Personal Axioms

Updated February 1, 2023

Context (why does this page exist?)

My name is Brye Andersen. While I am a bicycle courier by trade and studying to be a computer scientist, politics and philosophy matter a great deal to me. I spend much of my free time postulating about current political events on Twitter and volunteering for candidates I believe in. Through my personal experiences (some of which you can read about here) and education, I have come to a set of strongly-held beliefs that are somewhat heterodox in nature. While I will describe most of them in purely political terms, they inform the decisions I make in every area of my life and my perception of the world.

I believe there is value in formalizing some of my socio-political views in a position paper for three reasons:

1) So that there is a longer document I can refer people to when I express some unexpected position on an issue.

2) So that I may be held accountable when I violate my own axioms.

3) For those who somehow ended up here to ask themselves: “Do I agree, disagree, and why?”

My Twitter bio says "you will strongly disagree with me at some point" and today is probably that day.

The role of this document is not to persuade you. It is merely to state what I believe.

My 12 Axioms

1) I am a social democrat

2) Pragmatism is vital

3) Free speech is important

4) Community engagement matters

5) Literally just build more housing

6) The second amendment is good

7) Many expressions of progressive beliefs are performative to increase social capital

8) Most people are good-faith actors

9) Interdisciplinary education is important

10) Everyone is smart

11) I am often wrong

12) Life is too short to hold grudges

1) I am a social democrat

I have always hated labels for political beliefs as I believe it is far more vital to examine what people believe rather than what they say they are. With that said, I believe there is great utility in having a single shorthand phrase I can say and have most of my positions assumed.

I have since forming a political consciousness always considered myself left-wing. I have cycled through terms (left-libertarian, progressive, democratic socialist) but have settled on this one… for now.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, I broadly believe:

- The government ought to heavily invest in social programs

- Political change should come about peacefully and legally through constitutional checks and elections

- Gradual reform is acceptable

- The economy should be heavily regulated

- A mixed-economy is best

- Society and government should strive towards egalitarianism

- People of all backgrounds and beliefs should actively engage with the political system

On socialism

As will be discussed later, I am a dues-paying member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). If you want to get really into semantics, "Harringtonite" would be an even more specific description of my views than social democrat but I find it too niche and Americentric to use. I’ll discuss my rationale for remaining a member of DSA later. I have stopped describing myself as a socialist (except in the context of being a DSA member) for several reasons:

1) The term is not well defined:

If everyone who has read this was in a room and I asked “So based on my description of my beliefs, am I a socialist?” I am willing to bet I’d get a mix of yeses and nos. People’s conceptions of the term vary based on their own political views, age, education, background, etc. It would be easy to say one of these definitions is right and give you a definitive answer but that’s not how language works! What people think a term means can actually inform the colloquial definition of that term.

2) To great segments of the world, the term has a deeply negative connotation:

Let’s face it, anyone who has canvassed for a DSA-endorsed candidate knows that the word “socialist” is not part of our opening lines. Be it fair or not due to the association with the Cold War and oppressive regimes in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries the word gets a bad rap. I think this has changed in recent years especially with younger generations yet this remains a major part of my reluctance. It is also not helped by the hordes of terminally online communists who defend such regimes and yearn for a violent revolution which spoiler alert... will never come. Those people are fundamentally unserious and it gets tiring assuring people that I'm not like them.

3) At a fundamental level I do not believe major goals of socialists like abolishing private property are feasible in my lifetime and even if they were I have serious doubts about what comes next:

Yep, that’s probably the final straw for a lot of people. There are a lot of questions about what exactly a socialist America would look like and how it'd function that I don't have good answers for. Were I to describe my socialist utopia, it would be a market socialist state with a vast social safety net, worker-owned co-ops having the opportunity to invest in other co-ops or raise capital from others to expand their own, aaaand nothing I've described is contradictory to social democracy and many people to my left stopped taking me seriously the second I said "markets." I also think I would prefer implementing government policy favorable to worker co-ops over private businesses rather than the complete abolition of privately-owned entities, which is needless to say incongruent with the views of most socialists.

