Feb 14, 2012

Why Socionics Is Awesome

Amidst all the angst of the socionics community and my own frequent critiques of socionics as a half-baked system not particularly conducive to scientific progress, I sometimes forget my own personal experience of socionics, which is that… socionics is awesome.

So, lest I be mistaken for another disgruntled ex-socionics junkie, let me lay out the ways in which socionics has been an extremely worthwhile and positive school for me.

1. Socionics can easily be used to improve quality of life. For over a year after learning about socionics (age 23), I experienced virtually no interpersonal distress for the first time in my conscious life. Granted, much of this was due to the fact that I was in a constant state of private intellectual discovery and thus was not as sensitive as usual to real or perceived negative interpersonal situations (disagreements and conflicts, loneliness, lack of acceptance, social awkwardness, etc.). But mostly I attribute it to the fact that I had begun applying a constructive, socionics-based approach to managing my emotional and social life, consisting of: 1) a recognition that my emotional state is less the product of my own making than the result of my social interactions; particularly 2) the quality and depth of my connections to people of various personality types; specifically 3) whether I am too emotionally connected to the wrong types or too distant from the right types; suggesting that 4) emotional life can be improved by reducing emotional investment in one set of people and increasing investment in another set.

At first this required a kind of willful restructuring of my interpersonal connections, but eventually it became second nature. This formula clearly works — if it is not too compounded by other issues. I consider it one of the most important life skills, right alongside things like learning to provide for yourself and manage money, avoiding addictions, and taking care of your physical health. Some people are raised with one or more of these skills and may never appreciate what it takes to acquire them through conscious effort. Like these other life skills, keeping your interpersonal life in order requires a certain amount of self-love. No one else is going to do it for you.

Over time my understanding of what kinds of people are "right" or "wrong" for some kind of emotional interdependency has grown to include a lot more than simply socionic type. But the foundation for this skill was laid by socionics.

Positive relationships, particularly intimate ones, impact one's life in a variety of ways. If you have an idea what you're looking for — even if it's as simplistic as "a dual relationship" — that probably increases the chances that you'll find it. I'll never know how much of my romantic success or failure has been due to socionics, but I consider myself quite fortunate considering where I was coming from and what I have experienced so far in life. It could have been a little bit better, but it could also have been far, far worse.

2. Socionics is a secret weapon. My own socionics schooling — which included ruminating over the writings of Augusta (other authors' writings seemed dull in comparison), large amounts of introspection, studying my reactions to people, observing them closely and trying to identify their types under the guidance of a skilled but imperfect teacher, over a hundred hours of poring over photographs trying to recognize personality traits in facial features and expressions, and eventually meeting other socionics aficionados — brought to my awareness many things that had previously been unconscious. At the time it felt like I was acquiring a secret weapon that made my responses to the outside world less blind or mechanistic than other people's. When I realize at what level most other people think about the people around them, using conventional descriptors such as "nice," "good," "dull," etc. and assuming the superiority of their own psychological makeup, I'm eternally grateful to have undertaken a serious study of people and relationships and to have a more objective understanding of why I experience different feelings towards people.

Socionics also makes it easier to recognize and take advantage of numerous "shortcuts." Having a feel for someone's type (or at least elements of their type) allows you to build beneficial relationships quicker than otherwise, particularly if you have accumulated a large body of experience dealing with people of different types. Knowing that there is someone you will be able to confide in and rely upon to some degree may encourage you to take that risk and move to a new location that you feel will be better for you. Or, you may more quickly realize when you are in a bad situation due to the types and prevailing culture of a group you have landed in. A knowledge of socionics provides a more sophisticated feel for how much and in what ways you may be able to rely on someone and, in turn, be useful to them. This can help in choosing employers, partners and assistants, hobby groups, and roommates, not to mention romantic partners.

