Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Eysenck Personality Test and Self-Criticism

My version of a New Year's Resolution is a bit of 'quiet time' and some self-reflection for the re-calibration of the 'self' for the year ahead (unlike post-modern philosophers, I have a very firm sense of the Self and feel sad for those who do not). I usually try and find some tool, something outside myself, to trigger reflection and then note down what I think I discover. It is part of an on-going process - like Petrarch's construction of himself as a living work of art carried through by time to its natural end.

About a quarter of a century ago, I did the Eysenck Personality Test which, without taking it over-seriously, was quite useful in defining onself against what it is to be a 'normal' (aka socialised and habituated) human being, albeit with adjustments to account for its mild American bias. I found the results again this week and recognised the continuities in my character and some minor differences. Out of curiosity, I searched the internet and found an adaptation of it which covered 32 basic attributes of personality under five categories (introversion/extraversion, emotional stability, mastery/sympathy, sexuality and social and political attitudes). I did the test (which took about forty minutes) and recorded the results.

Basically whatever I was twenty-five years ago is pretty well what I am today but with more maturity so there were no surprises there. The analysis struck me as fair and I was painfully honest in my answers (as you should be if you try it). However, this was not a test of who one is but of who one is in relation to the rest of the species so what interested me was my deviance from the norm rather than who I was (since I know who I am and there were no major surprises).

What is it that makes me (or you) significantly different from normality (within which there is still a fair range of personality differences) and so often misaligned with the social (for the record, a position where I am more than happy to be found)? What does this tell us about our 'adjustment to society' and what about our perceptions of the maladjusted nature of society to what it could be rather than what we are? So, this test is best regarded as just a statement of difference that tells us where we are within our species, where we are as 'rebels' whether on the cusp of normality or actually 'abnormal'.

In my case' abnormality' applied to 14 out of 32 attributes (of which six were 'on the cusp' and so possibly within the bounds of 'normality). Five (the full list) were related to social and political attitudes. In other words, a chunk of my 'abnormality' is socio-political (which will be fairly obvious to regular readers of this blog) and I am around 30-40% 'abnormal' to some extent. I am more than relaxed about this. I am interested only in the insights of the test into one's position in the world and why one acts as one does.

The non-socio-political abnormalities are pretty easy to summarise: A risk-averse (meaning physical risk), cautious (in terms of action), highly responsible and undogmatic (though with a few fixed ideas that I shall never shake off) personality with high self esteem and virtually no sense of guilt. My attitudes to risk, my cautiousness and my level of dogmatism are 'on the cusp' so the key difference markers are self esteem, responsibility and lack of guilt - all very existentialist! This implies that most people I deal with are going to be less responsible (which may explain my disappointed distrust of others) and suffer from less self-esteem and have more overhang of guilt (which explains my frustration with people's inability to get a grip of their lives). This may also explain my almost crusading zeal to help others realise that they are better than they have often been labelled by family and society and that they almost certainly have no reason for the vile vestiges of Judaeo-Christian or familial or sexual guilt in their lives. I would arrogantly like to pull my fellows into my territory so that the 'normal' could be changed to one of a higher self esteem and 'joy' in the complexity of existence, something our culture seems actively to discourage.

The socio-political differences arise from this possibly foolish mission. My different take on the world seems to derive from an aspiration for a better world that is probably not possible given 'the crooked timber of humanity'. In this area, I am foolish and not wise but it is who I am. I am highly sexually and socially permissive which does not mean I am myself anything more than a rather dull vanilla person when it comes to sex and social behaviour (I am, in fact, very dull nowadays). I am strongly committed to a broadly libertarian position on individuals in society and the choices they make. Indeed, my attitudes are classically anarcho-socialist to the extent that I am on the edge of (possibly the foolish part) denying the necessity for aspects of the social order required precisely because normality contains a majority of people with lower self-esteem and problems with guilt of some kind (and who are likely to be more dogmatic, more neurotic [in terms of guilt] and less responsible).

It could reasonably be argued that a society built on dogmatism, short term self interest and neurosis can only be managed with an element of the whip and the jackboot and, to be self-critical, I am probably far too soft on this score, expecting more of our species than may be possible. I add to this foolish belief in the possibility of a better world (which I cannot shake off) a set of progressive attitudes that seem stronger in me than in the 'norm' - anti-racism and, to a lesser extent, pacifism included. Like the pacifism, my 'socialism' is 'on the cusp' so the personality 'abnormality' really lies in my radical libertarianism. This explains my love/hate relationship with the British Left which strikes me as more riddled with authoritarian prescription than I am comfortable with and yet still the better hope for a better world if only 'normality' could be shifted a degree or two towards an emotionally stronger and more intellectually flexible electorate (and activist base). The modern Leftist activist is almost the epitome of dogmatic neuroticism.

However, this belief in a better world is not a belief that can be seen as more than a sentimental prejudice since I score very highly on scepticism - that is a belief in my own logic, observation and intelligence gathering rather than the claims of authority or others (basically, I do not trust the 'normal' very much). My analytical side sees the world and knows it for what it is - hence my outbursts of clinical rationalism that appear to sound a classically conservative note about the human condition. I know my core belief in a better world is absurd but I am true, in this respect, to my only remaining 'faith' - that of existentialist choice, if necessary for an absurd proposition such as this one. I also distrust the State (though consider it necessary) in particular because it is run by 'normal' people for 'normal' people and normal people, as we have seen, tend to lack self esteem, be neurotic (in terms of guilt feelings) and be dogmatic. Ergo, the State is likely to react to these aspects of normality - playing on peoples weaknesses and neuroses in order to manage them better yet without any aspiration to lift them out of their situation in order to create something better. I have little respect for authority for the same reason - authority is generally not logical and based on evidence but is based on dogma and the neuroses of the authoritarian.

So that is the 2015 self-criticism over with. I quite like me and I hope everyone else gets to like themselves too but I know I am a little out of kilter with the way my species organises itself socially and politically. It is bigger and more powerful than I am. My radical libertarianism might be regarded as a defensive manouevre, maintaining my small bit of territory against the encroaching empire of authoritarian neurotics. Conservative pessimism and social progressivism are the thesis and antithesis whose internal contradictions require a new synthesis.

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