Subject and Object

NOTE: my thoughts on this subject aren’t very coherent yet

Redmarble asked me to clarify my motivation in the last post, and especially how it applies to situations outside of Education. That’s difficult for me to answer, since I have more experience in education than anywhere else, whether as a student or teacher. I have a wee bit of experience as a Christian as well, but that’s more complicated, because God is also involved in ways we may have difficulty appreciating, or may easily misunderstand. I was motivated, first, by observing that I consider myself to be rather clearly an introvert (though not a very shy one much of the time), but that I do sometimes find interaction energizing (talking about ideas, for instance), even when I’m talking a lot; and that I find certain kinds of solitary activity draining (writing lesson plans, for instance); that I find certain kinds of loud noise delightful (large bells), and some other peculiarities. So my question was something like: how do I account for this? Additionally, I observed that there’s something which I would define as “extroverted” in many educational and church activities, especially trainings and conferences, but also books, but which do not necessarily involve any more (quantitatively) social interaction than other similar situations that I would not characterize as extroverted. Why is that? Jung’s distinction between psychological orientation toward the subject vs the object to be an important starting point.

I took Education as my central illustration because, as I said, I’ve been involved in it for a while, and it’s sometimes awfully unbalanced, but also because it’s the field that struck me with another, related oddity: why is it that certain kinds of thought take a way huger psychological toll than other kinds of thought, even though they are, objectively, easier to understand? Most of the stuff we learned in Education school wasn’t hard in the way that, say, Jung is hard: they aren’t conceptually hard. They’re hard, and require an enormous amount of energy, primarily because I was always (literally, every single class) confronted with an inner (subjective) sense no, this isn’t right; this isn’t what’s important about learning. I’ve learned things, and this isn’t what was important in my teachers; these weren’t the activities that have been important for me as a student, and that was never freely discussed or acknowledged as important. In other words, I was putting an enormous amount of energy into reconciling the subjective experience of being a student with the objective data and theories based on behaviorist principles. Because to the introverted thinker, “results” in the form of tests and jobs are not theoretically or conceptually important parts of learning to draw or write or think. And because of the way I was taught, this was a nearly continuous problem, because if someone’s strongest “psychological function” is introverted thinking, then extroverted thinking (the kind of thought that cares a lot about getting people to do things, along with certain kinds of results, demographics, and the facts “out there in the world,” as such) is not only weaker, but is much, much weaker, and, if Jung’s right, mostly unconscious as well.

In answer to Redmarble’s challenge: there is a similar oddity in evangelicalism, but I wasn’t involved in evangelicalism as an adult, and so I’m less able to assess it from the inside, and it doesn’t exist in Orthodoxy as I’ve encountered it. I couldn’t quite articulate why; it has something to do with how the part of it that’s not aimed exclusively at the head (which is most of it) doesn’t have “mysticism” (a focus on sacraments and union with God) as something that’s “nice for people who like that sort of thing” (which is how I’ve heard it represented within protestantism, and even Catholicism, even by those who do “like that sort of thing), but as… something much more fundamental. And, indeed, it is much more fundamental — than temperaments, or preferences, or any other personal differences. My most pressing complaint with Adam McHugh’s book is that he treats things like sacraments, spiritual father or mother hood, worship, and contemplation of God as being in the same category (ruled by preference) as communication style or career choice, which they are not; especially sacraments. He asked the readers of his blog if they were contemplatives as one might ask whether someone considered themselves a sports fan; as though it were a nice hobby. Prayer is not simply a nice hobby, and contemplation of God (supposing God presents Himself to be contemplated) is most certainly nothing of the kind, and is quite surely not about temperament.

