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One “left”, one “right”, that’s how I organize ‘em

When you need a super-zoomed out view, “left” and “right” is fine. That’s how I feel about the many political camps.

A lot of the time, we need more nuance, and that’s great, too. It’s fine to discuss topics, both separately and in the context of larger frameworks.

I’m old, so I remember when The Political Compass was published in the early post-9/11–era. It didn’t make any sense to me because there were so many things I cared about (gay rights, the environment, free software, climate, not getting shot in the head) that didn’t fit neatly onto those two axes. It seemed to me it was made by ancaps.

I wanted a super-multi-dimensional vector space far beyond the limits of the Cartesian grid.

But when I read this xkcd, I became more comfortable with using “left” and “right” when I need brevity over nuance.

The relevant text from that big honking inaccessible image is reproduced in full below.

How Ideology is Calculated

Each member of Congress is assigned to an ideological catgory using DW/NOMINATE, a statistical system created by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal. This system rates each member of Congress’s ideological position position based on their votes.

DW/NOMINATE is purely mathematical and involves no judgement on the content of bills. Instead, members of Congress are placed on a spectrum based on how consistently they vote together.

While people argue that ideology is many-dimensional, Poole and Rosenthal found that nearly all Congressional voting behavior—especially in the modern era—can be accurately predicted by using just one ideological variable.

This variable turns out to roughly correspond to position on the classic economic liberal/conservative spectrum.

Because members of Congress have served in overlapping terms with past members in a chain back to the first Congress the system allows comparison of ideology across time—even accounting for individual members’ ideological drift. (Note: Scores are comparable across time but not between chambers.)