Monday, November 9, 2009

The value of diversity

I found an interesting article on  I commented on the article there, and liked what I wrote, so I'm cross-posting it here.

Click the link above and read the short article, and look at the very intriguing chart.  The article is about how the votes for and against a dumb amendment fell into both parties in a very curious fashion.  The chart itself is more interesting than the article, but you want to read the explanation in the article.  My comments on the article are after the 'Read more' link.

"Which is better, to have your party speak with one voice, or to have it express diversity?  It seems that you value diversity, and you think that the more liberal party should be more diverse.  But in practice it is always the conservative party that is more diverse.

Do you value diversity for its own sake?  Or do you value it only when it encompasses your own opinions?

My own experience is that the republicans that I talk to are much more open to differing opinions.  I explained it this way to a friend, just the other day: "my democrat friends seem to look for a reason to argue, while my republican friends seem to look for a reason to agree."

I have a theory as to why this is true.  The conservative group generally represents the historical status quo.  The liberal group generally represents the historical urge to change the system--reformers, if you will.  (These are the definitions of "conservative" and "liberal"...)

There is only one status quo, or rather, all of the status quo can be gathered up into one place (probably near the center of that red spot.)  And everyone starts there, at some level.  The definition of "status quo" is that it is what children are taught to revere and protect.

That status quo is never perfect.  As each person ages they see the faults in the system and gain some desire to reform it.  But there are an infinite number of posible reformers, each who want to move the system in a different direction.  Generally speaking, each reformer will have one or two hot button issues that they care about.

So you start out with a political scatter-plot of reformers in all directions away from the center.  And they are all pulling in separate directions.  And they are all alone (or form small groups) and many of them die without ever accomplishing anything substantive except teaching the center to be more accepting of deviants.  So you end up with a status quo-protecting conservative party with a high tolerance of diversity.

If the reformers want to get anywhere they have to start working together.  Those who can get over their disagreements can form a significant force outside of the status quo--and have a real chance at effecting change.  And since many of them only really care about one or two issues it is not too hard for them to vote-swap* and pretend to care about each others' issues when there is not direct conflict.

What happens then is that the liberal reformer movement establishes well outside of where any one reformer would like it to actually be--they each individually want to be one or two steps outside of the center; and they end up 3 or 4 steps out because that is the lowest common denominator between them.  And they have to be quite dogmatic about the party line because that is the only way to enforce the vote-swapping agreements that allowed them to form a party in the first place.  So, you end up with a liberal party that is very intolerant of any reforms (liberalism) outside of their own.

And to take the theory to the next logical step....  If that reformer party gains too much control and threatens the status quo too much then the reformers who cannot fit within that party must coalesce into a third party; probably quite diametrically opposed to the liberal party in power.

This is just the yin and yang of functioning democratic politics.  Don't take it personally.  But I know that if you are a democrat you will take it personally, because I'm outside of your orthodoxy.  :-)  You won't want to admit that you don't care passionately about each and every plank in the party platform, because that would endanger the bargains that you have made.

* I realized that "vote-swap" may sound like it has negative connotations.  None are intended.  This is the very heart of democracy--trading away my votes on issues that I don't care about in order to gain votes on issues that are more important to me.  It is one of the core pillars of democracy.  Democracy would fail to accomplish anything (and fail as a system of government) without vote-swapping."

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