A Perspective of Life and Death

In the movie Twin Sisters – originally De Tweeling after a book by Tessa de Loo – quarrelling relatives separate two very young twin girls after their parents’ death, which results in both girls leading a completely different life. Ignoring the effects of the war on both of them for this discussion, one grows up with loving parents in relative wealth and with a cultural education; the other suffers all the hardships: poverty, abuse, hard work. Thus, the arbitrary choice made by the relatives influences the objective value of life for each of the girls.

Obviously, the same is true for the circumstances any other child grows up with. If life itself hangs by a threat every single day in a war-torn country or in a place where hunger and disease are prominent; if it is an everyday struggle, the contemplation of life itself may not even occur to people – too preoccupied with survival or too malnourished to think that deeply about it. In a situation  where death is a daily occurrence due to war or street violence, children may become desensitized to death and misery – and the same may apply to children raised with violent movies.

Constant fear (for one’s life), a hopeless situation and constant physical pain can cause death to appear more attractive than life and unforseen circumstances can generate a sudden change in attitude . I am thinking of the movie Frida (portraying the life of the painter Frida Kahlo) where a bus accident changes a carefree existence into one of daily physical pain to the point where Frida says that she cannot wait to get out of this life.

Of course it depends on what belief system a person has. Those growing up with religious beliefs that dictate life as the greatest good and frown upon death by choice (suicide, abortion, euthanasia) may find themselves in a moral dilemma if they experience depression or a crippling disease – as do those who grow up in a social setting where life is treated as if sacred on humane grounds, like those opposing the death penalty.  And whether a person believes in a life after death and what exactly that ‘life’ looks like will also play a role.

Nevertheless, those are all objective influences on the value of life and death. But have you ever wondered why two people growing up in the exact same circumstances can have completely different responses? Why do some people become so depressed in our affluent society that they are willing take their own life while others may live in physical or social misery, yet remain optimistic or fight to their last breath? Why do some defy the wrath of their deity by choosing suicide, while others choose imprisonment to avoid war? Why are these objective circumstances and strong moral, cultural or social beliefs not the determining factors in the perceived value of life for individual people and how they view death and disease?

I believe that different people have a different inborn subjective value that causes a completely different perspective of both life and death.

There are those who take life itself with a pinch of salt. They consider it a game or a lucky coincidence and accept that it is not forever. This is the source of slogans such as  “Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out alive” that appear on postcards and stickers. People who live with this attitude tend to make jokes about life and death equally and some of them may even seek dangerous pursuits to ‘challenge’ death; they are generally optimistic, consider a life of caution not worth living and may choose high risk jobs. And as they see their own life as passing or a game, so they may treat that of others thus and they may laugh at disease or at fear.

There are others who take life as a matter of fact. It is something to make the most of and maybe even leave one’s legacy behind. People who live life with this attitude will not seek dangerous pursuits, because that is not a sensible thing to do and death is to be avoided (not challenged), because it would come in the way of all the things they still want to achieve. They may consider life something that deserves respect but may also believe that taking a life can be justified (either their own or that of others in the name of humane treatment, in the name of war or justice). They tend to accept disease as possibly unavoidable and take what is given them.

Then there are those that find life a struggle – possibly due to circumstances – and have a tendency to pessimism. They may say things like “if the apocalypse comes I’d rather be the first to go”. They may fear death or disease, but they may also fear a life of disease or pain. They may or may not actively choose death, but they see it as a relief of hardship, something to look forward to and may favour the idea of mercy killing.

And finally, there are those (like me) who consider life to be sacred. We each get only one and it is serious business that is not to be trifled with. To take somebody else’s life or to even make it miserable is to disrespect life itself. Death (and disease up to a degree) is the ultimate humiliation and to be avoided at all costs. Jokes made about life or death are usually considered to be of bad taste. Nobody should have the right to decide over somebody else’s life – including soldiers, governments or judges – and those that ruin the life of another purposely should pay with their own, since there is no price high enough.

None of the above is right or wrong and none is better than the others. They are simply different perspectives that result from the relationship one has with life itself. What we need to realize, however, is that we do not all have the same perspective and that each perspective deserves respect.

This concludes my little contemplation of life and death. There may be people who have other views. My own belief is that these inner values are closely related to a person’s psychological type and I would be interested to hear what your view is and (if you know it) what your Jungian or MB typename is.