2) Pragmatism is vital

Pragmatism in politics is often thought of as merely “working across the aisle,” say a staunchly conservative congressperson working with a progressive on legislation. While this certainly fits the bill, the ideological distinctions do not need to be as stark.

I am a registered member of the Democratic Party. I believe it is the political organization in the best position to positively affect public policy and the lives of everyday Americans . I have voted Democratic in every partisan election I have ever voted in (including for some lukewarm centrists) and anticipate doing so far into the future.

I am a dues-paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Or as I jokingly say, I am on the far right of the far left. DSA is a big tent organization and I am not the only social democrat in it. I deeply value organizing with highly enthusiastic activists even if our ideals for society do not 100% align. I believe that much of what DSA does materially improves the communities they volunteer in and I have no qualms canvassing for their political candidates or otherwise volunteering so long as I personally believe it will have a positive effect. With that said, the effectiveness, diversity of thought, and political extremism of different chapters varies considerably and I am often embarrassed by some of the intra-organizational elements, especially on foreign policy and condemnations of DSA officeholders. I align with the principles of the North Star Caucus for Socialism and Democracy, though I am not a formal member of it. I also am a dues-paying member of the Working Families Party which I think is very effective at pushing officeholders to the left in New York.

I am happy to work with people who barely agree with me as a means to an end. I am happy to work with people who despise each other. I go out of my way to volunteer and work for organizations that differ considerably in ideology from me and some of those experiences have shifted my beliefs.

3) Free speech is important

I am increasingly concerned with what I see as a growing culture of boiling down complex issues in public policy, science, etc. to concrete terms, ascribing great moral value to said concrete statements, and then publicly shaming those who question them. To put it simply, I just described cancel culture. I think this is not only unproductive and intellectually immature, but a serious blight on society. For a longer description of the problem written by people smarter than me I’d suggest the Harper’s Letter. There are signatories on it I strongly disagree with, but that is immaterial to the ideas presented.

The utopian vision of the internet as a great equalizer that would democratize the world is dead. What has resulted is the formation of echochambers of individuals who believe the “right things.” From 9/11 conspiracy theories to QAnon to yes, intense ideological purity, even ideological purity I generally align with. With that said the genie is out of the bottle and we must reckon with the effects.

For similar reasons I am opposed to populism which I see as similarly otherising people out of opportunism rather than convenience.

4) Community engagement matters

I am not particularly religious. I was raised Catholic (with all the sacraments up to First Communion, just enough to satisfy my grandparents) and gun to my head I consider myself a Unitarian Universalist, though I don't attend services all that often. For those of you who were just blindsided with a religion you've never heard of, I pinkie-promise it isn't a cult. It's a evolution of Unitarian Christianity into a "liberal religion," one which includes atheists, Christians, Muslims, and people of other religious backgrounds unified by a belief in tolerance and social justice.

So why the hell am I starting this axiom about community engagement with my religious background? Because in much of the world, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. were a bedrock of communities for hundreds or thousands of years. They are where you'd interact with others in your community weekly, meet friends, your future spouse, and support others through charity. See where I'm going with this?

As already clarified, I am not particularly religious. I am hardly preaching that everyone becomes a churchgoer. But as the world grows more secular, I do believe we are losing out on the sense of community religious institutions once provided. I believe that secularization is a general good, but I yearn for secular institutions to fill this void of solidarity and social cohesiveness.

This may sound contrived but hear me out: I think you can compare DSA to a church. When I go to a DSA chapter meeting, I am surrounded by likeminded people who hold similar axiomatic values to me and seek to apply those values to the world around them. I listen to speakers give impassioned speeches about causes they believe in, I plan events and strategy with others. I think political organizations like DSA do a great deal to fill this role in people's lives. But obviously not everyone is as interested or steadfast in politics as me. For that reason, I think it's important for people to find social organizations that fit their interests and values. There is great personal and societal value to leaving your comfort zone and becoming part of something bigger than yourself.

