Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Mario can Teach You about Political Theory

Remember the first Super Mario game on original Nintendo?  It was side-scrolling along with many of the early video games.  You could only go the right (later games let you go back to the left).  It was technically two-dimensional but almost all of the game-play consisted of one dimension, going from one end of the level to the other.

Now think back to the first time you played Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64.  Suddenly you were not limited to a mostly one-dimensional game.  You had complete freedom to move in multiple dimensions.  You could explore the Mario universe in a way that was not possible before.

What does all this have to do with liberty?  Well, libertarians such as myself have a perception problem.  Most people, when they think about politics, assume a one-dimensional political spectrum, such as this one:

According to traditional political theory you are either on the right side, the left side, or you are in the middle.  The media does not help the situation by constantly repeating terms like "left-wing", "right-wing", and "centrist" as if these were all mutually exclusive.  Because of the obsession with the one-dimensional political spectrum, conservatives hear about some of my libertarian beliefs and incorrectly label me a "liberal".  Liberals react to some of my views by calling me a "conservative".  I need you to stop thinking about politics like the original Mario games.  There is so much more to political thought than left and right.  It turns out there is a political plane instead of a political line.  You can move side to side and back and forth, much like Mario on the Nintendo 64.  Here is what the political plane looks like:

It is impossible to perfectly model all the subtleties of political opinion into one infallible chart.  But generally speaking, people on the left want to control economic activity and allow personal choices.  People on the right generally want to free up economic activity and restrict personal choices.  Again, those are general statements that are not meant to define the beliefs of each individual.  Instead of only thinking about one axis, think about the other axis perpendicular to it.  The people towards the bottom of the political plane, the statists, want to restrict all choices, believing the government to be the best candidate to decide everything for the people.  The libertarians are at the top of the political plane.  They encourage both economic and personal freedom and want the government out of most things.  Just remember this:  Liberals want government out of the bedroom.  Conservatives want government out of the boardroom.  Libertarians want it out of both.

My last post described a conflict between left and right and how, as that battle continues, we all end up with less freedom than before.  Now you can apply that analogy to the political plane.  The conflict between left and right results in everyone moving downwards on the political plane, towards the statist position.  The real struggle, to which most people have not yet awakened, is the struggle between statism and liberty, a war along the y-axis of the political plane.

I invite everyone to find out where they stand on the political plane.  To do that, take The World's Smallest Political Quiz.  It is very simple, takes one or two minutes, and can be a great tool for anyone trying to understand their political identity.  I hope that, from now on, when judging a person's political views, you will remember the new Mario instead of the old Mario.


  1. Well reasoned and informative. Go blog!

  2. That quiz was a real eye-opener for me. Thanks!

  3. Took the quiz. Nailed it! Did anyone else get a prefect score? In truthfulness I nailed it scoring right where I thought I'd be. Great job. Dan.

    1. Thanks for taking the quiz! I hope others find it useful as well.

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