A Dangerous Misconception

This last week has been one of frantic e-mail exchanges and posts made on group sites and pages that have as their topic the on Jung, Myers-Briggs or Keirsey based personality type differences (the psychological types) that define and explain everything that motivates and influences every person.

I initiated this action in response to an article found on healthline.com that, in an effort to describe ‘antisocial-personality disorder’, referred to some of the psychological types as “abnormal”:

“Every person’s personality is unique. However, social scientists have identified distinct characteristics of personalities that can be assigned to specific categories.

One common way to label personalities is with the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI lists 16 types of personalities. Some types are considered abnormal. People who have those types have a mental health condition known as a personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is one type of these disorders.”The symptoms of this condition tend to worsen during late teenage years to early twenties. Treatment may help improve symptoms. Symptoms can improve with age for some people, allowing them to feel and act better by the time they reach their forties.

The article (www.healthline.com/health/antisocial-personality-disorder) displays a gross ignorance of the type differences and of the basic principles of the theory and sparked many furious reactions of those perfectly normal types that were in essence being called psychopaths.

My own first response was to write to Healthline and then to alert every psychological type friendly Facebook and LinkedIn group to this misconception – the latter generated much support and many also decided to write to Healthline with the request they correct their mistake.

Healthline itself responded to me within two days with a link to a scientific study by some members of the University of Colorado (http://www.linkedin.com/redirect?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Euccs%2Eedu%2FDocuments%2Fdsegal%2FAn-empirical-investigation-Jungs-types-and-PD-features-JPT-2%2Epdf&urlhash=pxps&_t=tracking_disc) on which the article was based, which implied that they consider the conclusions of the article (since it was based on an academic study) by definition correct. This is itself an assumption since the writer of the article drew conclusions over and beyond the conclusions of the article. Additionally, I also found that the study itself has many flaws that make its value questionable.

The article is flawed, not only because it shows a complete ignorance with regard the psychological types and the theory behind it, but also  because of the conclusion it draws, since it goes on to mention that ASPD  is being treated with medication or CBT, which implies that it is not a personality type but a temporary condition (as the types are inborn), and that some types “are considered abnormal”, which implies that either the MBTI makes this distinction or the study does, neither of which is true. By ‘abusing’ the word  ”personality” (see blog post The Abuse of Personality) the writer confuses inborn dispositions with a mental illnesses.

The study, on which Healthline says the article is based, is also using many assumptions:

The title of the study is “An Empirical Investigation of Jung’s Psychological Types and Personality Disorder Features”, although its bibliography does not list any of Jung’s works at all and only has the CCP Manual to the use of the Myers-Briggs Indicator, but no reference to any other books that explain the types nor to Isabel Myers or David Keirsey.

The sample they use for their study consisted of people recruited by psychology students, which implies they already had a certain outcome in mind and certain beliefs with regard what is accepted as human nature – most academic psychology department do not acknowledge multiple types of people – which is a result of the “brain story theory” currently accepted in the academic world (see my blog post The Black and White of Grey Matter).

The conclusion that there is a correlation between the characteristics they attribute to “personality disorders” and the MBTI personality trait descriptions is nothing new to any person who understands what the psychological types are about. Jung himself already made a study of psychological types in relation to psychiatric disorders, because that is how he got to the idea in the first place. The difference is that Jung and his followers consider personality differences healthy and acceptable differences in normal people, while the researchers consider these differences unhealthy.

The study makes a caveat that advices further investigation since

“Jungian types were not verified by any instrument other than the MBTI and personality disorders or their features were not verified by any instrument other than the CATI. In addition, both instruments are self-report….”

Of course, self-report is the only possible manner of measuring types and the mention that personality disorders are based on self-report may be unavoidable for the same reason, at which point it becomes a question of who accepts that what they experience is a sign of abnormality and label themselves thus and who chooses to explain what they experience as a type trait.

This ‘choice’ in turn depends on the personality type of the people involved. Some types are keen to trust authority or popular views and other types choose to make their own assessments.

The study also states that “Lifetime prevalence rates for personality disorders in the general population are estimated to range from 8% to 13%… The present sample was expected to have sufficient levels of personality disorder traits or features in order to conduct the present investigation”.

