Accounting for Bias in Political Opinions

Posted: March 2, 2012 in Piano

English: President George W. Bush and Presiden...

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I am going to try to wrap up the topic of typology in this blog. I am anxious to move on to new topics as they relate to the Model of Community, and as much as I like typology, I know most people regard it as hocus-pocus science at best.

So…

Summary

  • Viewing the spectrum of political opinion
  • Accounting for bias in personal assessments
  • MBTI Team Building Guide
  • Assessing President Obama
  • Conclusions

Viewing the Spectrum of Political Opinion

You have opinions about politics. Take a step back with me and let’s view the spectrum of contributors to the marketplace of ideas. We’ll need a subject to use as an example. Let’s use President Obama. How may different views of the President are active in the public forum?

As we view the field of political opinion, you know there are sixteen types of people.  You took the test, know your type, and might have reviewed several similar profiles.

You also know there are four basic archetypes of personality; information you gleaned from reading David Keirsey’s page.

There are criticisms of Myers-Briggs too.  There are a few here if you scroll down, but they are not entirely accurate (in my opinion). I won’t go into that here, but there is one point that is relevant to today’s topic.

2. Different theorists who study leaders have assigned leaders such as George Washington and Abe Lincoln to different M-B categories.  For example, while most commentators score George Bush as ISTJ, Otto Kroeger, author of  Types Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love  and Work says Bush is INFP. To assess George Bush’s MBTI style he used key words White House watchers used to describe him.

The author missed the significance of his own critique! Priceless. MBTI is a SELF assessment tool. Using “key words White House watchers used to describe” Bush (#40) combines the assessments of OTHERS. The keywords would always be biased by the temperaments of the observers. The result would not necessarily be an accurate assessment of Bush’s temperament. It would only be an assessment of what other people assess his MBTI to be. The MBTI is an assessment tool intended to be used by an individual for the purposes of that individual. When it is used to analyze what others think about an individual subject, then you must account for bias in each person’s account.

And that is the subject of today. You have opinions about politics, and so does everyone else. It is important and necessary to account for your bias and the bias of others.

16 MBTI Types

Accounting for Bias in Personal Assessments

You are influenced by the opinions of others; most often those of people who 1. Think like you and 2. Communicate in ways you can understand.

Since President Obama is subject to intense scrutiny by people of every type, it seems prudent to isolate criticisms that contain bias, or at least account for the bias in the critiques.

MTBI Team Building Guide

Every type has strengths and weaknesses. The MBTI Team Building Program offers insights into each type so team members better understand other members. For example, if you are an ISTJ, I know from reading the text of that program that you would lead a group by “being open to facts, conducting efficient, focused meetings, and clarifying tasks, methods, and expectations.”

Other categories explain how you contribute to the team, maximize effectiveness and how you influence team members. As it relates to politics, the MBTI provides insights into what irritates you about other participants.

An ISTJ is irritated by people who interrupt or talk too much, “lack follow through, waste the team’s time by discussing personal or unrelated issues, and who are discourteous and uncooperative.”

What type is President Obama? He is extroverted, forward thinking, and scheduled. That gives us ENXJ, where X is the unknown (to me) component. Is he an F or a T? Does he make decisions based on the facts, or based on people? I am going to go with ENFJ. Obama is all about people!

The MBTI Team Building Program says the ENFJ leads by: facilitating goal accomplishments through cooperation and consideration of all opinions. Provides insightful, focused planning to reach goals, and uses the resources of all team members and assures diversity.

Basically, he is a coach. He sees strengths in individuals and facilitates by enabling them to bring their skills to bear.

The ENFJ is said to irritate team members by “appearing ‘bossy’ or doing too much for others, remaining loyal to undeserving people or causes, spending too much time on interpersonal issues.” (I have no evidence this applies to Obama. This is just what the MBTI guide says about ENFJs)

In addition to each type’s preferences, we would then have to compile the list of the things that each other type finds irritating about the ENFJ.  For instance, as mentioned above, the ISTJ might criticize President Obama by saying, “He lacks follow through.”

