Introversion extrapolated

Among salient points in Susan Cain’s book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) are 1) personality type in US culture was changed from rural agrarian-based values to values championed by urbanization and technology; 2) that introversion is not a failed extroversion but a distinct psychological reactivity that can be studied and objectified; and 3) introverts need to find a zone that best safeguards creativity and imagination in a world where the Extrovert Ideal (the West) is dominant.

Cain pleads the case for tolerance of introversion in society, workplace, and schooling because introvert qualities can better foster important social functions of creative and critical thinking, detail orientation, thoughtfulness and reflective forethought.

But the book’s summary of how introversion was eclipsed in the US by extroversion, from a culture of values such as integrity and character to a culture valuing salesmanship and glibness, can be made more robust. The shift was essentially that of capital’s triumph and the personality type needed to enforce this victory, first domestically through advertizing and fostering of consumption, then globally over the markets of the East where introvert cultures had to be overthrown. The process of imperialism and globalization hollowed out the dominant classes in the East in order to replace them with Westernized functionaries. The East was taken out of the East and replaced with the West. What Europe, especially Britain — succeeded by the US — did to India, China, Japan, and to Central and West Asian lands in an effort to dominant and force them to consume Western values takes on a new cultural perspective when considered from the view of cultural personality. In the US, the process was more baldly domestic because it was not foreign but familiar.

In this light, what can be expected of the hope that the dominant cultural personality of extroversion will accommodate introvert values or personality types? If the whole consumerist modern culture is oblivious to the fouling and destruction of nature and resources for the sake of control, what will change? Cain herself notes that when extroverts engage in risky behavior and the result is clear failure or destruction, they not only do not back off but accelerate the destructiveness, being “geared to respond” rather than accustomed to forethought and conscience. And that is the quintessence of what is happening today, with modern advanced cultures (of the West, or simply Westernized) accelerating self-destructive behavior — in finance, environment, war.

These observations are clearly corroborated by psychologist Robert Hare, who has studied psychopathy for decades. By definition, psychopathy is ruthless and egoistic behavior that excludes empathy in the desire for control, what might be ultimately considered behavior “geared to respond” in the most subjective and destructive ways. Unlike stereotypical versions of psychopaths being serial killers, psychopaths are cool, social, functional, and successful. Psychopaths effectively present a set of behaviors that are recognizable as aggressive in breaking rules, codes, and ethical expectations, but not necessarily criminal or illegal in what they do. They are often the culture’s heroes.

In Hare’s pioneering 1993 book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us presented the characteristics of psychopathy. The important conclusion Hare made is not only to narrowly refine the characteristics of psychopathy but to observe them on a larger social scale. Hare followed up this applied analysis in his 2006 book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, the basis of the intriguing 2009 documentary film I Am Fishead, with the startling opening lines (spoken by Peter Coyote):

Imagine that the most handsome charismatic person stares you straight in the eye and says: “You’re special. You look good. And you’re good at what you do.” He seems to know just what you like. He reads your innermost thoughts, and you feel like you’ve discovered a soul mate, a deep intimacy. You’re experiencing one of those rare fleeting moments that makes life worth living. Ah! Before you know it you’re involved in a deep personal bond … with a psychopath.

The film examines corporate settings for psychopathic behavior, and finds it, easily. But despite apologists who might consider such behavior exceptional, the corporate sector is the engine of modern culture, and its values must thrive on a degree of psychopathy that is cultural, let alone those flagship leaders within who spawn crime, corruption, control, power, war, and psychopathy. Susan Cain discovered the heart of personality in briefly talking to students at Harvard Business School. When she explained to them the topic of her research, they told her: “There are no introverts here.”

So the expectation that culture and society will in any way accommodate the introvert is extremely unlikely. Better for introverts to follow the rest of popular advice and find a safe niche in which to be creative.

The content of psychopathy applied to a cultural setting is also confirmed by the historian Morris Berman, who popularizes the subject of US society and culture, his most recent book being Why America Failed. In some ways, Berman’s reliance on anecdotal cases of ignorance on the part of Americans has been well covered by critics and comedians. For example, the ignorance of American high school students who do not know the name of their first president or of what country the US revolted against is familiar. A medieval audience or a contemporary one in poverty might have been and is the same intellectually. The point must be that the powerful do not necessarily want an educated populace, a populace to question, reason, criticize and express moral indignation. Ignorance becomes a cultural introversion without any of the virtues. Such a structure is necessary for the execution of a psychopathic policy inimical to the needs of others. A seamless explanation emerges, an indictment as much of the lack of values as of the dangerous potentials of misunderstood or ignored personality types and their effects on humanity. The introvert and the solitary need not abide in waiting for society to change; the evidence is everywhere that it does not.