Smart people saying smart things

Kimberly Knight: “What took you so long or PTL?”

Today, and last week, and last month, my gut reaction is gratitude Ð and hope. With that impulse I am choosing not to jump into the “nothing is ever good enough” or “why now, why not two decades ago” critique campaign. I just want to believe that one step and a time, one heart at a time compassion and justice are seeping into every corner of our beautiful and broken world.

OK, to be a little less squishy and more matter-of-fact, these powerful men and women hold the key to the equality of many, so at the end of the day I guess I don’t care so much why or when they’ve changed official positions, just that they are. Either way I believe that the end result is the same and that the arc is bending before our very eyes.

Gershom Gorenberg: “Don’t Be Naive, That Speech Was a Revolution”

After a couple of days for careful reflection, it’s clear: Barack Obama gave an amazing speech. The president of the United States stood in a hall in Jerusalem, and with empathy and with bluntness that has been absent for so long we forgot it could exist, told Israelis: The occupation can’t go on. It’s destroying your own future. And besides that, Palestinians have “a right to … justice” and “to be a free people in their own land.”

If you don’t think this is a breakthrough, you are letting naïve pessimism overcome realism. Yes, it’s true that one speech will be worth nothing if not followed by intense American diplomacy. That comment has become banal. A realistic assessment is that Obama’s visit, and the speech, were the opening act of an American diplomatic effort — a near perfect opening.

Dean Burnett: “Nothing Personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs test”

There are many possible reasons why the MBTI is so entrenched in workplaces and promoted so enthusiastically. There’s the expense and training involved, mentioned above. It may be because everyone uses it, so people conclude it must be reliable, and thus its success becomes self perpetuating. Also, any personality type you get assigned is invariably positive. There is no combination of answers you could give on the MBTI which says “you’re an arsehole.”

James McGrath: “What I Like About You(ng-Earth Creationists)”

The call of Jesus was not to hang around with him denying prevailing scientific theories in his time. It was to join him in loving Romans and Samaritans and not just Jews. It was to spend time with the marginalized and touch the untouchable. It was to live in a manner that embodied different values. Today’s Christians tend to think that by rejecting science, or claiming that something they call science is “true science,” they are “going against the flow” and embodying different values. But a closer inspection shows that in fact these things embody the same values – among them, science as the only means to truth (coupled at times with a dose of postmodern rhetoric suggesting that everything is just a matter of interpretation when that argument is convenient). But also distracting from the fact that we are not feeding the hungry, much less transforming society in Jesus’ name to eliminate hunger.

If young-earth creationists took their same willingness to stand against the flow, and applied it to the things the Bible emphasizes, they would put me to shame, instead of bringing shame on the Christian faith as they now do.

Women in Theology: “God Is Constantly Coming Out to Us”

Because in that stretched moment that surrounds the words “I’m a lesbian,” I’m not giving you information about who I am. I’m inviting you into who I am. Yes, in some pale shadow of how God offers herself — but also in one of the very ways that God’s self-gift is given. That is what I hold onto when I’m overwhelmed and exhausted with how coming out isn’t a once-and-done thing. That’s what I hold onto when I think I can’t bear the awkwardness of it one more time. I hold onto the idea that in coming out, I’m offering someone the opportunity to see how I love, and to love me and be loved by me in a way that doesn’t hold anything back, that has no part locked-away and inaccessible.

Because that’s how I’ve come to know God. She doesn’t dole out pieces of information, one tablespoon to one person but three cups to another. She doesn’t give out information at all. She gives herself.


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  • AnonaMiss

    I found the Myers-Briggs profoundly useful to me at a point in my life when I was coming to grips with the fact that I do have emotions and you know what, that’s OK. (INTP, btw.) Specifically, it was the idea that INTP implies Fe. From what I had absorbed about introverts, I thought that we were supposed to be restrained and self-controlled; I beat myself up about feeling surges of emotion that didn’t “stop at the gate” for thoughtful reflection before being let out – didn’t seem to come from “inside”, from “me”, even. The idea of internally- and externally-directed traits helped to relieve my anxiety about my own emotions, and learn to keep quiet, let the wave pass unhindered, and then analyze it and decide whether and how to act on it.

