How Simple is Too Simple?


Simple                      -                    Complex
Zoom-out                  -                    Zoom-in
Abstract                    -                    Concrete
General                      -                   Specific
Heaven                      -                    Earth


I recently took an online personality test at 16 Personalities. The site states that there are sixteen core personality types (first identified by Myers and Briggs) and that all of us can be allocated to one of them. Using a questionnaire to gauge a respondent’s personality traits, it suggests a personality type based upon the intensity of these traits.

I found its results interesting, informative and useful. However, having spoken with others about such tests, and having perused some opinion online, I know that many people dislike them.

A common criticism, and one that I’d like to address, is that they over-simplify a complex subject.


A human being is certainly a complex subject, and to group all of the myriad individuals in the world into sixteen categories is certainly reductive. No two human beings are identical, and each of us, when viewed from a certain distance, is entirely unique.

As with all ‘things,’ a human being is comprised of details. Every detail is a point of distinction, thus the more details we see the more difference we see. In this sense, a detail is synonymous with a difference. Let me offer a couple of illustrations:

1. I am short sighted. If I remove my glasses I no longer see as much detail, and things - including people - become a lot more homogenous.

2. I draw two circles on a piece of paper using a compass and pencil. I try my best to draw these circles in an identical manner, locking the compass so that its legs remain at the same angle, and applying the same pressure when drawing the circle. When I look at my circles they appear identical.

However, when I examine them under a microscope my smooth pencil lines become something else altogether; they turn ragged and incoherent, as unique and unrepeatable as a Jackson Pollock painting. The microscope has allowed me to see details that I had formerly overlooked; and it is these details that form the difference between my circles. 

Things, then, can be seen as either simple or complex, depending on our viewpoint. When we zoom-in and look for details, they appear complex; when we zoom-out and look for generalities, they appear simple. Inasmuch as it is true that beneath every simple view there lies complexity, it is equally true that above every complex view there is a unifying simplicity. Neither is more truthful than the other.

The '16 Personalities' test is founded on the notion that people, in spite of their complexity, can be simplified and sorted into sixteen broad categories. Indeed, for me one of the appeals of this theory is its simplicity. When it comes to understanding ourselves, and each other, I think there is much to be gained from taking a simple view.


In our daily lives we encounter a multitude of ‘things’ - from desks, to chairs, to cups, to roads. If we were to take every thing we encountered as an individual - in other words, as something unique in itself, rather than a single instance of a more general type - then we would barely be able to function. It would be like arriving in an alien world, in which nothing is familiar.

For instance, instead of a ‘cup’, we would encounter a hard object, with a cylindrical shape and a strange curved protrusion. Its label ‘cup’, is a shortcut; it gives the object a meaning, or direction - ‘this is for drinking from’ - but in doing so, it also distracts from all other possible directions; all of the other things that this object could be. Our shortcuts may limit possibilities, but they also allow us a crucial measure of expediency.

The process of getting to know things is, then, a process of simplification. We group similar things together and give them a label - conceptualise them - and relate our concepts to one another. Inasmuch as we are predisposed to conceptualise, we are also predisposed to simplify.

And yet the infinite complexity of reality can never truly be pinned down by concepts. It is liquid, constantly slipping out from under our definitions. We can pour it into a glass, and observe how it takes on the shape of its container. But nothing lasts forever, and eventually our glass will crack, and shatter; and its contents will spill out, go here and there, and become other things; new things.

If our intent is to accurately represent things as they are, then we must accept that all of our containers, our concepts - indeed, our whole way of looking at the world - is an over-simplification; because no matter how hard we try, we can never capture everything. There will always be something left out, or overlooked. Every picture is incomplete. This is probably what Eckhart Tolle was referring to when he said that “To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.” 1

Thus, we find ourselves caught between the chaotic infinity of creation, and the harmonious unity of the Creator. We are not omniscient: we cannot see every thing, only some things. Our experience is, then, always a concession of sorts; founded, as it is, on the acknowledgement that in order to experience things we must simplify them.

The question is: how simple do we want to make things?


It seems to me that the answer to this is determined by the context in which it is asked. In other words, what are the intentions of the person doing the asking?

If you want to view yourself, or human beings in general, as complex things that cannot be simplified into types, then certainly a personality test will be an ‘over-simplification.’ If you want to view them as things that can be seen as both complex and simple, then a personality test will not be an ‘over-simplification.’ Intention is key.

If it seems like I’m pointing out the obvious, then I’m doing so in order to bring to mind something that is all too often forgotten: that what is true for you may not be true for me.

‘Simplify’ is a judgement, a statement based upon observation that ought to be true for most observers. ‘Over-simplify’ is a value-judgement, a statement based upon personal standards or priorities, that will likely not be true for most observers. Thus most will agree that to group human beings within sixteen personality types is to simplify them. However, a smaller number will agree that to do so is to over-simplify them.

I labour the point because I find that we often seem to forget this distinction. It is all too easy to get trapped into one view and to think that it is the best view, or the only view. When we do this we lose sight of the bigger picture, of the continuum of views in which our own is contained.

Whilst it is true that each of us is entirely unique, I think it is equally true that each of us can be reduced to the black and white simplicity of a binary. From one view we are analogue, from another we are digital. Which of these is the most useful is defined by those doing the looking. It may be that in situation A it is more appropriate to see complexity, whereas Situation B may demand simplicity.

