Three-Axis Politics - Principles #6

Three-Axis Politics - Principles #6

Publish Date
Dec 9, 2021
Principles Series
Last Edit
Mar 23, 2022 12:52 AM
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We traditionally view politics in the U.S. as a two dimensional scale from left to right. However, this model, like many, is too simplistic. And it's becoming more and more outdated in today's world.
In a more sane world, Arnold Kling's three-axis model would help everyone understand opposing viewpoints and actually have productive discussions with people who see the world differently.
That's a heavy lift these days. But Kling's model is helpful in diagnosing our dysfunction and could help you find balance in how you view the world.
Let me give you the essence of it first: Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians all view the world through lenses that focus on a paramount evil or harm that should be reduced. For Liberals, this baddie is oppression of others. For Libertarians, this is coercion – typically from the government – forcing you to do something you may not want to do. And lastly, for Conservatives it is the assault on tradition and cultural values.
To speak a bit more about why you might care about each of these:
  • Oppression of any group or individual is unjust, and undermines the whole construction of a society. If one group can be oppressed, then any group can be oppressed, and we must strive to eliminate oppression from society.
  • Letting a government force citizens to do things against their own will is, well, oppressive. Yes, we need some laws to govern essential elements of society. But the government is just a group of people who then control the actions of other people (the citizens). This should be minimized to provide all people with as much freedom as possible. And once a government gains some power in an area, it has repeatedly demonstrated that it seeks even more control.
  • We’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from how our culture has evolved and built an incredible society. We can’t just throw those away in the name of “progress.” A lot of our traditions and values are really important to how we’ve advanced, and we need to protect that wisdom from new ideas that, if you look at the odds, are more likely to harm the system rather than help it.
You likely resonate more with one of these statements than the other two. And that’s natural! Recent studies have indicated that ~40% of political beliefs is driven by genetics. But Weinstein’s point, and his build on Kling’s model, is that you should strive to care about all three dimensions. They all matter, even if it’s hard to balance all three in your head at the same time.
Visually speaking – try to balance yourself across these interests rather than focus on a single axis.
Visually speaking – try to balance yourself across these interests rather than focus on a single axis.
Kling, an MIT-trained economist, and writes about this concept frequently on his blog. And you can see Eric Weinstein’s explanation of it here.