's assume that we have one of these drop-down menus. In this drop-down there's three questions which the user can select. Each one of these three options represents a topic within a given Focus. So this drop-down will contain a question on Tradition, a question on Distribution, and a question on Conflict.

Doing the math, we will end up with 24 drop-downs needed for the user to get to answer every question. But what happens when we give the user only say, six drop-downs they can answer? They pick the questions that are the most important to them. Thus we have dealt with the matter of Focus.

From there, we'll have the multiple choice of the answers vary with whichever question is selected. Each of these options still follow a common pattern in that they expess either a reactionary, radical, or liberal perspective on the issue. And there's the matter of the Approach handled.

I've slapped together a bunch of generic questions to show you the template of what this will look like:

October 2021

A decent amount of progress has been made since the last update: starting off, a Social Democrat branch has been added, which doing so this late into development was not at all an easy choice to make. But there was a sufficient amount of information and distinctions which neither the Social Liberal nor Democratic Socialist branches covered. This also means I'm gonna have to get around to rewriting some of the branch questions for the Progressive leaf (much to my dismay).

As for the Canopy questions, they're done and fully written for the most part. This took quite a while, since I was conducting interviews and messing around with phrasing quite a bit to make it more accessible. Although I suppose I can fix up readability later. The main thing that still needs to be decided is how to distinguish the mixed leaves from the leaves fully within a single cluster.

The first question I was able to address a couple months ago using a decent amount of math, but unfortunately I don’t remember the specifics of what I did.

The matter of how many slots and how to allocate questions to slots was resolved a couple months ago using quite a bit of math (unfortunately I don't remember the specifics of how I did it):

  • There are 6 slots, each one holding a question the user gets to select
  • Each slot contains 3 selectable questions; one per Focus
  • There are 12 questions in the pool total; 4 per each Focus
  • In total, there are 24 unique combinations a slot can have

It has to be this way because:

  • Three questions per slot means that each Focus has equal opportunity to be picked
  • Six is a good number of slots: if it’s too small, we won’t have enough info, if it’s too large we’ll run out of questions
  • Six is divisible by both 24 combinations and 12 questions

May 2022

It has been quite a while since the last update, but I have good reasons. For you see, the test’s design has been pretty much finished. It is literally now just a matter of rewriting the code for the site, which I’ll be collaborating with a friend on. We’ve already begun on that, will be proceeding with the same sort of bottom-up approach to making it that I did for the test design itself.

As for some minor notes:

  • As a page, Social Democrat has been added. I’m going to have to rework the interbranch questions for the Progressive leaf as a result.
  • I’m debating adding Agrarian to the Populist leaf but I’d rather not think about that now.
  • I’ve been periodically going back and updating the sources on the reference pages. As I learn more about these perspectives, the more literature I’m getting which would fit.
  • Presently the site is designed in a way where all text is hardcoded. A key part of the rewrite is going to be breaking information down into JSON form so it’s easier to load, edit, and query.

The main hurdle I had between October and now pertained to the canopy questions. What I figured out in the previous updates definitively gave me a way to return the user a Leaf in any of the three clusters. But for leaves in between, there was no real defined way to get those.

The obvious thing to do would be to have it so two-way ties in Focus would result in that, but there’s some issues with that approach. One, that would be far too narrow of a criteria and would disproportionately put people outside of those categories even though that shouldn’t necessarily be the case. Two, it would not properly account for the other forms of overlap or the ways in which those Other categories are specifically designed.

The solution I came up with is to have certain answers in combination set off a flag. For example:

  • The flag for Accelerationist is raised if one selects either of the following:
    • the History question (providing an Abolish answer)
    • the Production question (providing either an Abolish or a Regenerate answer)
  • The flag for Progressive is raised if one selects both of the following:
    • the Distribution question (with an Abolish answer)
    • the Power quesiton (with an Advance answer)
  • The flag for Populist is raised if one selects both of the following:
    • the History question (with a Regenerate answer)
    • either the Conflict question (with an Abolish answer) or the the Identity question (with an Advance answer)

If any of these flags are raised, the test will proceed to a second stage of the Canopy in which there will be a single slot intended to weigh any leaves which had their flags raised against the closest result obtained the normal way.

