Monday, April 02, 2018


Let’s take a closer look at what the Cambridge Analytica outfit is touting as a “secret formula.”  First of all, note what Cambridge Analytica does by claiming a fancy name that has nothing to do with universities or any hint of the elite numerical.  Note that it is secretly allied with AggregateIQ, the other group with a pretentious name, though the latter doesn’t "work" for me for a silly reason.  In the Sixties the waterfowl hunting license use to put a limit on the number of ducks one could shoot “in the aggregate.”  Bob began to mock it by demanding to know just where on the bird the aggregate was anyway.  

The other thing is that I’m old enough to remember when the IQ (Intelligence Quota) was invented and to know that it is grossly biased by culture and actually only indicates how well one does on intelligence tests -- not the real world.  The closer any task was to an IQ test item the better the testee did.  Since the IQ test items were based on work/school tasks in the English world, the correlation, a little circular, worked pretty well.  It did NOT work well for people who spoke differently and understood the world in non-English ways.  Blacks, Indians, women, the French, were all satifactorily low performers on the IQ test, which made the white English men who devised the test very smug since they had known all along that they were “better than anyone else.”

This “five node” gizmo is quite like the Myers-Briggs test which has four dimensions meant to describe one’s personality.  M/B is loosely based on concepts developed by Jung, but has taken on a life of its own because it is used for everything from dating to predicting success in the church ministry.  There is always a hope out there that the puzzle of human uniqueness can be resolved by considering physiology, culture, and whether you like them or not.  But humans are pleasingly much too complex.

In this case, the “five” are presented in single words, though the original research was expressed in terms of five continuums with a good-to-bad scale closely related.  They are anything but scientific, much informed by the culture which values some traits more than others, varying over time, since personalities are situational.  

Openness to experience becomes the span of inventive/curious to consistent/cautious, with the bad end of the first half being reckless and unfocused but the good aspect of inventive/curious being artistic and seeking (and finding) experiences that are intense, even euphoric.  In terms of the second half, the bad end is stuck in a rut, fearful, dogmatic and closed minded, but the good aspect is careful and data-driven.

Conscientiousness is really efficient/organized vs.easy-going/carelessness.  “Good” efficiency is self-disciplined and dependable.  Bad efficiency is stuck and stubborn.  Easy-going is fine if what is needed is flexibililty and spontaneity, but when bad it can be sloppy and unpredictable.

Extraversion  (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)  Good end is high energy, assertiveness, sociability, liking groups and talk.  Bad end of high extraversion can be attention-seeking and domineering.  Bad end of solitary/
reserved can be aloof or self-absorbed.  Or the good side can be Presbyterian (jokes), that is, dignified.

Agreeableness  (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached)  At the good end of the first half, people who are caring of others and willing to cooperate; at the bad end, hostile and suspicious.  At the challenging/
detached end, the good would be an engaged personality while a bad version might be seen as submissive or shy.

Neuroticism  (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)  By this time it becomes clear that one person’s skinny is another person’s slim.  Those who are easily knocked off base and have few ways of compensating or regaining their balance are stigmatized in this culture.  When nice ladies are interviewed about these five nodes, without anyone distinguishing between the positive versus negative version, they generally accept the concepts as applying to themselves somehow until they come to “neuroticism.”  They will not willingly claim anything but stability and health.  NOT neurotic.

This discussion is drawn from the Wikipedia account of the traits.  There is a lot of material and it is pretty complex.  One of the tip-offs that it's pop culture is that the definitions are short.  Another is what is called “TMT” which stands for Terror Management Theory.  It tends to be unconscious and pushes one towards the cultural consensus in which one is embedded.  It just feels a lot safer there.

By accumulating a lot of data about these five nodes, and using them to talk about what we would ordinarily call “prejudice, rigidity, obedience to authority, hostility to the Other, need for safety and general fearfulness” which are all characteristics of the “isms” — racism, sexism, etc. — it’s pretty easy to identify thoughts and actions we would otherwise criticize.  This is a good example of how restrictive religions used to operate.  Now — through our accustomed reaction to advertising — these have become pry-bars against democracy.

This Big Five model goes back to 1961 when it seemed unusable because it didn’t really identify individuals.  The breakthrough came  in the 1980’s when it was realized that GROUPS (the larger the better) could be predicted with these same means.  It wasn’t possible to discover what kind of soap a specific person used, but you could tell whether in that area everyone was more likely to either shower or soak, which made a difference to people who sold "soap on a rope".  They still correlate best with people who mostly do whatever everyone they know does.  If a community is composed of sameness, it works.

But there are already competitors.  One is the HEXACO theory which has SIX notes instead of only five.  Online there is a quick little test for you to take.  It beats Cosmo.  

The 6 attributes are:

Honesty-Humility, the new one
Agreeableness (versus Anger)
Openness to Experience

Honesty and Humility are dubbed the “H factor” and there’s a whole book on the subject.  But don’t get all excited.  It’s a Canadian book and excitement is read differently on that side of the 49th parallel.

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