Not better.

One of my current bugbears is watching people treat certain progressions/scales/spectra as if more or higher meant better. That ain’t always the case. For instance:


Personality tests, particularly the Myers–Briggs test. The damn thing is supposed to help people identify their strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps even develop a wee bit of empathy for people who’re wired differently.  A preponderance of people treat it as if a high score was a win. It’s not. Having very strong personality traits can give you superpowers inasmuch as you may be able to see and do things that most other people can’t. It can also make you severely dysfunctional. Myers–Briggs arranges traits on a continuum; if you pull it all to one end, you’re likely missing out on whatever is at the other end.


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The lower part of the pyramid is “more important” inasmuch as you can’t go without. If you are about to die of starvation, hypothermia, suffocation, etc., your future as an experimental kazoo player is likely to be negatively affected. Knowing what you need to survive, how to get it in emergencies, and what people may be willing to do if their survival is at risk are damn important. Obsessing about the lower levels when they are not a current concern, however, is a tad silly. When you add a sprinkling of spite for those people who appear solely devoted to the higher levels, you’re dangerously close to going full potato. Even cavemen painted. Subsistence farmers make spectacular art and crafts, when they can. For the love of all that is holy, do your research, do your prepping, make sure you’re reasonably ready, and then go out to play. There’s a lovely world out there.



Rory Miller’s levels of violence from “Violence: A Writers Guide.” The progression is: Nice > Manipulative > Assertive > Aggressive > Assaultive > Murderous. In a situation in which escalation is a viable option, those willing and able to reach the higher levels will be better able to cope. Someone aggressive will lose out to someone assaultive, someone nice will lose out to someone manipulative, etc. (Note: social costs & consequences may well be charged later. Nothing’s free.)

This does NOT mean that people who train themselves at the higher levels miraculously absorb the skills and knowledge required to operate at the lower levels. There is a lot of dangerous guff out there promoting the idea that learning to kill and embracing killing as an option will magically make all conflicts go away. I suspect it’s all linked to the magical powers of “empowerment”, but the logic within the argument is often poorly verbalised. What we’re told is: Why should you fear a shouty partner, bullying boss, cheating shopkeeper, etc. when you know that by simply flicking your index finger you can end them?

The answer should be fairly obvious: because ending people is not always the best answer to life’s conflicts. Sometimes it’s a positively bad idea. For instance, if you’re in the middle of a bloody divorce, shooting the shit out of your erstwhile partner may not in fact improve your life. In that situation, you might need legal support and counselling more than you need a gun range. And before anyone decides that I’m being anti-gun, the same applies to flourishing swords, shooting arrows, balancing clubs on your nose, dancing the Macarena, or practicing any other skills that don’t in fact teach you a goddamn thing about conflict resolution.

Even if we take physical force out of the equation, the same issues apply. There are plenty of people out there who can scream their way to “victory” in an argument. Most of us have met some of them online, if not in real life. When asked to conduct themselves in a manner more suited to formal debates, many of them flounder. In fact, many of them flounce ungracefully off into the distance, because they simply cannot operate under those new, unfair, oppressive rules and they know it.


Each level of this progression has its own set of skills, attitudes, limitations, and powers. If you wanna develop them up, you’ve gotta practice them. There are no shortcuts.

(Bonus bugbear: just because assertiveness is near the middle, it doesn’t mean that it’s the one-size-fits-all solution to all of life’s conflicts. It can work particularly badly for women, but that’s another story.)



The triune brain. Depending on what you’re reading, the levels of the triune brain may be labelled as Reptilian, Paleomammalian, and Neomammalian, or more often Lizard, Monkey, and Human.

The latter labelling is designed to trick people into looking down at the “monkey” brain. The damn thing could have just as easily  been called the “wolf” brain; wolves have fascinating social structures. But monkeys are funny and smelly and goofy and less-than-us, while wolves are all epic and shit. Furthermore, the latter labelling is designed to suggest that the Neomammalian brain is where the “real” human stuff happens. That’s quite simply not the case.

The monkey brain is the source of a lot of social conflict and strife. It’s the brain that makes you have those recurring arguments with your cohabitants about which way the toilet papers should go in the holder. But it’s also the brain that lets you know how people feel by reading their expressions automatically and subconsciously; more importantly, it’s the brain that makes you care about how people feel. It makes you care about how you feel. Feelings may not be the best way to decide whether to re-roof a house or carry out a heart transplant, but they’re actually quite damn important in everyday life.

What makes us human is those three brains working together. If you took the monkey brain out of the equation, you wouldn’t get a ‘better’ human: at most you’d get a Vulcan. Being proud of having exterminated or subjugated the monkey brain to the point that it no longer participates in the decisions that affect your life is being proud of being an incomplete human being.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s