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The Big Answer


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The Nine American Lifestyles: Who We Are and Where We're Going

a book by Arnold Mitchell

(our site's book review)

The author presents the VALS (values, attitudes and lifestyles) typology and many other typologies of human development. Work at SRI International on the Values and Lifestyle program is ongoing—they’re still refining their definitions. There’s a very useful table that compares various typologies with VALS, such as those of Riesman, Maslow, Erikson, Shostrum, Peck and Fromm. Although the table has correctly positioned the various typology categories, the text discussing some of its elements isn’t everything it could be.

Asserting that Riesman used the term inner-directed to mean selfish rather than self-aware is crude and sloppy. Anyone who has read and understood The Lonely Crowd knows that that’s a poor assessment of what Riesman meant. To Riesman, inner-directed people are conformists who are superego-guided people who’ve internalized their parents’ and country’s values and are at effect of those values, and feel driven to conform to them. They have not reached autonomy, nor do they necessarily pursue or even recognize the existence of such a self-aware condition in which one is at cause and chooses one’s actions with the guidance of an intrinsic, self-selected values set, rather than having a superego dictate what is best.

The fact that the VALS people decided to use Riesman’s inner-directed term in a way far different than Riesman did was in our opinion a mistake. Although it is possible an inner-directed person might be selfish, this is hardly a given. It's more likely he'd be too guilty and fearful to be selfish. Riesman’s classic typology work should not have been warped or confused by later typologists who couldn’t seem to come up with their own term. It merely confounds people studying these issues. It’s bad enough that older meanings of “liberal” and newer ones are nearly diametrically opposed in some aspects, thereby diluting and muddling important issues relating to the liberal-conservative continuum. But it’s worse that the VALS people knew the consequences of mucking up a perfectly well-defined Riesman term but chose to do so anyway. We wish they’d correct their error and reverse their decision. At least with their use of the term outer-directed, they pointedly refrained from being confused with Riesman’s other-directed term.

Mitchell’s estimates of the fraction of Americans that qualify as Integrated (which corresponds with self-actualized, autonomous, productive, at cause, mature and self-directed—the highest maturity level encountered) is 1/50th or two percent.

We concur. Like all educated, knowledgeable people, this author understands that the most mature, effective and healthy level of functioning—autonomy—is the goal we all strive for in order to have optimal lives.

We didn’t notice him mentioning that there’s a group of pseudoknowledgeable right-wing authors writing in the 80s (and in the 90s and in the new millenium, although he couldn’t know this since his book came out in 1983) who have decided to warp and mystify all the definitions of the words relating to optimal psychological, characterological and ontological growth. This misguided group boasts such foolish definitions as: autonomy is self-obsession at the expense of community, self-actualization is also self-obsession at the expense of community, growth is how self-obsessed people spend their time pursuing their rights rather than their responsibilities, and self-esteem is something one should only have after one has "succeeded." The tragedy here is that people are able to undergo sixteen to twenty years of education, perhaps even ending up with Ph.D.s, and become eloquent speakers and writers, and yet not grasp some of the most basic facts of life in our country.

A professor
A professor

There isn’t the slightest doubt that people need to seek and find autonomy and self-actualization and self-esteem for optimal mental health, and yet many writers on the right actually deny this fact. It would seem that they have never read (or at least never understood) any of the books that are classics of psychological progress and knowledge, nor have they managed to consult the experts in psychology, sociology and social psychology and find out the state-of-the-art knowledge in these fields.

Psychiatrist
Psychiatrist

Instead, they have decided to divisively polarize as many minds as possible on such subjects as their way of performing search-and-destroy missions for the right wing of the Culture War. Their agenda is transparent and depressing. It’s the black-and-white, neurotic, polarized thinking in which everything not distinctly right wing is bad, irresponsible, incorrect, improper, wrong, and selfish. It hasn’t dawned on them that healthy psychological maturity isn’t right or left—it’s human. They need it as much as left, middle, or nonpolitical people—simply because they’re human beings. Their misinformation in this area is on a par with the religious radicals’ contention that humanists (e.g., Carl Sagan, Erich Fromm, many of the Founders of our country, and many more) are Satanists and that it is blasphemous to teach evolution (as if the Bible was written with the purpose of being a science book that should overshadow all future scientific knowledge!). Perhaps they'd see things more clearly if their heads were not buried deep in the sand.

Their heads are buried deep in the sand
Their heads are buried deep in the sand