With this focus on social cohesion, I am also concerned with the trend towards remote work and school. Perhaps I am biased because I personally found my last years of COVID-era remote high school and early college to be socially isolating, but I strongly believe that in-person engagement is crucial to self-improvement and mental health. I think this trend is incredibly myopic. There are numerous reasons for this (the blurring of the home/work line, the lack of socialization between co-workers, the rising cost of housing as remote workers move to more remote places, studies suggesting lower worker productivity, being "out of sight out of mind" to your employer, etc.) though all I can say definitively is that it is not for me.

5) Literally just build more housing

I am a YIMBY and quite proud of it. I think looser land-use regulations drives down the cost of housing, desegregates neighborhoods, and increases the tax-base of municipal governments. I believe transit-oriented development is particularly good.

Housing is a very complicated issue. As someone who has experienced housing insecurity firsthand, I am of the strong belief that governments should do all within their power to increase the housing supply. Yes, even “luxury” housing, which I believe eases demand for existing housing.

I currently live in a high-rise dorm in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, a majority-Black neighborhood that is experiencing gentrification in part because of White and Asian young professionals moving here to attend my school, Northeastern University. Especially coming from the run-down places I have lived, it sometimes feels as if I live in an ivory tower completely disconnected from the community around it. With that said, I think the existence of developments like this is a net-positive as otherwise, the several-thousand people in my dorm would be living elsewhere in Roxbury, driving up the rent and pricing people out.

Neighborhoods are constantly changing. This is not a new phenomenon. Despite what I just described, I have deep roots in Roxbury, where four generations of my family were born and raised in a house half a mile from my dorm before the era of white flight. Increasing the housing supply helps to mitigate the negative effects of such change, the pricing out of locals and the skyrocketing of rent. Increased economic and ethnic diversity is great for neighborhoods in my opinion.

Not every place has to be Manhattan. I’m originally from a small town on the Hudson River whose economy revolves around NYC weekenders who come exactly because it has a preserved 1800s downtown. With this said I refuse the false dichotomy between historic preservation and human-centered development. I want people of all backgrounds and economic statuses to be able to live where I did. I want to make it easier for visitors to see the beautiful sights I grew up with. For that reason, I am strongly in favor of developments like the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, efforts to restore the Mt. Beacon Incline Railway, and multi-family housing. The amount of abandoned buildings I passed by when I lived in Poughkeepsie, Beacon, NYC, and elsewhere that were in committee hell because of antiquated zoning laws, local NIMBY opposition, etc. was jarring. I want young people to be able to afford to move out & stay where they grew up.

If you want to know what my model neighborhood looks like, take the N or W train to Queens and get off at 30th Ave. You’ll get off at a modern station and walk down the stairs to a neighborhood with mixed commercial and residential zoning, a scenic waterfront, great ethnic & economic diversity, amazing food, brand new buildings next to older ones, affordable and market-rate housing, a strong sense of community, bike lanes, fantastic transit access, brownstones, duplexes and gasp even the occasional single-family home attached garage and all! Were I ever to live in NYC again, there is no doubt in my mind I’d be in Astoria.

6) The second amendment is good

I am hardly the only person on the left to believe this, though most people I know on the left that are pro-second amendment are so because they are very far to my left and believe (like some conservatives) that they would need to fight an oppressive government.

That's not my reason for believing in gun rights. There are countries like Switzerland where a great share of the population owns a gun but because they are trained in gun safety and their backgrounds are screened, there is no significant increase in gun violence. In the liberal tradition, I believe that property rights should only be restricted when there is a very good reason to do so. Having lived in a rural area much of my life, I have family and friends who own guns and treat their guns with great caution and discipline.

With that said, America is facing a crisis of gun violence. One of my first acts of political action was participating in the March for Our Lives walkout in 2018. We must make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to get firearms by implementing stricter background checks, closing the private sale loophole, and untying the hands of the ATF when it comes to enforcement. I honestly do not feel very strongly either way about an assault rifle ban, I certainly would be opposed to a buyback and would want such a law to have a grandfather clause however even under such a law I believe certain businesses like gun stores should be able to rent assault rifles to clients for the day, so long as they stay on the range.

