Three Common Ways Libertarians Misuse Myers-Briggs Part 2: Misunderstanding the Feeling Preference

1

This post is the second of a three-part series exploring how libertarians misuse MBTI. See Part 1 here and Part 3 here

In my experience, when MBTI-attuned libertarians get fed up with trying to attract people to the movement, particularly liberals, they tend to typecast them as Feelers and dismiss them as lost causes. For example, I think that we all remember Bryan Caplan’s post about why women aren’t libertarians. He used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to suggest that women are disproportionately Feelers, and thus cannot understand reason. He writes,

If you’re trying to sell libertarianism to Feeling people, “hard head, soft heart” ideas are more persuasive than “hard head, hard heart” ideas.  But the libertarian remains at an inherent disadvantage against intellectual rivals pedaling “soft head, soft heart” ideas.

Can Feelers really not empathize with ideas that aren’t “soft hearted?”

While this blog has already written a beautiful response to Kaplan’s article, Kaplan is one example of many. The Wall Street Journal ran a study that showed, in my own summation, that libertarians were largely Rationals. Ridley reports,

When libertarians reacted to moral dilemmas and in other tests, they displayed less emotion, less empathy and less disgust than either conservatives or liberals. They appeared to use “cold” calculation to reach utilitarian conclusions about whether (for instance) to save lives by sacrificing fewer lives. They reached correct, rather than intuitive, answers to math and logic problems, and they enjoyed ‘effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks’ more than others do.

This article sparked quite a few comments and responses in the libertarian community. Some of my favorite quotes include, “To me this article is suggesting libertarians are more intelligent” and when one reader responded with “Now if only we could do a mind meld between a libertarian and a liberal. Add a little intuition and emotional wisdom to the one, a little less mommy-knows-best to the other,” a libertarian quickly replied, “What, pray tell, would this injection of ‘intuition and emotional wisdom’ offer the libertarian?” Hoo boy.

Seems to me like there is little tolerance for emotion or the Feeler preference within groups of libertarians. There is an assumption that Feelers cannot come to the rational conclusions of their Thinker counterparts and become decided libertarians.

First of all, there have been a variety of psychology experiments to correlate intelligence and MBTI. In a well-cited UAB article, while there was a correlation between iNtuitivism and intelligence (via the KAIT test), there was no data to support that Thinkers were smarter than Feelers. It is simply untrue to suggest that  libertarians are more intelligent than the rest of the populace because they have Thinking tendencies.

There is also a fundamental misunderstanding that Thinkers only think through problems and Feelers only feel. This could not be further than the truth. Thinkers gain insight to a problem by distancing themselves from it, whereas Feelers try to immerse themselves to have a holistic understanding. Both Thinkers and Feelers come to rational conclusions to problems; their process is really all that’s different. And there are benefits and drawbacks to both methods—one is not inherently better than the other.

While libertarians tend to be “cold and calculating” Rationals, they should explore, and affirm the value of Feeler arguments. This will bring more Feelers into the movement. Remember, utilitarianism has its weaknesses, and so too its arguments. Intuitive, emotional arguments may offer better ways to connect with the public and generate ideas we haven’t thought of yet.

In the past few years, there have been great strides taken to attract Feelers. LearnLiberty‘s “Liberty is Personal” video series is one of them (albeit, the music was a little much). The reason why this campaign appeals to Feelers is because it allows them to holistically involve themselves in a problem; they become passionate when there’s a face to the consequences of a law or situation.

Let’s not isolate our Feeler friends. They have a great deal to offer, including, and perhaps especially, their ideas.

  • Andrea Castillo

    “He used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to suggest that women are disproportionately Feelers, and thus cannot understand reason.”

    That’s not what he said. The exact quote is right under your assertion!

    He says that while peddling “hard head, soft heart” ideas is a better messaging strategy to reach Feelers, their preferences are more aligned with “soft head, soft heart” messages. Since we have a limited amount of glucose and cognitive processing power, we tend to gravitate towards messaging styles and punch lines that cheaply reaffirm our priors. It’s not a question of whether Feelers can “understand reason,” but of which messaging style appeals more to their System 1s.

    The fact that many existing libertarians don’t have a comparative advantage in this area doesn’t mean that they devalue the enterprise. And I would feel pretty dishonest/condescending if I “affirmed” a reasoning style that doesn’t resonate with me simply to get them on my team. Caplan’s whole point is that this messaging is necessary but *difficult* for “cold calculating” ne’er-do-wells like myself.

    This website alone renders your concerns almost moot; you ladies are already doing this kind of messaging! You’ll probably see more results if you direct your energies towards shoring up your Feeling messaging – “being the change you want to see” – rather than expecting Rationals to tailor their thinking in a foreign way. You know, like what you’re accusing the Rationals of doing to the Feelers.