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January 18, 2005

Why I am Not an Angry Libertarian

Another reprint. If you didn't see it the first time, well, a certain NBC jingle comes to mind...

When I was an elementary-school child, keeping myself company during recess while the other kids played, I formulated three specific propositions concerning my peers:

  1. They didn't like me.
  2. They did like each other.
  3. They were all really dumb and unworthy of my time.

(Sadly, proposition 1 was probably true at that age but has since been proven false, at least as strongly stated. Proposition 2 is generally true if you believe in humanity. And proposition 3 is demonstrably false, but some days I can't help but wonder...)

Naturally, my parents were a little concerned about my antisocial behavior and sought to involve me in all sorts of group activities. Because I love them -- and because the courts do not typically emancipate ten-year-olds -- I went along with it, but I still didn't like talking to children my own age. I felt like some kind of alien until I got to middle school, where I met some people who were like me. Suddenly I wasn't alone anymore; I was part of a band of "differently socialized" brothers (and one sister) that formed my core group of friends through high school and beyond. In college I found lots of people like me, and I continue to be surrounded by such people in my workplace. I was glad for it, of course, but I puzzled as to the reason. Why didn't I feel understood until I got to college?

Prof. David Keirsey's highly-recommended books Please Understand Me answered my question, and the knowledge proved to be a revelation. His study of personality types and their fundamental interactions put a much-needed theoretical framework into my thinking about other people. More than that, it explained why I needed a theoretical framework, while others didn't. I'll share my general notion of temperament theory in way-too-short order at this time (or you can take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, learn a lot more, and then skip to my political conceit):

  1. People have different personalities, perhaps even from birth.
  2. They cannot not be those personalities, for to act against one's own nature is harmful.
  3. The personalities can be divided into major branches called temperaments:

    • Guardians (denoted SJ; 40% of population)
    • Artisans (SP; 40%)
    • Idealists (NF; 15%)
    • Rationals (NT; 5%)

  4. Each of these temperaments can be subdivided into role variants based on extrovert/introvert preference (E/I; 75%/25%) and what I prefer to think of as organized/disorganized preference (J/P; 50%/50%), for a total of sixteen personality types (not important to this discussion, but you can always count on The Greatness to be unnecessarily thorough).

I am an INTJ (1%). So is Keirsey, I've heard. So it makes sense that I like the way his book explains things. Other people might not be so enthusiastic. Even other NTs, for that matter: those who have accepted a slightly different set of core propositions might call this stuff "pseudoscience." (More on that some other time, perhaps.) To them I say, "MBTI has been studied and deemed useful for over half a century, it's internally consistent, it has predictive value, and it's no less falsifiable than anything Stephen Jay Gould ever did with dinosaur bones. It may be soft science, but it's still science." To everybody else, well... all the SPs have likely stopped reading by now, if they ever started. The SJs saw the title and are waiting for me to start bashing Libertarians (and maybe Republicans). And a lot of NFs are genuinely interested in this stuff already, having seen it in their psychology classes. The lucky few members of my opposite complement ENFP (3%) don't need to read the book, because they were born with this knowledge and apply it fairly well.

So what does temperament have to do with politics? Consider the libertarian philosophy, which stands for laissez faire capitalism, personal responsibility, and individual freedom. Libertarians truly believe that people will cooperate if they live under a government based on reason. It's not so much that they believe in the goodness of people in any ethical sense, but they do believe in the competence of people to make their own life decisions. Of course, the government in America (or Canada, or any other country for that matter) doesn't look like anything Ayn Rand ever suggested: it's corrupt, inefficient, and often ridiculous. Partisan Libertarians hate this insanity and will argue to anyone who will listen that things will work better if we have privatized roads, schools, and post offices. And I agree with them, with one significant caveat. I, for one, would enjoy living in John Galt's utopia. But I'm an NT. So are most libertarians.

The Libertarian Party has a minor role in American politics, due in part to the unfair laws enacted by the two major parties to keep them, and other third parties, out of the political process. But mostly it's because there aren't that many of us. To the other 95%, libertarianism sounds like that "They Saved Lisa's Brain" episode of the Simpsons, where the local Mensa society takes over the town government and passes laws that everybody else didn't like. I still think the LP should fight for change, but appealing to reason won't win elections in a democracy. Fortunately, I'm not the only one who thinks so; check out Dagny Sharon's tactic brief (ya think her parents were Objectivists?). Here are my own thoughts on how we might win some more votes for libertarian policies using the resolving power of temperament:

  • SJ types prize stability and tradition above all else, so they find a natural -- if schizophrenic -- home in the religious-economic Republican Party coalition. The tactic here is to ensure that any change from a government to a private service will be done incrementally, without confusion or shortages. And be sure to mention that "the Founders" would have wanted this service privatized. It may seem distasteful and oddly unaesthetic to us rationals, but we're talking about 40% here!
  • SP types are most at home when they are backing change and bucking tradition, so they likely vote Democratic in opposition to SJs. Many just don't care much about representative government, so they're not as important as SJ types, but 40% is still nothing to sniff at. Chances are good that Jesse Ventura's action-hero campaign resonated with this group. So maybe a few well-placed "it's time for change" ads, carefully weighed against dismaying the SJs, would be in order. Especially if it can be framed as a populist issue.
  • NF types care about the ethics of things. They are the vanguard of the Democratic Party and can likely be counted among Ralph Nader's strongest supporters, but in principle they will take up whatever cause they feel is morally right. These 15% have the special power to influence the other types in ways that NT types could only dream of. My solution? Hire some of these people who believe, nay, who know that libertarianism is right -- and get them to inject some pathos into libertarian ads! If you get enough of them on board, you'll have a new movement with such fervor that even the pragmatic NT libertarian-Republicans might be willing to join.

As much as we rationals think it's stupid, we may always have an "imperfect" government, and we need to be okay with that. We must accept the notion that a large majority of our citizenry, endowed with the same natural rights as us, is not interested in self-reliance and will continue to vote for paternalism, knee-jerk solutions to complex problems, and maudlin wars on social ills -- unless we convince them otherwise, in their own words. No other victory is logically possible.

Posted by The Greatness at January 18, 2005 03:45 AM


I liked your article. I am also a Libertarian (free marketeer) INTJ, and feel many INTJ are libertarians.

Posted by: Ben at February 23, 2006 08:06 PM