Outliers and -Troversions

I went to Yuma for two days with my parents to see my father’s family. It was nice, but I was dissappionted that the dunes are apparently no longer open to the casual traveler, offering only $25 week passes at designated visitor centers.

I also bought a Kindle, and read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, author of Blink, and The Tipping Point on it. He is a highly entertaining writer, and I read the book in about a day and a half, but I’m not sure what I’m left with after reading it. Gladwell’s premise is that “outliers” — those who’s achievement lies far beyond the norm — are not only ambitious and hard working (though they are that), but that the things that make them outliers, rather than moderately successful, are matters of chance from history, gifts, and cultural heritage, allowing them an opportunity to excel in ways equally brilliant and hard working people could not. He presents a series of stories of Jewish lawyers born in the 1930s, hockey stars born in January, computer tycoons with access to time-share computers in 1970, mathematicians who’s parents tended the rice paddies of South-east Asia, children attending New York KIPP schools, and others. In addition to entertaining his readers (at which he succeeds), Gladwell’s intent seems to be two-fold: to expose the enormous exaggeration of the American myth that “anyone can be president” (or an astronaut, or a billionaire, or whatever), and to suggest that we might increase children’s chances of success by looking more closely into external factors that promote or stifle that success. On the whole, it is an interesting and well written book, though not  lastingly so unless one either buys into the myth of the “self-made man,” or is interested (as the KIPP teachers are) in the difficult and lengthy task of instilling the cultural traits and habits of success in people who might not otherwise be trained therein.

I’ve also been looking through Carl Jung’s Psychological Types, where he first defines the terms “introverted” and “extroverted,” and how those can combine with the innate preferences measured by the MBTI to form specific “types.” Without this book, it’s probable that all our modern talk of “extroverted-thinking” and whatnot would look quite different. It’s more interesting than most of those tests, self-help books, and so on, and also much more difficult to understand. More importantly, he seems concerned with quite different questions and concerns than later psychologists, but I’m not quite sure how, yet. Basically, the MBTI folks and authors of pop psychology books on introversion take a few of his neatest, shiniest ideas, and flatten them substantially to be easier and more flattering. For instance, introversion. When I read through books like Introverts in the Church, Psychology Today’s Introvert Corner, Introvert Power, or The introvert Advantage (I haven’t finished the last two), it’s obvious that they have to flatten a lot simply to reduce their scope to introversion alone, but they do something else as well: they have a different understanding of the relationship of subject and object, which is the absolute center of the opposition in Psychological Types.

The modern definition of introversion and extroversion, respectively, goes something like this: the extrovert is energized by social interaction and drained by reflection, while the introvert is energized by solitude and drained by social interaction. That’s it. Then there are all sorts of consequences of that dichotomy, which tend to be culturally harder on the introvert than the extrovert, because American culture values frequent interaction very highly. Jung doesn’t talk like that. His main concern is not with levels of social interaction. That bears repeating: it’s not about energy in social interaction. That’s is absolutely essential and quite difficult to remember, because for modern pop psychologists that’s precisely what it’s about. For them it is about the college student who doesn’t much care for parties, the pastor who dreads coffee hour, the overwhelmed, overstimulated introvert craving to rationalize his need for personal time and space.

Jung, as I say, doesn’t talk much about that. He would probably acknowledge that it’s related, as he notes in passing that someone of a given natural temperament can be exhausted by operating in opposition to that, but it’s not his central thesis.  His central thesis (as regards introversion and extroversion) is that these two temperamental categories are about the orientation of the subject toward the object. The subject is the Self, or in a neurotic, the ego (they are different), and the object is the world out there. Anything in the world out there: other people, places, things, and ideas. That strikes me as essential and utterly neglected by those other writers. “The Objective” is not simply other people. Data is objective, for instance, and other people’s beliefs or judgements; indeed, one’s own system of values and beliefs can be seen as objective by the extroverted thinker — and that’s important. Anyway, extroversion is an orientation toward the object, and introversion is an orientation toward the subject. They each have normal, healthy ranges, and neurotic ranges, and for Jung, the neurotic ranges are opposed by the unconscious, leading to all sorts of psychological problems.

This distinction is, I believe, important, because it leads to quite different emphases. It’s important, I mean, if you entertain the possibility that the originator of a theory might have important insights into that theory that others can lose to the detriment of that theory — and I do happen to think that. Aristotle is generally both more interesting and more profound than Aristotelians, and Plato is much richer and deeper than most Platonists. I’m going to suppose that there can be things in Jung which jungians forgot to their detriment.

