Saturday, June 28, 2014

Jungle Brig

Jung-derived personality test. Multiple choice, of course.

Here's a more specific look at how multiple choice investigations, on which so much of our societies are based, are worthless.

1. You are almost never late for your appointments

Jane the cardiologist is scrupulous, brilliant, and considerate, but is double-booked all day because she had to take a job with the regional association since she didn't have sixty grand after medical school to get her own practice started. Her patients growl and frown at the clock when it takes twenty minutes past their stated time of arrival before they are even shown into the pre-waiting-room waiting room, where their vitals are taken, and it is a harried, yet sweet Jane who meets them in the second waiting room forty-three minutes after their designated appointment time. Jane's office manager understands why she is always late to their lunches, when she is able to show up at all. Jane manages to have one or two dates a month with people she meets on, and she has breakfast with her mother every other Sunday, and for each of these events she is half an hour early. Being perfectly honest and having a good understanding of math, and the meaning of "almost never," she forthrightly answers Question #1 NO.

Doug the roofer forgot to pick up little Joey again at the school field after baseball practice, since a job ran late and made him late getting to O'Reilly's Pub by the county line. When Susie screams at him about it, he grabs a pack of cigarettes and gets back in his truck. He finds Joey sitting alone on the bleachers after the lights are long turned off, trying to do his math homework with light from a cell phone. They don't really talk on the way home. The next day at work, Doug is awarded a pre-printed certificate of merit from his boss for doing such good work on the Central job, and the boss tells the new guy to ride shotgun with Doug for a while when he goes out on quote calls. Doug knows the area like the back of his hand, and he hasn't had a complaint the whole past couple years. He makes contractor jokes whenever shaking hands with whoever the customer is, and he sits in the neighborhood nearby smoking and listening to the radio for a few minutes before each call, 'cause when you're out on a call, you don't have to help the shop clean up any of its loose materials. Anything to get outta doing the materials guys' work for them; anything to get outta the goddamn house. Being perfectly honest and having a reasonable understanding of math, and knowing that his work record has been perfect since he got fired from the last place for being late all the time, Doug forthrightly answers Question #1 YES.

Times a million. For decades. With Doug, he might be an inconsiderate jerk who's just trying to keep his job, so he's on time for five or ten appointments a week. With Doug, we can say, "Well, maybe he's really a liar, deep down," or something like that. But Jane? How stupidly abstract and relative is the question worded? A lot.

What kind of appointments? Work, social, filial, romantic...? If you get to work on time, but always hurry into office meetings 15 minutes late because you were on the line with the marketing department, do you answer yes, or no? If you recently turned over a new leaf, yes, or no? If you won the lottery a year ago, or retired after a crushing career of being on time, and decided to take things easy, does it suddenly make you an appointment-breaker, even though your character in a different situation was the appointment-keeper? If the meeting doesn't start until Donald Trump arrives, is he always on time, or is he just so powerful that he can bend the fabric of reality to make him look like a conscientious person?

That's part of what the inane question is trying to get at, of course. Psychologists decided that they would tease out whether or not someone was "thoughtful" or "conscientious" by using social and workplace standards of "being on time" to gauge an aspect of character. A NO adds a point to the "forgetful/inconsiderate" pile, while a YES makes someone appear "good at time management," or some other similar bonus. And yeah, in theory, enough of the questions, taken all together, are supposed to result in a profile that makes sense, but how helpful can such an over-generalized, non-specific blurb be?

Smart, thoughtful, considerate, loving, well-organized and responsible people who work two jobs, take care of children, occupy a certain profession, whatever, will have to fairly portray themselves as absent-minded, arrogant, or inconsiderate, because they failed to meet the study standard. Honest CEOs (or whatever other important figure you like) will admit that the meeting often has to wait for them, and answer NO, while dishonest ones--or ones who genuinely, intelligently understand that the real purpose of the meeting is their presence, therefore they can't logically be late--will answer YES. You're as likely to get a "wrong" answer from an extraordinarily arrogant person as from an extraordinarily humble one.

Honest doctors can conclude, and rightly so, that their staff initiates an appointment, so the specific time the doctor comes into the waiting room is irrelevant. And if that doctor always makes tee time early, so his friends don't have to wait, he's answered honestly and been categorized one way. A different kind of honest, intelligent doctor could answer the opposite way, because they interpret the purpose of their profession/office differently.

