“Am I living my life right? As an INTP”

This discussion is something I stumbled across a while ago. It seems far from atypical for the bulletin board, Personality Cafe, which hosts it. It begins with someone asking “Am I living my life right? as an INTP” and listing features of their lifestyle while seeking reassurance that this is the ‘right’ way to live, given this trait (‘being an INTP’) which is seen to be immutable. Obviously, I think we should treat Myer-Briggs classifications, of which ‘INTP’ is one, with the utmost scepticism. However simply denying the veridicality of the category misses the much more interesting questions:

  • why would identification with it be so subjectively plausible?
  • how would the category be seen as a basis for adjudicating upon ‘correctness’ of lifestyle?
  • does the authority of the advice being solicited rest on the category or on the advisors?
  • why is the question being asked? what cognitive and emotional work does it do?

I think this question is a particularly blunt example of a much more general trend. The same processes which render reflexivity imperative also serve to undercut authoritative sources of normative guidance. What I find so striking about the question being asked on the discussion thread above is how arbitrary the sources of normativity implicitly drawn upon by it seem.

Why ‘INTP’? Why ‘Personality Cafe’? The underlying impulse behind the question is to seek reflexive guidance upon fundamental question of what to do and who to be which are being addressed on an individual level. The student in question clearly has the time and resources to adjust their lifestyle as they please, while also pondering the ‘correctness’ of the choices they’re making. This is far from a general condition (it would be interesting to see what form this question takes for them a few years later) but it is also by no means a marginal one.

But what I’m interested in is going beyond this general account, which is one of the few things I think Giddens is largely correct on in his late modernity work, to a more nuanced understanding of why particular categories and particular sources of normativity thrive under these conditions. This is what I think Giddens gets very wrong because his conceptualisation of reflexivity obscures the multidimensionality of the kind of engagement which can be inferred from a particular person coming to ask this particular question on that particular bulletin board.

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