Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Left But Not Left Behind


Mercator projection with Tissot's indicatrixes of distortion in the form of the red circles, each of which represents an area with a 10,000-kilometer diameter. Image by Justin Kumimune via Wikipedia.

A brief encounter with some Naderite yielded a pretty good analogy

it's kind of spectacular how much he didn't get it:

Yes indeed, you can, and you can flatten a globe into a Mercator projection,  but when you're planning global activities you don't pretend to believe that Greenland is really twice the size of South America or that Anchorage is 25,000 miles from Vladivostok. Making a practical use of the left-right spectrum as a basis for decision making is like deliberately setting out to make yourself an order of magnitude dumber than a flat-earther.

It's ironic that while we're using map analogies to talk about the representation of political polarity, the representation of geophysical polarity is exactly where the usual Mercator map really blows it, with its gigantic expanses for the Arctic Ocean and Antarctic continent, the size of two extra planets, so vast at both extremes that the poles themselves can't even be fit into the picture. In that context, consider an Earth map that transfers the distortion away from the polar system and onto the equator, swelling the tropical Americas to insane proportions and scattering the exploded parts of Indonesia to the four winds, while the Left and Right Poles are depicted in their real proportions, not as extremes but as a pair of centers, each dominating its own ellipse: 

Ellipsoidal transverse Mercator projection, via, showing accurate relations from pole to pole along the Greenwich Meridian, and more and more distorted the farther away it gets in the Indo-Pacific ocean region.

That picture, while still two-dimensional, offers a useful way of rethinking the left-right distinction as something other than a one-dimensional array, composed of atomized individuals full of anxiety over their status relative to the persons on either side (who's more Left, or more Center, than whom?); but rather as a coalition of groups of friends with shared interests gathered into bigger groups with fewer shared interests but aggregating more democratic power.

That's what's pictorially represented in the painting below of the actual birth of the Left-Right distinction, where the Right (meaning to the right of the presiding officer), supporters of the King's prerogatives, is in the foreground divided into classes (nobility and clergy separate from the more numerous bourgeois, lawyers in their black suits), and the Left, small-r republicans, in the rear, from the sensible Girondins on the main floor to Marat's radical Montagne, physically to the right of their more moderate colleagues but separated from them in the vertical dimension.

Estates-General meeting in Versailles, May 1789, by Auguste Couder, via a somewhat annoying post at Pallavi Aiyar's Substack. 

A one-dimensional view represents an ideological system in which each person is ranked according to the degree to which they possess some abstract characteristic that is not so easy to define. A three-dimensional view represents a party system, in which people act in concert, on behalf of a group identity or (better) complex intersection of group identities, to achieve goals of one kind or another. People like young Jonathan there, worrying about their individual identity in contrast with everybody else's (leftier than thou, or not, as the case may be), cut themselves off from participating in collective action (literally cut themselves off, when they're so proud of their leftness that they can't even bring themselves to vote). Which is really not Left at all.

I'll get back presently to the question of how these concepts of Left and Right could incorporate the concept of "dimension". 

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