Seeing human beings as unique individuals, as things that are too complex to be grouped, is one way of looking at them; and this view has much to offer us. But if we feel that we, or human beings in general, are too complex to be grouped then this suggests that we’ve fallen into the trap of believing that there is only one way to look at things - that there is only complexity. This view is unbalanced, because it chooses to see only one half of the binary whilst ignoring the other; it makes its home within complexity and forsakes simplicity.

We needn’t pick sides. Both the simple and the complex view are open to us, and both offer us something that the other cannot. To see things simply needn’t be a denial of complexity, as long as we recognise that we are choosing to use the simple-view; and thus, could also choose not to.

Telling stories

Along with the '16 Personalities' test, I also took an online version of the ‘NEO Personality Inventory test’. Much like '16 Personalities', the ‘NEO’ test is a questionnaire consisting of a series of statements (e.g. ‘Make friends easily’) which must be rated based on how close they are to describing the respondent in question. There are five categories of applicability to choose from, representing a sliding scale from ‘Very inaccurate’ to ‘Very accurate.’

Although the process of these two tests is relatively similar, they differ in the way in which they present their results. On completion '16 Personalities' labels its respondents with one of sixteen core personality types, and presents a description of the various attributes of this type. The NEO test does not go this far; rather it presents the ‘Big Five’ personality traits (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience) and shows how much of each trait the respondent possesses. This is done with a percentage value.

Whilst the '16 Personalities' test also shows how much of certain traits the respondent possesses, again, through percentage points, it goes one step further in that it attributes a particular meaning - or tells a particular story - about these values.

In telling a story we take separate things - objects, people, places - and weave them together in order to convey sense. A story synthesises, organises, and directs its contents, pointing them in the same direction in order to serve a shared meaning. It is synonymous with a constellation - an imaginary line that links a number of separate points, aligning each with a higher purpose.

For me, part of the appeal of a personality test is that it helps me to explain myself. Aspects of my personality that I may have looked upon negatively - my need to be alone at certain times, my tendency towards abstract thinking, my tendency to get lost in thought - are suddenly attributed meaning and importance; and instead of looking upon these things as deficiencies, I am given permission to see them in a more positive light. In giving such permissions - in spite of how simple they may seem - an explanatory story can have a significant impact upon the way a person views themselves.

For instance, the fact that we can now describe certain people as 'autistic' allows us to better interpret and understand behaviour that may previously have been viewed as deviant. Every label is a generalisation, and ’autistic’ is no different. However, prior to the invention of this label autistic people were more likely to be held to the general norms that are imposed on the wider mass of society, and their behaviour was interpreted accordingly. In some cases this may have led to them being seen as  ‘deficient’ or ‘strange’; because, judged against the yardstick of normality, they are. The concept of ‘autism’ gives sense and meaning to their behaviour - it explains it - and in doing so, allows us to accept it for what it is and to view it as more than an aberration. It erects a fence around these behaviours and creates a space in which they are acceptable; both to those on the outside and those on the inside.

Every collective has a strong centre of gravity, a dense core which defines and protects its norms. Thus the more rarefied members of a society, those outliers that do not conform as strictly to its norms, always need a certain amount of protection from its gravitational pull. There will always be a temptation for those in the middle to view those further out as aberrant; and in light of this to want to bring them inwards, and make them conform to more common ways of being.

If a person is not sufficiently anchored then they may fall prey to this centripetal force, casting off important elements of themselves as they are pulled inwards. A story provides this anchoring. It ring fences a way of being, making a person less vulnerable to homogenising forces.

I think the simple recognition of difference can be a profound step for many, and especially so when this difference is reinforced as something that is important and necessary. In my own experience I have come across many people who believed, albeit perhaps unconsciously, that everyone ought to be more like them, and who criticised and condemned others for being different. I am frequently guilty of it myself.

For me this is one of the invaluable uses of personality typing: its stories, those sixteen fictional types, give meaning to the many differences that we see in one another. By attributing value to behaviours that may otherwise be dismissed as deficient or aberrant in light of personal or societal norms, they foster an understanding and respect for those differences.

As with the label ‘autistic’, a personality type gives us permission to be ourselves; and, crucially, to accept ourselves. It also provides a positive spin on our behaviours, suggesting that they are not only acceptable, but vital to the wider scene; that our sharp corners and strange angles are designed to fit into something larger.

Of course, the pendulum swings both ways: and where a label can be liberating, it can also be restrictive;  condemning someone to a seemingly rigid definition. In this we see a timeless paradox at play: our structures provide us comfort and shelter, but they also confine us. The more bricks we add, the more confined we become.

Yet, if we see our structures - in this case those sixteen personality types - as stories, then we can understand that they are not definitive; that they are fiction, and thus needn’t be taken too seriously. Psychologist James Hillman described a fiction as “a formula that must necessarily posit itself as beyond criteria of true or false […] fantasies by means of which we fashion or ‘fiction’ a life or a person […]” 2

Psychologist Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig adds, “Such creative fantasies are often quite far removed from so-called reality; they are as unreal, and as true, as fairy tales and myths. They use imaginative images to grasp the nature of the other person […] Even if they are not expressed, fantasies also influence the other person, awakening new living potential in him […]

[They] are related to the nature of the other person; they represent, in symbolic-mythological form, his life potential […] Everyone needs to fantasy about himself, to circle about and awaken his own potential in mythological or fairy tale form.” 3

We can, then, see these sixteen types as fiction, or fantasy; whose proof is in whether they resonate with us - whether we find them useful, or satisfying.

