Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Definitive Political Orientation Test - Part 2

I just tried “The Definitive Political Orientation Test” on Facebook and had problems with it because the summary it gave didn’t match my views at all. I came to the conclusion that it was too rigid in what it asked, and didn’t allow for the nuances which a reply needed.

Now of course you cannot expect Facebook to supply you with anything remotely accurate, but it is worth looking at the statements and questions in more depth to see exactly what can be said about them.

So here are a few of the questions or statements, and my comments on them. What I don’t do is to put “strongly agree”, “agree”, “disagree” or “strongly disagree” – the only options given – and none in the middle.


“You believe that success depends on the individual's ability to pull themselves up by their own boot straps and take advantage of the opportunities they have.”

I don’t know how it came up with that from my replies!

Success is a very fickle matter. Looked at in economic terms, some people are born to wealth, so they don’t have to worry too much about choices in the same way that you and I do (assuming we are both not rich millionaires!).

But if you look at some of the people who have climbed to riches, or at least out of poverty, it is partly choices, partly luck, and partly hard world. So from a philosophical point of view, if I’m not filthy rich, part of that may be due to the wrong choices. The trouble is that some of those choices may be gambles; it is only possible to tell if they are the right choices with hindsight.

There is no way of determining whether a given choice may be good or not, although some bad choices clearly stand out – taking LSD, for instance, would not be a particularly good choice. So there is an asymmetry there – we can see what will be bad choices, but to be a success, we cannot easily gauge what will be a good choice, although some factors, like education, may help our chances.

That is why I am sceptical about all these rags to riches self-help books. It is not possible, as in a simple scientific experiment, to take someone’s life and extract a set of rules from it, and say that is how they become rich. There are just too many variables; that also explains why economics is not a hard science.

One question is how many opportunities are there to leave a poverty trap, and how is it done? And how much luck is needed. This may vary at different times, in different cultures.

For instance, in England in the early post war years of the 1950s and 1960s, education could take people out of poverty- the grammar schools were a singular success in doing that, in moving towards a more meritocratic society.

On the other hand, those who failed the 11-plus and were consigned to the Secondary Modern Schools were almost predestined by the system towards a lower position in society. At a grammar school, you could take O-Levels, for the Secondary Modern, it was the C.S.E, which didn’t have the same kudos.

And of course children of richer parents (pretty well regardless of political leanings) usually were sent to private schools, or to what are called, by the perversity of the English culture, “public schools”. Now there were scholarships both to private schools, and to Universities, but gaining a scholarship could be a both a matter of chance (to be entered for the scholarship) and ability. Success for them does not depend nearly so much upon chance, as they have more opportunities available.

I would not say that people are “usually” poor because of choices they make, but the choices they make, along with a complex nexus of chance and opportunity and ability may be needed to leave poverty.

By way of example - the Greek communities who came from Cyprus to Jersey in the 1960s did so because the main job opportunities in the somewhat rural economy of the time were being a shepherd (or some lowly land based occupation) - and they could see a better opportunity in Jersey in opening Greek restaurants. If that opportunity had not been there, and they had snatched it, their children would probably be herding sheep and goats on the hillsides of Cyprus.

I do think that there is a poverty trap in which people can be caught, and it can be very hard to leave, especially when some taxes, such as GST on food, impact so much more on the poor than the rich. Access to better education can be more limited by poverty. 

I also think we should listen to the voices of the poorer members of our society more rather than reports compiled by consultants. G.K. Chesterton said “By experts in poverty I do not mean sociologists, but poor men.”. What we really need is a Henry Mayhew for our times.


“You believe in a society of independent and hard-working individuals who take care of themselves.”

I don’t know how it came up with that from my answers. It sounds like the sort of position that Reg Langlois would take. 

I do believe that people in an ideal society would be in a way independent and hard-working individuals who take care of themselves, but of course that is impossible. Some people cannot take care of themselves, because of handicap or illness or simply an inability to cope. We may be hard working now, but what about when we get old.

From those who have, more is asked, and I think those who are independent enough to take care of themselves should also take care of those less able. We are social animals, and while modern culture tends to a rather selfish egotism, we should be counter-cultural.

The tax system, however much it is not wholly efficient, is in part a means by which those better off support those less well off, without the latter just being dependent on trickle down economics - crumbs falling from a rich man’s table. If the richer members of society want private education, and private healthcare, that is their choice – but that should not absolve them from supporting by rates and taxes those institutions which provide education and healthcare for all. No man, as the poet reminds us, is an island.

I remember an advert which said “They always seem as strong as they ever were…” showing a strong looking but old man pulling a horse around an apple crusher. He nods off in his armchair, and his cigarette sets a newspaper on fire. It was not perhaps a brilliant advert, but it was about the need to keep an eye on the elderly. We may not smoke, but we may fall. We all need a society which can pick up the pieces when we do so.

Look at that dreadful story in the local news recently about the man who was lying dead in his flat for months. He was perhaps not the easiest of people to help – an alcoholic who could be verbally abusive to those who came knocking to see if he was alright, but it’s those people too who need to be cared for, otherwise “care in the community” becomes just a glib cliché.

The initiative by Jersey Post to have postmen keep an eye for signs where help may be needed was an excellent one, but we should all do that really with our neighbours. Paying taxes does not absolve us from a civic duty to support and keep an eye out for each other in our community.

And I’m also not too keen on the word “independent”. I think we should have a society in which we all look out for each other, because we all probably need help at some time or other in our lives. As far as “independent” means being empowered, that’s a good thing. A child can become “independent” and not tied to their parent’s apron strings, and we can see that to become independent in that way, and to learn the merits of good work is positive.

We should reward hard work – but we should do so fairly. I’m sure that the nurse works as hard as or perhaps even harder than the banker, and is of greater benefit to society. Farmers - who grow crops without which we would starve to death - certainly do work that is really of greater worth than footballers earning a million for a month’s kicking around of a ball.

There’s a topsy-turvy kind of order in our society which I think is a kind of systemic imbalance. In Gregory Benford’s Timescape, a future society is breaking down, and food becomes the vital commodity rather than cash. But we live in a society where the grower and the dairy farmer find themselves ground down by the large supermarkets to provide cheap food. At least the “Fair Trade” movement is a start in the right direction, but we have a long way to go before we share the benefits of wealth with those who really sustain us all.

Older people can be helped to be as independent as possible; it gives them dignity. But when independence means saying “I’m alright Jack”, it is not a view I would particularly want to countenance.

And on the subject of work, I can do no better than conclude with the words of E.F. Schumacher, perhaps best known for “Small is Beautiful”, he also wrote an excellent book called “Good Work”:

Let us ask then: How does work relate to the end and purpose of man's being? It has been recognized in all authentic teachings of mankind that every human being born into this world has to work not merely to keep himself alive but to strive toward perfection.

To keep himself alive, he needs various goods and services, which will not be forthcoming without human labour. To perfect himself, he needs purposeful activity in accordance with the injunction: "Whichever gift each of you have received, use it in service to one another, like good stewards dispensing the grace of God in its varied forms."

From this, we may derive the three purposes of human work as follows:

First, to provide necessary and useful goods and services.

Second, to enable every one of us to use and thereby perfect our gifts like good stewards.

Third, to do so in service to, and in cooperation with, others, so as to liberate ourselves from our inborn egocentricity.

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