No matter who is President, the ISTJ is going to be irritated by anyone who lacks follow-through. The relevant question is, if he lacks follow-through, does that have an adverse effect on the quality of his work? If the work is okay, what does it matter that he doesn’t follow-through? Well, it will always matter to an ISTJ. The question is, is it relevant as an assessment? It may not be.

My “NT” evaluation of an SJ is based on my preferences. The SJ thinks ‘lack of follow-through” is a weakness in others because the SJ values following-through. By comparison, in my assessment of the importance of following through, I place more importance on the quality of the work desired. To me, it is not especially important to follow protocol in order to achieve the desired goal. The SJ, as a lover of rules and protocols, develops plans and expects them to be followed. The NT, as a lover of utility and strategy, values independent action in order to encourage a better outcome.

The lesson here is that in order to get a fair read about President Obama (or anyone in particular) you have to account for the biases that exist within each observer who is assessing Obama’s performance. Well – you don’t have to, but if you want to make a fair assessment of President Obama, you would want to know if the critique was fair, or just based on someone’s biased assessment, or your own.

How would you reconcile the different views held by the SJ and NT in the example above? Each type must account for the preferences of the other in a respectful way. The SJ must allow that follow-through is not always a critical determinant of a successful outcome. The NT must allow that in addition of the desire for a successful outcome, there must be continuity in the process. it is through compromises like this that the SJ and NT can enjoy the skills that each team member possesses.

Assessments Made with Intentional Bias

Many, if not most, of the actors in politics have no motivation to make fair assessments. The media is not going to make a fair assessment. Candidates for office won’t either. Most actors in politics know precisely how you are likely to react, and many of them INTENTIONALLY shape their messages to elicit your predicted reaction. Each agent is going to reinforce the goals and needs if his or her representative institution in the evaluation of a candidate or elected leader.Earlier I wrote that the goals of a group, in order of importance, are preservation, growth and service.

Agents acting on the interest of a group will assess candidates based on the goals and needs of the group. Any view or policy which threatens the existence, vitality or purposes of the group will receive a biased and unfavorable review. The criticism directed towards President Obama regarding insurance for birth control prescriptions is a good example. It is generally true that all groups will assess political candidates and events using a bias that seeks to improve or sustain that group’s ability to meet its own goals. A loyal member of a group may be critical of any individual who is perceived as a threat to the goals of that preferred group.

Birds of a Feather…

People who are of similar type are going to have similar assessments. Try to gain input from people who do not think the way you think. Accept that the things which irritate you about others may not be as important as you think. We live in the age of biased media. Learn about current events from a variety of sources. If your opinions are only persuading people who are like you, or who are members of your groups, your assessments are probably based on a high degree of bias. Agreement between like-minded individuals (or within close-knit groups) is not enough to validate an assessment of any elected official who seeks to serve a diverse population of people who by definition, are not like-minded.

As we saw with the critique of President George Bush, which was based on the assessments of other people, we remain uncertain as to what type George Bush really was as president.  In fact, everything I have written on this subject today is going to be viewed through your (and my) type “lenses”. It often amazes me that any of us ever understand each other at all. If none of us have a clue about what is going on, then how do we get so much stuff done!?

Our Opinions Only Describe What We Can See

There are many sources of viewpoints in the public forum. Your view competes in the marketplace of opinions with the opinions of the remaining fifteen types.  The analogy would be the story of the blind men who examined an elephant. The moral of the story suggests that since we are blind we should not try to describe things we cannot see. Different people will see things differently. I take an additional message from that story. In politics, we must describe things we cannot see, but we need to be aware that we are blind in our assessments.

Our opinions only describe what we can see.

A little humility in political discourse is required.  That humility exists in the day-to-day interactions of politicians, but it is only rarely evident in campaign advertising or public debates. The last thing you will ever hear in a televised debate is, “You’re right — I need to rethink my position on that.”) Texas Governor Rick Perry went that route when he said, “Oops!”. That didn’t produce a good result.  Politics does not work if each participant is not allowed to ever make a mistake. Televised debates do not account for the consensus building that occurs between politicians. And the public is too often called upon to referee the childish antics of ambitious politicians.