Creating Types

Must we see ourselves as representative of a type? Does each of us not have our own unique case-history, our own individual story?  Is it not enough to say that everyone is different, and that individual differences ought to be respected?

Whilst every individual has their own set of whys and wherefores that make their behaviour understandable, it is, as we’ve seen, impractical (if not impossible) to apprehend every thing we encounter as something new and unique. It is impractical to learn the story of every person we meet; to spend time mapping out their terrain in order to learn their shape; and clearly, not every person would even be capable of doing this.

This is where a collection of general types comes in handy. They act as a set of common stories, as shorthands we can all use in order to further our understanding of each other. For some, even the simple knowledge that there are different types of people could be a revelation.

I think it is vital that we use whatever tools are at our disposal in order to further our understanding of each other and ourselves. Attaining this understanding is a challenge that faces any collective, and its health depends upon how successful it is in this. A society that does not understand and respect the diversity of its members may well end up promoting certain types of people at the expense of others - in thrall to red, it overlooks blue - and end up hopelessly imbalanced.

With this in mind, I think we can gain much from personality typing, in spite - or because - of its simplicity.


1 Tolle, Eckhart, Stillness Speaks, p. 20
2 Hillman, James, Healing Fiction, p. 13
3 Guggenbühl-Craig, Adolf, Power in the Healing Professions, p. 45-7


When the type (generic concept) reduces the individual thing to a shadow, the type has acquired the reality of a collective idea.

But when the value of the individual thing abolishes the type (generic concept) anarchic disintegration is at work.

Both positions are extreme and unfair [...]

[C. G. Jung]
Psychological Types, p. 37


Related posts:-
The Colour Wheel
Land and Sea
Guiding Fiction
Simply Put 
Short Cuts
Deep / Shallow

Professional Distance


Professional              -                    Layman
Limited                     -                    Unlimited
Defined                     -                    Undefined
Solid                          -                    Liquid


Unlike the professional nature of counsellor/client relationships typical of Western cultures, Aboriginal people prefer to "just to have a relationship," he says.

"There is no professional/personal dichotomy, which means they are quite happy to come and have a yarn to you in the shops, or catch you on a Saturday to talk things through.

"If you expect to see people pouring in your door at the office, it won't happen. You have to work more flexibly and actually meet people where they feel comfortable, like in a park, or going for a drive or a walk."

[Sarah Ford]
Bridging cultures: psychologists working with Aboriginal clients


Sean breaches a couple of ethical rules that could get him into serious trouble were he not in a Hollywood movie: he physically assaults his patient in the first session, and he regularly discloses information on the progress of the therapy to Lambeau.

His therapy is highly unorthodox in other ways too. He holds the second session in a park; he ends the fifth session early and angrily sends away his patient because he is frustrated by his ‘bullshitting’ (this would be highly unusual even if he were a Lacanian); he also talks freely and abundantly about his own private life and suffering.

One wonders if these sessions should be viewed as serendipity rather than therapy – an encounter in a special situation between two men with similar roots [...] The treatment takes on the character of true horizontality, and gains an existential quality for both parties.

[Tamás Szabados]
'Good Will Hunting'


Going to extremes

The middle is the liberal space, the Free Space, the vacuum left by tradition. Nothing is set in stone, and so everything is mobile and restless.

The Top and Bottom are secure, contained within (the remnants) of a traditional way of life, whereas the Middle is insecure because it has no fixed identity. So while aristocrats play the game in order to keep alive the tradition, and have nothing to prove by winning, the bourgeois play in order to distinguish themselves through victory.

Lack of constraint - evasion of scaling traps - allows excess; lofty peaks and abysmal depths. The excesses of mobile, globetrotting capital allow for an increasingly independent and enriched overclass and an increasingly brutalised and dispossessed underclass.

Rich and Poor
In my role as a Bikeability instructor I have the opportunity to work with children from varied backgrounds. My pupils run the gamut of the socioeconomic spectrum: from the bottom, to the middle, to the top. To my surprise I’ve noticed certain parallels between those at its extremes. Indeed, those at the top and those at the bottom often seem to have more in common with each other than they do with those in the middle.

My work involves teaching basic road knowledge to children between the ages of nine and eleven. Whilst its not always the case, I’ve often noticed that kids from the more extreme backgrounds - the very rich and the very poor - do not engage with the lessons. Of course, I teach many kids who, for various reasons, do not engage, but I draw attention to these because there was something notably different about their attitude. Furthermore I found it interesting that, in spite of their distance on the socioeconomic spectrum, the attitude that they displayed towards the course was remarkably similar.

Its hard to define this attitude, other than to say they seemed entirely detached. They went through the motions, but I was left in no doubt that this was all they were doing: going through the motions. What they communicated to me was a sense that they were above the course; or beneath it. This stuff simply wasn’t for them; not necessarily because it was boring, or challenging; but because it was irrelevant.

Overworld and Underworld

Society exerts a form of gravity upon the great mass of people, binding them to its surface through its culture, norms and laws. But as we travel further from its centre, this force lessens, and those norms and laws no longer have quite the same pull.