As for three-way ties, there’s no real clean solution. The most obvious one is to have a prime number of slots but doing that will screw up the test design in one way or another. It has to be six. My current plan is to have a drop-down of options with whichever set of leaves can be narrowed down to and then allow the user to continue the test from there. It’s rare enough of a case where it shouldn’t be a major issue.

There are two other ideas I’ve been juggling, but haven’t made a priority of implementing.

  • A confidence meter which displays how confident the site can be in the user’s result. Would not be too difficult to implement and could come up with a scoring system to track uncertainty across tests. If it’s getting added, it’ll occur during the code rewrite.
  • Including links to publications or think-tanks promoting certain views. Would like to do this since not many people have time or motivation to read books, but would require a great deal of effort to gather for every page. It’d be like doing references all over again, which is why I’m hesitant. Also I’m still not sure where on the webpage I’d put it.

The Political Dichotomy Assessment is my attempt to create a proper alternative to other ideological testing methods such as the Political Compass and 8Values.

Key Links:

The main goals of this project are:

  • Develop a system that is able to categorize and break up the realm of political discussion according to a consistent, yet thorough set of rules.
  • Create a test that is able to accurately, yet easily narrow down the information to what interests them.
  • Provide basic information and introductory reading material to encourage readers and test-takers to explore further on their own.
  • Demonstrate that political beliefs are qualitatively rather than quantitatively distinguished.

In more abstract terms, the project's purpose is to create a more constructive picture of our Overton window in a fashion that encourages people to learn about these topics in more detail.

Why is this project necessary?

This might seem like a petty or insignificant project, however, our understanding of politics and the discussions we've had throughout history reflects on our understanding of the world as a whole.

To be more specific: the figureheads we rely on for information, pop politics discourages learning rather than encouraging it.

Instead of pushing people to dig further into concepts utilizing primary sources, each source of information instead invalidates all other sources except itself. Because of this, people often struggle with identifying exactly what they believe in at the core; if you aren't able to understand what you're opposing or supporting, then you won't be able to understand why either.

We see a large amount of people remain unsure of what they believe, and these people will often seek out online tests in the hopes that they can better understand themselves.

The issue is, these tests often times fail to solve the problem, often times making the problem worse. These tests don't just act as a fun score, but also reflect how we as a society understand politics.

I'll make my criticism of these tests brief so we can move on:

  • The traditional left-right spectrum ends up falling short because “left-wing” and “right-wing” are relative terms. When I say relative, I refer both to the era/society, but also to the person making the assessment. In other words, because there's no universal standard of “left” and “right”, the distinction is ultimately useless.

  • The political compass is an evolution on this, but it runs into its own set of issues too. The distinction between left/right and libertarian/authoritarian still remain incredibly contextual and vague: there's more than one reason you may answer a question a certain way, but your “Yes/No” answer doesn't reflect that.

  • 8Values attempts to fix this by adding more axes, but all it does is kick the can down the road. The scores tell me nothing about what I believe apart from a set of numbers with no real-world application and the questions still remain contextual.

All of these view politics in a quantitative fashion as opposed to a qualitative one; ideas are treated as if they are related by their intensity on one side of the scale or the other. It ends up putting a limit on what we are able to conceive and grasp about our world.

It's why I've gone to extra care to put in carefully curated references and make the learning aspect as constructive as possible. There's an unimaginably large amount of conflicting material for someone new to politics, and what this test serves to do is curate that to the point of curing that sense of overwhelming paralysis, giving people a jumping off point to learn in a constructive fashion.

What does this assessment do differently?

Some of the main things that distinguishes this assessment from others is the following:

  • A multi-tabular method is used as opposed to a scoring one; this ensures that we're not just getting an approximation, but rather instead an exact result with applicable meaning.

  • The exactness of results allows for more precise definitions and linking to reading materials.

  • Because a lot the development is done by hand, it's able to be a lot more precise and researched as opposed to having the imprecision of an automatically generated test.

How far along is the development?

The test has been around three years in the works, going through numerous revisions and changes, but still keeping the same core methodology. Currently, the test portion is non-functional and outdated, as I've begun working backwards, from the result pages to the canopy questions. So far, I'm hoping to finish it by the end of 2021, but that's far from a guarantee.

If you'd like to see the progress I've made on the test, check out the project timeline.