I’ve written off and on about the relationship between politics and personality. It seems obvious to me that there are two distinct ways of viewing the world… or actually there are many distinct ways but I tend to simplify it into two. Myers-Briggs is the best single system to understand the nuances. I’ll limit this discussion to the four functions: the Perceiving functions of iNtuion (N) and Sensation (S); and the Judging functions of Thinking (T) and Feeling (F). The following is me speculating according to my present understand which is incomplete and everchanging (I’m an INFP afterall).
(I’m going to assume anyone reading this already has a basic knowledge of the subject. If you don’t have a basic knowledge and are interested to learn more, it’s easy to find numerous summaries through search engines or by going to Wikipedia. Or else you could look at my old posts… there is a decent summary of personality types that can be found on my About page and I’ve also written about Spiral Dynamics many times before.)
I’ve read of one argument that points out a cultural difference. Asian culture tends to emphasize the Perceiving functions and Western culture tends to emphasize the Judging functions. Basically, what this means is that we Westerners prefer clear conclusions and results.
There is an easy way I’ve come to understand the difference between Thinking and Feeling (but keep in mind I’m somewhat biasing my interpretation according to ST and NF). Thinking is about separating, analyzing, seeing the parts… whether of things, ideas or people. Feeling is about connecting, relating, seeing how the parts fit together. Thinkers believe people should serve principles. Feelers believe values should serve people. The difference is who or what gets the blame.
A simple example is that I’ve heard a conservative say that abstinence should be taught in schools even if it was shown to be ineffective towards preventing pregnancies and STDs. The principle was important and we must strive towards (and enforce this striving upon others) even when we fail. It’s because we fail that we need to enforce principles ever more strongly.
I just explained the difference between iNtuition and Sensation in the concluding comments of my previous post (My Response to the News):
Conservatives ‘fear’ change because they tend to want the world to stay the same or else to return to some idyllic past. Conservatives are interested in the concrete reality of the present which is built on a sense of continuity with the past. They’re more comfortable with what is familiar.
Liberals ‘hope’ for change because they tend to want improvement and progress. Liberals are interested in imagined possibilities that even though not entirely real in the present have the potential to be real in the future. They’re more open to new experiences.
These distinctions are important, but they’re hard to clarify in terms of everyday reality. I think that our culture is shifting from a Judging mentality to that of Perceiving. Whether or not that is the case, it seems difficult to make a clear distinction between the functions. According to American politics, iNtuition and Feeling have become identified with eachother and likewise with Sensation and Thinking. In the past, the American ideal was the ESTJ, the man of power and action, the authority figure who takes control and gets things done. But this is shifting… towards what it isn’t clear.
There is a mix of issues that is hard to distinguish.
Certain social situations place greater value on particular personality traits. In the patriarchal agrarian society of early America, a practical-minded ESTJ had a great advantage. With time, however, we as a culture have come to value the abstract and imaginative abilities of iNtuitives. The NF idealist has particularly come into its own in 20th century America with the growing emphasis on civil rights and with the renewed sense of democracy after WWII. The individual who can take care of himself is less useful in the (post-)modern complex world.
Another confusing factor is that conservative Sensors will naturally idealize what is or what was no matter the specific social context. Sensors idealize the past agrarian culture of small town America partly for the simple fact that it’s where our culture came from. But put a Sensor in Russia and they very well might idealize Stalinism.
It’s just a matter of how the person perceives the world. The Sensor perceives the concrete which is grounded in what is known and familiar. The iNtuitive looks past what is and perceives what is becoming or what is possible. They have a hard time simply accepting things just the way they are. So what it worked in the past. The present isn’t the past and we must change as all of the world is always changing. The Sensor would agree the world is changing but would see this as a negative, something to be resisted. The big picture and wild dreams of the iNtuitive mean nothing to the Sensor. What can realistically be done right here and now? We can’t ignore the past, but must work with the way things are. Humans don’t fundamentally change. What worked in the past will still work or can be adapted to present circumstances.
Society develops and the 21st century will be different than the 20th century. The Sensors of the 21st century will idealize the 20th century and the iNtuitives will be looking further into future possibilities. The Sensors are the brakes and the iNtuitives are the gas, and so history lurches as the two fight for control.
To really understand why conservatives and liberals come to their respective values, one would have to look at social development models. Spiral Dynamics is a good example. Conservatives are less open to further development than iNtuitives or else they’d rather have development happen more slowly.
A large part of the population is still in the Blue meme which emphasizes social order and hierarchical authority. The Blue meme represents our recent collective past. It’s the foundation the modern world is built upon. Liberals often forget this and underestimate the power of influence it still has on society. Obama has fallen into the same liberal intellectual trap that many Democrats have fallen into. Most people don’t value the intellect over everything else. The ideals of objectivity, rationality, and intellectual fairness are still fairly new to the human species. Most modern people have some intellectual ability, but most people aren’t primarily influenced by intellectual arguments no matter how logical and factual (this is why experts tend to make bad debaters). Obama needs to touch upon the emotional core of the argument or else fail.
Liberals forget that emotion and intellect need not be opposed. In Myers-Briggs, it’s taught that we should strive to accept our inevitable differences all the while striving to bridge the divide. Similarly, if one wants to convince the public of a particular change, then it’s best to ground it in the past… which interestingly is what Obama is now trying to do by switching to a moral stance.
Obama Calls Health Plan a ‘Moral Obligation’
By JEFF ZELENY and CARL HULSE
“These struggles always boil down to a contest between hope and fear,” he said. “That was true in the debate over Social Security, when F.D.R. was accused of being a socialist. That was true when J.F.K. and Lyndon Johnson tried to pass Medicare. And it’s true in this debate today.”