How much pain could be forgotten if we remembered that many of our needs are subjective?
They’re not all subjective, of course… if you take something from the base of Maslow’s pyramid from a person, that person will logically and realistically suffer. Air, food, water, shelter… all critical to human survival.
But love? Self-esteem? The iPhone X? Companionship? All desirable, no doubt… but subjective needs. If I want an iPhone and don’t have one, I have options:
Endure (because the need’s not real; it’s a desire, instead)
Improperly (steal one somehow, or lash out until my desire is fulfilled)
Properly (buy one, choosing the iPhone over other things I might use the money for)
To be clear, an iPhone is a made-up desire for me; I have an Android phone and I’m satisfied with it. Even if I wasn’t satisfied with my phone, I wouldn’t find an iPhone to be a compelling investment; a cheaper phone would do everything I needed.
But you can say the same thing about most desires: they’re subjective. They’re not concrete things to satisfy… and they’re easily replaced. Get an iPhone today, and tomorrow that desire might be for a virtual reality rig instead, with similar intensity.
It’s easy to get confused, to say that your needs (or my needs) are needs and not desires, are concrete and not subjective… and when they go unfulfilled, we get angry, and angry people are stupid people.
What needs do you have? What needs do you have that don’t actually affect your survival from day to day?
A few days ago I was reading something about relationships with the INFJ psychological type, from Myers-Briggs typology. Something about the description got me wondering, and I’m still wondering: am I an INFJ instead of an INTJ?
Normally I test very strongly as an INTJ:
Very high on Introversion, because I’m an introvert
Typically fairly highly on iNtuition, because I’m all about adding meaning and understanding (often to the point of distraction for someone, who might be me)
Decision making is usually fairly rapid and often based on the information at hand (thus the “Thinking” as opposed to “Feeling”). Feelers here tend to look at the specific circumstances and work on a case-by-case basis.
I tend to make decisions and run with them, this “Judging” as opposed to “Perceiving,” because “Perceiving” refers to being staying more open to options. My scores here trend to the “Judging,” but I’ve also tested as an INTP.
An important note is that Myers-Briggs tests are not conclusive in and of themselves; from skilled practitioners, they are expected to be around 70% accurate, and I don’t know that I’d consider online tests (the most common tests) as being administered by “skilled practitioners.” So my scores are anecdotal in nature; they’re fairly consistent, and the descriptions generally fit me, but they’re not expected to be absolute by any measure.
I can say without a doubt that the Introversion is strong; people exhaust me. I got into music because it was a way of forcing interaction with others without having to be part of the others (on stage, you’re with people but you’re separate from the audience). I played drums, in fact, for two reasons: one is that it’s fun (and cathartic) to hit things hard, and the other was that I could hide behind the kit.
Intuition is also strong; I can’t look at something without formulating something about it. It takes a lot of repetition and effort to avoid this; I look at a sunrise and wonder how the colors are generated that way. I identify phenotypes when I meet people for the first time (which allows my introversion to roam free, since while I’m identifying phenotypes I’m not interacting with the people I’m analyzing. Why, yes, I’m very friendly… what makes you ask that?)
It’s the “Feeling” and “Perceiving” that are in question, and “Perceiving” versus “Judging” doesn’t bother me; I’m not an artist, per se, but I love to create art, poetry, music, fiction, shapes. If Perceiving weren’t a capable feature for me, I don’t know if I’d approach seeing the world as a growing flower the way I do. At the same time, Judging is still strong as well; I have a largely-fixed moral compass (some would say it’s fixed in place and isn’t all that great of an actual moral compass, and I’d probably agree with them. I can be a moron sometimes… but even “I can be a moron sometimes” is an indicator of a powerful “Judging” impulse.)
That moral compass I mentioned in the paragraph on “Feeling” and “Perceiving” is just as relevant for “Feeling” as it is for “Judgement.” I believe in a fixed morality, but I also see that fixed morality as a Platonic ideal rather than an objective reality.
For example, I believe strongly that theft is wrong… but that there are circumstances under which it’s a moral imperative.
Here’s a dilemma that illustrates that concept. It’s probably something you’ve heard before, but in case you haven’t:
Imagine a poor man whose wife is gravely ill. A medicine is available which can heal his wife, and the local pharmacist has the medicine, but the man cannot afford it. Should he steal the medicine and save his wife, or respect the injunction against theft?
For me, that’s a no-brainer. He steals the medicine. It’s arguable that the pharmacist has an obligation to give the medicine, but the dilemma is meant to be considered from the poor man’s perspective, not the pharmacist’s, or the wider society’s perspective. (I would hope that the pharmacist would, of course, offer the medicine, and that the society as a whole would also be willing to share the burden of the medicine, in such a simple case, but… again, not the point of the dilemma.)
For others, it’s just as cut-and-dried – in the other direction. I know someone who was upset that the wife would die, but saw no other choice for the man. That’s fine; I understand that decision even while disagreeing with it and its reasons.
For that person, the rules were simple: you don’t steal.
For me, the rules are just as simple, but longer: you don’t steal, unless circumstances with higher priorities factor in. A life is a higher priority. If it were me, I’d steal the medicine and take my chances. I’d probably even leave a note: “I stole the medicine, here’s my number and my address and why I stole the medicine.”
Can I even describe every circumstance under which I’d feel theft was morally, if not legally, permissible?
… No. I can describe some – after all, I just described one – but I don’t think I can figure out a canonical, authoritative list of conditions under which I feel theft would be morally permissible. In fact, I’d feel icky even trying – it’d be sort of like saying “when is it okay to look at pornography?” – the question itself carries with it a sense of coarseness with which I’d prefer to not be associated.
The bottom line is, I don’t imagine when it’s okay to apply fluid judgement to “the rules,” but I can imagine the rules’ fluidity being perfectly valid. That’s the Platonic sense; there’s an ideal out there, but I don’t know what it is (and in most cases, I don’t need to know what it is.)
That’s a “Feeling”-dominant idea, more than a “Thinking”-dominant idea.
So… I don’t know, honestly. It’s not extremely important what my actual MBTI classification is (although I want to understand myself so that I can leverage my strengths well, and compensate for my weaknesses), but my type also factors into how much control I assert over myself.
That’s what really got me thinking about this: what if I want to be an INTJ, so I force myself to react as as INTJ would, despite being (for example) an INFP or INFJ? What if I’m not that good at, say, mathematics (and I’m not, honestly), and yet I desire more skill, so I force myself into being a mathematician? (If that’s what I’ve done, I’ve failed, BTW.)
It goes further: what if I am not an especially good person, but desire to be, such that I do only those things that allow me to see myself as a good person? That’s a question Orson Scott Card asked in Ender’s Game: if Peter, who is a murderous psychopath in his internal drives, ends up doing only good things, is he a good person, or is he an evil person who does good things?
I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer Orson Scott Card’s question; I don’t know how I would be able to tell if I’m subconsciously answering MBTI questions in such a way that I can admire my own answers. (For example, what if I would respond in one way to a question, but I find that I don’t like that answer – so I answer the other way? If that impulse to change the answer is so ingrained that I can’t tell if I’m doing it, is it really my actual answer, or am I subverting the test?)
It’s distressing to me. It’s why songs like Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” are so powerful to me: “Please tell me who I am…”