TLP makes a cameo appearance

in a new book by Eunice and Sabrina Moyle, called Be the Change. In the section of the book that discusses political activism, they write,

Arnold Kling says that people tend to act according to a dominant axis–a trade-off between two ideas. On one end of the axis is what you want. On the other end is what you don’t want. When people make decisions, they tend to rely on their dominant axis to make a quick decision.

My remarks:

1. In a book that will appeal primarily to those on the left, it is nice to see an attempt to un-demonize conservatives and libertarians. I hope that readers stop and think about these pages and don’t just skip over them.

2. They cite Jonathan Haidt as well, and in fact they replace the oppressor-oppressed axis with Haidt’s care/harm dichotomy. That is an interesting shift. I think that oppressor-oppressed better describes the loudest voices on the left, particularly on college campuses. On the other hand, care/harm represents a less militant and more tolerant form of progressive expression, but one which is not so prominently on display.

3. Without the discussion of the three-axes model (and perhaps even with it), progressives might be inclined to use the book as a “how-to manual” for political action along the lines of the recent nationwide high school student walk-out to support gun control.

4. As a nitpick, I would prefer to replace “tend to act” with “seek a sense of moral certainty and political tribal solidarity” and I would prefer to replace “make decisions” with “communicate to signal approval and disapproval.”

5. The book has very rich graphic design. It reminds me of the look that many publishers are trying to achieve for “family seder” books for Passover. I guess I should not be surprised that the design is striking, given that this is what they do in their cards and stationery business.

This entry was posted in Three-Axes Model and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to TLP makes a cameo appearance

  1. BC says:

    “I would prefer to replace ‘make decisions’ with ‘communicate to signal approval and disapproval.'”

    I have been meaning to ask Arnold about this. There seems to be an asymmetry in the three-axis model and how it applies to progressives vs. libertarians (and to some extent conservatives). I disagree that libertarians use the liberty-coercion axis primarily as a means to communicate. It seems to me that libertarians determine their views, i.e., “make decisions”, based largely on a liberty-coercion criterion. The oppressor-oppressed axis, however, is not suitable for “making decisions” as it’s largely unfalsifiable, i.e., one can rationalize any position, even opposite positions, along the oppressor-oppressed axis, even when the oppressed group is kept the same. (Kling has emphasized that the oppressed group must be one of historically oppressed groups: women, minorities, the poor, etc.) Thus, unlike the liberty-coercion axis, the oppressor-oppressed axis is indeed purely a rhetorical one.

    Why do I claim that privilege is unfalsifiable? Groups can either interact or not interact. If groups P (privileged) and V (victims) interact, then one can claim that P is exploiting, using, or taking advantage of V, e.g., “cultural appropriation”. If P and V do not interact, then one can claim that P is neglecting, ignoring, or excluding V, e.g., when not enough attention is given to ethnic arts and culture. All economic transactions involve a buyer and seller. If P buys from V, then one can claim that P is exploiting the services or property of V or outbidding other V’s for those services. If P doesn’t buy from V, then one can claim that V is being denied a chance to earn a living. If P sells to V, then one can claim that P is getting rich off of or profiting from V’s needs or unfairly preventing other V’s from selling. If P doesn’t sell to V, then one can claim that V is being denied access to P’s products and services. So, all human interaction or non-interaction and all economic activity or non-activity can be described as P oppressing V. QED.

    Here is an example. When men outearn women, progressives point to that as evidence that women are excluded from high wage jobs. When female supermodels outearn and are more famous than male models, however, progressives also describe that as oppression of women: the promotion of female supermodels creates unrealistically high expectations around female beauty for other women. So, low pay is oppressive but one could also argue that high pay would be oppressive because it would be evidence that women were overburdening themselves trying meet societal expectations around career and work, expectations that weren’t being placed on men.

    Another example: the progressive argument for diversity in college admissions is well known. However, one could also argue that diversity policies “siphon away” the best women and black students from women’s and historically black universities. In fact, that is one of the main arguments against K-12 school choice, that it siphons away students and funding from undesireable schools and “leaves behind” other students. It’s also the “brain drain” argument against immigration.

    I don’t mean these examples as arguments that progressives should reverse their views on these issues. I am just pointing out that the oppressor-oppressed framework doesn’t allow one to *derive* these views. Instead, one must determine one’s views first, say through “gut feel”, then construct an oppressor-oppressed argument after the fact to rationalize those views which, as I show above, one can always do. That’s quite different from the libertarian process of evaluating policies based on their impact on liberty. One can disagree on the wisdom of the liberty-coercion criterion, but that criterion does allow one to differentiate among competing policies in many cases, even if there are some cases where competing liberties conflict. Similarly, the conservative civilization-barbarism criterion does allow one to differentiate among competing policies even if one might believe that the criterion itself reflects a Eurocentric bias or that there are many more instances of competing Western civilization values than competing liberties.

  2. Tom G says:

    @BC shows well how the oppressed-oppressor axis is too subjective.

    ” care/harm represents a less militant and more tolerant form of progressive expression, ”
    Care / harm is both more tolerant and more falsifiable, in theory. If you “care” about blacks, you’ll support Affirmative Action (or gun control, or … any PC current project).

    The moral signalling is primarily a “we care” signalling. While most liberals are likely to agree that they favor the oppressed, they seem to me to be more likely to self-identify as “people who care”, and that positive caring is more important to more of them than is anti-oppression.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      The two can, at least somewhat, collapse into each other. Who do you care most about? Those who suffer through no fault of their own; those who are hurt by bad people or bad systems; those who are oppressed.

      Who do you care least about? Those who are doing well; those who are hurting others; the oppressors.

      As the old saying goes: “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” (Finley Peter Dunne may have meant is as satire when he had Mr. Dooley say that’s what newspapers do, but I’ve known a number of people who think it is a rule for good living.)

Comments are closed.