Theory and Practice

“I wasn’t prepared for characters such as Lemon Johnson, a former member of the Communist-led Share Croppers Union. In December 1986, I visited Johnson at his home in rural Montgomery County, which I described in my journal as “a tiny, run-down shack with battered wooden walls, a rusted tin roof that had begun to cave in, and a porch stocked with three rickety chairs.” He fed me a huge lunch of collard greens, beans, Wonder Bread, fried chicken, and a slice of cake. We ate outside and talked for a while; when it became unbearably cold, we moved inside. I sat on his bed as he slouched in a wooden chair next to me. A faded picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was tacked to the wall above his head. He told me stories about the 1935 cotton pickers’ strike, Stalin’s pledge to send troops to Mobile to help black sharecroppers if things got out of hand, and the night a well-armed group of women set out to avenge their comrades who had been beaten or killed during the strike. When I asked Mr. Johnson how the union succeeded in winning some of their demands, without the slightest hesitation he reached into the drawer of his nightstand and pulled out a dog-eared copy of V. I. Lenin’s What Is to Be Done and a box of shotgun shells, set both firmly on the bed next to me, and said, “Right thar, theory and practice. That’s how we did it. Theory and practice.

Hammer and Hoe:
Alabama Communists during the Great Depression

by Robin D. G. Kelley
pp. XIV-XV

Lem On Humanity, Society And Meaning

Below are two passages from Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, a novel by Stanislaw Lem. It is an odd story, but I enjoyed the weirdness. There is plenty of conversation like the following.

* * * *

But I digress . . . Where were we? My field, yes. What does it mean? Meaning. And so we enter the realm of semantics. One must tread carefully here! Consider: from earliest times man did little else but assign meanings— to the stones, the skulls, the sun, other people, and the meanings required that he create theories— life after death, totems, cults, all sorts of myths and legends, black bile and yellow bile, love of God and country, being and nothingness— and so it went, the meanings shaped and regulated human life, became its substance, its frame and foundation— but also a fatal limitation and a trap! The meanings, you see, grew obsolete in time, were eventually lost, yet how could the following generations discard their heritage, particularly when so many of their worthy ancestors had been crucified for those nonexistent gods, or had labored so long and mightily over the philosopher’s stone, phlogiston , ectoplasm , the ether? It was considered that this layering of new meanings upon old was a natural, organic process, a semantic evolution— yet observe how a phrase like ‘great discovery’ is bled of sense, devalued, made common coin, until now we give it freely to the latest model of bomb . . . But do have some more cognac.”

And he filled my glass.

“And so,” continued Dolt with a thoughtful smile, adjusting his nose. “Where does this lead us? Demisemiotics! It’s quite simple, really, the taking away of meaning . . .”

“Oh?” I said, then bit my lip, ashamed of my own ignorance. He took no notice.

“Yes, meaning must be disposed of!” he said heatedly. “History has crippled us long enough with its endless explanations, ratiocinations, mystifications! In my work, we do not simply falsify atoms and doctor the stars— we proceed very slowly , methodically, with the utmost care, to deprive everything, absolutely everything, of its meaning.”

“But isn’t that really— a kind of destruction?”

He gave me a sharp look. The others whispered and fell silent. The old officer propped up against the wall continued to snore.

“An interesting observation. Destruction, you say? Consider: when you create something, anything, a rocket or a new fork, there are always so many problems, doubts, complications! But if you destroy (let’s use that inaccurate term for the sake of argument ), whatever else one may say about it, it is unquestionably clean and simple.”

“So you advocate destruction?” I asked, unable to suppress an idiotic grin.

“Must be the cognac,” he said, refilling my glass with a smile. We drank.

(Kindle Locations 2035-2053)

* * * *

“You mean, the Building is Nature itself?”

“Heavens, no! They have nothing in common beyond the fact that they are both ineffably perfect. And here you thought you were a prisoner in a labyrinth of evil, where everything was pregnant with meaning, where even the theft of one’s instructions was a ritual, that the Building destroyed only in order to build, to build only in order to destroy the more— and you took this for the wisdom of evil . . . Hence your mental somersaults and contortions. You writhed on the hook of your own question mark to solve that equation of horror. But I tell you there is no solution, no equation, no destruction, no instructions, no evil— there is only the Building —only— the Building—”

“Only the Building?” I echoed, my hair on end.

“Only the Building,” he echoed my echo, shivering. “This is not wisdom, this is a blind and all-encompassing perfection, a perfection not of man’s making but which arose from man, or rather from the community of man. Human evil, you see, is so petty and frail, while here we have something grand and mighty at work . . . An ocean of blood and sweat and urine! One thundering death rattle from a million throats! A great monument of feces, the product of countless generations! Here you can drown in people, choke on them, waste away in a vast wilderness of people! Behold: they will stir their coffee as they calmly tear you to shreds, chat and pick their noses as they outrage your corpse, and brew more coffee as it stiffens, and you will be a hairless, worn-out and abandoned doll, a broken rattle, an old rag yellow and forgotten in the corner . . . That is how perfection operates, not wisdom! Wisdom is you, yourself— or maybe two people! You and someone else, that intimate flash of honesty from eye to eye . . .”

