To any critical thinker, such a question should seem reductionist. And, well, it is. But since it's incredibly hard (nee impossible!) to map an entire world worth of possibilities, we should just embrace the nature of the map and all of its reductionist tendencies and get on with it.
When comparing and visualizing virtual references to "conservative" and "liberal" in the Google Maps database, one ends up with a map like the one seen above. But what does it mean? What do "conservative" and "liberal" even mean?
The short answer is, well, a lot of things. For one, contrasting these terms is extremely problematic because it excludes such a wide range of alternative political views that lie either between or outside of this dyad. Second, the question of locality is important, as the political meanings of liberal and conservative are often subject to place-specific interpretations, not to mention the projection of personal preference. Indeed, it could be easily argued that many 'conservatives' in the western world actually adhere to liberal political philosophy, broadly writ. And we don't even need to start with the debate that what most Americans call liberal would be considered right-of-center in many parts of the world.
Even assigning the colors red or blue to each term is problematic, as each color is interpreted differently in different countries. For instance, in the USA, red is associated with the conservative Republican party while blue is the color of the more liberal Democratic party. In the UK, however, red is the color of the left-of-center Labour party and blue the color of the Conservative party. And don't forget the reason "red" is also a noun.
The contrast between the U.S. and Europe is striking. With the exception of the UK and Italy, Europe contains many more references to liberal than conservative in its geoweb. Standard linguistic and spellings issues apply for non-English speaking countries but nevertheless the differences are intriguing and correspond to expectations, i.e., on the whole Europe has a more "liberal" political bent the U.S.
What is unexpected is the big blog of "liberal" references right in the middle of the U.S. Taking a close look, this cluster conforms perfectly the the border of the state of Kansas, a state known for its conservative shift over the past decades. Color us confused. We're hard pressed to come up with a solid hypothesis as to what's going on here so we'll suggest a couple more off the wall ones.
- Kansas is the liberal equivalent to Dick Cheney's "secure location";
- In Kansas slang, political terms are used interchangably with the name of drinks and other bar food, e.g., Hey Bartender, give me a glass of liberal (beer) with a Jacobite (whiskey) chaser and a bowl of socio-anarchism (peanuts);
- Kansas just happens to have a particularly fervent desire to use the word liberal in as derogatory a way as possible in Google Maps;
- There is a big conspiracy to virtually colonize the political cyberscape of Kansas.