    I hadn’t encountered the idea that people think you’re either one or the other on each of the polar scales. Whenever I’ve encountered MBTI it’s always treated each dimension as a spectrum, so that if you are (say) a weak S or a weak N, you may find something useful for you in both ISTJ and INTJ. If I had encountered someone with the idea that “The test said you are ESTP so you are ESTP regardless of your own experiences!”, I’m sure my experience with MBTI would have been far less positive.

  • rbean

    I’m not surprised that HR departments are misusing the MBTI, but that doesn’t make it worthless– it just means it’s possible to misuse anything by not understanding it.

    Part of the problem is that some personality types are more common than others, and if your personality is similar to 80% of the population, it might not seem like a big deal. But those of us in the minority need to know that we’re not abnormal, and the MBTI can help us find each other. The idea that personality types exist may be more important than how you define them.

    But that doesn’t mean that posting your MBTI type on the door of your office is going to help. And no, it’s not binary, it’s common to be strong or weak on some traits.

    I’ve found David Keirsey’s idea of grouping the 16 MBTI types into four subtypes particularly useful. For example, he claims that for NT and NF types, the I/E and P/J aspects are less important. Similarly, for the SP and SJ types, the I/E and T/F traits are less important. This meshes well with other theories that there are (approximately) four personality types, but people have different ways of defining them.

    And the idea that introverts are not just extroverts who haven’t figured it out yet is *really* important.

  • Carstonio

    I suspect that Democrats like Hillary Clinton really did favor legalizing same-sex marriage, or at least supported the principles involves, but didn’t say so out of political expediency. If so, that seems more craven to me than moderate or establishment Republicans who attempt to curry favor with the party’s reactionary base. Clinton’s husband threw gays and lesbians under the bus in signing DOMA, and while he did the right thing in finally acknowledging his wrong, that doesn’t expunge his record.

    Perhaps some of the Democratic votes for DOMA might have been driven by a different kind of fear. Not of losing office but of being accused of closeted homosexuality, particularly the male politicians.

  • Michele Cox

    Huh. No one ever suggested to me that the Myers-Briggs was binary — what I’d read about it rather strongly suggested the opposite, in fact, and I often test out as XNfX — strongly N, slightly F, and pretty much down the middle on E/I and P/J. If I take it thinking about work situations, I generally come out iNtj; if I think about social situations I come out eNfp. About the only consistent thing about me is the N :D …Well, that and a certain “well, sometimes…” sort of feeling ;)

    My sense is that almost any “personality test” — even “could you date Justin Bieber” — could be useful if it’s approached usefully, with an understanding that humans are complex and tricky beasts, and damaging if it’s approached damagingly, with a procrustean sort of “if it doesn’t fit our bed measurements it’s not real” attitude. It’s really distressing when people who are supposed to be professionals in any human-centered field go with the second of those.

  • Michele Cox

    Huh. No one ever suggested to me that the Myers-Briggs was binary — what I’d read about it rather strongly suggested the opposite, in fact, and I often test out as XNfX — strongly N, slightly F, and pretty much down the middle on E/I and P/J. If I take it thinking about work situations, I generally come out iNtj; if I think about social situations I come out eNfp. About the only consistent thing about me is the N :D …Well, that and a certain “well, sometimes…” sort of feeling ;)

    My sense is that almost any “personality test” — even “could you date Justin Bieber” — could be useful if it’s approached usefully, with an understanding that humans are complex and tricky beasts, and damaging if it’s approached damagingly, with a procrustean sort of “if it doesn’t fit our bed measurements it’s not real” attitude. It’s really distressing when people who are supposed to be professionals in any human-centered field go with the second of those.

  • GDwarf

    The problem with M-B isn’t misusing it, it’s the fact that it’s worthless. It’s got nothing backing it up but the ideas of Jung, who was pretty much universally wrong.

    Yet I’ve seen it everywhere. Had a class in high school where we had to take these to determine what careers we were best suited for. Had to take it again in college for career recommendations, too.