The caveat is that spiritual and interpersonal choices work best when they are based foremost upon feelings, not mental concepts, so it is very important that you develop an understanding of socionics that is congruous with and highlights your actual emotional experience rather than letting ideas about what you "should be" experiencing according to some interpretation of socionics take precedence over your actual feelings. This one caveat basically encompasses all the potential negative side-effects experienced by so many socionics aficionados. This is a complex problem not at all unique to socionics, and I no longer blame socionics for it. When a school of fish changes direction, it could be said that only the lead fish — the one with the strongest internal compass relative to herd instinct — is following her "true instincts." For whatever reasons, the other fish choose to repeat her movements instead of trying to access their own internal compass — at least, until a greater stimulus (e.g. predator) comes along, temporarily overriding the imperative to "follow the fish in front of you." The issue of negative side-effects of socionics is actually a fundamental and intractable "internal compass vs. external suggestion" problem. It's probably best dealt with individually by strengthening the internal compass (as if it were that easy!) and distancing oneself from the source of suggestion, if necessary. But if a person is able to do this at all, they probably didn't have much of a problem to begin with! Suggestibility exists, and it serves a function for the individual and for society. If people were insusceptible to suggestion, there would be no person-to-person learning.

3. Socionics can trigger a cascade of new intellectual pursuits. Before socionics I had less than a layman's understanding of science and hadn't seriously grappled with its big ideas. I had developed a theologically centered worldview that was clearly at odds with reality and insulated me from scientific and philosophical thought. As imperfect a scientific theory as it is, socionics suggested to me a simple universal principle that gradually undid my entire worldview: all things have their causes. I realized that up till then I hadn't really concerned myself with the causes of things, but had gone around in mental circles trying hopelessly to live up to acquired religious ideals. At first I applied this cause-and-effect idea to the emotional and interpersonal sphere (see #1), but soon began examining everything in its light. I became fascinated by thinking about phenomena divorced of moral judgments and reflecting on the likely material causes of things, eventually formulating my interest as follows: I want to know what is, not what is supposed to be. Later I formulated: the rejection of faith as a guiding principle is the very foundation of science. There's no good reason to have to stop asking "why?" — at least inside yourself — when you reach things that you or anybody else would like to be true but actually have no compelling reason to believe.

Through socionics I became interested in psychology and got a minor in the field. A couple lectures into psychology, I realized that the foundation of modern psychology was evolution. So I began reading about evolutionary psychology to mine it for important ideas, and soon read Darwin's Origin of Species for background, gaining a great admiration for scrupulous rational thought. Then I did quite a lot more reading on evolution, biology, memetics, and the philosophy of science. I literally felt my mind expanding; I could think thoughts that just a few months before had been totally out of reach. Later I would learn to appreciate philosophy in general and read widely in esoteric spirituality. Once I began developing Socionics.us and Wikisocion, socionics became a springboard for learning more about art, music, and history. All this careful thought and reading greatly stimulated my intellectual life and contributed to me later becoming a writer.

Oddly enough, I've never met anyone who experienced anything quite like this as a result of learning about socionics. To many people it sounds as strange and counterintuitive as a waiter becoming a fighter pilot as a result of ballet lessons. Clearly, my particular intellectual response was determined by the mounting tension between my acquired religious worldview and my natural disposition. Nonetheless, I will never forget that it was socionics that opened the floodgates.

4. Socionics encourages and rewards braininess. Sure, there are plenty of people in socionics with personal problems; that's what brings most people to it in the first place. There's nothing shameful about that. Why would you ridicule scrawny or overweight people who go to the gym? But most people who get into socionics are also smart, and it can become a kind of social refuge for brainy people who lack community. It's okay to be smart in socionics, to speak (write) using nerdy terminology, to defy conventional wisdom and present your own wacky ideas to be shot down by others whom you can call names like "conservative" and "orthodox." Sure, there are some people who just pretend to be brainy (just as there are people at the gym who pretend to be buff), but at least the community culture rewards braininess due to the nature of the subject. When I first got in contact with the Ukrainian socionics community, particularly publishing or researching socionists rather than aficionados, it was the first place I had been where you could be as brainy as you wanted. All the communities I'd experienced before that — even my high-achiever high school and university — still had this attitude like, "Hey now, don't get too brainy on us here, hahaha." Through socionics, I've met some really intelligent people that I wouldn't have met otherwise. This has been really valuable to me. Since then, I've found a few other places where braininess is accepted and rewarded, but socionics was the first.