Bookending our society are two worlds: the overworld and the underworld. Whilst they may appear to be opposed - one a positive pole, and one a negative - I see them more as two moons circulating a planet. They may take opposing positions in space, but in their relationship to the planet they are alike. Both orbit it, but are not quite of it.

I have no interest in saying whether the kids I teach belong to either of these worlds. They may or they may not. But their approach to my course showed me something interesting.

I realised that they were not, to paraphrase The Wire’s Howard Colvin, learning for our world - they were learning for theirs.

What I had to teach them came from the middle ground, from that place of strong gravity at the centre of society. It was, therefore, designed for an audience that lived within this middle ground and that accepted its norms.

The attitude of these kids struck me because they came from an unfamiliar place: from the fringes. They showed me that the currency of the middle ground is significantly devalued - if not worthless - in their world.

Going to extremes

In spite of - or perhaps, because of - existing at the fringes of our society, these worlds have a significant influence upon it.

Its been said that the gangsters at the top of society are not very different from those at the bottom. From the hands on gangsterism of the underworld, to the hands off gangsterism of the overworld, both find common ground in their exploitation of those in the middle. Indeed, it seems to me that their very existence depends upon it.

It is easier to exploit something when you are distanced from it, when you do not identify with it.
This is, perhaps, one outcome when a society allows its members to travel too far from its core; when it allows too great a disparity between them.

A structure - be it a body, or a society - can only produce an extreme through concentrating certain of its resources in a pointed direction. If I want to become extremely muscular then I must devote resources - time, energy, money - to the task. If I want to remain in this extreme state, then I must continue to devote my resources to it.

But a structure must also maintain its equilibrium - thus a heavy weight on one side of the scales necessitates an equally heavy weight on the other. Extreme wealth demands extreme poverty.

Opposites meet

What I noticed through my work - this meeting of the top and the bottom - was something timeless and archetypal. It is only one example of a larger truth; that, when pushed to extremes, all opposites will eventually meet. This pattern can be represented by the symbol of the ouroboros, the snake that swallows its own tail.

In this sense, those that go to extremes always have much in common, in spite of their apparent differences. Thus, the saint and the sinner may well be cut from the same cloth - separated by only a slim sliver of fate.

Spending money on public goods (better public transit, universal health care and so on) is a way to improve the quality of life for the average person.

But by definition, the bigger the income inequality in a society, the greater the financial distance between the average and the wealthy. The bigger this distance, the less the wealthy have to gain from expenditures on the public good.

Instead they would benefit more from keeping their tax money to spend on their private good - a better chauffeur, a gated community, bottled water, private schools, private health insurance.

So the more unequal the income is in a community, the more incentive the wealthy will have to oppose public expenditures benefiting the health of the community.

[Robert Sapolsky]
'Sick of Poverty'

In America, as elsewhere, aristocracy represents money and position grown old, and is organized in terms of families rather than of individuals. Traditionally it was made up of those whose families had had money, position, and social prestige for so long that they never had to think about these and, above all, never had to impress any other person with the fact that they had them.

They accepted these attributes of family membership as a right and an obligation. Since they had no idea that these could be lost, they had a basic psychological security, similar to that of the religious and workers.

Thus like these other two, they were self-assured, natural, but distant. Their manners were gracious but impersonal. Their chief characteristic was the assumption that their family position had obligations. This noblesse oblige led them to participate in school sports (even if they lacked obvious talent), to serve their university (usually a family tradition) in any helpful way (such as fund raising), to serve their church in a similar way, and to offer their services to their local community, their state, and their country as an obligation.

They often scandalized their middle-class acquaintances by their unconventionality and social informality, greeting workers, recent immigrants, or even outcasts by their given names, arriving at evening meetings in tweeds, or traveling in cheap, small cars to formal weddings.

Another good evidence of class may be seen in the treatment given to servants (or those who work in one’s home): the lower classes treat these as equals, the middle classes treat them as inferiors, while aristocrats treat them as equals or even superiors.

The working class in the United States is much smaller than we might assume, since most American workers are seeking to rise socially, to help their children to rise socially, and are considerably concerned with status symbols. Such people, even if laborers, are not working class, but are rather petty bourgeoisie.

The real working class are rather relaxed, have present rather than future preference, generally worry very little about their status in the eyes of the world, enjoy their ordinary lives, including food, sex, and leisure, and have little desire to change their jobs or positions. They are generally relaxed, have a taste for broad humor, are natural, direct, and friendly, without large basic insecurities of personality.

This middle-class character was imposed most strongly on the United States […] At its basis is psychic insecurity founded on lack of secure social status. The cure for such insecurity became insatiable material acquisition.

From this flowed a large number of attributes of which we shall list only five: future preference, self-discipline, social conformity, infinitely expandable material demand, and a general emphasis on externalized, impersonal values.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.784, 787-8

Fundamentally it is a distinction between playing the game and playing to win.

The aristocrat plays for the sake of the game or the team or the school. He plays whether he is much good or not, because he feels that he is contributing to a community effort even if he is on the scrubs rather than a star or starting player.

The newer recruits to former aristocratic educational institutions play for more personal reasons, with much greater intensity, even fanaticism, and play to excel and to distinguish themselves from others.

The petty bourgeois are rising in American society along the channels established in the great American hierarchies of business, the armed forces, academic life, the professions, finance, and politics.

