Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Personality Paradigms?

The time I spent recently in Canada got me thinking about some generalities in human personality. I have always found Canadians to be extremely accommodating and somewhat non-confrontational, and this trip was no different. They're nice, even when I wouldn't be, and even when most people I know wouldn't be. I don't mean they take abuse with a smile; I mean they go out of their way to be nice to people around them, even in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Here in America? Not so much. I wonder what accounts for this?

It's hard to say how it happened, but maybe there's some amateur codification to be done here. Why are people nice? One reason - they want something. Sometimes what they want is concurrence, and sometimes they want something more tangible. Sometimes they want both. In Canada, I think they mostly want concurrence. That's why they're nice to pretty much everyone, even when there's nothing to gain. What if we call this a concurrence personality paradigm? I don't think this is what we have in America, at least not a lot of us, and less and less of us as you go back in history.

In cities in America, people are more business-oriented, more transactional. We talk to the people we know, but we interact with the people we don't. In a sense, we're nice to the former and not as nice to the latter. This distinction is less pronounced in Canada. We could call the American mindset the status personality paradigm. Our quest for concurrence is limited to a fairly small circle of people, but we're not monsters out in the world. We're nice, and the more we have to gain from it, the nicer we are (to a point, of course). This is because what we gain translates directly into status. When we gain wealth, we can acquire the goods and services that afford us membership in higher and higher social strata. The proceedings in lower-class situations, therefore, are understandably far less "cordial" than they are in upper class situations - no one stands to gain much of anything by being nice. And it is not coincidental that our economic systems are set up to promote this mindset bent on upward mobility.

With the emergence of innovative financial systems (including the fractional reserve system), the status-seeking fire has been perennially stoked. They make it possible to obtain status (through consumption), even when you can't afford it. You can borrow and, if you're good, create enough wealth to pay interest on the money and walk away with a profit. The end result is an elevation in status through nothing more than calculated manipulation of available resources - a skill not unfamiliar to the ancestral caveman.

If we accept the existence of these different personality paradigms, then there's an interesting question to ask. Could it be that the intense presence of the status paradigm accounts for much of the socio-economic difference between America and many other nations? More status people equals more business and more financial prosperity. Look at countries like France and Italy. While they've been around far longer than the US and they have natural resources aplenty, they are nowhere near the US, economically speaking. This could be a manifestation of their majority paradigm.

I would say the concurrence paradigm is the default paradigm in these two countries. Sure, people in Paris can be very nasty, but my experience has been that most areas of France and Italy are inhabited by very nice people if you make an effort to communicate with them. You could descend into a conversation with pretty much anyone. And if the feeling overtakes them, they may act in a way that is anything but profitable - like keeping the bar open late night (for free) for some traveling and rambunctious Americans. In America, not so much. And the divergence in personality paradigm doesn't just account for anecdotal and macro-economic differences. It may very well account for the disparity in national views about war.

The status paradigm, being not so nice to begin with, fares better in conflict. As the desire for concurrence begins on the back burner, judgement is not clouded when disputes arise. The status seeker is a cool negotiator. The bargaining benefactor of his status machinery is in charge, looking for the win-win, and when there isn't one, there isn't a nagging desire to get along. There is only a rational examination of the logical consequences of alternative actions. And as obtaining status is often risky, the status-seeker is courageous enough to follow through with the correct (i.e. profitable) course of action, even if it's going to cost him. He'll take his licks and cut his losses. In short, the status personality paradigm enables the willingness to go to war. This, I think, also explains much of the difference between America and many other countries. We fight when we have to; they resist till its too late.

So what can we do with this concept? Can we make any determination as to whether it is cultural or genetic? Probably not. That's always tough, but maybe we can say that a good bit of it is cultural. Could we not say that the proportion of people with the concurrent paradigm to status paradigm is growing? This country gets more touchy, feely every day. That would seem to suggest that the mindset is at least partially cultural - if you grow up in a family of concurrence paradigm people, you're likely to end up the same way. It would also suggest that the cultural shift toward the concurrence paradigm may have a tipping point, a point at which America would experience something akin to what tranpires in Ayn Rand's, Atlas Shrugged. So, here we come upon a serious question? Which paradigm is better?

Before we answer, we have to acknowlegde that the two paradigms naturally clash with one another. Status folks don't have much patience for concurrence folks, and concurrence folks are horrified at the shallow callousness of status folks. Indeed, differing personality paradigms could explain a lot of the difference between the "bleeding heart" liberal and the "evil" Republican. Now to the question. Which is better? I'd say you need a good helping of both. Though the exact proportion would be difficult to nail down, I think it's fair to say that we need enough to status folks to keep our rights intact and to keep pumping out better and better Barcoloungers, and we need enough concurrence folks to remind us to get off our Barcoloungers and talk to each other.