Who defines "late"? If you and your friends agree, "About 8 or so," by habit, and arrive at varying times, how far does the clock spin before you answer YES or NO? Do appointments with yourself count? Appointments to clean the garage on Saturday, like you promised? Or only formal ones that come with invitations and have an exact time pre-printed?

How helpful is it to have thirty different versions of answers to that same question, each one equally vague?

And what if you're taking the test aware of all these problems? What if you're a social psychologist, or just a communications major, whose friends all linked their own profiles on facebook, so as you take the test, you're trying to guess, "What did the authors of the test intend to discover by this particular leading, incomplete, badly-worded question?" Is it fair, then, to realize, "Oh, this one is trying to chart part of your personality based on time-management skills, so I'll answer yes, even though I'm having a rough period right now and have been late to some of my classes"?

2. You like to be engaged in an active and fast-paced job

How many millions of unemployed people fill these things out, idly clicking the YES bubble or the NO bubble during daytime internet browsing? Do you answer that yes, you'd like to be engaged in an active and fast-paced job because it would be a job, even though you're an MLS who hopes to be hired at a quiet rural library where things are anything but active and fast-paced? Which answer is honest--that you want a job, or that you'd prefer a fast-paced one?

And who would answer YES anyway, in the entire western world? Maybe you're in an active and fast-paced job, but you hate your evil corporation and only do it for the money. Does a NO mean you'd prefer to starve?

What is "fast-paced"? Is timed telemarketing as an independent contractor for $2/hr (no joke, it exists, it exists in America, and it's completely legal, and futz on anyone's belief in the relevance of "minimum wage" show-arguments) fast paced? If you're paid by the sale, rather than by the hour, and you're rather lackadaisical about it even though the job description indicates a preference for speed, do you consider your job fast-paced? If a man becomes a paramedic because he likes to save lives, but is terribly stressed by the pace, and has to drown himself in Xanax just to keep going, does he answer that he likes his job, or doesn't like it? Because he loves what he does, but he hates the pace that it sometimes requires, hates it so much it's killing him? The eager young lawyer who becomes a public defender to help the indigent, then drinks herself into the grave because the system is a plea-bargained hell meant to rape the dark population--a month before she hits the overpass on purpose, when she takes the test, does she answer that she enjoys her fast-paced job, or not? How does it change the situation if she dies content that she did her best in a hard world, and she's at peace with her soul because she never sold out and became a city prosecutor who threatened a dozen black kids a day into juvie for petty theft or selling a suburban kid a dime bag?

For the next few, try to think less about someone being an arrogant narcissist, and more about someone a little smarter, who just isn't sure how to answer the questions the "right" way--who could easily go either way on the tails of the same thought.

3. You enjoy having a wide circle of acquaintances

The office worker/prisoner who has a wide circle of fellow employees/convicts, but who would prefer to be retired/released with a smaller circle? The nervous person who would like to have a wide circle of friends, but who is terrified by the idea of losing her/his small circle? If you work in clerical at the U.N., and have four good friends from four different countries, is that a "wide" circle? Or does your friend, the owner of a pizza joint, who has dozens of close friends who've grown up in the area and all of whom, like him, have never left the city, the one who truly has a "wide" circle? How can you tell the psychologists that you are, indeed, an extrovert and/or a more public person--by answering the question honestly, or by lying to cover the mistake produced by their clumsy phrasing?

4. You feel involved when watching TV soaps

If you've never watched them, but heard that they're good? And what do you do if you're an ad account rep who utterly loathes soaps, but pays close attention to them for demographic cues? An aspiring assistant to a television screenwriter, looking to ferret out the competition? How do you tell the fools that you're an empathic person, without admitting that you like soap operas? And what about your old high school friend Barbara, who hates everyone who ever lived, and who took delight when her husband overdosed on his medication so she could get his pension? Barbara spends all day alone in her apartment eating freezer cookies in her awful stuffed pink armchair, but she gets really into whatever comes on TV. Is she really the caring, naturally helpful person the question will report that she is? Even if she knows she's a sociopath, but answers the question honestly in order to use the test to learn more about herself, she is involved in her shows, so she shows up on the radar as "loving/caring/attentive."