They are doing this not because they have imagination, broad vision, judgment, moderation, versatility, or group loyalties but because they have neurotic drives of personal ambition and competitiveness, great insecurities and resentments, narrow specialization, and fanatical application to the task before each of them.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.806-7

The self-reliant individual has gradually changed into the conformist “organization man.” Routine has displaced risk, and subordination to abstractions has replaced the struggle with diverse concrete problems.

Most crucial have been the demands of the modern industrial and business system, because of advancing technology, for more highly trained manpower. Such training requires a degree of ambition, self-discipline, and future-preference that many persons lack or refuse to provide, with the result that a growing lowest social class of the social outcasts (the Lumpenproletariat) has reappeared.

This group of rejects from our bourgeois industrial society provide one of our most intractable future problems, because they are gathered in urban slums, have political influence, and are socially dangerous.

In the United States, where these people congregate in the largest cities and are often Negroes or Latin Americans, they are regarded as a racial or economic problem, but they are really an educational and social problem for which economic or racial solutions would help little. This group is most numerous in the more advanced industrial areas and now forms more than twenty percent of the American population. Since they are a self-perpetuating group and have many children, they are increasing in numbers faster than the rest of the population.

Their self-perpetuating characteristic as a group is not based on biological differences but on sociological factors, chiefly on the fact that disorganized, undisciplined, present-preference parents living under chaotic economic and social conditions are most unlikely to train their children in the organized, disciplined, future-preference and orderly habits the modern economic system requires in its workers, so that the children, like their parents, grow up as unemployables.

This is not a condition that can be cured by providing more jobs, even if the jobs are in the proper areas, because the jobs require characteristics these victims of anomie do not possess and are unlikely to acquire.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.774

The United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand stand out as standard-bearers of the new species of capitalism.

In countries such as Spain, in which the extended family remains strong, the underclass of workless households that is so depressing a feature of Anglo-Saxon societies hardly exists. This is despite the fact that in Spain, to a greater degree even than in the other economies of continental Europe, unemployment has reached very high levels in recent times.

This can partly be attributed to the fact that policy over the past two decades has not been dominated in continental Europe by objectives such as deregulation of the labour market. But this is unlikely to be the whole, or even the chief reason for the persistence of such differences.

None of the countries of continental Europe has ever had an age of laissez-faire; market institutions have not achieved the independence from constraint by other social institutions that characterises the Anglo-Saxon free market. No European society has the long and deep experience of individualist forms of family life and property ownership that distinguishes England, the United States and other Anglo-Saxon societies.

In every country, the new and more volatile strain of capitalism is transforming economic life. The impact of anarchic global markets on the economic cultures of continental Europe institutionalises high levels of structural unemployment.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p.73-4

Remoulding American society to suit the imperatives of free markets has involved the use of corporate power and federal government to bring about levels of economic inequality unknown since the 1920s and far in excess of this found in any other advanced industrial society today.

It has encompassed an experiment in mass incarceration, accompanied by an elite retreat into walled propriety communities that has left the United States far more divided than Latin American countries such as Argentina and Chile.

[...] America is no longer a bourgeois society. It has become a divided society, in which an anxious majority is wedged between an underclass that has no hope and an overclass that denies any civic obligations.

In the United States today the political economy of the free market and the moral economy of bourgeois society have diverged - in all likelihood permanently.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p.106, 111

We live in an age of multiple truths.

He who warns of the “clash of civilizations” is incontestably right; simultaneously, we shall see higher levels of constructive trafficking between civilizations than ever before. The future is bright—and it is also very dark.

More men and women will enjoy health and prosperity than ever before, yet more will live in poverty or tumult, if only because of the ferocity of demographics.

There will be more democracy—that deft liberal form of imperialism—and greater popular refusal of democracy. One of the defining bifurcations of the future will be the conflict between information masters and information victims.

[Ralph Peters]
‘Constant Conflict’

Related posts:-



Conscious                 -                    Unconscious
Light                         -                    Shadow
Simple                      -                    Complex
Mono                        -                    Poly
One                           -                    Many
Spotlight                   -                    Floodlight


In building something, we're always leaving other things out. In choosing these bricks, we forsake others.

But what do we do with those things that we've left out? Where do we put them? Do we keep them in sight or hide them away? Do they threaten our structure; or do they bring a welcome sense of perspective?


Imagine a pool of infinite size, full of lego bricks. To construct anything with those bricks, from the small to the large, the simple to the complex, you must select certain bricks, and leave others out.

If you want to something of a very definite size and shape then you must use exactly the right number of bricks, and exactly the right kind.

The more specific your goal, the more selective you must be.

This analogy can be applied to any ‘thing’ that we can think of; from the concrete to the abstract. My ‘table’ is hard, and not soft. A ‘Jew’ does not work on the Sabbath. And so on.

From a pool of infinite possibilities, certain bricks are selected and these become the things that populate our world. They are defined as much by the bricks that they are, as by the bricks that they aren’t. Indeed, their definition comes from the interplay between these two realms; between ‘am’ and ‘am not’; ‘inside’ and ‘outside’; ‘self’ and ‘other.’

Construction is, then, defined as much by exclusion as by inclusion.

Our consciousness also works on this principle. We can imagine our conscious mind as a spotlight. Whatever falls within the limited field of its beam we become 'conscious' of. We flash our beam this way and that, lighting first one area, and then another: but always we leave so much in the dark.

