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Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Political Myers-Briggs

"Why can't we all just get along?"

Our politics have become brutal.  And our body politic is suffering.

Anger can be a great motivator if it leads to taking responsibility and collective action.  But when it just blames and calls names (stupid, hitler, traitor, fascist, communist, racist, class warrior, enemy of the people, elitist, greedy), it reverts to cynicism which is the loss of collective power and an invitation to nihilism and even violence.

Unfortunately those who have tried to compromise, to stop the blame-game and get something done, are considered weak, losers, and unrealistic.  Sad.

As an old organizer, who accepts that people are motivated by economic self-interest, community recognition, cultural values, and spiritual meaning, I am searching for a tool that might contribute to the reestablishing of our commons, our citizenship, and our country.  I am exploring the Myers-Briggs personality indicator which has been so useful to me when I directed or managed small and large organizations.

The Myers-Briggs tool and its derivatives, especially when facilitated by a competent third party specialist, promotes team work in a family or work setting.   It helps all members of the group understand their own and each other's acquired preferences in seeing and judging the world without any negativity and in fact with lots of affirmation for how differences contribute to the whole team, company, project.

The tool starts with a self-test in which the participants answer and then score a series of questions that ascertain whether they 1) process more interiorly or exteriorly (Introvert/Extravert), 2) focus more on facts or on vision (Sensing/Intuiting), 3) value more feelings or intellectual coherence (Feeling/Thinking), 4) are quick to make a decision or are more prone to keep looking at the evidence (Perceiving/Judging).  The participant considers the results and the description of the personality to which these results point to see if the shoe fits.  Then the participant shares the results with others to discuss what this means for the team or the family or the company.

There are no pure types, but all of us find ourselves somewhere along the continuum of these four polarities.  There is no right or wrong here just understanding.  This is not in any sense a "fix" of a personality type--again just an understanding of oneself and others in this here and now.

For example I found that I tend to process things out loud (high E) even well before any decision.  I learned that when I was the director of an organization, I needed to warn subordinates so that they would not take what I was saying as what I really thought or wanted.  Also when I was director of a small planning organization, I realized that I had surrounded myself with big-picture visionaries (NTs), and I needed to value and add to the concrete, data-based SPs.  Myers-Briggs, while based on Jungian insights into human personality, is merely a tool.  If it works to foster cooperation, great!  If not, try another tool that has been developed to assist self-understanding and teamwork.

Now can we divise a similar tool for our body politic?

Perhaps, but with a few adjustments.  Here are the four polarities I propose.  They are based on the four motivators of human behavior I mentioned above.

1.  Related to economic interests:  Free market/Social responsibility

Are you more interested in an unrestricted marketplace where you need not look over your shoulder or consider implications or in how your producing and consuming is affecting others and society as a whole?

2.  Related to cultural values:  Relational/Traditional

Do you have fixed values that apply to human nature and tradition or are your values more relative to the time, the situation, the persons, the consequences.

3.  Related to affiliation in governance:  Executive strength/Community consensus

Are you more inclined to have a strong leader with institutions of authority or to have broad emerging leadership among changing institutions?

4.  Related to philosophy: Pragmatic materialist/Idealistic spiritualist

Do you find meaning in day to day concrete process of living and acting or do you find meaning in a more idealized past or yet-to-come time and place?


As in Myers-Briggs, I state the polarities without any negative judgment as ranges of political personality or, better, public character.  None of them are either-or.  Yes, pushed to extremes or "pure types" there might be some negativity inferred--again depending on your perspective and your own relative place along the continuum.

I think they can be applied to public officials, candidates for public office, to parties, to citizens, to advocacy or special interest groups, to political commentators, to lobbyists, to polls and pollsters, to communities and maybe even nations.  But again this is not a "fix." People and publics do change.

I am developing the test that could be used to ascertain the style or type or public character of a person, group, or community.  I want to propose it as a way to diminish accusation, blame, and name calling and inform citizens as to the style of themselves and of candidates so they can make a more informed decision based on what they judge to be best for the community or nation or public at this time and place.