5. You are usually the first to react to a sudden event, such as the telephone ringing or unexpected question

Apparently, the psychologists don't like articles, which raises an interesting question--how do drugs play into this? If you take Xanax to keep it together, but were a really jumpy person before, it changes your score on this question from a YES to a NO. Which answer is the "true" you? Should your current prescription be able to change your result? Go the other way, to the PTSD vet who pulls a gun whenever the phone rings suddenly--he used to be the quietest, gentlest guy you know. Is that person still inside? Or should we gloss over it forever because of how jumpy he is now?

6. You are more interested in a general idea than in the details of its realization

What does the "hands on" manager answer, if his employees' satisfaction surveys always come back with gold stars? If you're a mason who builds houses by hand, do you answer YES? Or do you think about the many different factories that produce the thousands of parts used by your fellow contractors, the half of which you don't really know anything about, and answer NO? Jeebus, psychology has never really recovered from its true calling: preparing unit-placement multiple choice tests for the modern army. What a wasted education. They should just condense all this stuff down to, "Do you think you would more enjoy driving tanks in the armored cavalry, or fixing those tanks and letting others drive them for you?"

7. You tend to be unbiased even if this might endanger your good relations with people

Oh, JFC... "Actually, my dear, I tend to be unfairly biased." Because the ability to say that means you aren't. So, if you're a civil rights demonstrator, but you're so educated you know that we all can't eliminate our own biases, do you answer NO, graciously conceding your inner bias of which you're unaware? And getting lumped, thereby, into the same personality group as the racial supremacist dude? But don't feel too bad for the mistake, because the second racial supremacist to answer the test knows that his conclusions about other races aren't "bias" or "wrongness," but a logical, scientific understanding of the subhuman nature of those races. So he's a YES.

What if you're a civil rights demonstrator, but you know that your local chapter of the do-gooders doesn't march against Columbus Day because you'd lose a lot of funding from local businesses for going too far? Do you consider yourself a sellout, and answer NO, even if--in all other aspects of your life--you're lecturing drugstore owners on behalf of the old dude in the wheelchair who had trouble getting into the store? And what if you're that exact same person, but you realize you helped out the guy in the wheelchair instead of the woman with the cane, because the former looked to be having "more" trouble, and oh, you don't know anything about that poor woman, so clearly, you're as biased as the KKK!

(This one is rather like asking subjects the question, "Are you a good person?" to which Mother Theresa would have to honestly answer NO because she knows that she has done so little and has not been free from sin, unless she were to honestly answer YES because she has been forgiven and is the handiwork of God.)


Like all of these kinds of tests, the questions cycle themselves over, many essentially repeating the inquiries from earlier, but in a different way. There are a lot of reasons to care about this crap, if you care about any of the details in this place. Firstly, this is the computer language of western society. Decades of social policy, education, entertainment, consumer product production, military battle planning, and well-intentioned parenting has been webbed across the western world, convincing many people that personalities are quantifiable in this way. Even though the tests themselves are dismissed as "cute" or "wow, so like me!" without really changing anyone's life as a result, the underlying assumptions--that personalities are so automatic and banal permeate not only hiring decisions, but the individual's belief in the potential of self. E.g., when Amy finds out she's a Level 42 Half Assertive, who is generally confident with some inner doubts, she doesn't do anything differently because of it; however, her willingness to approach the fortune teller's tent in the first place, and believe that the test is more than cute entertainment, has already infected her: regardless of whether or not she's a Level 42 Half Assertive or a Level B6 Sly Wallflower, her openness to the idea that she is defined by a subset of pre-fixed variables has already crushed her belief in her own potential. In that, these tests are like the people who say there's nothing new under the sun, because they already have a list of who everyone is--a deathblow cultural meme when heard by a kid who once thought she was special and unique.

Governments, of course, spend billions of dollars on utterly worthless tests like these. Variations on these same themes--which are so broken that it would be a compliment to call them merely "unreliable or "foolish"--determine civil service job placement military and corporate career advancement, and early childhood development and funding. Psychiatrists diagnose and drug children (and adults) who answer these kinds of questions certain ways, and they can mean the difference between the insanity plea and the needle, or the officer training school or armored cav, in other systems of control.

