Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Escape From Lineland

When I was in high school, I stumbled across an interesting little book called Flatland by E. A. Abbott. Not only did this little book about a two dimensional world spark my interest in higher math, but it also was a great look at rigid belief systems and prejudice. It is still a great social commentary written at the end of the Victorian age.

One of my favorite sections of the book is on Lineland, a one dimensional world. The exchange between A Square (hero of Flatland) and the king of Lineland is an example of the problems of a limited perspective. It is also highlights the problems some have accepting new, uncomfortable, ideas. These themes are expanded throughout the rest of the book. I found it quite interesting and humorous. The resistance to different ideas and perspectives seemed incredible to me. When I grew up and got into politics and issues, it was like deja vu.

Every issue, no matter how big or small, is forced into a political lineland. Issues such as immigration, crime, prisons, and welfare are forced into a one dimensional, left vs. right, liberal vs conservative lineland. Often the debates, discussions, and reporting will be limited to this one dimensional world. This ends up giving a distorted view. Look at a map of the USA (google maps is good.) If you just limit your perspective to east - west distances, we are right on top of Robert Lee and Christoval. Using only north - south distances, we are only a short distance from Paint Rock or Goldwaithe. It is only when you look at the complete map that the true distances become apparent.

The same thing applies to politics. Some groups finally recognize this. The Libertarians have had the Nolan Chart for a while and recently we have seen charts such as the Moral Matrix and the Political Compass but 2 dimensions is still not enough to describe complex problems. Still, it's a start.

It's time to escape from Lineland and bring politics into the real, multidimensional, world.

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