Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Reciprocity Test: Pros & Cons

Political differences are usually projected onto a spectrum with Left and Right designating the two ends. But what defines Left or Right? And doesn’t this approach privilege the ‘centre’ in some way as the most balanced position?

To gain a better understanding of political differences, I propose the Reciprocity Test. Whether people think of themselves as Left, Right, or neutral/centrist/independent, taking the test would help them see where they are situated in relation to others politically, and what underpin their contrasting positions.

Instead of a spectrum, the Reciprocity Test maps its results on a series of concentric circles. The mapping itself is determined by the extent to which people agree/disagree with eight propositions derived from the ethical Golden Rule of reciprocity: as we would want others to treat us with due consideration, we should treat others with similar consideration. The eight propositions are:

• As we would want others not to act in a prejudiced way against us (because of our ethnicity, sex, religion, etc), we should avoid acting with prejudice towards others.
• As we would not want any punitive sanction directed at us without due process, we should not impose any arbitrary sanctions on others.
• As we would want to be protected from the dangers posed by transgressors and high-risk activities, we should back the protection of others from similar dangers.
• As we would want others to help us in desperate times, we should ensure others are helped in desperate times.
• As we would want others to support collective action where it can improve our common wellbeing, we should be prepared to contribute to such collective action.
• As we would not want anyone to amass such wealth and power that would leave us at their mercy, we should not allow anyone to have so much wealth and power that would put others at their mercy.
• As we would not accept any claims put forward by others without the backing of adequate evidence and coherent arguments, we should not expect others to accept unjustifiable claims.
• As we would want to have a say about any important decision that can affect us, we should not make key decisions affecting others without giving them a say.

Those who firmly agree with all eight propositions would constitute the core circle – they are the Pros. They consistently back practices and systems, which respect the needs of others, because they appreciate being treated with similar respect themselves. Beyond them, there are four other concentric circles, representing ‘tend to agree’, ‘not sure’, ‘tend to disagree’, and ‘firmly disagree’. Those who firmly disagree with all eight propositions occupy the fringe of our political disc – they are the Cons. What they want from others for themselves, they are unwilling to reciprocate for others.

Between the core and the fringe, people’s answers may not fall uniformly on one circle or another. Some may answer ‘tend to agree’ to some of the propositions, but opt for ‘not sure’ or ‘tend to disagree’ in relation to others. What we then get is what is often called a spider-gram where the answers are joined up across the different circles (for it resembles a spider web). Spider-grams closer to the core are people inclined towards being Pros, and those with more points nearer to the fringe are people inclined towards being Cons. Those in between are not so much neutral or independent, but just people who can’t make up their minds about their readiness to reciprocate towards others.

Mapping our political differences with the Reciprocity Test helps to show what set people apart, not in terms of their party allegiance, attachment to cultural labels, or stance on single issues, but in relation to their readiness to apply the Golden Rule of reciprocity to diverse interactions with their fellow human beings. People can go on disputing what Left and Right really stand for, but the Reciprocity Test would reveal who are the Pros, the Cons, and those who have yet to decide.

[It may be noted that beyond the outermost circle of the Cons, there is a further category of people who reject the very premise of every one of our eight propositions. These are people who do not want or expect others to treat them with any consideration at all. They shrug their shoulders at being neglected or treated badly. And they see no problem with neglecting or treating others badly. While Pros can try to enter into a dialogue with Cons by probing why the latter refuse to accord others what they demand for themselves, there is little prospect of any real engagement with nihilists, for whom anything goes, and nothing needs any justification.]

Note: anyone interested to read more on the eight propositions and what they may entail, please go to ‘Notes on the Reciprocity Test’.


Martin Simon said...

When I trained as a Community Organiser in the USA they taught us that first rule of politics is no permanent enemies no permanent friends

Martin Simon said...

When I trained as a Community Organiser in the USA they taught us that first rule of politics is no permanent enemies no permanent friends

Henry Tam said...

The Reciprocity Test allows for people to change their dispositions when it comes to reciprocating towards others. So some Cons may become Pros, and vice versa.