    The whole thing is just horoscopes dressed up in lab coats and holding clipboards.

    Edit: That’s not to say it might not be useful for *some* people in *some* situations, but then, so is a punch to the gut.

  • Krutikov

    Bwahahaha at “Obama’s revolutionary speech”. This blog has a good sense of humour. Finger-wagging at Israel, while continuing to support it in every possible way is not “revolutionary”, and a Palestinian state in Gaza/West Bank would be a lowly Israeli vassal with no real sovereignty, anyway, not to mention that Israel would probably annex even more.

  • Results of repeated taking of the test have shown that I come down more or less (close enough that I couldn’t tell you whether it is more or less) fifty-fifty on two of the categories and thus fall into four of the personality types the test gives.

    Which means that if you want to know what the test says about my personality you need to read four personality profiles and then synthesize them.

    I’m hardly the only one who comes in half way on one of the things, but the trouble is that if the test acknowledged that it would need 81 personality types instead of sixteen and then people would come in halfway between those things, probably more than currently come in half way, so make that 625 personality types, but every time you split you end up with even more halfway points, meaning even more people are likely to fall on them, meaning more personality profiles (6561, 83521, so on).

    All of which means that even if you agree with the assumption that there are these four areas that human beings can have their personalities judged on, the closer the test comes to approximating reality the less useful it becomes. Right now it models reality kind of crap-like because it totally fails for those on or near the 50-50 mark in any of the four areas. But deal with that and suddenly you go from the somewhat manageable 16 types to 81 types which is less so, and that doubles the amount of 50-50 marks (though the new ones are, at least, not at the center of the peak of the distribution.)

    The test is interesting, but so is astrology. Interesting and scientific are rather different things.

  • From the summary:

    Kimberly Knight celebrates the sight of a long arc “bending before our very eyes;”

    This is really quite true!

    As recently as a few years ago, Bill O’Reilly never would have even touched the topic of same-sex marriage. Now, though, apparently he feels he needs to endorse it, even if only to stay relevant in the eyes of his audience, or because he feels he can make a conservative case for it.

    But the walls of Jericho the conservative edifice of anti-SSM are surely coming down :D

    And that is indeed a bit of a miracle after so many years.

  • banancat

    I suspect that I’m cases where it seems accurate, it’s a combination of the Forer effect and confirmation bias. I don’t think it has ever been studied scientifically.

  • AnonaMiss

    Oh definitely; I didn’t mean to imply that it was valid, just that it helped me.

  • It has been studied scientifically actually. Apparently quite a lot. The resulting conclusion seems to be that only part of it has any scientific value at all, and it happens to have quite limited value.

  • fraser

    I started reading the Meyers Briggs article. Stopped when he said it’s completely binary, because it isn’t. At least, the version I underwent had a scale, so it’s not either/or, it’s more this/less that.

  • Not according to Isabel Myers (not sure what her mother Katharine Briggs thought.) Direction of preference was considered more important than degree thus even if you’re one question into I-territory you’re treated the same as someone who is every question into I-territory.

    Of course that’s how the test is supposed to be treated based on its creator’s intent, it says nothing of how it was administered to you.

  • I’ve always resisted taking the Myers-Briggs test precisely because I don’t want my personality categorized (and categorized imprecisely, at that) nor to encourage anyone to make assumptions about me based on that categorization. And in that “anyone” I include myself, so I don’t even want to know where the MBTI would place me.

    That said, I find astrology (any system! Take your pick!) a lot of fun. I probably can find it fun, and a safe place to play, because vanishingly few people out in the “real world” of corporate HR departments and armchair psychology take it seriously.

    Also, it’s full of mythological stories and beasties. “I’m a dragon!” or “I’m a Taurus with Aries rising!” just sparks the imagination more than “I’m a four-letter acronym!”

    tl;dr: without wishing to belittle anyone who gets usefulness out of the MBTI or to deny them the benefits, personally I’ll take astrology over the MBTI any day.

  • And the idea that introverts are not just extroverts who haven’t figured it out yet is *really* important.

    This. About a million times, this.

