Orthogonal Politics

I don’t like writing about politics. In fact, I don’t even like to read about politics. This is one of the few moments where I poke my head out of the sand…

We just had an election in the US. And for the first time in a long time, I actually felt good about my decision– I didn’t feel like I was choosing the lesser of two evils. I felt like I was casting my vote for something bigger– a real change the likes of which we haven’t seen in this country in decades.

As I watched the election results, I surged with a mix of emotions, from relief to optimism. In my home state of California, I also watched the gay marriage ban pass. Add confusion to my mixed emotions. Locally, my city passed a ban on alcohol at the beach. “What the fuck?!”
...and why are we listening to Mormons about marriage?
Doing a little research, I found that most of the arguments for a ban on gay marriage were religious or moral.

The arguments on all sides tended to resort to nonsensical assertions, contriving concepts of civil liberties, morality, bigotry, tradition, etc. At no point, on either side, was there a clear argument.

The presidential race was no different. The candidates rarely made a clear argument proposing or opposing one way of government for another. Worse yet, there seemed to be an ugly trend of blending orthogonal political ideologies that seemed counter-intuitive. Let me explain

Individual vs State Property

This is easy. Do you want a government that protects private ownership or collective ownership? This is the essential capitalist vs socialist argument– and despite conventional wisdom, the United States is a blend of capitalism and socialism. Our two party system tends to follow this argument, where traditional fiscally conservative Republicans favor more privatization and less state control (despite the current administrations ostensible failure in this area).

Legislative Morality vs Rights

This is also easy. Do you want a government that legislates from a moral perspective (e.g., theft is illegal because it’s immoral) or from a civil rights perspective (e.g., theft is illegal because the victims rights were infringed)? A gay marriage ban only exists by legislating morality, as does a ban on abortion, and even a ban on alcohol at the beach. Any “ban” on behavior that doesn’t directly affect you, is typically legislative morality.

None of these concepts are difficult. And in different contexts each ideology has its purpose. An interesting problem right now is that we tend to lump these orthogonal concepts together, and then ignore the logical alternatives, and worse, we make decisions based on these combined ideologies– thus resulting in irrational decisions.

For example, we currently have a two party system where we lump “conservatism” with legislative morality and capitalism; likewise, we lump “liberalism” with civil liberties and socialism. We tend to ignore all other possibilities, and hence our political discourse is a mix of ambiguous ideologies.

I know I’ve had my head in the sand, but can we please have an intelligent discourse on legislative morality and civil liberties without having to force socialism, capitalism, liberalism, and conservatism into the picture?

And why do I even have a vote on gay marriage? I’m not gay. While I have my opinions (as a secular liberal), I don’t think my opinions should be taken seriously on issues that I know nothing about and in no way affect my life. Same is true for abortion. My liberal ideologies mean nothing in these situations. The only argument is whether we, as a society, want to legislate morality or not (and if so, whose moral code do we follow?).

I do like to drink (responsibly) at the beach, so I have a personal stake on that one; and it’s a bit upsetting knowing that people who know nothing about the issue are passing moral judgments and worse they’re defending their judgments by ideological arguments that are orthogonal to whether or not I can drink at the beach.

It’s infuriating, and that’s just me drinking at the beach! Now imagine that the state prohibits you from marriage.

We have empowered our government to determine who can and cannot marry.

On one hand, I want to say to the people who support these bans (or any bans on individual liberty): “fuck off”; but on the other hand, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

We didn’t debate if we want to legislate morality. We’ve so badly mixed these orthogonal ideologies that we can rationalize ANY ideology or personal conviction as being a political topic.

If you don’t like gays or alcohol, that’s fine, don’t have gay sex while drinking– it’s not a complicated dilemma.

But in the current ideological mix, a fiscally conservative votes to ban gay marriage, and likewise a socialist-leaning liberal votes to ban gay marriage. Neither one realizes the implications of legislative morality, even though both may oppose legislative morality.