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The Personality of Politics

Developing a spy mindset means understanding how our own filters and biases shape our worldview, for better or worse.

Unlike a computer, we can’t simply upgrade our software and hardware to transcend our blind spots and limitations.

Different personality types are better suited for different roles in society. Some have a gift for business. Some have a gift for teaching. Some have a gift for athletics or entertainment. A natural division of labor allows us to fulfil our individual potential while creating synergy for the collective whole.

The social sciences have developed a powerful model for the “Big Five” personality traits. Each person has five personality knobs that are dialed from low to high (quoted at length from

1. Openness to Experience:

“Openness to experience is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. … High openness can be perceived as unpredictability or lack of focus. … Conversely, those with low openness seek to gain fulfillment through perseverance and are characterized as pragmatic and data driven.”

2. Conscientiousness:

“Conscientiousness is a tendency to display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations. … High conscientiousness is often perceived as being stubborn and focused. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.”

3. Extraversion:

“Extraverts enjoy interacting with people and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals. They possess high group visibility, like to talk, and assert themselves. … Introverts have lower social engagement and energy levels. They tend to seem quiet, low-key, deliberate, and less involved in the social world.”

4. Agreeableness:

“Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, kind, generous, trusting and trustworthy, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others. … Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well-being.”

5. Neuroticism:

“Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. … Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. Individuals who score low in neuroticism are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, emotionally stable, and free from persistent negative feelings.”

The interesting part is that these personality traits correlate with political views and voting behavior. For example, according to a recent study, voters with high degrees in Extroversion and Conscientiousness were associated with voting for Trump in 2016 whereas voters with high degrees in Openness to Experience and Neuroticism were associated with voting for Clinton. This is consistent with other elections.

These results are interesting but also troubling. If we consider that personality traits are stable over one’s lifetime, this means that people tend to vote based on their own hard wiring, by projecting, which means we are unlikely to achieve broad political consensus. Enlightened voting means transcending our own hard wiring.

To avoid zero-sum scenarios, our goal should be to develop a political philosophy with principles that promote sustainable and collective prosperity. For example, people are hard wired for varying degrees for Conscientiousness, which is critical for "getting along," but what degree should we expect people to embody, regardless of their hard wiring?

Consider corporate culture. All great organizations understand that human talent is the most valuable resource, and that success depends on unleashing the individual talents of everyone on the team. For example, although Apple is a technology company, one of its keys to success has been aesthetics – design. We need engineers and artists.

At the same time, organizational success depends on individuals leveraging their natural talents for the collective good. For example, if success in sales requires a high degree of extroversion, then introverts should either find a way to fake it until they make it or choose another career. Your passion for sales should be indulged only if you produce results. If people are expected to embody select values for corporate success, should they be expected to embody select values for living in society? If so, which values?

The solution to this conundrum appears to be the liberty-based model of our Constitution: the individual, not society, defines what it means to live with purpose. We’re a collection of individuals, not a beehive. Given that personality differences render political consensus unlikely, we should instead focus on building mutual respect and allowing people to flourish in accordance with their own natural gifts, with no claim to the rights of others.

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