Tuesday, February 4, 2020

I Don't Know How You Were Introverted

I like and agree with this meme, which a Facebook friend passed along the other day.  I've been critical before of the discourse around introversion and extraversion, which goes back to Carl Jung and that's not a recommendation.  It turns out that there's a lot of variation if not disagreement about the concepts among professionals, and the popular discourse is predictably even worse.  My only reservation about radicarian's suggestion is that it seems to assume that the maximum and minimum amounts of social interaction are fixed in each individual, as if we were measuring cups with limited capacity, which seems unlikely.  I think it's important to notice that "introverts" may crave quite a lot of social interaction until we reach our limit and need some solitude to recover, and I'd bet that even the most "extraverted" also have their limits and need to rest.

Some people commented that the concepts are meant to be a continuum, not a dichotomy, and while that may be true, I don't believe most people see it that way, or frame it that way when they talk about it.  Many people don't like the idea of a continuum and refuse to understand it -- compare the Kinsey continuum, a popular focus of misunderstanding -- and even those who like it and appeal to it tend to get it wrong.  Jung himself admitted that gendering his concepts of "anima" and "animus" was misleading, since those constructs are present in every person, but he evidently couldn't resist gendering them, and characterized traits as masculine or feminine anyway.  (Another reminder that "essentialism" doesn't have to refer to supposedly physical or biological traits: essences can psychological or spiritual.)

Another person climbed onto her hobbyhorse and commented:
I think the difference is still worth talking about as long as we live in a capitalist culture that celebrates and rewards only particular orientations. Who gets to have their introverted/extroverted needs met is also deeply bound up with class, race, gender, disability. Like all identities, these labels are political, and can help us describe and change the societies we live.
I don't see any reason to bring capitalism into it (let alone "orientations").  Pre-capitalist societies also categorized people, rationing rewards and punishments according to their ability or willingness to conform.  I don't agree that introversion and extraversion are identities, but when a trait or label becomes an "identity" it becomes problematic for other reasons.  Labels and identities are political, all right, but they didn't start to be with the rise of capitalism -- another label that is political, and difficult if not impossible to define.

Someone else chimed in:
Margaret had a great response to this! I would just like to add, being an introvert is a positive identity for me. I have shared characteristics with other people who consider themselves to be introverted. And, frankly, I'm not concerned if other people think that identity is a negative or a positive.
Maybe I should have replied that I'm not concerned if this other person thinks that identity is a negative or a positive.  I'm not going to tell them that they shouldn't regard introversion as a positive identity, but they can't legislate for other people.  The bit about "shared characteristics with other people who consider themselves to be introverted" shows the problem with adopting identities.  What are those shared characteristics?  Are they inherent to introversion, or are they accidental, like, say, diva worship or cross-dressing among gay men, which encourages people to regard them as essential parts of the identity and promotes the imposition and policing of irrelevant boundaries?  I vote for the latter, and I consider it negative because not only does it promote groupthink (also known as "tribalism") but promotes ignoring that people outside the granfaloon share those supposedly gay, male, or introverted characteristics.  Such mischaracterization is not just false but harmful and counterproductive.

Someone else remarked,
I think the terms are efficient ways to identify those thresholds without having to say that entire sentence to describe yourself.
A chacun son gout, but efficiency in such matters tends to be oversimple.  To get any precision, you need ever more complicated classifications to describe yourself.  People will hear your term as they understand it, which may be very different from how you understand it.  If you realize the confusion, it will probably take more just one sentence to clear it up.

But you don't have to repeat that entire sentence.  You don't even need a label to do it.  You can just say something like, "Sorry, I'm burnt out on people right now and need some time to myself."  Yes, that's a longish sentence too, but it has the virtue of being accurate without relying on confusing and inadequate labels.