  • I took the M-B test while I was in college and came up with pretty close to a neutral score (if I recall, I had a very, very small lean toward being an introvert, but the other three were almost completely neutral).

    Today’s the first I’ve thought of it since then.

  • stardreamer42

    I found MBTI by having a book recommended to me by a friend, and reading that book was like having a whole series of lightbulbs go off in my brain, one after another. It shed so much understanding on the basis for a lot of my conflicts with my parents, and gave me some keys for improving relationships with my co-workers. And while the classifications are binary, the book also emphasized that the degree to which people express their preferred traits varies from person to person, and may also vary in the same person over time. (I am less of an Introvert now than I was in high school, but I’m definitely still an Introvert.) It also pushed me away from certain types of One-True-Wayism, which was a valuable thing in and of itself.

    I think the problem with MBTI is that people want to approach it as a Magic Cure-All. It’s not. It’s just a tool that some people may find useful and others less so, and it’s only one of many possible tools.

  • Vermic

    I think the MBTI is fun, and taking it helped open my eyes to the vast array of personality types out there. (One way in which I find MBTI superior to, say, astrology is that I can look at any random sign’s horoscope for any random day and apply it to myself; whereas I can read the profiles of various MBTI combinations, and some describe me while others emphatically do not.) It helped me comprehend introversion/extraversion as a thing, and to realize that there is a continuum and where I stand on it, and I found and find that insight useful.

    But as a practical tool — for HR departments, or for assembling a team — I find it pretty useless. Much like using credit rating as an objective measure of employee quality. Probably inevitable, though; large organizations love any system that promises to reduce knotty, squishy human problems to a series of simple metrics.

  • Lunch Meat

    I think the MBTI (and other personality tests) are valuable to the extent that introspection is valuable. They encourage you to contemplate and articulate your values and acknowledge the way your values differ from the values of those around you. It helped me recognize some of the ways my husband and I are different and think about the constructive and destructive ways we deal with those differences.

    And I know, confirmation bias, etc, etc, but the tips for dealing with stress and for how to help other people deal with stress were spot-on, for both of us.

    Obviously it’s not binary, it’s not the most important thing about a person, nor should it be used in hiring, promotion, etc. Our HR department knows this, even though we use the MBTI, but then I work for a really great company.

  • Jessica_R

    Eh, I don’t think you have to respect or like YECs at all frankly. It’s a false assumption that science is to have no wonder or sense of awe, look at Carl Sagan. And secondly they aren’t harmless, they’ve actively trying to ruin science education in public schools. They can teach whatever crackpot nonsense they like in their private schools and churches, but the very moment they start taking public funds for Creation museums and trying to push “teach the controversy” in public schools is the exact moment I stop having to be polite.

  • Yeah, same here. I was like “WHOA!” back in high school when I took it, but it’s kind of faded into the background of my memory since. :)

  • Kubricks_Rube

    The number of GOP Senators endorsing SSM has just doubled! Mark Kirk continues his post-stroke awakening:
    When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others. Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back—government has no place in the middle.

  • Worthless Beast

    The Myers-Briggs… I don’t recall ever encountering it in a workplace (if I ever had, my result was probably a red flag of “do not hire!”), but I encounter it in online quizzes people post for fun all the time.
    I invariably get INFP – all the time. The last time I took a quiz using that model, I was pegged as a “Dreamy Idealist.” I complained in the forum I was on that “They always make the assessment sound so positive when all I’m thinking when I’m answering questions is how much of a loser I am.” – I mean, I tend to be late, not punctual (when I’m being honest, in the for fun online quizzes), I tend to be more overly emotional than a creature of logic. Introverted rather than extraverted…. Each and every one of these things that get people who draw up results for these tests to peg me as a creative dreamer or someone who would potentially change the world!!! – seems to me like they are things that make it very hard for me to survive and fit into the world.
    I went so far as to say “It’s the personality type of writers and artists, but the true cold hard fact of the world is that *very few* artsits or writers ever become sucessful enough to *make up for* having the personalities of artists an writers.”
    All the insufferable inept crazy people who can’t get along in life without a lot of help from other people – just plunk ’em down in INFP. That’s where I am, and what I know myself to be.
    Like I said, if I’ve ever been given this test as an employment assessment – it’s why I didn’t get the job.