I think mental health is a bigger part of this than most on the left want to admit. For that reason, I have no problem making background checks stricter though I think the even more effective solution would be a total overhaul of the mental healthcare system. I also would be strongly in favor of requiring gun owners to provide proof-of-purchase of a gun safe when they purchase a firearm. While there is no way to force someone to use one (at least that I'd support), I believe this would greatly reduce accidental deaths and children getting their hands on their parents' firearms without proper supervision.

7) Many expressions of progressive beliefs are performative to increase social capital

I think there is a well-meaning but misguided oversensitivity to social issues in contemporary society. I think the term “virtue-signaling” is an overused but accurate way to describe the cargo-cult rituals of social progressivism aggressively pushed into all areas of life. To those who aren’t socially progressive, to my mind it makes them feel attacked and less likely to ever become social progressives. To us social progressives, it can be infantilizing or actively detrimental.

For example, let’s say a trans man who isn’t out is in a class where the professor asks for every student to introduce themselves and the pronouns they use. Congratulations, you have now put him in a position where he either has to misgender himself or out himself. In other words, the exact opposite of what I imagine you were trying to do! Edge case? This is the experience of almost every closeted trans person I know.

There is a certain kind of person in business, academia, etc that starts meetings with pronouns or sends emails about how EvilCorp strongly condemns the recent hate crime in XYZville who is not helping. Screaming “hey, look at how forwardthinking and progressive I am” helps no one, it just makes you look insecure about the advantages you’ve had in society.

The same goes for reposting some vaguely progressive thing on social media, paying ungodly amounts of money to consultants for your employees to take “racial justice training,” companies changing their logos for pride month, etc. It is at best insincere, at worst self-aggrandizing. Perhaps there are people who feel very strongly affirmed by these kinds of rituals, but if so I am yet to meet them.

8) Most people are good-faith actors

This is something I very, very, very strongly believe. I believe that the average American thinks deeply about who they will vote for (even if it’s always the same way). I believe the average person who hold regressive social beliefs does so for what they genuinely believe are good reasons. I have lived in towns with a few hundred people and a city of 9 million. I have lived in precincts that voted 80% for Trump and 90% for Biden. The way people on both sides of the aisle think about the base of their political opponents is deeply cynical and in my opinion incredibly patronizing.

9) Interdisciplinary education is important

I am double majoring in Computer Science & Political Science. Often when I tell people this there is some confusion. For the record I love both of my majors. I think the humanities matter very much, and I think STEM matters very much. Oh, and of course all the other disciplines like art that don’t fit into those two groups matter as well.

In my time in college, I have met a lot of CS majors who are in desperate need of an ethics class and a lot of social science majors who ought to take a hard science class. My favorite classes have been those that have integrated social science and STEM in a way that is both sensible and enlightening. I think the education system ought to do more of that rather than segregating different disciplines.

10) Everyone is smart

This one may get some eyerolls. It sounds like something you’re told in elementary school but I have found it to be absolutely true. People have an amazing ability to specialize in something and become incredibly good at it, regardless of their supposed intelligence. The most successful people in politics, business, etc. are generally not there because of some superhuman ability, they were extremely lucky, had a massive leg-up by virtue of who their parents are, or both. We do not all start from the same places with the same resources and we ought to acknowledge that.

11) I am often wrong

Another eyeroll-inducing one. I have a great degree of confidence in my abilities and yet I am often wrong about the things I am best at. This goes for everything from major life decisions I make to random assertions about who will win an election. When I’m wrong, I make a point to acknowledge it. When I’m right at someone I care about’s expense, I don’t gloat. Fallibility is inherent in everyone and I do my best to learn from my mistakes.

12) Life is too short to hold grudges

Finally, I have found it impossible to be mad at people for too long. There are very few unforgivable acts in my book (though they do exist), and only one or two people in my admittedly short thus far life have actually committed one of them. Be it family, friends, ex-partners, etc. I sincerely wish the best for the people that are no longer in my life and I am always open to mending fences.