Politicians know that no person can excel in all areas of strengths. They are forgiving of each other more than they reveal to us. When I wrote my assessment of Rick Santorum as an ESTJ, a “hand’s on” decision maker who is a lover of tradition, you can imagine that he is not going to be enamored with a President who is a “hand’s off” manager/coach, who is focused on the future. If we remove personalities from the critique, we are left with a question about what type of leader we need now. Do we need a hand’s on decision maker with a love of tradition, or a coach who builds a team and tries to inspire the nation with ideas to manage non-traditional and emerging challenges? Is there another archetype we might seek? Each person will answer that question in terms of their own preferences.

Population of Types and Two Rules for Forward Thinkers

Earlier I wrote about the population distribution of types (according to David Keirsey). If it is true that 12% are NT, 12% are NF, 38% are SJ and 38% are SP, then the Sensing S type, grounded in the here and now, is always going to account for an overwhelming majority in any election.

So there are some rules that NTs and NFs must follow. They must account for the ability and willingness of SJs and SPs to understand and embrace forward thinking strategies, respectively.  S types are not easily inspired by the future, potential and opportunity.  They are the keepers of tradition. They are not particularly fond of change. That gives rise to the second rule.

The Intuitive types have to pace themselves when introducing new ideas, policies and programs. The S Types are not enemies. They are a critical component in getting things done and making them successful and effective.  If the NT/NF leader runs too far ahead of the pack, he or she may soon be beyond the line-of-sight of those who were following.  When that happens, the pack stops, wanders, loses focus, and gets really irritated.

I also mentioned that NTs and NFs like change in general, but they do not like changes they do not agree with. NTs and NFs run as a pack too, but they are usually filling leadership roles within the greater pack. When they see a forward thinking leader advance beyond the sight of the pack, or when their leader misses an obvious shortcut through a range of mountains, they will turn to caring for their assigned group, or rally the pack to follow a new leader.

This is my assessment of what has happened to President Obama. He has been a great president, but he went too far ahead too quickly. The pack is strewn behind him in disarray. A lot of leaders (Republicans) contributed to the disarray, but there are always disgruntled leaders in any pack. The greater problem is the loss of NF and NT types who became disenchanted with the quality of President Obama’s programs. It is too early to tell though.

This election is quickly turning into a battle between lesser evils. That really isn’t what we need. We need someone to emerge as the “real deal”; someone who can lead from the middle of the pack, instead of from the fringe.  We can’t go back to the 50s, and we seem to have lost sight of where Obama is headed. It is my forward-thinking NT prediction that the U.S. is not going to enjoy a unified effort on today’s controversial issues until this generation of post baby-boomer leaders and followers dies out. However, the arguments for traditions are losing their impact.

A segment of the population will always want to reinstate traditional values. We hear the same old arguments. The arguments aren’t old; it is the reference point of tradition that is getting old. In the 90s, the Conservatives wanted to take us back to the 50s. Now it is the teens and they still want to take us back to the 50s. Those traditions are aging and fewer people are finding reasonable value in restoring them to their prehistoric value. (That word reveals my own bias. Did you catch that?) Does anyone really believe we will ever return to a time when gay marriage is illegal? That is simply not going to happen! People who disagree will not change just because change is inevitable. They will take their opinions to the grave. And that is exactly what will happen to this generation that has sustained disunity in our nation.

Conclusions on Typology

Account for your bias in your assessments of others. Do not rely solely on your close friends to validate your opinions. Adjacent types will more often agree with you. The four opposite types will rarely agree with you. Seek out diversity in political opinions among the remaining eight types. Account for bias in the opinions of others. Understand that everyone is self-interested, especially groups and institutions. Support of a candidate is almost always conditional: support is given if a benefit is derived. Try to disregard the sources of personal irritations and focus on the issues. It is completely acceptable to be against an issue, but agree that it is time to make a change. What is best for our nation may not be what is best for you. Conversely, what is best for you may not be what is best for our nation. 

Within the matrix of typology’s sixteen types, each type excels in an area of expertise better than the other fifteen types. If you have read about ENTPs, you know we love to argue and we are really good at it. And the #1 rule of arguing is this: he who gets angry first, loses.

Try not to get angry over politics. In the end, it all works out. The sun is going to keep on shining.

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