Exclusion is written into our way of interpreting the world. We see things by defining them (‘its hard’, ‘its red,’ ‘its hot’), so on the one hand definition is essential - without borders, there would be no distinct things at all; and thus, no world. And yet we can drown in our definitions. As with all things, the challenge is to find a balance between these two states; between ‘too defined’ and ‘not defined enough.’ We could say that our health depends on this balancing act.

How, then, to maintain that balance? If we accept that we’ll always be overlooking something, then one way is to attempt to be aware of those things that are being left out. This means being able to see past - or see through - our structures, to the multiplicity that lies beyond their boundaries.

For instance, one story that we could tell about the recent EU referendum is that it was about those voices that had been ‘left out’ finally having a say. Certain sections of British society had been increasingly marginalised by a culture that did not reflect their views and concerns, and they saw the vote as an opportunity to be heard. In this story, Brexit becomes a rupture in the psyche of the nation: what had been left out - or repressed - finally bursting to the surface.

Its worth noting that in telling this story I am excluding others. A story is a creation, and, as we’ve noted, to create something I must exclude things. My story picks from the complexity and multiplicity of ‘Brexit’ and strings together a specific constellation. But what have I left out? What remains hidden? Is it important? After all, my story is only one among many.

Exclusion becomes repression when we lose sight of, or attempt to deny, those things - those stories - that are excluded. Repression, as we’ve seen, can lead to all manner of unfortunate symptoms and pathologies, including the sort of rupture that I described in my Brexit story.

In constructing ourselves, we also leave much in the dark. This realm is known by some as the shadow, and it contains all of those things that we would rather not see. In pushing these aspects into the dark we fool ourselves into thinking that they do not exist, at least not within us. Thus, when we spot them within others we find it all the more easy to judge and condemn. In doing so we are projecting those elements that we deny within ourselves, and making other people accountable for them.

In seeing through ourselves we become more aware of what it is we are leaving out. It is not that we bring everything into the light - after all, we will always be excluding something - rather, we become more aware of our own potential, of the many voices and possibilities that lurk within us; no matter how ugly they may be.

If psychological health is contingent upon this seeing through, then most tabloid newspapers can be described as utterly pathological. Their stories are, more often than not, various scathing indictments of this thing or that person, urging us to find fault anywhere but at our own doorstep. Almost daily a sacrificial scapegoat is offered up, their blood spilled so that the rest of us can go on with our lives as normal.

One of the values of criticism, and all its various analogues, is that it brings other voices to the conversation and prevents things from becoming too singular. It chips away at the walls of our structures, reminding us that other things exist beyond them; and, indeed, that those walls may not be as solid as we think they are.

We’ve described seeing-through our creations as imperative to our well-being; yet, as with all things, when it is taken to an extreme it can become dysfunctional. It is possible to see too much. When we are too aware of possibilities it can become hard to choose one over another. We can become enamoured of novelty, afraid to sacrifice the many and devote to the few.

And so here we are on our tightrope, caught between too-much and too-little. We must create; we must tell stories; and to do so we must be selective and leave things out. And yet we must also be aware of those things, lest they one day catch us with our back turned.

Well, at least that's one way of looking at it.


Related posts:-
The Colour Wheel
This, Not That
Projecting a Shadow 
Full Spectrum
Step Toward Madness
I'm in Control
Monotheism & Polytheism
Infinite Doorways
Still Waters
Walk a Straight Line
Left Out 
Making Connections
Digging Deeper


Conscious                 -                    Unconscious
Light                         -                    Shadow
Simple                      -                    Complex
Mono                        -                    Poly
One                           -                    Many
Spotlight                   -                    Floodlight

Left out - repressed - held under - denied - silenced

The multiplicity of psychic voices can be likened to the multiplicity of cultural voices that are denied and silenced by dominant cultural forces.

As in the individual, the neglected, unheard, repressed, and denied assert their viewpoint and feeling through symptom and pathology.

Thus an archetypal psychologist attuned to psyche in the world would listen for the multiplicity of viewpoints that comprise situations and events.

She would be attentive to the dynamics that prevent certain voices from speaking or from being heard, and work to create situations in which the silenced can come to voice and the silencers can learn the value of listening.

[Mary Watkins]
On Returning to the Soul of the World: Archetypal Psychology and Cultural/Ecological Work, p. 8

The archetype of the Wise Old Man [...] denotes an aspect of wholeness, but striving single-mindedly for wisdom at the expense of, for example, irrational human foolishness, is to miss many of the joys in living.

[The] idealized Madonna is a certain perfect image of the feminine, but the real woman must also accept the whore in herself for the sake of her completeness.

It is in seeking perfection by isolating and exaggerating parts of ourselves that we become neurotic.

[Marion Woodman]
Addiction to Perfection, p. 52

Rejecting or refusing serious discussion of one pole in a polarity diminishes [an] organization's flexibility in responding to [...] problems and seriously cripples its ability to realize its greater potential. Such an organization/individual/group "does not see how it creates its own difficulties” by blocking parts of itself from being expressed. It is unaware of how it "interrupts itself.”

Awareness of the issue as a polarity to manage rather than as a problem to be solved opens the door to the possibility of resolution. Resolution begins with looking honestly and with genuine curiosity at the entire polarity. 