In any event, consider the difference between the dichotomies “alone vs social” and “subject vs object,” if one is considering a fundamental psychological orientation. The second is not only wider, but an entirely different category. One can be an extroverted thinker thinking about his objective world alone, or an introverted intuitive, trying to get his best friend to get a glimpse of his subjective world, and they might both be energized. At this point I’m willing to entertain a disagreement with the definition of pop psychology governing collecting or spending energy. If the most important categories are subject and object, than this is possible, and solves some peculiarities of experience. For instance, supposing that I’m moderately introverted (and I do suppose that), then consider the thinking function. It’s not precisely that I think better alone than in company, or that I process information better silently than verbally. Sometimes that’s the case — there are certain situations where the social dynamic makes constructive thought extremely difficult — but there are other situations where a discussion is much more fruitful than an essay; even a times discussion among some 20 near strangers. There are cases where the discussion also costs less energy. It’s not just that some discussions cost less energy than other discussions (as one would expect), but that some discussions cost less energy than other kinds of thought pursued alone, or even the same kind of thought pursued alone (because the other people are working as well, and I don’t have to do all the thinking myself). It’s easier to talk about Aristotle than it is to simply think or write about him, but it’s easier to write about him than it is do do a dizzying array of activities, posters, presentations, games, and whatnot about his work. That’s the wrench in the system that made me find a great deal of what the writers on in- and ex- troversion (why can’t one simply say troversions?) to be nonsense. The reason why a Saint John’s seminar jives with introverts and an educational training doesn’t is not (I will assert) for the reason given in the definitions from those books: it is not because of loss of energy through social interaction, because a seminar is social interaction, but because of something I can’t articulate yet, but which I do believe Jung observed more accurately than anyone else I’ve read on the subject. Certain styles of teaching (not only in school, but in religious environments as well) are perceived by someone like me as not only being tiring, but as threatening. They’re tiring because they’re threatening; because it costs a kind of defensive energy. What’s more, individual assignments can be threatening or non-threatening in the exact same way as social interaction, leading to the conclusion that the distinction is not where the pop psychologists have put it.

For instance, writing about this doesn’t cost me all that much trouble and energy. It takes time, of course, along with attention and space, and I will probably get tired of it in a few hours or days, but it’s a pretty low energy activity. What’s more, talking about the same topic is, for the most part, also a fairly low energy activity, even if I’m doing a good deal of the talking, and even if I have to think on my feet (which are both posited as introvert drains). On the other hand, trying to apply this stuff to a lesson plan in alignment with data, best practices, state standards, and so on would be extremely draining, even if all I had to do was listen to someone else tell me how to do it, or talk with one other person about it, or even if I were simply writing an essay about it. Somewhere in that distinction, I believe, lies the Jungian distinction between an introverted and an extroverted thinker, and not in social interaction. Jung’s distinction between introverted and extroverted thinking is between thinking that is ruled by and concerned with the objective, and that which is instead ruled by the subjective. The objective thinker is primarily interested in what’s out there (the object); it’s data, facts, statistics, demographics, polls, shared opinions, factually based beliefs, and “true truth.” In education, the objective thinker is the person who sees no oddity in treating teaching (the other side of which, learning, is extremely subjective) as a scientist; they are the behaviorists, the standardizers, the masters of method and data, who are comfortable with altering those methods to obtain the best objectively measured results. They’re the kind of person the current educational establishment is most comfortable with. The pattern is similar in other spheres: in political science they’re into demographics (Hugh Hewitt, for instance); in church they’re the growth experts, the people who count their conversions and analyze what external factors influenced those results; they’re the list writers and get things done-ers; they’re often concerned with legalism, because taken to an extreme, that’s what they’d tend towards; they’ve got to fight against that, because it’s an actual temptation.

The introverted thinker, meanwhile, is also interested in “figuring things out,” but introspectively. They keep a close eye on their own psychological processes (and are therefore more likely than anyone else to be interested in this stuff), and pay a lot of attention to internal distinctions, words, or meanings; they might like philosophy or logic, but certainly not demographics or data analysis; they’ll always be trying to turn their results toward the subject, and hypothesizing the inner state of whatever it is they’re studying. In education, they’re the professors who will say things about human experience that make their students gasp: what! You too? They’re harder for me to identify, actually, both because I’m not myself inclined to be surprised by them, and because they’re more interesting on close acquaintanceship. Carl Jung? Jacques Barzun? My art history prof at NAU? Robotictree? Theofan? Rebmarble? They’re the person in the meeting, mind whizzing away wait… does that make sense? Perhaps… but there’s this other distinction; they missed a distinction, and it’s thrown the whole system off! They’re the person at the religious gathering who’s counting the number of times the speaker says “Lord, just…” or ill-defined terms, and intensely interested in why, and what it means, and whether it’s a fluke, or what it says about these people, himself, language, and this community. And, yes, it probably takes an introverted thinker to try to revive a distinction made by an outdated psychologist, and contrast it with anomalies caused by a more modern approach which has shifted to an easier to define focus.


One thought on “Outliers and -Troversions

  1. Excellent post, my head is spinning now…Now I’m interested in learning more about the distinctions between not only the pop culture definition of introversion and the subject/object distinction, but also the whether the subject/object distinction is independent of other personality traits (such as whether energy comes from being alone or with others) or if other traits always tag along…but later.

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