Info Ideology

What is a political “ideology”? You might think your ideology is your set of core pivotal beliefs, the few beliefs that most influence your many other political beliefs. For example:

Political ideologies have two dimensions:
Goals: how society should work
Methods: the most appropriate ways to achieve the ideal arrangement.
… Typically, each ideology contains certain ideas on what it considers to be the best form of government (e.g. democracy, theocracy, caliphate etc.), and the best economic system (e.g. capitalism, socialism, etc.). … Ideologies also identify themselves by their position on the political spectrum (such as the left, the center or the right), though this is very often controversial. (more)

But in fact, political ideologies seem more to be the beliefs that most consistently divide us:

For the most part, congressional voting is uni-dimensional, with most of the variation in voting patterns explained by placement along the liberal-conservative first dimension. … since the 1970s, party delegations in Congress have become ideologically homogeneous and [more] distant from one another (a phenomenon known as “polarization.”) … [These] scores are also used by popular media outlets … as a measure of the political ideology of political institutions and elected officials or candidates. … [These] procedures … have also been applied to a number of other legislative bodies besides the United States Congress. These include the United Nations General Assembly, the European Parliament, National Assemblies in Latin America, and the French Fourth Republic. … Most of these analyses produce the finding that roll call voting is organized by only few dimensions (usually two): “These findings suggest that the need to form parliamentary majorities limits dimensionality.” (more)

It is a remarkable fact that a single dimension so well summarizes political opinions, especially given the range of topics relevant to politics. This, however, is not plausibly explained by saying that we mainly disagree about one core key belief, such as how much redistribution is fair. It instead seems to reflect how political coalitions form – groups tend to form alliances more with closer groups, against more distant groups, until two main alliances form, divided by their one strongest division, whatever that might be.

To the extent that the main political dimensions are associated with policies, they are mostly associated with lots of particular policies, instead of a few key principles. And this makes sense given that most voters seem incapable of comprehending and reliably applying most proposed political principles.

But if there really were sensible pivotal principles, and if the relevant political population could understand and apply them, then it would make sense to focus our political arguments on them. By aggregating info on a few key principles, we would more efficiently aggregate info on lots of specific policies.

So do sensible and pivotal political principles exist? To me, principles like maximize liberty or minimize inequality seem pivotal, but not very sensible. I’m more fond of the principle of economic efficiency, but it is pretty hard for ordinary voters to see what more specific policies this principle implies.

To me, the most sensible pivotal principles are at the meta level — they are about how exactly we should aggregate info on the efficiency, and other consequences, of policies. For example, I think decision markets can go a long way toward giving us better info on the effects of policies. I also think we should do a lot more randomized policy experiments. And I support more and better cost benefit analyses, though it is admittedly hard for ordinary voters to evaluate their objectivity.

Now these positions might be wrong, but whatever are the right answers, the question of how to best aggregate info on policy effects seems a pivotal core issue, with strong implications for many specific policies. Amid audiences that can understand them, these are the core issues about which we should argue. Info ideologies would be the best ideologies.

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  • Mitchell Porter

    Someone could write mid-21st-century political SF based on the premise that the info politics you just described has become the whole of politics in every society – where the 20th-century concerns like liberty and equality belong to a dead phase of history, and differing views about info aggregation define the key geopolitical (astropolitical?) blocs.

  • VV

    Beware of over-generalization and provincialism: the fact that the US politics is largely bipolar is an artifact of the plurality voting system.

    • Matthew Graves

       [These] procedures … have also been applied to a number of other
      legislative bodies besides the United States Congress. These include the
      United Nations General Assembly, the European Parliament, National
      Assemblies in Latin America, and the French Fourth Republic. … Most of
      these analyses produce the finding that roll call voting is organized by
      only few dimensions (usually two): “These findings suggest that the
      need to form parliamentary majorities limits dimensionality.”

