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Welcome to the first in my new Terribly Boring series, an extended tour of the pointless back alleys of the brain in which I expound two entirely separate thought systems, collide them forcibly and sweepingly with one another and see what happens. None of this, you understand, is to any real purpose beyond keeping me off the streets, but I venture to hope that it may occasionally induce exasperation, pity or puzzlement in you, the reader . . .

This week, Jungian psychological type-casting and democratic theory. You’re all quite grown-up enough to Wiki for yourselves, but here are the points which are relevant here:


Our particular form of democracy is founded on the principle that representatives can and will act in the best interests of the people, using powers that go beyond the literal proxy sense of representative. Whether this always necessarily means according to the people’s actual wishes on any one subject is a moot point. The consensus, given that our representatives are in place for a long cycle of time, is that actual wishes are not always taken into account. Actual participatory democracy by the people in governance and formulation of policy is very limited, and is becoming more so under the current government.

Our representative democracy is, peculiarly, fuelled by FPTP. The elected representative need only make a successful claim to articulate the thoughts and wishes of enough of their constituents, not necessarily a majority of them.

Carl Jung and his successors

Jung’s theory of psychology was based on typologies, that there were eight psychological “functions” split into four pairs. Every human being majors one way or t’other in each pair. Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers later carried the typology system to its logical conslusion, creating a psychological zodiac in which the entire population could be split into sixteen types by means of the four key pairs of variants.

Keirsey* then used this Myers Briggs Type Indicator as the basis for his theory of temperaments, and this is the system I am going to collide with democracy. It is an important concept in his system that human relationships will never be harmonious unless the essential differences in goals and outlook between these types is recognised (as far as possible) by all.

The four pairs of variants are:

Introverted or Extroverted – obvious

INtuitive or Sensory – are you more into ideas or things?

Thinking or Feeling – are you inclined to think rationally or emotionally?

Judgement or Perception – are you inclined to be structured and detail-focused or flexible and spontaneous?

There are plenty of variants of the test around – though many don’t carry the letter system as this is copyrighted. Here’s a good version from the Beeb. I generally come out as ENTP or INTP, because I am more extroverted than not, my world-view is conceptual (this is what the unlovely American “intuitive” means here) rather than based on, you know, stuff and things, I tend to base my decisions and reactions on thought rather than feeling, and I am more inclined to be flexible and disorganised, and tease out ever finer shades of meaning from a problem than I ever am to actually arrive at a conclusion or judgement, or just get my arse in gear generally. You can probably tell.

The collision 

We now exit the realm of the proveable and Wiki-able and enter MY HEAD.

The important bits, the operative bits, of a Kiersey typology are the two middle letters, and particularly that N or S. Whether you approach the world through abstract concepts or concrete things is absolutely fundamental. Now, an N-type person is not necessarily any more intelligent than an S-type person, we’re talking about different kinds of intelligence. But academia rewards the conceptual thinking of the N-type, and that is historically because all the people who set up and run educational systems, write IQ tests and so on, are themselves Ns. The capacity for abstract conceptual thought is what allowed humans to outstrip other mammals developmentally in the first place; it follows that an extra-refined capacity for conceptual thought within the human group allows those who possess it to design societal systems that advantage them over those who do not.

I’d be willing to bet (although totally unable to pay up), that you, dear reader, come out as N. Most of the blogosphere is by definition N, because you’re using a symbolic representational system composed of little wiggly black things on a screen, which is representative of the written alphabet, which itself is representative of all the various concepts in the world, physical and abstract, in order to define and advance your thought. Writing and reading are N activities.

I’d also bet, though less confidently, that you’re both I and T. The nature of the beast – communicating by computer – would suggest I. The nature of the subject broadly under discussion – polly-ticks – would suggest T, although there are a fair few sprinklings of you more passionate Fs out there as well.

On P and J, I don’t think there’s much of a bias, but I imagine that if you’re an elected representative or any other competent sort of person, you’ve come out as J. If you’re more of a rambling, dilettantish type whose train of thought can be derailed by. . . ooh look, a squirrel outside the window . . . sorry, where was I? Oh yes, if you’re like that then you’ve probably come out as P.

If you tot up the stats from my Keirsey book, which are based on everyone who has ever taken the test, you find that about 30% of everyone is an N, and 70% of everyone is an S. Ns are a sizeable minority. They are also a highly visible minority. We’ve already said that educational systems advantage Ns. Anything involving writing and conceptual comprehension advantages Ns. It follows that the – let us say – governing, managerial classes are almost entirely composed of Ns.

These Ns talk to each other, formulate law, have abstract discussion, are friends with each other, and have invented and perpetuate the concept of democracy. But since 70% of the people for whose benefit and in whose name all this is done are S-types, it’s a slightly pointless, though good-hearted, exercise. An N is never going to articulate or explain governance in a way that naturally makes sense to the S.

Put simply, representative democracy is psychologically impossible. What is possible, is genuine, grassroots democracy, such as is desired by the Liberal Democrat mindset (an N party if ever there was one) because that will enable concrete participation by the S. Proportional representation also allows the S type to come back into balance with the N, as FTPT biases in favour of the votes of your generally more politically involved Ns.

Thus it follows that the Liberal Democrat model of democracy is the only psychologically defensible option. However, we would do well to bear in mind that grassroots democracy will be an S democracy and, well, to us Ns it’s going to look pretty odd.

Join me again next time on Terribly Boring when I will be bringing Herbert Butterfield’s critique of the Whiggish interpretation of history to bear on modern business consultancy models. Guess who comes off better.

* The precise terms of the interaction between Kiersey and Jung’s theories are disputed. For the current whimsical purposes, this doesn’t matter.