15 Comments:

Blogger alice said...

"This country gets more touchy, feely every day."

How does this relate to your prior post where you state that we are tearing each other apart?

I am the daughter of a salesman. I watched my dad charm the birds off the trees everywhere he went and I learned from him how to do it. I'm the type of person who talks to people in the grocery lines, makes comments to total strangers about the type of day it is. It's fun to see the reactions of people because they aren't used to it. I do it because it makes me feel big and expansive and makes me feel the joy of life.

But I don't always do it. If I am in a crappy mood or if I have really gross work clothes on I try to keep a low profile.

My husband says I always make friends with the people I work for and it's true. More often than not, after I have finished installing a job, I get a hug from the person I just worked for.

I consider mine to be a gregarious personality type. I try to get to know people, show an interest in their lives. There is always something to learn. And it's my guess that people feel flattered when you show an interest in them, if they think it's genuine.

I have a good friend who has three kids. I have known this family for many years. When I see these kids they barely acknowlege my presence. I have never been offensive to them, so I doubt they dislike me, but even if they do, they could be pleasant to my face, but they are not. I think they are shy. They don't feel confident and so they cover it up with sullenness.

I think it has more to do with whether you're willing to be "out there" and take the consequences which come from that. A certain percentage of people will think you are a little strange, but the point is not so much what others think as how you feel.

Some people are pleasant to others no matter what. Some make exceptions. Some are too trusting. Some don't trust anyone "out there". I think it would be very hard to make any conclusions about any of this besides we are all different.

3/17/2005 09:43:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

PS Maybe what you are talking about is the effect of the Corporation. I admittedly don't know anything about this world, but if Wilkinson is right, we, as humans don't relate to it. We don't feel right about it so we adopt behaviors which allow us to cope with its impersonality.

We are constantly being sold something under the guise that we will benefit, but underneath it all we know that the benefit is really to the corporation so we are on guard. It's kind of like you would feel when you are being told by a car dealer that they are selling you this car below their cost. "bullshit!"

Maybe people who live and work in corporate America have to adapt to its nuances and can never really be who they could be otherwise.

3/17/2005 10:11:00 AM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

Canadians can get a bit too concurrent in my opinion.

They're getting ready to start enforcing Sharia law.

Alhough I'm sure there a plenty of nuances yet to be explored in that situation.

They treat prisoners better, or more leniently than they do their citizens.

". . .It's something that we're not allowed to do in Canadian public - arm ourselves. Why is it OK in jail?" said Grabowsky, a guard at the Edmonton Institution where the stabbing occurred."

"It's amazing to us as correctional officers," he added. "We're not allowed to carry pepper spray, we're not allowed to carry handcuffs, we're not allowed to have sTAB-proof vests. But we now have a judge's ruling saying, 'Well you know, there are occasions where inmates can arm themselves and protect themselves."

And then there is the blatant reverse discrimination that is inflaming a lot of people as well.

"Please be advised that effective immediately the Ontario region of the Correctional Service of Canada is no longer maintaining an inventory for parole officer applications from the general public," the Feb. 19 letter reads.

"Due to staffing resources we will continue to accept applications from aboriginal and visible-minority candidates only."

CSC is committed to having a "skilled, diversified workforce reflective of Canadian society," the letter continues, adding that future vacancies may be posted that are open to the "general public."

3/17/2005 04:41:00 PM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

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3/17/2005 04:41:00 PM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

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3/17/2005 04:43:00 PM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

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3/17/2005 04:44:00 PM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

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3/17/2005 04:45:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"How does this relate to your prior post where you state that we are tearing each other apart?"

I touched on it in the post.

"Status folks don't have much patience for concurrence folks, and concurrence folks are horrified at the shallow callousness of status folks."

The social culture in this country, in my view, is becoming more and more concurrence oriented. Schools have graduations for elementary school so that stratification does not happen - therefore, everyone gets along better. Fewer and fewer people are held accountable for their actions, including their bad decisions - because it's hard to get along when some end up in the gutter.

But...the concurrent personality instantly transforms into its antithesis when it faces what it perceives as the arch enemy of "everyone getting along" - the status personality. In fact, it spins into an irrational frenzy, lashing out at the entity that is, in the concurrent view, the only thing that stands between chaos and harmony.

See what I mean?

3/17/2005 10:53:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"How does this relate to your prior post where you state that we are tearing each other apart?"

I touched on it in the post.