    • http://bur.sk/en Viliam Búr

      In countries with different voting systems and multiple political parties, these parties are often understood as somewhere on a linear “left to right” scale. And many voters explain their votes as voting for the left, for the right, or for middle — because this explanation is easy to understand for people who don’t understand details.

      And most voters really don’t understand details; they just see “our team” and “their team”, or more nuanced “the balance between the two teams” or “our team, but in a less extreme version”. But still, most of the issues are compressed into one linear scale; you just have more than two points on it.

      Then sometimes you have an additional dimension, for example the right can be split to religious right and non-religious right, or the left can be split to nature-preserving left and nature-ignoring left. But it usually does not become more nuanced than this.

  • Rafal Smigrodzki

    I would think that aside from goals and methods there is another dimension to ideology: the definition of society itself, or the construction of the ingroup to which the ideology applies, even if not stated explicitly. The predominantly one-axis, bipolar spectrum develops *within* a society of more or less closely interacting groups – the interactions among competing societies are more likely to be multipolar.

    This said, I absolutely agree that the meta-ideological level, comparative analysis of methods given goals, is much more fruitful and interesting than debating base-level ideological tenets you alluded to. What matters most is the computational structure of the society, how it generates policies given goals. If you find a good computational structure then good (leading to fulfillment of goals) policies will follow.

    I tend to think that at present the most pressing meta-ideological issue is the tension between the need for highly parallel computations (markets, prediction markets, polycentric forms of law production and social organization) and the common human bias towards the much less robust, hierarchical and serial computation methods (centralized governments, large companies).

    It is a pity that the methodology of computation in social settings seems not interest most people. 

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen R. Diamond

    they are about how exactly we should aggregate info on the efficiency, and other consequences, of policies.

    Is “aggregate” a term of art? It seems you’re not really talking about how you “aggregate” information but how to generate it.

    In that light, isn’t this just the dispute that has become increasingly central to right versus left: the market versus central planning? You advocate extending the sway of markets, creating markets even for such abstracta as predictions. (Central planners should be divided into two camps, bureaucratic and democratic.)

    Perhaps this controversy can best be understood as one concerning the use of the market, the use of technology, and the use of ultrademocracy to generate the information society can use. It’s a very interesting claim, but it explains rather than supersedes the political division into left and right over centralism and redistribution.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    The point about parliamentary coalitions leading to bipolar (as in Cold War, not Carrie Mattheson) partisanship is the same story I told Caledonian/melendwyr a while back.

  • Anonymous

    “To me, principles like maximize liberty or minimize inequality seem pivotal, but not very sensible. I’m more fond of the principle of economic efficiency, but it is pretty hard for ordinary voters to see what more specific policies this principle implies.”

    Will we ever have an intelligent and well-run government?

    • http://www.facebook.com/CronoDAS Douglas Scheinberg

       Not as long as humans are running it.

      • Geoff Brown

         EM for president? :)

  • dmytryl

    It seems to me that the primary divide may be along the authoritarian scale, as described here: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/ . The article may be going too far but it definitely seems to me that most of disagreement falls along the axis of proneness to some sort of submissive aggression.

  • richatd silliker

    “What is a political “ideology”?”

    A mutating aggregate. Much like cancer.

    “To the extent that the main political dimensions are associated with
    policies, they are mostly associated with lots of particular policies,
    instead of a few key principles”.

    That is due to the fact there are no principles of politics.  For something to be principled it needs to be rational. Principle provides for novelty.  Can anyone show me a novelty that has arisen from politics over the last two centuries?

     

  • DonaldWCameron

    “the question of how to best aggregate info on policy effects seems a
    pivotal core issue, with strong implications for many specific policies.”

    aggregate info on policy?

    You would have to find a policy analog.
    Run that model with your aliases.

  • Drewfus

    Having a political ideology is like voting. It doesn’t make any difference to social outcomes, just as voting makes no difference to election results. So why bother having one?

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen R. Diamond

      So why bother having one?