But perhaps that exposes my own preferences and public character. So let me come to terms with that so that I can reduce the influence of my biases in developing the tool.

Without yet taking my undeveloped test, I would guess that I am an SRCP, i.e. stress social responsibility over free market, relationality over tradition, community consensus over strong leadership, pragmatic materialism over spiritual ideals.  I know I tend to be a social democrat ("socialist") economically, culturally a "libertarian" not caring about sexual orientation, methods of birth control, free sex, religious principles, politically a "republican" promoting interdependent publics over mass democracy, and a progressive "pragmatist" eschewing religious or philosophical doctrines that claim the truth or any absolute.

But that's me.  In a republic, it is important that I recognize that my qualities are also limitations and I need around me others who are less like me.  For example, when I was teaching high school, I remember going into the families of students who were more authoritarian or rigid (the child had to address the father as "sir") or more tolerant or loose (the child could argue with the father).  Both worked well.  Both produced well-adjusted creative children.  Indeed both had limits as well as freedom; indeed as the Philosopher said you cannot have one without the other.  Both were evidences of love and respect.

So I do need people who listen and respect my preferences but also who challenge them.  At times and places I need to accept deregulation of the market.  At times and places, we should be less tolerant of certain behaviors like pornography that is often not victimless.  At times and places, our community needs a stronger executive less prone to populism, polls, and interest groups.  At times and places, I do admire those who are intending an ideal future or take ideals from the classics.

And certainly our body politic needs a balance-in-tension without going to the extremes of free-for-all marketeering or top-down controlled economy, libertine or state imposed culture, dictatorial or anarchic governance, one-dimensional or fantasy philosophy.  Perhaps a political Myers-Briggs could be a tool to promote this balance-in-tension.

I am hoping that with such a Public Character Tool (I'll try to come up with a better name), we can foster a better public space and return power ("the ability to act in concert") to all of us.

To be continued.

3 comments:

Rollie in Takoma said...

I hope I am not giving the impression that process and perspective outweigh substantive issues and solutions that work based on testing by evidence.

But one needs to be a person or party or community that acknowledges certain issues as substantive (what makes an issue substantive?) and values testing by evidence and openness to solutions that work.

If you are a person or group that only values what you have been told or or that fits with fixed beliefs, then it is important to know that and for others to know that about you.

Rollie in Takoma said...

Comment #2: I need to acknowledge assumptions behind my search for a political or public character tool.

I already mentioned the four motivations. The first I get from Adam Smith and his articulation of self-interestslso taken up by Marx, the second I get from Aquinas and the Scholastics as well as Max Weber, the third come from Aristotle and to some extent Machiavelli, the fourth from Dewey and others in response to the dualism of Descartes.

Another assumption is ability of the human species to create and change.

A basic assumption behind all my thinking is the status of human being in the present in a tension between past and future, individual and society, inner and outer world.

Rollie in Takoma said...

I've thought of other polarities that might be used to defed in the activities of speech and action in the polis. ine a political character, but I think they could be part of the four that already defined. There is the thinking/acting tension. Hannah Arendt saw Socrates as being the most political of persons because she saw thinking (defined by Socrates as that argument with oneself at home after leaving the polis). Thinking challenges assumptions and beliefs that operate often unchallenged in the polis. I see this polarity related to the inner/outer axis. The tension between unbiased Research and committed advocacy are also linked to this polarity.

Another more important I think relates to the cultural values axis of past and future. From what values perspective are you seeing and interpreting the world--from that of the possessed or dispossessed, those who are gaining and therefore pleased with the state of things as they are or those who are not. This makes a great difference in judgment as to right and wrong in positions. I have leaned that two intelligent people can see the same event as different contingent on whom they are most identifying with.

Indeed I am sick of politicians constantly telling me "what the American people want" when it it totally the antithesis of what I think.