who's left and right?

Words by Clinton Barnes

In the good old days (I assume), you could ask someone which party they supported and expect an answer. Not so anymore. And it’s made more difficult by people’s reluctance to identify as left or right.

Or maybe it’s just Australia’s polite society that tries to shrug off talk that divides. But here’s my way of cutting through the politeness and working out where someone falls on the spectrum.

It’s the “agency versus structure” test. While it sounds like words political scientist students would use to sound intelligent, it’s the simplest solution to understanding where someone falls on the spectrum.

The political spectrum in a parliament house

The political spectrum in a parliament house

A pure ‘agency’ type believes you make your own luck; you’re an agent of your own destiny. A pure ‘structure’ type believes you have no control; you’re beholden to the social structures around you. 

An agency person believes a junkie was always going to be a junkie. Welfare is pointless. Winners will naturally float to the top because barriers can be overcome. Losers will sink because they just don’t want it enough.

Think Jack Donaghy.

A structure person believes a junkie once had a chance. And still may. But they need help over barriers, including their own that flow from misfortune.

We’re all leaning more towards one side than the other, with the left side being structure, and the right side being agency. 

The challenge for both types is being aware that the cards are stacked, and on the other hand, that you have to live like they’re not.

Elections and issues will come and go but where we sit on this spectrum lasts. You can think of any scenario, no matter how ordinary, that reflects this spectrum and you can quickly discover where someone’s long term tendencies lie.