      My answer: people have ideologies to practice in the public sphere moral habits useful to them in the private sphere. 

      See: “A habit theory of civic morality” — http://tinyurl.com/7t3zrrl

      On top of this, there comes the usefulness of ideologies for signaling. A social conservative signals obedience to traditional private virtues; a liberal signals generosity and broadmindedness; a libertarian signals self-reliance and willingness to be held responsible.

      If these ideologies had no actual practical usefulness–which I think consists of practicing the corresponding moral habits–they would be too cheap to be signals.

      • Drewfus

        people have ideologies to practice in the public sphere moral habits useful to them in the private sphere.

        An example you give in your article is:

        Some clues about how these values emerge from ordinary life are provided by societies where the dominant values belong to the conservative cluster. In these traditional agrarian societies, respect and subordination figure large in most people’s lives.

        This suggests to me that conservatism should decline with increasing urbanization. Does it? Having said that, your habit theory of ideology is worth reading.

        On top of this, there comes the usefulness of ideologies for signaling. A social conservative signals obedience to traditional private virtues; a liberal signals generosity and broadmindedness; a libertarian signals self-reliance and willingness to be held responsible.

        A way of looking at individual humans in to regard them as agents acting in various domains, where each domain requires the agent to fulfil an input or output requirement – Humans as a set of quotas. There are quotas for basic survival needs like water and nutrients. There is a reproduction quota. A social participation quota. A moral quota. No doubt others. Your signalling notion of ideology, if at least partly true, might indicate that people are looking to fulfil their social (non-survival) quotas by taking shortcuts. Why obey traditional private virtues when you can sprout your conservatism instead? Why be generous when you can just root for Obama instead? Why be broadminded when you can claim the moral high ground of Liberalism instead, and then do this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaqB_EGDLVg&feature=endscreen&NR=1 Why be totally self-reliant and industrious when you can praise an Ayn Rand novel instead?

        To me, holding and advertising a political ideology means an individual attempting to fulfil important socially related quotas by pinning their identity to a set of abstract ideas and assuming the intention of the ideas equals the outcome, if and when they are adopted by society as policy. The benefit of ideology then, is that it allows individuals to fulfil social quotas at no personal cost. It is not difficult to see why these ideologies almost always tend toward increasing the role of government. Who but the state would be willing to accept peoples offloaded responsibilities and yet be better off for it?

  • Drewfus

    It might be worth comparing political ideology to the outcomes of Realpolitik. That is, to the socio-econo-political system in which we actually live. Compared to all the textbook ideologies and ‘isms’ – Capitalism, Socialism, Welfare Statism, Democracy, etc, what name would best suit our political reality? I would say; Lobbyism.

    • Lobbyism implies the dominance of lobby groups, advocacy groups and NGOs, in our political structure and operation. For example, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K_Street_(Washington,_D.C.)

    • Lobbyism implies a government mainly sensitive to at least nominally private* pressure groups, implying an underlying (although somewhat secondary) democratic structure. [* An exception being the IPCC, the first fully public lobby group.]

    • Lobbyism implies big government, as lobby groups create a bias toward greater government by holding political influence but being insensitive to the costs of the state sponsored programs they favor, because these costs tend to be spread socially, rather than impacting mainly on the lobby group or the people it represents (or claims to).

    • Lobbyism suggests entrenched sectional interests that once formed, are very hard to elliminate, regardless of their negative consequences for society as a whole.

    • Lobbyism suggests distorted social and economic outcomes, and these distortions in turn suggest a backlash against the governments that play on these interest groups in the first place.

    • Lobbyism suggests other stuff i will think of after clicking Post as…

    So what do most people really support – their favorite ideology or the reality of Lobbyism?

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  • Michael Wengler

    The arbitrariness of political identification is underestimated, not mentioned here.  Fans of football teams will fight each other.  Clearly we are evolved to rally under a banner.  To a very large extent, I think political ideology comes to us from more or less the same place as our religious beliefs, from our parents.