The Mother of All 2x2s

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I had made up the mother of all 2x2s — taxes vs. play/death vs. life — and that a large fraction of the models I’ve been playing with over the last couple of years, here on this blog, seem to fall neatly into (or are amenable to being forced without too much arbitrariness into) this 2×2. Understandably, there was some skepticism. Well, here we go. I’ve put not one, not two, but thirteen of my models (some of which I haven’t shared before) in 2×2 forms. Not only that, I figured out a personality test of sorts based on these models. For convenience, I made a deck out of the 2x2s rather than making this a blog post with 13 images. If you have trouble viewing the deck below, use this link to view it directly on slideshare.

I am working on refining this, and also developing versions for businesses, cities and nations.

I suspect this will not make much sense to people who haven’t been following along on this thought trail, and will require some work even for those who know where this is all coming together from. At some point, I’ll put together a talk track or an expository essay, but if you’ve read at least some of the posts linked on the first slide, you should get at least a sense of the multi-model. You should be able to usefully try out the personality test even if you don’t quite understand every 2×2, but are able to classify yourself on most of them.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Fantastic work. Nestling Miss Havisham in the negative space was a poignant Easter egg.

  2. I know the fox/hedgehog thing is not your idea originally, and correct me if I misunderstand it, but it just occurred to me that Fox news is perhaps the most obvious prevalent example of fox like thinking (weak views, strongly held). I’m sure this has probably been pointed out before.

    Anyway, I just have a little nitpick. Isn’t guilt/shame anger directed inwards? I found that part a bit confusing because when you say anger I feel like it encompasses inwards anger as well as external anger. I got what you meant after seeing the two in dichotomy but perhaps it could be better clarified.

    I like your diagram overall. Even though some of the ideas seem only tangentially related, it does a great job of defining the four quadrants, seeing a few different examples put into the frame work.

    I have this kind of vague hypothesis, conservatism IS death. That was something I saw in your grid fairly strongly, although it could be a case of seeing what I want to see.

    Have a nice day.

    • Ha, I’ve always thought exactly the opposite. Fox News is the exact opposite of foxy. It’s pure hedgehog: strong views, weakly held. Or rather cactus: the degenerate hedgehog. It’s a whole detailed meta-religion of beliefs and positions that are all mostly mutually consistent internally.

      Lots of empirical evidence for this as well.

      What may have thrown you is the “weakly held” part. To the extent they are a cactus, they are actually “strong views, strongly held.” Also, weak hold may not mean what you think it means. It just means that if you undermine a few axioms, you can achieve a wholesale conversion. For example, the religious conservative is in the Fox News world primarily due to a few core religious beliefs. Shake those beliefs loose and he/she may turn liberal overnight.

      By contrast, it is harder to turn a liberal conservative since there are fewer axioms anchoring the whole and a lot of beliefs anchored in many locations. Check out the Cactus and Weasel post for the detailed model.

      Yes, conservatism is a kind of death :)

      Shame/guilt as inward anger… just semantics. If you prefer, relabel the two arrows inward anger/outward anger.

      • I think I have read the article about the cactus and the weasel, but I must admit I have been confused (or at least not entirely groked) the part about the weakly held views. Thanks for clarifying it. Reminds me of something I refer to as a mind trap…wherein the thoughts are self reinforcing. The way you’re describing it to me makes me think it’s like entropy of the thoughts holding each other together, either by them being some semblance of truth (as far as you can take that) or by a complete series of self reinforcing delusions. It makes me have a thought as to why it’s so difficult to change someones mind, because you’re working against an entire network of ideas as opposed to a bunch of singular thoughts.

        • Logical (weak) vs Intuitive (strong) holds may be clearer terminology.

          So that would make “Strong views, weakly held” the same as “Detailed, deep views, held together by logic” and “Weak views, strongly held” the same as “Rough, broad views, held together by intuition.”

          Intuitive holds are stronger than logical ones because they rely on many instances of a pattern across domains rather than a line of reasoning that could be undermined by mistakes or a single changed assumption.

  3. Allan Beatty says

    Please use consistent labels from screen to screen. I had to go back and forth to figure out what were Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4 because they were not labeled all along. I could not see any way to link screen 19 back to 18.

  4. Jim Stone says

    I’m having trouble with the labeling of the axes.

    Is the vertical axis something like complexity-tolerance/seeking and the horizontal axis something like change-tolerance/seeking?

    • The x-axis is decreasing number of arbitrary rules from left to right, the y-axis is increasing desire to continue the game rather than end it. Don’t try to interpret in terms of internal drives, but in terms of visible behaviors.