In any event, if I wanted to go there, I might suggest (and have suggested in the past) that there may be something temperamental, and strongly linked to the in- or ex- troverted thinking I’ve been discussing, in something Redmarble has often brought attention to in the past: the problem in postmodernity of the subjective and objective themselves, especially as they represent Truth. Philosophically, this problem is very long and complex, and there’s much of it I don’t know, but the part that Redmarble brought up is one of the results or symptoms of that problem. We postmoderns aren’t comfortable with calling beliefs true and meaning it. We’re apparently worried that someone will think we mean by “Christianity is true” (a statement about the truth of the claims of the Church), “Christianity is true for me” (a statement about the truth of my convictions). Some of us react to this by modifying “true” with all sorts of hedges: “objectively true,” “truth claim,” “infallible,” and so on.

In the terms from above, introverts are often concerned (and can be paranoid) about the objective engulfing the subjective. We’re not on very close terms with the world of objects, and don’t want it to encroach too closely on our inner worlds. We can feel the faint whiff of manipulation from a mile away, and if the objective does impose itself too strongly, we feel like our world is collapsing. Because of the philosophical history mentioned above (ever since Descartes?), we have recently become equally concerned that the subject might swallow up the object: that we might cease to believe that there really is a world out there to relate to. What if there aren’t real Things in Themselves out there; objects with being to them, apart from how we perceive them?

What if the extent to which a person feels personally threatened by “subjective truth” (not the extent to which he believes it to exist) is strongly influenced by his initial relationship with the “objective” world? In psychology that’s his level of in- or ex- troversion. My hypothesis is that an introvert is more likely to feel threatened by serious interaction with anything remotely manipulative, such as certain kinds of behaviorism, teaching, marketing, or religious instruction (cults?) that takes after marketing; an introvert, because it encroaches upon the inner world (the subjective), and that’s what they care most about. The extrovert, meanwhile, might be pretty oblivious to faintly manipulative activities (because they tend to put up less of a barrier to begin with), but would be similarly threatened by anything that encroaches upon the solidity of the objective: and few things encroach so far as doubt concerning the “objectivity” of truth, morality, history, belief, the Bible (if you’re a Christian) — the vast majority of everything human. That’s not to say that the extrovert might not condemn manipulative tactics, or the introvert disbelief in the actuality of the objective; only that their disagreement is less personal, because to the extrovert, “subjective truth” lacks actuality (it lacks something even for the introvert, but is at least somewhat substantial).


4 thoughts on “Subject and Object

  1. *The extrovert, meanwhile, might be pretty oblivious to faintly manipulative activities *

    Should this read, “The extrovert, meanwhile, might react in a different manner to faintly manipulative activities”? The way people react is telling because a reaction is dependent not only on temperament but also wisdom and experience. Maturity is certainly a variable in this equation, but unfortunately it also limits what one can write about.

    1. To clarify, I don’t quite know what I meant by my last comment. It is mostly a reaction to a discovery of my own that my writing is limited by my maturity. For example, in trying to write an innovative essay on religion over Christmas break, I came up with the brilliant idea that a central concept of faith is that one should imitate Christ, then later discovered a book on the subject written in 1427 by Thomas A Kempis: I was hardly innovative. I certainly see some truth to your hypothesis: for example, as an introvert I am very sensitive to manipulation but I have a very high tolerance for objective uncertainty, but since I am not more mature I find myself unable to comment intelligently on your hypothesis, and I think that in order to truly validate your hypothesis, people who have lived much longer than you or I must be consulted.

      1. Perhaps so. It looks like two different issues to me: maturity and knowledgeability in a particular area. When someone becomes excited about their “original” idea only to find that hundreds of people have discussed it in the past, that’s not necessarily because they’re immature, but does show some ignorance (I sometimes complain about this in discussing popular Christian writers, because they tend to say ignorant things without ever being corrected). It would probably be more a matter of maturity to consider whether I might be wasting my and your time pursuing this question at all, rather than doing something actually useful. Having chosen to consider the question, being wrong would, I think be on account of ignorance (I’ve never actually bothered asking other people how sensitive they are to manipulative tactics in a way that warranted a thoughtful response).

        1. Correction to my comment: but since I am not more knowledgeable on the subject I find myself unable to comment intelligently on your hypothesis, and I think that in order to truly validate your hypothesis, people who more knowledgeable about this particular subject must be consulted.

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