As Polster and Polster point out, this awareness allows warring parties to “become allies in the common search for a [positive outcome], rather than uneasy opponents maintaining the split.”

This requires clients to be willing to suspend their deep-seated conviction that anyone who holds a point of view different from their own is the enemy, or that one position is absolutely right and the other is absolutely wrong.

The implication of this theory is that, if the client is to be able to truly stand outside the situation [...] the individual, group or organization must risk identifying with the opposing point of view or views. In other words - and here lies the paradox - to be able to change, a person (or organization) has to want to change badly enough that he, she, it is willing to approach problems in a radically different way: by identifying with the opposing perspective. 

[...] true polarities are never really resolved; they can only be managed or balanced. That’s because each pole and its apparent opposite actually depend on one another. "The pairs are involved in an ongoing, balancing process over an extended period of time. They are interdependent. They need each other.”

[Herb Stevenson]
'Paradox: A Gestalt Theory of Change'

To take a position implies discrimination and exclusion, and so no position is unassailable because every position is missing something.

Criticism can serve to remind us of what we are missing.

Meteorologist Edward Lorenz (1963) used a microcomputer to simulate weather patterns in 1960.

While inputting initial starting conditions to the computer, he inadvertently rounded one the numbers to three, instead of six decimal places. The small difference .506 (instead of .506127) produced rapidly divergent simulations of weather patterns. Small differences in initial conditions produced widely different results.

Some meteorologists believed that Lorenz's discovery meant that weather control was just around the corner. Small nonnatural changes could be used to manipulate large weather patterns. Lorenz, however, believed that this was the reason for the failure of long term forecasts.

Any uncontrolled system variable could thwart efforts to control the overall state of the system.

[David S. Walonick]
'General Systems Theory'

Rejected parts of the personality are like children clamouring to be let into a room: they will continue to cause a disturbance until they are admitted.

It is as if even the most infantile aspects of the personality, the aspects of which we should most like to rid ourselves, were endowed with a dynamic energy which demanded that they too should seek expression.

Personality ultimately seeks realization as a whole, and, however much the ego may seek to reject that which it finds hard to tolerate, the rejected parts will make their appearance somewhere, whether as symptoms or as projections upon other people.

The final aim is the realization of the total personality.

[Anthony Storr]
The Integrity of the Personality, p.92

Related posts:-
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Mono / Poly
This, Not That
Rational / Irrational
Projecting a Shadow 
Full Spectrum
Step Toward Madness
Infinite Doorways
Still Waters
Walk a Straight Line
Assuming a position
Do Not Disturb

Unlimited Perfectibility

Interiors                 -                     Exteriors
Conservative         -                     Liberal
Individual              -                     Environment

The typical liberal, recall, does not believe in interior causation, or even in interiors, for that matter.

The typical liberal epistemology (e.g., John Locke) imagines that the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate, that is filled with pictures of the external world.

If something is wrong with the interior (if you are suffering), it is because something is first wrong with the exterior (the social institutions)—because your interior comes from the exterior.

This "blank slate" view of the human mind—with its correlates in a psychology of behaviorism and associationism, and an epistemology of empiricism—was adopted by liberalism for many reasons, not least of which that promised the "unlimited perfectibility" of human beings through various types of objective social engineering.

All innate differences, capacities, and structures were summarily rejected, and human beings, born in a state rather akin to a blob of silly putty, could thus be molded by exterior institutions and forces (behaviorism, associationism) into any desired state.

James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill embraced these ideas for a simple reason: "In psychology," John wrote of his father, "his fundamental doctrine was the formation of all human character by circumstances [objective causation], through the universal principle of association, and the consequent unlimited possibility of improving the moral and intellectual condition of mankind…."

This improvement could occur by behavioristic education, where the proper exteriors are imprinted on the interiors; or, especially in later versions, by more aggressive social engineering (which is why behaviorism—no matter how crude and incorrect in most respects—remained the state psychology of the Soviet Union, and it remains the implicit psychology of many forms of traditional liberalism).

"In one of his earliest speeches, [John Stuart] Mill announced that he shared his father's belief in perfectibility; that same faith is no less strongly expressed in the last of Mill's writings.

Innate differences he always rejected out of hand, never more passionately than in his The Subjection of Women (1869), in which he argued that even 'the least contestable differences' between the sexes are such that they may 'very well have been produced by circumstances [objective causation] without any differences of natural capacity [subjective causation]."

Always there is the blank slate, into which a more perfect world will be poured from the outside, with no thought that there might be realities on the interior that need to be addressed as well.

The "blank slate" meant radical social policy. "Associationism, in Mill's eyes, is not merely a psychological hypothesis, to be candidly examined as such: it is the essential presumption of a radical social policy."

[Ken Wilber]
'Some Thoughts on Integral Politics'

We [...] need to abandon the Marxist critique of race, and accept that human beings are fallible creatures who discriminate and pre-judge and sometimes fall below the standards required of the anti-racist lobby;

and that it is impossible to create a society based on the assumption that people are perfectible.

[Ed West]
The Diversity Illusion, p. 239

If we can make men happier, it does not matter if we make them poorer, it does not matter if we make them less productive, it does not matter if we make them less progressive, in the sense of merely changing their life without increasing their liking for it. 

