Not Left vs. Right, but Up vs. Down

Yesterday’s elections in The Netherlands were the most exciting in a long time. At one point the Dutch held all trending topics on Twitter.

I’m very interested in politics, but I am often annoyed by the simplistic use of left vs. right in political discussions and news items. The left is usually associated with personal freedom and spending tax money, while the right is associated with financial freedoms and discrimination.

But I’m in favor of personal freedom and financial freedom. What does that make me? A centrist?

Furthermore, the terminology used across the world is highly confusing. Liberals in the US (positioned on the “left”) are quite different from liberals in Europe (where they are located on the “right”). And socialists in Europe (I think, hope, and pray) are not the same kind of people as socialists in China. And what about conservatives? What is the opposite to that? Progressives?

I think we need a new terminology.

We shouldn’t talk about left vs. right or socialists vs. liberals vs. conservatives.

We should talk about individualists vs. conformists, and about up vs. down.

An individualist is someone who promotes personal goals, desires, independence, and self-reliance, while opposing external interference by groups or institutions. Individualists push people up.

A conformist is someone who suspends an individual's actions and opinions in favor of obedience to mandates and conventions of groups, and deference to imposed norms by others. Conformists push people down.

  • Those who force individuals to change the type of clothes they wear, or want to expel people because they don’t “belong” in the community, are conformists. They push people down.
  • Those who deny individuals the right of enjoying their own body, the right to marry whomever they want, and the right to have control over one’s own life and death, are conformists. They push people down.
  • Those who force people to be “social” and pay for other people’s pleasures, and to financially punish those who are too successful, are conformists. They push people down.

There are different kinds of conformists. But in the end they're all the same. They want people to conform to the group, instead of allowing them to be themselves.

I’m an individualist. I prefer to push people up.

What are you?

(image by Ramkarthikblogger)

This article will be part of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. You can follow its progress here.

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  • Kurt

    Or.. A Political Compass with two axes on it.
    Be interesting to see where you find yourself placed.

  • Chris

    I’m an individualist too, but if you’re going to make a political model, I think you should try and not put so much bias in it ;). Conformists could easily argue the point that we are happier by committing ourselves in common values, and that we are stronger together. I don’t like that, I hate the idea of uniforms, for example – but I think you need to be fair here.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    When I commit myself _voluntarily_ to a common value then (in my opinion) I am still an individualist. Because, ultimately, it is then still _my_ decision to conform to the norms of a group.
    I think that conformists _give up_ their rights to choose, and I demand that others do the same.

  • Chris

    Yes they do give them up, and yes there is some level of oppression. But ‘personal rights’ are a human construct that not everyone shares in the same way, not a universal truth – different people have different perceptions of what our agreed sets of human rights actually should be set as. People can talk about the needs of a community just as easily as the needs of an individual (e.g. in collectivist societies), and I think that’s just personal philosophy (personal politics). I do personally 100% agree with your political view here as an individualist, but I can’t agree that there is anything hard and fast that says it is the right or wrong philosophy in any absolute sense (at least, if not taken to extremes).

  • Jurgen Appelo

    I fully agree that it is a personal philosophy.
    However, there is a strong correlation with personal freedoms and overall happiness in a society.
    I admit there’s no right or wrong in an absolute sense, but we can measure what “works better” for both individuals and communities by looking at the outcomes.
    There’s plenty of empirical evidence suggesting that communities fare better when individual freedoms are protected.

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