I just read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (good read!) and at one point he talks about personality and nature versus nurture, and it made me think of Billions Pass Through this Landscape. He talks about the Fundamental Attribution Error, in which we overestimate the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimate the importance of the situation and context. He says that we erroneously think of character as “something unified and all-encompassing” and relates it to an information-processing blind spot.
He quotes the psychologist Walter Mischel, who argues that “the human mind has a kind of ‘reducing valve’ that ‘creates and maintains the perception of continuity even in the face of perpetual observed changes in actual behavior.’”
Here’s a blurb from Mischel:
“When we observe a woman who seems hostile and fiercely independent some of the time but passive, dependent and feminine on other occasions, our reducing valve usually makes us choose between the two syndromes. We decide that one pattern is in the service of the other, or that both are in the service of a third motive. She must be a really castrating lady with a façade of passivity – or perhaps she is a warm, passive-dependent woman with a surface defense of aggressiveness. But perhaps nature is bigger than our concepts and it is possible for the lady to be a hostile, fiercely independent, passive, dependent, feminine, aggressive, warm, castrating person all-in-one. Of course which of these she is at any particular moment would not be random or capricious – it would depend on who she is with, when, how, and much, much more. But each of these aspects of her self may be a quite genuine and real aspect of her total being.”
And the follow up blurb from Gladwell:
“Character, then, isn’t what we think it is or, rather, what we want it to be. It isn’t a stable, easily identifiable set of closely related traits, and it only seems that way because of a glitch in the way our brains are organized. Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context. The reason that most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment.”
…or as I end up saying over and over to people at art shows when they ask for the schpeal about my art: we all play different roles to different people at different times. We don’t seem to have one solidified identity, rather, it’s as though we have a whole cast of characters under our skin, passing under the guise of a single person, and we pull out a character according to what the situation calls for. It’s not that we are acting; they can be genuine to who we are, although certainly sometimes we do act and wears masks as well; however perhaps that tendency to don the mask or put on a show speaks to another genuine personality trait as well.
And that’s why I use the animals in my art: their stereotypes are easily read as different personality types. We constantly change. Which version of you is reading this, and which version of you last went to work, met up with a friend a couple days ago, sat with strangers on the train? Who are you right now?
Hello, world. Which Me am I today?