Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Political Compass

 Last week I suggested that the students in my class might like to go to the political compass website and see how it rates their political orientation. While looking for similar sites I also found a Moral Politics Test website, and took that test.

I suggested this because the students read the first chapter in Popple & Leighninger's Social Work, Social Welfare, and American Society. The first chapter describes political perspectives on social welfare issues, and includes explorations of radical, liberal, moderate, conservative, and reactionary political viewpoints. As I recall, I learned this idea of liberal and conservative in sixth grade in Jack Monninger's social studies class. And then of course one learns about it again in high school world history when you cover the French Revolution. And by the time I was in seventh or eighth grade I was reading the newspaper and The New Republic, so to me, this stuff about ideology seems sort of basic.  On the other hand, many people, even perhaps some undergraduate social work students, don't know much about political ideologies, so this chapter will be a good introduction to some of the values and assumptions people make when they consider what sort of welfare policies they support.

   As I was taking some of these political surveys I noticed a problem with one type of question.  Some of these surveys ask people if they think private charity is better than public welfare at helping people in need, or they ask if private charity is more important or should be more important than public welfare.  Well, in an ideal world, people would be extremely generous and helpful with private charity, and public (collective) social welfare would be residual.  But of course we don't live in such a perfect world, and private charities are not able to take care of social welfare.  Even so, if one accepts that collective (taxes and public spending) approaches to social welfare must take the lead and be the foundation for helping people with health care, old-age pensions, and relief during periods of poverty or unemployment, one might still consider private charity to be more important in some personal moral sense. That is, I'm glad to pay my taxes and know that the money will go to help my society, and that is important, but my personal time and private donations are more important to me, and more meaningful. So, when asked, "which should be more important" I respond with public welfare programs because they must be the primary source of charity, but really I think private charity is more important on a personal or moral level.

    I've posted the results from my political compass test and the moral politics test. You can compare your results to mine.

  I think it's interesting that the moral politics site tells me only 6% of the people who take that test are more authoritarian than I am (implying that I'm pretty darn authoritarian, and not very much a libertarian), but in the political compass I'm pretty far into the libertarian territory, and away from the authoritarian area of the field.  I guess this may mean that when it comes to political positions and state control I'm in favor of a light hand and little collective interference in personal life, but when it comes to actual personal and private thinking about behavior, I am something of a moralist who feels concerned about the decadence I see in the world around me. 

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