  • The_L1985

    “I’m not surprised that HR departments are misusing the MBTI, but that
    doesn’t make it worthless– it just means it’s possible to misuse
    anything by not understanding it.”

    The MBTI is very binary, though, and human personalities tend to fall along a continuum, with more people in the middle than there are at either end. That’s like saying that people’s skin is either pasty-white, or jet-black–there are far too many in-betweens for that to be true.

    “And the idea that introverts are not just extroverts who haven’t figured it out yet is *really* important.”

    I agree. But there are also those of us who need plenty of both alone time and time with others, or we feel drained. I’m one of those people, and it’s a crazy tight-rope. Some people are introverts, some people are extroverts, and some of us have the characteristics of both.

  • MikeJ

    I didn’t mean to imply that it was valid, just that it helped me.
    In much the same way tarot cards can be useful. No, they can’t actually tell you anything, but they give you a random picture and make you try to make the story of the picture have something to do with the story of your life. It’s interesting to find a different way to look at things.

    The tarot cards/personality test are still nonsense, but your brain can do interesting and even useful stuff even with nonsense.

  • The_L1985

    The version I took was very clearly binary.

  • The_L1985

    The version I took was definitely very either-or. I haven’t seen it as having a scale, beyond “More than X of this kind of answer means you’re Intuitive!”

  • P J Evans

    I don’t believe I’ve ever done that test.
    I remember taking standardized tests for a job, and they were math and reading and, once, a really fun test on mechanical reasoning (best question: a large helicopter and a small helicopter are on the surface of the moon: which one will lift off faster?).

  • Winter

    For some reason, this is my first response: The moon has no atmosphere, so neither one will ever lift off. First, the engines won’t run with no oxygen. Second, the rotors can’t generate lift without air.

    With the death of the OpenID login, it looks like I’ll just be semi-anonymous from now on.

  • Kirala

    This hits really close to home – both as a general INFP (and yes, I do find it a useful system) and as a person who feels like a terminal screw-up.

    I can’t say anything honest at this point that portrays INFP as a useful personality type. I’m currently being quite useless, uselessness aggravated by depression and self-loathing into a feedback loop (nicely numbed by surfing the Web during all my waking hours today and yesterday). I dream creatively and end up getting distracted before creating any art or literature, let alone high quality stuff. So anything I say positively will be something I don’t believe right now.

    However, I take it as a principle that I discard the voice of depression, even when I thoroughly believe it and can’t ignore it. And I think about my sister – who has severe self-esteem issues fed by her long-term unemployment and lack of a social circle, who’s even more of a dreamer and even more self-loathing. And I think about how when I’m in a good place, I’m eternally grateful to her and how much she has taught me about human capacity and incapacity. Sure, she needs a lot of help from other people to get by – but given that help, she makes unique contributions which make the whole far better than the sum of its parts. Her lack of employability is not her lack of intelligence, humor, capability, or value.

    So maybe I too will, in fact, prove to be too insufferably inept and crazy and dependent to retain my teaching job. But maybe I will be able to keep it and continue getting troubled teens inexplicably crediting me with saving their happiness, giving them direction, and being generally their favorite teacher – because as an INFP, I know that SJ evaluations are not the sum total of a person’s worth, and sometimes a square peg just needs help to find a square hole. And maybe I will be able to help other crazed disorganized procrastinators (by “procrastinate” I mean “start the project shortly after the deadline has already passed”) to find their space. And maybe I won’t be the only insufferable inept crazy person to find that I’m actually a decent human being, no more crazy than anyone else – just more visibly so.

  • Jemmy

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true, but I never understood the thinking myself. People who hate LBGT people enough to engage in a paranoid hunt through voting records to determine the sexual orientation of politicians and vote against them probably wouldn’t vote for Democrats in the first place, right? That’s not to say that there aren’t homophobe or transphobe Democrats, only that if they are really that committed to the whole anti-LGBT thing they would probably find the Democratic Party’s ambivalence on the whole issue disconcerting. Appeasing them by straddling the fence might make sense politically, but I honestly don’t think that they should have gone ahead with something like DOMA.

