Monday, 21 May 2012

Extreme Extroverts Behaving Badly

So as yet another verse in the John Friend epic comes to the foreground, I remain shocked, shocked at the goings on in the Anusara community. I mean, who could possibly predict that an extremely charismatic leader surrounded by a bevy of glass-half full people might take advantage of their gullibility? The question we should be asking ourselves is, where is John Friend's moral compass anyway? How come people like him, the charismatic leader phenotype, don't seem to hold themselves to the same ethical rules as everyone else?

I happen to put a lot of stock into trying to explain human behavior through the prism of evolution.  This isn't to say that I'm a social Darwinist, far from it.  In fact, I would credit two aspects of the human animal to our primacy in the animal kingdom:
  1. Our formation of tribes as social units to act together in a co-operative and altruistic fashion.
  2. Our manufacture of tools that improves our fitness to survive and thrive.  
Traditionally we get our leaders and entertainers from those who are good at relating to people, while the scientists and artists relate to things. Thus you have 'tribe-builders' and 'tool-makers'. The human brain is fairly plastic, and it is generally optimized to comprehend one of those two enormously complicated systems. In terms of behavior, we see a fairly obvious phenotype separation and that is extrovert and introvert.

If we roughly centerfuge people into a spectrum with extreme, extroverted 'tribe-builders' on one end and extreme, introverted 'tool-makers' on the other, we come up with what I like to call the Crazy Spectrum:

At the extreme sociophile head we have extremely crazy, charismatic individuals like John Friend.  At the extreme sociophobe tail, we have such crazy, innovative individuals like the late, great Nikoli Tesla. If you prefer an artist as the Omega, let us go with the brilliant Vincent van Gogh. In-between we have boring people that do not have Wikipedia entries. Extremophiles tend to make history, but they are also tragic figures. This comic from The Oatmeal is brilliantly cutting as it outlines the difference between Thomas Edison (an extreme extrovert) and Nikoli Tesla (an extreme introvert). Personally, I am an sub-clinical introvert.

Extreme sociophiles are by nature prone to being narcissistic and/or histrionic. You see, in order to move freely within social circles without fear of rejection or worse, you must suffer little from shame, guilt or embarrassment. To put it another way, they lack a conscience. This isn't to say that extreme extroverts cannot learn ethics, but morals don't come naturally. If you don't know the difference between ethics and morals, you fail.

Extreme sociophobes on the other had tend to just reject people, acting in the vein of autistic or schizoid personality disorders. When I say, autistic I don't mean in the low-functioning, no functioning mirror-neurons sense of adults who can't care for themselves. I'm more going with the Asperger's phenotype with poor social skills that Hollywood likes to glamourize every once an awhile with a new take on Revenge of the Nerds. Introverts tend to be overly righteous and obsessed with fairness. There's a reason so much of the comic-book world features the little guy taking it back to the bully and righting wrongs.

The problem as I see it is that as our social groups have expanded, we cannot any longer be considered part of a 'tribe' in that we can all choose who we associate with in our daily lives. Sometimes introverts are left out in the cold as extroverts only socialize with extroverts and calamity results. See "Jersey Shore" for example. Introverts who don't associate with extroverts don't make for good TV.

I think most introverts understand the importance of befriending extroverts. The opposite is often not the case.  Introverts will tend to have a grounding influence, bringing a healthy dose of skepticism and reservation to any situation. Susan Cain makes a nice argument for the raison d'ĂȘtre, necessity, and importance of introverts in her TED talk here:

Traditional yoga is intentionally pushing you into the introverted side of the spectrum, because the extrovert supermajority of the population could use a little personal observation. This of course makes the celebriyogi a paradox: one cannot be both an extremely extroverted yogi leader and on the path to enlightenment.  So next time a celebriyogi makes headlines, let's not act so surprised, ok? The lack of a moral compass is what makes extreme extroverts so good at building tribes. It's also why hubris so often brings them crashing back out of stardom and into infamy. I'm late to this yoga game, but the Intertubes says some people found Friend a little 'auspicious' back in 2010. The bigger question is why do the Sheeple drink the Kool-aid?

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