I watched his deathly pale face and wondered where I’d heard all this before, it sounded so familiar. Then I remembered —that sermon, the sermon about choking, evil and the Devil, the sermon which Brother Persuasion told me was intended as provocation . . .

“How can I believe you?” I groaned. He shuddered.

“O sinner !!” he screamed in a whisper. “Dost thou still doubt that what may be a harmless conversation or joke on one level doth constitute , on another, legal action and, on yet another, a battle of wits between Departments? Verily, if thou followest this line of thought, thou shalt end up nowhere, since here anything, hence everything, leadeth everywhere!”

“You’ve lost me.”

“Treason is inevitable. But the Building’s purpose is to make treason impossible. Ergo, we must make the inevitable evitable. But how? Obliterate truth. What’s treason when truth is but another way of lying? That is why there is no place here for any real action, whether legitimate despair or honest crime— anything genuine will weigh you down, drag you to the bottom for good. Listen! Come in with me! We’ll form a secret alliance, a conspiracy of two! This will liberate us!”

(Kindle Locations 2333-2354)

Analysis of Politics, Culture, & Personality

These kinds of more complex political mapping is helpful in understanding the problems of the discussion of left vs right.  I’d add other dimensions as well. 

A person can be ideologically extreme in any number of these areas or someone can be politically flexible.  The problem with the ideological extremists is that they’re often the loudest and get the most media attention, but I’ve often suspected that the average person is probably more moderate.  This creates an imbalance in power.

Also, there is a dimension of preference for and against hierarchy.  For example, some libertarians are against big government not because they’re for personal freedom and egalitarianism, but because they prefer the hierarchy to be localized (and so more easily controlled by themselves and their group) or because they’re for uncontrolled capitalistic power.  On the other hand, someone could see the necessity of big government to ensure personal freedom and egalitarianism, but if they dislike hierarchy they’d rather big government be based on a more direct democracy with strong institutions that enforce accountability.

I’m sure even further dimensions could be added.  I’m wondering if what this mapping shows is that psychological tendencies (whether genetic or learned) forms the structure of what is being analyzed.  Traits researchers tend to break it down into five most fundamental traits with various numbers of sub-traits.

See:
Psychological Type and U. S. Political Party Affiliation

MBTI: Functions vs Traits, Criticism & Correlation

I have an interest in psychology in general, but anyone who reads my blog knows that I have particular love for all things Jung (specifically Jungian typology as it was more fully developed with Myers-Briggs).  I came to MBTI through my studies of Jung and esoterica.  I was studying Tarot and noticed some correlations people had made between the card suits and Jungian functions.

However, like Jung, my interest in the esoteric is rooted in my desire for truth and so I’m not content to look at pretty diagrams of possible correlations.  So, I’ve studied the theoretical and scientific side of it well enough that I have a broad grasp of all the details and different viewpoints.

Anyone who has been on a type forum or checked out the variety of info available on the web quickly will realize that there is much debate and disagreement.

There is Myers-Briggs versus Kiersey, and then there are Berens’ Interaction Styles that attempt to bridge the two (also, Berens based her model on that of DISC which is something entirely else).  There is Beebe’s function roles which puts the functions in one order versus Thomson who puts them in another order.  Then there is the Russian field of Socionics which (mixing in some other theories) interprets Jung entirely different than Myers-Briggs (and some of the Socionics supporters claim that Kiersey fits their model the best).

The real interesting debate, though, is those who claim that the MBTI isn’t scientific and that Trait Theory (the favorite Trait Theory being FFM, aka the “Big Five”).  It’s this last area of disagreement that I was just now considering in some recent web-searches, but it’s something I’ve considered off and on these last couple of years.  I would gladly give up MBTI if it proved entirely or mostly false an unuseful, and so it’s an important to determine what is presently known.

There are several criticisms often stated:

  • Limited peer review research
  • Bimodal theory is disproven by trait research
  • Unreliability because of low incidence of test result repeatability
  • Neuroticism is excluded

Well, I don’t plan on answering all of those criticisms.  I’m not an expert and so my opinion isn’t all that important, but I am a very curios cat.  I will say that I doubt at present any absolute conclusions can be made.  These are worthy criticisms to consider, but further research is required.  Also, even if the MBTI is imperfect and requires improvement, that isn’t a reason to scrap it.  Research improves theories and so thinking of MBTI as a static belief system is far from helpful.  Furthermore, Jungian typology goes beyond just the MBTI (in more than a half century, numerous theories and tests have been created, and some of these are based on different premises such as not forcing bimodal results).

Here are some things that I found interesting which support various aspects of the MBTI:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Wikipedia)

What Did Isabel Do? Insights into the MBTI

A “Big Five” Scoring System for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Hierarchical Confirmatory Factor Analysis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Score Reliability Across Studies

Reliability of the MBTI® Form Q Assessment

Myers-Briggs and Four-Type Structure

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Mapping to Circumplex and Five-Factor Models

MBTI is NOT a pseudoscience. Check your facts, nay-sayers!