  • Lunch Meat

    Also, any personality type you get assigned is invariably positive.
    There is no combination of answers you could give on the MBTI which says
    “you’re an arsehole.”

    I’m finding it hard to understand what possible use a strengths or preferences assessment would have if one of the results was “you’re a jerk”–even beside the fact that the people who would need to hear it wouldn’t believe it. Which is not to say that it should be completely positive either–but the most complete MBTI profiles I’ve seen also include challenges that you’re likely to face and how to address them.

  • Carstonio

    I meant that homophobes assume that anyone friendly to gay rights must be gay. There are still millions of men willing to assault or kill gay men – Matthew Shepherd’s murder was two years after DOMA.

  • Lorehead

    A PPRI/Brookings survey just found that “A slim majority (51%) of white evangelical Protestants under the age of 35 support same-sex marriage.”

  • Lorehead

    I’m sorry. Sounds like you’ve found a job, though, and made a plan to keep it? I wish you the best.

  • banancat

    I doubt that MBTI is any more accurate than horoscopes based on astrological sign. You should read about the Forer Effect here:

  • P J Evans

    That was what I answered, too. (‘No air, no aerodynamics.’)

    I have a Disqus login, but I usually post as a guest and let the computer remember me.

  • Jemmy

    I believe that, I just have a hard time believing that the most vicious and paranoid homophobes would be all that ecstatic about, say, Hillary Clinton.

  • David S.

    It’s funny to have statements like this on a page where we also complain about Creationists, who also pull shit out of their ass because it fits their preconceived conceptions.

    Whatever the problems with the MBTI are, it’s not confirmation bias. The test is repeatable; many of us have taken multiple versions, and gotten the same answers. The Distributed Proofreaders forum I was on sampled people for their results; our bias towards Intuition was a six-sigma deviation from the average.

    The binary part of it is obviously nonsense, and the value of the results is certainly up for question, but dismissing it as confirmation bias is wrong.

  • David S.

    To continue my previous post–I keep thinking about the

    Cottingley Fairies. There’s no question they’re fake, nor should there have been any then. But skeptics pulled all sorts of shit out of their ass against them at the time, accusing them of being double exposures (they weren’t), of being done on a stage (they weren’t). Skeptics would be more convincing if they didn’t state their assumptions as fact.

  • In other news, eleven House members of North Carolina have thrown their support behind a bill to establish an official state religion, which also states that the federal government has no right to decide that this is unconstitutional in any capacity.

  • EllieMurasaki


  • David S.

    I find it interesting that he complains about the money behind the MBTI and then points to The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory – MMPI-2, an expensive copyrighted test. And naturally, “results should always be interpreted by a qualified mental health
    professional that has had extensive training in MMPI-2 interpretation”, i.e. must be interpreted like tarot.

    It seems like a lot of tests get beaten on for being quick and easy and not interpreted by professionals… which are the features that make them usable by the public. There’s concerns about businesses and teachers using simplistic tests, but I think it’s delusional to think that you take simplistic (usable) tests out their hands that they’re suddenly going to use expensive, lengthy tests or any that might be classified as a more reputable accurate tool.

  • They think that the tenth amendment means that the Constitution doesn’t apply to them.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Supposing for half a heartbeat they’re right.

    Which religion? Methodist, Baptist, or Episcopal?

  • Somehow I don’t think they’re interested in getting a concensus from the rest of the state. After all, there’s only one Real True form of Christianity (whatever that happens to be will be left up to the Republican majority to decide).

  • If you’re going to discard things on the basis of HR departments misusing them to make unfair snap judgements, you’re going to run out of “things” pretty quick.

  • Worthless Beast

    I’ll assume you’er talking to Kilara.
    As for me, I’m on Disabilty for headstuff. I’m really that messed up / that much of a failure.

  • DStecks

    That astrology is a valid comparison to the Myers-Briggs speaks volumes of its legitimacy.