Practically speaking, any realist should hate these things, because of the ungodly amounts of money spent on them since factory warfare states came up with the idea that they could decant people into cogs with enough fixed-response testing. Even if you don't fear the reduction of all consciousness to input/response, you should be fuming at how much money and time we're all levied for to throw these useless Q&As at everyone. The government is like that friend of yours on facebook who keeps posting their personality quiz results on your page, and begging you to take the latest "Which holiday icon are you?" quiz and put the results on her page--except that with the government, you have to send $1,000 to the local Department of Health and Human Services, or else you're tasered and jailed, and everything in your apartment goes up for police auction.

The closest kin to these things really is the salesman fortune-teller. The sensation and salesmanship of the whole show has changed from honest merrymaking to grim science, but the recycled response-components are all still there--as are the hints of compliments and overdose of generalities in all the variations on "your personality."


Of course, entertainment. From an elite perspective, the great thing about these notions of personality is that they accustom people to a lot of the behavior we want: inside-the-box thinking; sense of powerlessness; easy manipulation by those granted the authority to administer fixed questions; loss of personality and independence conjoined with the belief that there really is nothing more out there to discover. Its helped make "entertainment" factory-quality, too. Get an idea, bring it to a friendly producer, hire a shift of flat actors, a digital composer, and a rotating cycle of writers, and bam, you've got yourself a successful movie or TV show. Every character announces who they are as soon as they're onscreen; everyone delivers punchy, characteristic lines in a jumble just slow enough for the average viewer to follow, and the admixture of known personalities leads to predictable results. Jargon is adopted and dropped whenever convenient, and the world is as flat and lifeless as this place is trying to become.

As we watch it all, we realize that the only way we can be so uncannily concise and confident is by doing the same things the actors are: repeating canned phrases in an authoritative way, each acting as to her/his own role. This is why real police officers didn't act like police on TV, but why, after generations of terribly unrealistic cop shows, younger officers are starting, more and more, to try to sound like the actors they think were accurately representing that social role. The pretty girls in high school might've been mean, but they were never as snappily, internally-inconsistently one-liner mean as they were when they started to try to imitate the cool, confident mean girls on high school dramas and sitcoms. As we come to believe that entertainment is reflecting, rather than directing, we are directed. And in no small way--young soldiers have adopted the TV "soldier" and "cop" attitudes, too. Once upon a time, independent, self-assured farmboys joined the military, and would break down and cry when an officer screamed at them to snipe someone. Yes, later many would turn into the murderers of American lore, but there were serious problems in the World War with getting American white kids (sic!) to kill and to risk, and it even hung on a little into Vietnam.

Now, entertainment has shown us all the job roles we're supposed to adopt, and the shooting comes easier. Faceless, voiceless, you're a number. Even the criminals do it--people think that those inanely formulaic serial killer shows give an insight into "the darkness in the human soul," and when someone wants to be cool and dark, they know just what role to play. Kids striking plea bargains over liquor store robberies even know how to protest to the ADA, with just the right combination of street language, about how the system isn't fair.


  1. I have found the male film noir characters marginally useful in crafting my demeanor, and perhaps personality.

    This is an interesting topic, but the critique may be lacking something. Without any science/psychology, we can probably agree that there ARE things such as different human characters. If so, it is clear that any taxonomy cannot possibly accurately describe individual personality and idiosyncracies, but it CAN describe the dominant features of a certain type of character. The real problem for me is who gets the power to declare what are the relevant aspects of personality to play a part of the taconomy. If a person is torn between some genuine reflection on the conflict of inclination and duty, and a psychologist comes instead advices some mumbo-jumbo about the locus of control, how could we not punch the psychologist in the face?

    1. There are definitely forms of character and dominant features thereof. Later, this one is planning on alienating her readership by advocating for reliable character patterning through connections to larger, slower movements of versal energy and matter.

      The primary point here is that because of the simplicity of the language used in these kinds of tests, subjects' answers to these questions can't even bear a tenuous relationship to the facets of personality they're trying to tease out.

  2. Yep, this is how you know their victory is complete. A new study says that we will believe anything, as long as it is prefixed with the words "a new study..."