[G. K. Chesterton]
The Outline of Sanity, p. 125

Frozen in time

Life                           -                      Death
Solid                         -                      Liquid
Permanence               -                     Change

Heathcliff, make the world stop right here. Make everything stop and stand still and never move again. Make the moors never change and you and I never change.

[Emily Brontë]
Wuthering Heights

Romantic love hopes to ‘freeze’ a beautiful moment.

It’s a summer’s evening, after dinner, Werther is walking in the woods with his beloved. He wants it to be always like this: so he feel they should get married, have a house together, have children. Though, in reality, marriage will be nothing at all like the lovely June night.

There’ll be exhaustion, bills to pay, squabbles and a sense of confinement. By comparison with the extreme hopes of Romanticism, real love is always necessarily a terrible disappointment.

'Johann Wolfgang von Goethe'

The fact that change is never going to stop renders the very notion of a blueprint for the good society nonsensical, for even if society became like the blueprint it would instantly begin to depart from it.

So not only are ideal societies unattainable because they are ideal, they are unattainable because, to correspond to any sort of blueprint at all, they would have to be static, fixed, unchanging; and no foreseeable society is going to be those things.

[Bryan Magee]
Popper, p. 106

[…] if the lessons of complex dynamical systems apply to human beings, attempting to design fail-safe social systems (whether legal, educational, penal, or other type) that never go wrong is a hopeless task, for several reasons. 

First, since we carry our history on our backs we can never begin from scratch, either personally or as societies. Second, perfection allows no room for improvement. Plato was one of the few thinkers who understood that if a freshly minted utopia were ever to be successfully established, the only direction in which it could change would be downhill. 

Stasis and isolation are therefore essential to maintaining the alleged perfection, not only of Plato's Republic, but of most other utopias as well. 

The noumenal self that Kant postulates as the seat of moral choice and free will is likewise not part of this world. The possibility of perfection requires isolation and has nowhere to go but downward.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p. 257

We can see it, for example, in thousands of novels, in which are left with a man and a woman, just married, and really beginning of their life together. Yet the situation is often treated marriage itself had solved everything satisfactorily: as if they were at the end of their task.

Another point important to realize is that love by does not settle everything. There are all kinds of love, and it is better to rely upon work, interest, and cooperation to solve the problems of marriage.

[Alfred Adler]
What Life Could Mean to You, Chap. XII ‘Love and Marriage’

[…] ideas of Romantic love and marriage were much more acceptable to women than to men […] and were embraced by the middle class, but not, to any great extent, by other classes.

The theory, like so much of the middle-class outlook, originated among the medieval heresies, such as Manichaeism (as the Swiss writer Denis de Rougemont has shown), and was thus from the same tradition that saw the rise of the bourgeois outlook in the Middle Ages and its reinforcement by the closely associated Puritan movement of modern times.

The Romantic theory of love was spread through the middle class by incidental factors, such as that the bourgeoisie were the only social class that read much, and Romantic love was basically a literary convention in its propagation whatever it may have been in its origins. It made no real impression on the other social classes in European society, such as the peasants, the nobility, or the urban working craftsmen.

Strangely enough, Romantic love, accepted as a theory and ideal by the bourgeoisie, had little influence on middle-class marriages in practice, since these were usually based on middle-class values of economic security and material status rather than on love. More accurately, middle-class marriages were based on these material considerations in fact, while everyone concerned pretended that they were based on Romantic love. Any subsequent recognition of this clash between fact and theory often gave a severe jolt and has sometimes been a subject for literary examination, as in the first volume of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga.

Opposed to this Romantic theory of love and marriage, and almost equally opposed to the bourgeois practice of “sensible” marriage, was what we may call the Western idea of love and marriage. This assumes that personalities are dynamic and flexible things formed largely by experiences in the past. Love and marriage between such personalities are, like everything in the Western outlook, diverse, imperfect, adjustable, creative, cooperative, and changeable. The Western idea assumes that a couple come together for many reasons (sex, loneliness, common interests, similar background, economic and social cooperation, reciprocal admiration of character traits, and other reasons).

It further assumes that their whole relationship will be a slow process of getting to know each other and of mutual adjustment—a process that may never end. The need for constant adjustment shows the Western recognition that nothing, even love, is final or perfect.

This is also shown by recognition that love and marriage are never total and all-absorbing, that each partner remains an independent personality with the right to an independent life. (This is found throughout the Western tradition and goes back to the Christian belief that each person is a separate soul with its own, ultimately separate, fate.)

Thus there appeared in Western society at least three kinds of marriage, which we may call Romantic, bourgeois, and Western. The last, without being much discussed (except in modern books on love and marriage), is probably the most numerous of the three, and the other two, if they prove successful, do so by gradually developing into this third kind.

Romantic marriage, based on the “shock of recognition,” has in fact come to be based very largely on sexual attraction, since this is the chief form that love at first sight can take. Such marriages often fail, since even sex requires practice and mutual adjustment and is too momentary a human relationship to sustain a permanent union unless many other common interests accumulate around it.

Even when this occurs and the marriage becomes a success, in the sense that it persists, it is never total, and the Romantic delusion that marriage should be totally absorbing of the time, attention, and energies of its partners, still expected by many women brought up on the Romantic idea, merely means that the marriage becomes an enslaving relationship to the husbands and a source of disappointment and frustration to the wives.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.796

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Alone with my Self
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