5. Socionics opens the door to higher levels of objectivity, helping to weed out typocentrism and other kinds of biases from one's worldview. It allows you to see, as William James says in Pragmatism, that each man's philosophy is merely a justification of his native disposition. We will likely continue to act in typocentric ways, but at least we can begin to remove biases from our conscious values and worldview, granting other people the possibility of living a legitimate and dignified life according to our own definitions, though we choose to live differently. A study of socionics clearly suggests that 1) there are different legitimate life strategies, each with its potential pitfalls, 2) no type-determined trait can be considered a defect in any sort of intellectually honest way (i.e. such a defect is in the eye of the beholder), and 3) many of the things that bug us in other people are outgrowths, or extreme expressions, of fairly typical and basically benign qualities, thus 4) the "defect," if any, is in the disbalance or misapplication of traits, not in the underlying traits themselves. From these thoughts it seems natural to conclude that 1) each set of traits has its place and its purpose, 2) your own traits may "feel" superior, but only in some abstract ideal sense, as natural selection has decided otherwise by not granting them to everybody.

For me, these realizations have encouraged me to look beyond what works only for me and people like me and look for formulas that are more universal. At some point, I realized that philosophical acceptance of other temperament-determined strategies could itself be considered an extreme viewpoint, given that rejection thereof is a far more common occurence. Most likely, I am in fact less philosophically accepting than much of my writing suggests, and militant promoters of a temperament-specific philosophy are actually not as militant as they appear. In certain situations, I might turn out to be more vehement than them. At any rate, thanks to socionics I am able to think about these things much more clearly, recognizing potential biases as they crop up in myself and others.

So, there you have it. Socionics is awesome! Despite the lack of empirical studies and other flaws, and despite all the caveats and pitfalls. Probably, after reading this article, you will have realized that each person's response to idea systems is highly individual.

Feb 4, 2012

Socionics Model and Associations

Here's most of a letter I wrote recently regarding my typing of person that was discussed at the Polish socionics forum:

The fact is, all socionists type by association, even those who claim otherwise. And all socionists apply some type of "model thinking" — even those who seem to type by association alone. I used to make more of an effort to present my thoughts and conclusions in "model language," but I don't care enough anymore. It's a kind of intellectual laziness that comes from feeling that the socionics model as it is is doomed anyway. Associations with people of known types are actually a good way of typing (and again, every socionist relies on them heavily) inasmuch as the types of the people being associated with were properly identified and analyzed by the typer.

People would like to think that socionists have some strict algorithm they apply, because this would make socionics easier to understand, apply, and develop further. However, I don't believe I've ever met such a socionist. As soon as a person begins taking responsibility for his typings of others, he finds that "model thinking" alone is insufficient to produce a result. It's like listening to a technical debate between two experts and trying to determine who is right using your emotional reactions alone with no intellectual knowledge of the subject. Emotional reactions can be honed and cleansed of outside influences to the point that they become a fine tool for understanding many things, but they are clearly inadequate to deal with primarily intellectual matters. Likewise, socionics is primarily about how we respond to different types of people on a mostly unconscious level. Using "model thinking" alone (if that were even possible) can get you quite far, but it's not the ultimate arbiter. The ultimate arbiter is the network of invisible psychological-emotional connections between people, which are hard to put into "model language." Once this invisible network becomes evident, you can use that to correct your understanding of the model.

At least that's the way I see things. Many socionists who emphasize a model-heavy approach would disagree with me, particularly those who are unable to feel the nuances of interpersonal interaction on an emotional level. But actually the whole reason of socionics' existence is to explain relationships, and the better it does that, the more useful it becomes. The model is a semi-decent approximation at best.