The Left-Right Political Scale

The Left-Right Political Scale and The News

Presenter: Barrie Webster

July, 2020

We commonly hear views in the news being described as “left” or “right” in their slant or bias. Just what does this mean?

The left-right description uses zero-dimensional division and a one-dimensional scale. In and of itself, this generates distortion and misunderstanding. Let’s look at a number of dichotomies that often come up in the media; they each can be placed on an axis using the same centre point:

subjectoften referred to as LEFToften referred to as RIGHT
abortionchoice including abortionanti-abortion
agerespect for young and elderlyage-ism
agricultural methodsorganic agriculture/holistic managementconventional
artmodern arttraditional art
caring for otherssocial safety netwellbeing of self only
culturemulticultural societyhomogeneous society & racism
dissentpeaceful protestviolent confrontation
economic statuspovertytop 0.01%
economic systemsocialistcapitalist
educationpublic educationprivate schools
employment conditionsunionizednon-unionized, each for themselves
environmental mattersprotection of environmental integrityexploitation of resources with no value placed on environment or society
financial institutioncredit unionbank/trust company
fiscal policygoing into debt for needed spendingliving without debt
food originlocal (100 km radius)imported
gender diversityrespect for LBGTQ2+contempt for LBGTQ2+
governancecentrally plannedlaissez-faire/libertarian
housingaffordable rental housingluxury condos
immigrationopen border to immigrantsexclusion of others – isolation
income taxincome dependent taxesflat tax for all incomes or no income tax at all
land useAgricultural Land Reserve (BC) preserving good quality land for food productionrecognizing sale of agricultural land may be the main source of income for retired and retiring farmers – unfettered development
life stanceopen non-theistic, humanisttraditional religious
management styleflat-accessible/egalitarianhierarchical
music preferencepopular/rock/folkclassical/country&western
news mediaaccurate reportingfalse news/propaganda
opinion piecescommentary based on factpopulist commentary based on distortion
political stanceprogressive, liberalconservative, rigid
position of womenfeminist valuesmisogynist values
pressure to changeeducation and cajolingintimidation, coercion, bullying
regulation & industryregulated industriesde-regulated industries
religious practiceliberal theologyfundamentalist theology
securityrespect for human rights and the right to dissentno tolerance for dissent or expression of human rights – oppression of dissent
social attitudes and valueliberal, respectful of cultural differences and multiculturalismsocially conservative
social justice issuesactivismcomplacency
societal normsconcern for human rights and social justicedevaluing or ignoring the needs and rights of others
style of governmentrepresentative democracyauthoritarian
the artssubsidizing arts and musicaudience pay the whole cost
the lawrespect for the law and The Charter of Rights and Freedomwillful flouting of the law (or changing laws to benefit powerful interests)
urban developmentlong term urban planning decisionsshort term market driven decisions
use of lethal forcenegotiate considering the possible involvement of mental illness and social deprivationshoot first and ask questions afterwards
vaccinationperceived right to remain unvaccinatedobligatory vaccination

As can be seen, some of these pairs line up with each other fairly well on a linear scale, but others do not, yet the media (and most of us) persist in using a left-right spectrum to describe, promote, or put down various ideas and interpretations of world events. What would happen if we allowed each of these potential axes to exist in free space? Probably we would end up with something that was much better represented by three dimensions – a sphere, for instance. Perhaps four or five dimensions would do it even better?

In any case, let’s look at the consequences of reducing the number of dimensions on the degree to which a simplistic orientation applies. If we project a sphere onto a plane, we lose one dimension and go from three to two dimensions; the sphere now becomes a circle. If we view that circle (plane) on edge, we get a line (one dimension). If we look at a line end-on, we get a point (zero dimension). In each case we lose resolution and increase the likelihood of misrepresenting the range of views we are trying to describe. And most political discussions rely on the one- or zero-dimensional views to categorize the views they are talking about.

Another important question: what does centrist or centre mean in terms of political viewpoint or media bias? There have been a number of attempts to define this, but in each case, it depends on the context and the views of those defining where the centre lies. And the centre is half way between the extremes; so the positions of the extremes determines where the centre is. It does not define the desirability or validity of the centre view.

For instance, there is a concept in American politics called radical centrism:

vs. conventional centrism

Two-axis political spectrum chart with an economic axis and a socio-cultural axis, and ideologically representative colors

And another attempt to define the desirable centre is Christian democracy:

“In practice, Christian democracy is often considered centre-right on cultural, social and moral issues, and is a supporter of social conservatism, but it is considered centre-left “with respect to economic and labor issues, civil rights, and foreign policy” as well as the environment. Specifically with regard to its fiscal stance, Christian democracy advocates a social market economy.”

A repository of information on activists and anyone supporting them in any way originated in New Zealand. It conveniently conflates all those interested in social justice issues as communists. The distortion inherent in using a one-dimensional political spectrum is clearly evident.

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