RE: Dean re-voicing pro wrestlers

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Mon Jan 26 2004 - 09:41:52 PST

Dear Nate and everybody–

I'd like to reply to Nate's very interesting and thought provoking points.

I really value such "voting" websites as Political Compass. I use them in my
classes. My students "vote" on their educational philosophies, their
classroom management approaches, and so on by selecting presented
case-choices. In my view, this is a very helpful pedagogical activity
because it promotes students to think about how they make their decisions
and what guides them and help to stimulate interesting discussions in class
(and/or on class webs). I use these "voting" sites as intellectual
provocations in order to deconstruct them later. Although such "voting" webs
stereotype and oversimplify matters they often create "an intellectual
boundary object" that allows us to explore certain issues that may not
accessible so easily otherwise. The xmca discussion followed Nate's
introduction of the Political Compass web is a nice illustration of the
provocative power of such webs in developing "public discussion spaces."
(thanks again, Nate, for the link!)

However, there is a certain limit of how much one can claim that voting
sites like Political Compass reflect the reality in human matters. In my
view, it implicitly promotes a very wrong model of decision making
portraying people are atomized choice-making machines. I'd argue that behind
this model is a consumer-oriented, middle-class (liberal) ideology. The
"voting" web presents a free market place of ideas, from which a person (an
intellectual consumer) has to make his or her choice. We know from situated
cognition studies that people's decision making is very far from vote-like
choice making. Not every decision making involves choices but even when it
does, the choices are not static and not well-defined but intertwined with
goal- and problem-defining processes and value-prioritization. We also know
that decision making is hardly an individual endeavors happening in heads of
individuals as these "voting" models promote.

Nate replied to me,
> > Especially, it is not easy to do the projection for politicians who did
> > even take the survey.
> Well Eugene there is a material reality out there. It does not matter
> what they think, but what they have done in office. I think true
> "idealists" like Dean present a world in which sounds good but they are
> incapable and uninterested of delivering.

I agree that a material reality is very important (it can kill!) but so is
an ideal reality! Otherwise, we would slip into behaviorism. Let me give a
personal example. Last year I started a campaign in our School of Education
for changing our transfer policy for students who are not in teacher
preparation program but want to join it. The transfer policy was solely
based on students' grades and systematically lowered chances for students
from poor working class backgrounds and minority students whose grades were
lower because of poor education that they got in their high schools and
because grades do always not reflect quality of preparation. I researched
studies on this issue and found that grades in colleges do not predict
professional quality but other factors do (like motivation, experience,
recommendations of others). I developed a proposal based on recommendations
of these studies and submitted to the faculty. I also showed that we
systematically excluded certain groups of the students and perpetuated the
problem. Well, to make the story short, not only I lost the battle but by
initiating the revision of the policy, I made the matter worse – the faculty
reviewed the policy and made it even more exclusive (although they let a
particular student of my concern in the program as "a compromise").

This is a material reality. Very bad material reality, indeed! Am I
responsible for this worsened material reality? Probably yes – I have an
"idealistic" hope that my allies and I could have made a difference if we
did not make some "mistakes" that are still unknown to us. But to attribute
this meaning of the negative outcome to the meaning of my actions is not
only unfair but also deeply wrong. Call me inept, "idealistic", naďve, "with
false consciousness" – I painfully accept it – but please do not call me
"right-wing authoritarian" only because my actions failed. Certain things
are right not because they are successful but because it was wrong not to
try to do them.

What do you think?


> -----Original Message-----
> From: N*** [mailto:vygotsky who-is-at]
> Sent: Monday, January 26, 2004 6:51 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Dean re-voicing pro wrestlers
> Eugene Matusov wrote:
> > Dear Judy, Bill, Nate, and everybody-
> >
> >
> >
> > I wholeheartedly agree with Judy. Although the Political Compass website
> > fun (thanks, Nate), it should not be taken very seriously. Attempts to
> > quantify human life have limited success.
> I don't know how much it attempted to quantify human life. Its purpose
> is to give a more complex picture than the typical right-left line.
> Eugene, Judy as well as mine initially, are typical "american
> responses". Mainly, because we tend to see the Kerry and Dean's as our
> liberal and left when in fact they ae very much center right.
> It is not accurate to project
> > complex political ideologies into two-dimensional political schemas.
> Eugene, this was not your typical two dimensional schema, but in fact
> was challenging it. It argues the typical left-right line is inaccurate
> at describing current political realities.
> "Both an economic dimension and a social dimension are important factors
> for a proper political analysis. By adding the social dimension you can
> show that Stalin was an authoritarian leftist (ie the state is more
> important than the individual) and that Gandhi, believing in the supreme
> value of each individual, is a liberal leftist. You can also put
> Pinochet, who was prepared to sanction mass killing for the sake of the
> free market, on the far right as well as in a hardcore authoritarian
> position. On the non-socialist side you can distinguish someone like
> Milton Friedman, who is anti-state for fiscal rather than social
> reasons, from Hitler, who wanted to make the state stronger, even if he
> wiped out half of humanity in the process."
> > Especially, it is not easy to do the projection for politicians who did
> > even take the survey.
> Well Eugene there is a material reality out there. It does not matter
> what they think, but what they have done in office. I think true
> "idealists" like Dean present a world in which sounds good but they are
> incapable and uninterested of delivering. For example, Dean talks of
> health care rirights, but proposes a watered down Clinton plan.
> I took the survey and found that many decontextualized
> > questions do not make sense for me but I was forced to reply "agree" or
> > "disagree". Besides my "agree" may have a very different meaning with
> > another person's "agree" (I just watched the classic movie "Twelve angry
> > men" that illustrates this point nicely).
> Well, isn't that like life. But, again most of us have to make choices.
> Where I found it useful was it demonstrated the disconnect where most
> candidates were politically and where I was. I do think the survey has
> a thought-action disconnect. Very few politicians scored in the
> left-liberatarian quadrant whereas many were in the right-authoratarian
> quadrant.
> >

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