Thus, the study set out with the assumption that the disorders listed in the DSM-IV (because it has an official name) are objective facts rather than a collection of traits that are given a special name when sufficient people are found that match the description, forgetting that most people making these descriptions do so because they have learned that they exist as a fact. In other words, the more popular or accepted a ‘disorder’ becomes, the more people will either self-report having it or label others thus, on which, in turn, the existence of the disorder is based.

The sample used is that of the general population (“The present sample is limited by a non-clinical sample of convenience”)  and not of clinically ill psychiatric patients, yet the study is happy to assign certain types with “schizotypal” (a new fancy word for “psychotic”) and “antisocial” (which used to  be called “sociopath” or “psychopath”) and a whole range of descriptions that used to be considered “neurotic”.

However, such descriptions of syndromes used to refer to temporary problems (like depression), but are now suddenly referred to as “lifetime prevalence”, which is confusing the state of unwell being (of real depression) with a melancholic disposition, which, indeed , fits certain types more – even if not the ones the study mentions, and is making the same mistake as the writer of the article, mentioned above.

The study mentions that “Psychopathological MBTI poles were clearly more likely to be introversion, intuition, thinking, and perceiving” –  which ironically describes among others Jung himself, Einstein, Bill Gates,  Kant and David Keirsey and most any academic who chooses theoretical physics or computer programming, while the ASPD label would include people like Benjamin Franklin, Churchill, Socrates, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and Richard Branson.

My point is that the intent of the study was to accept personality disorders as a given and use the MBTI as a way of recognizing them, rather than the other way around – as in acknowledging the differences and then note that some types may be more sensitive to certain problems, which is what Jung did. The difference is that the former attitude predetermines that being melancholic, short tempered,  not practical, not inclined to express one’s feelings, and preferring one’s own company is by definition pathological and that the MBTI is merely an “instrument” that can help  find and treat these ‘potential patients or sociopaths’.

Therefore, the most important issue have with the study is that it claims to ‘know’ personality type theory, yet it totally omits to allow for the personality type influences of the researchers that influenced the manner in which the sample was collected and the conclusions drawn, as well as for the prevalence of certain types in the population that makes any random sample .

“No matter how open-minded we try to be, our own psychological types influence how positively or negatively we view the traits of others; we are stuck in our own type and nobody can look at other personalities objectively.” (Playing with Natural Talents, Nursery Rhymes and Musical Complement).

Many researchers, especially in academic psychology, are of the J type that measure to one standard and believe that every person should conform to the norm, which leads them to consider other people “abnormal”, so that the conclusion was predetermined , since most academics are of a personality type that prefers to work with categorical standards (as explained in my book Concerto for Mankind).

The other feature most academic psychologists have in common is that they are more likely Fs than Ts, while empirical studies tend to attract more Ss and extraverts are more likely to go out and interview others and to volunteer for such studies than are introverts.

Additionally, any statistics based on volunteers or a random sample of the population is bound to be flawed to begin with (as explained in Concerto for Mankind) since certain types are more common prevalent in the population.

In short, the study is naïve, not original, non-conclusive and based on assumptions.

So, if the correlation is nothing new, then  why the anger?

For two reasons: it justifies discrimination and opens the door to pre-emptive justice

The study itself  is just a study of some people who are only recently waking up to the accuracy of typology. The problem comes with people who write articles to the general public based on such studies and say things like “some of these types are considered abnormal”, as described above, which causes other members of the public or politicians, who have accepted the existence of personality disorders at face value, to conclude that if certain types are more likely to be psychopaths, we should be able to recognize them early and prevent school shootings by removing them.

Though I understand that sentiment, we are now talking pre-emptive justice: the idea that if we medicate or imprison these types before they act we are doing the world a favour.

Hitler (who was an ENFJ, by the way) thought so too: he thought that if most Jews behave in undesirable ways, they should be removed before they could do so.

This is discrimination of the same kind as racism, only unlike skin colour the different personality types are not immediately visible.

Yet it is discrimination of the same kind as is currently exercised in schools, where every child that cannot sit still (due to their absolutely normal personality type) gets tranquillizers like Ritalin and where every child that does not like team sports is labelled “autistic” – without anybody wondering if maybe humans were not meant to sit still in schools for hours on end without being allowed to exercise their individuality, their autonomy or their lateral thinking.

What is flawed is the school system; what is flawed is the academic investigation that has prejudged certain behaviour as abnormal because it is unlike that of the researchers.

I have yet to get a response from Healthline to my request that they allow me to publish a counter article, hence this blog post.