"Status folks don't have much patience for concurrence folks, and concurrence folks are horrified at the shallow callousness of status folks."

The social culture in this country, in my view, is becoming more and more concurrence oriented. Schools have graduations for elementary school so that stratification does not happen - therefore, everyone gets along better. Fewer and fewer people are held accountable for their actions, including their bad decisions - because it's hard to get along when some end up in the gutter.

But...the concurrent personality instantly transforms into its antithesis when it faces what it perceives as the arch enemy of "everyone getting along" - the status personality. In fact, it spins into an irrational frenzy, lashing out at the entity that is, in the concurrent view, the only thing that stands between chaos and harmony.

See what I mean?

3/17/2005 11:09:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"Maybe people who live and work in corporate America have to adapt to its nuances and can never really be who they could be otherwise."

I think you have it backwards. The corporation is the latest realization of the status paradigm. In 1800's England, there were norms in behavior to be observed, and they got more defined going upward on the social ladder. There was distinct stratification between classes, and it was all driven by status. The system was effective for the haves and the have-nots. It guaranteed those with status some baseline level of security in life (predictable provision of food, shelter, and companionship), and it allowed the lower classes some upward mobility, but at a price. Then, as now, if you wanted to move up, you had to learn the rules and play by them. It just so happens that the prevailing rules in the upper echelons of American society are the same rules, more or less, as those observed in corporate America. It's all about status. It always has been.

3/18/2005 12:05:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"Canadians can get a bit too concurrent in my opinion."

I hear you'll wait four months to get a routine knee operation. You'd think they'd get the hint.

3/18/2005 12:25:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"I think you have it backwards. The corporation is the latest realization of the status paradigm."

I think I don't. In fact that is exactly what I meant. If you are holding up the concurrent personality as an ideal, and I'm not sure you are, then it is the influence of status which subverts human potential.

But of course now we are getting into an controversial area. Some would say that it is the quest for status which has taken us so far so fast. If it weren't for competition nothing would be done properly and we would fall into decadence.

The other thing I was saying is that the impersonality of the corporation steals a bit from the souls of its workers. People don't feel as attached to what they are doing... the replacable cog in the wheel concept. And that, too, is nothing new.

3/18/2005 08:48:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

PS. And here we are again at one of my favorite concepts...balance. It is the conservative view that one has to be careful when one radically fiddles with the status quo because there will always be unintended consequences.

A shift too far in one direction will set the whole thing out of balance. We must, as I think you will agree, admit our nature and try to ameliorate it carefully, never going too far away from it.

Everything that exists in our society is there because it suits us. Some things, for example slavery, were eventually found to be unacceptable in a free society and were eliminated. Everything takes time. No Tsunamis allowed.

3/18/2005 10:08:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"I think I don't. In fact that is exactly what I meant. If you are holding up the concurrent personality as an ideal, and I'm not sure you are, then it is the influence of status which subverts human potential."

I'm actually saying that each personality type has its usefulness. They are both ideal *in certain situations.* The status paradigm, as you noted, accounts for the lion's share of our progress as a species. However, the concurrence paradigm has tended to the sides of the bell curve that inevitably get lost in the status shuffle. Both are necessary. Like you say, it's all about balance.

As if your reading list isn't long enough, I'd recommend picking up Michael Barone's, Hard America Soft America. Though he does not use my personality paradigms concept, it's easy to see parallels between hard situations (situations where competition and accountability are in full force) and the status paradigm and soft situations (where coddling the norm) and the concurrence paradigm.

3/23/2005 01:43:00 AM

 
Blogger highlonesome said...

Just skimming your article I'll offer this bit:

I think one of the reasons people aren't as nice to each other now is that they don't need to be. Think of 150 years ago. When someone needed a barn built, they'd call on their neighbors and everybody would show up and build the barn. When the other guy needed it, you showed up and helped him buld his barn. The proclivity to be "nice" to people was essential to survival. If you were an A-hole, guess what? No barn, which in those days was a big deal. Today we'd either demand that the government susidize the building of the barn or lament that we don't have enough to build the barn based on an utterly artificial determination of membership to distinct social classes which also depends on the complete detsruction of the concept of what a social class is.

It is in fact a chnge from a status based society -- as you indicate -- to a class based society. In a status based society, government is limited and certain civil rights are considered inalienable. In a class based society there is not much distinction between rights, wants and needs and in the end all become somewhat contractual.

So the short of it is, then, that if so many things are considered rights we are entitled to rather than needs that must be negotiated socially, much of the impetus to keep those social interactions positive begins to disappear.

3/23/2005 09:35:00 AM

 

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