I recently did the political compass questionnaire here http://www.politicalcompass.org/test.

I am not reifying this model, but some of the basic formations I think have significant consequences for understanding political atheism. Before I get to the point of this post I just want to take a little time to consider the labelling of the axes, the framing presented. Firstly, the y axis, Authoritarian v Libertarian. We can establish a clear picture of the authoritarian mindset with a quick read of Bob Altemeyer's (free) book the authoritarians http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf.

Authoritarians fall into two distinct groups "...you may have thought it dealt with autocrats and despots, the kind of people who would rule their country, or department, or football team like a dictator. That is one meaning of the word, and yes, we shall talk about such people eventually in this book. But we shall begin with a second kind of authoritarian: someone who, because of his personality, submits by leaps and bows to his authorities. It may seem strange, but this is the authoritarian personality that psychology has studied the most." ( Altemeyer, B., The Authoritarians, p.14)

"Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want--which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal. In my day, authoritarian fascist and authoritarian communist dictatorships posed the biggest threats to democracies, and eventually lost to them in wars both hot and cold. But authoritarianism itself has not disappeared, and I'm going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to...democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer..." ( Altemeyer, B., The Authoritarians, p.8)

According to the political compass Stalin and Hitler in particular represent authoritarian personalities. I can only assume that they are representative of the leadership class of authoritarians and further that their followers cluster at the top of the graph. I will return to my 'assumption' a little later. Authoritarianism, it would seem relies upon a strict hierarchical model; leaders at the top and follower arranged in an orderly fashion below.

Seems a little like religion, and as it happens there appears to be a strong correlation between religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism. Further, it seems that authoritarianism can be used to great political effect. Demonstrably, the political class seem to tend toward it:

Okay so at a most general level we should have some insight into the authoritarian end of the y axis. What of the opposite? Well here, at least for me, things become a little tricky. If you are not and authoritarian, leader or follower, you must in the extreme be an anarchist or libertarian.According to the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, "Libertarianism, in the strict sense, is the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things." ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/libertarianism/ ). And here's the problem as I see it . Authoritarianism presents a concept of social order, libertarianism conflates social order, liberty, with property rights. This attaches a rider not present in the authoritarian definition. Conceptually, and without adjustment, I am continuing with the premise that personal autonomy, regardless of property law, better reflects the opposite of authoritarian regime.Thus making the y axis a comparison between authority and autonomy. It can be argued that this invalidates the findings of the questionnaire. True. However my purpose here is not to present this framework in and of itself, merely to invoke the important distinction between authoritarian personalities and autonomous individuals as it relates to atheism as a political force and the relationship between that force, leadership and effect. Please bear with me.

On the x axis, the dichotomy is presented as existing, on a sliding scale between communism (ignoring the slur) on the one end and neo-liberalism on the other. These are not helpful terms and are perhaps better represented as being collectivism v individualism. As I have said, this is not a reification of this model, the model I argue can and should however be adapted to the purpose of political atheism. And, at the most general level, in it's current form offers some insights.

Here's me, firmly embedded in the bottom left quadrant.

Identifying the quadrant in which I appear as being that of autonomous (freethinking) collectivists. My position on the x axis, collectivists comes as no surprise given "The GSS shows that among atheists (N=252), 47.6% self-describe as being somewhere on the liberal [left] end of the political spectrum. A further 29.0% are moderates, with the remaining 23.3% on the conservative side of things. So it is more sensible for one to assume, absent any other information, that there is basically a 50/50 chance that an atheist will also be a leftist." ( http://anepigone.blogspot.com.au/2009/01/atheists-are-liberals-as-o... ). On the y axis however I don't have any data to support a claim that atheists, by majority, are autonomous individuals rather than authoritarian personalities nor to what extent this may be true.

Politically, based on available UK data, it would seem that the greens are most in accord with my (our?) position. ( http://www.politicalcompass.org/ukparties2010 )

UK Political Parties chart

If, atheists want to leverage our political capacity it strikes me imperative we identify our position within a framework similar to this, or using this framework as a de facto standard. While I reasonably believe that atheists, by majority, rest in the bottom left quadrant (on a sample of one LOL), I could use some help increasing the sample size. If you have or do take the test please forward I would appreciate knowing your row and column information.

Further, as atheists I imagine we can all align on a secular position. If the authoritarian/ individuals among us (top right quadrant) represent, as I suspect, a distinct minority we will be able to progress a political agenda reflecting a majority position. I think the base, can be extended significantly within the various progressive movements, given the rider of a secular constitution, to perhaps even include  some of the religious. Those groups, I suspect, would include the feminist, LGBT, 99%, scientific, academic, environmental,...communities.

As a side note I was recently viewing an article about open and closed systems, in a political context. Open systems rely on feedback mechanisms to maintain equilibrium. Why should it be that those disenfranchised by the current socio-economic paradigm are not considered legitimate feedback mechanisms rather than state, corporate and religious institution?

More, PZ Myers at atheistcon in Melbourne considered us analogous to a hunting pack (the text is available on Pharyngula). And spoke in terms of trust, truth, autonomy and community. I concur, it is time for us to hunt, perhaps a reasonable vision is that of a flock, moving in unison, driven by the curiosity and instinct freely as individuals rather than subordinate to authority and 'leadership'. There is, in that form room for organisational efficacy.

Views: 328

Comment by Todd on April 22, 2012 at 1:48pm

When atheists were a small minority, they were probably a much more homogeneous group in terms of politics, etc.  As more people leave religion behind, this will no longer be the case.  Religion is so ridiculous, and it has caused so much harm, that non-belief can easily be the default position without regard to where a person stands on other issues.

In fact, the large majority will probably see their lack of belief as a private point of view instead of being something to rally around.  The extent to which this viewpoint thrives will probably depend upon the amount stigmatization that people experience for their non-belief.

Also, as time moves on, there will probably be a variety of communities that are united by atheism AND some other criteria such as a political position.  For instance, conservative atheists vs. liberal atheists, etc.

As for my scores, the test placed me squarely within the lower left quadrant.  Economic Left/Right: -6.75, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.64

Comment by Richard Ewald on April 22, 2012 at 5:22pm

I did a blog post on this at Atheist Nexus in February. All (yes, 100%) atheist who participated found themselves in the bottom-left green quadrant.

Here's my result:

Comment by Sagacious Hawk on April 22, 2012 at 6:08pm

I'm 0, -5. Strictly on the center line and and halfway to Libertarian. It's accurate for me. I don't like too many rules.

Comment by Alucius on April 22, 2012 at 8:43pm

Here is my result. I'm -4.12 economic axis, and -4.77 on the social axis.

Comment by Colleen on April 23, 2012 at 1:05am

Comment by Colin Mackay on April 23, 2012 at 8:23pm

Thanks all for your replies, over a number of platforms (grrr) I have found, on the basis of limited data , a universal congregation in the bottom left, any ideas why?

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