All posts by chris_santos-lang

Evaluativism vs Jugementalism: Psychopathy, Narcisism, and an application of the GRIN-SQ

My grandfather was a community leader and king of his family until he got Alzheimer’s—

by József Rippl-Rónai“Dad, your shoe’s untied.”

“So what?”

“So tie it.”

“It’ll just come undone again.”

“You might trip and fall.”

“So what?”

“So please tie your shoe.”

“I’ve tried. It won’t stay tied. I’m just gonna sit here anyway. It won’t hurt anybody.”

“Eventually, you’ll have to get up. Your shoe needs to be tied. May I tie it for you?”

“I just told you it won’t stay tied. You think I can’t tie my own shoes?”

“No, I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Whether I get hurt is my own business. Tie your own shoes!”

“Give me your foot.”

“Stay way.”

“This is not negotiable. Your shoe will be tied.”

“It’s my shoe. I’ll tie it myself when I’m good and ready.”

“I don’t trust you. Give me your foot.”

“You don’t trust your own father? Well that’s a fine thing…”

“Give me the damn foot! This is not rocket-science, Dad. Here…see? It ties.”

When my grandfather got Alzheimer’s, he lost respect. He became the frequent victim of judgmentalism—judgment against his beliefs, against his apathy, and against his stubbornness. That might have been a good thing. It might also be good to judge Nazis, illiteracy, and certain religious cults. Judgmentalism isn’t necessarily bad.

When people hear that evaluativism means discrimination against people whose values differ from one’s own, they can easily confuse evaluativism with judgmentalism, but not all judgmentalism qualifies as evaluativism.

Evaluativism is the discrimination that springs from the philosophy that certain disagreements, even about facts, ultimately spring from differences in values and therefore cannot be resolved as factual disagreements. However, some other disagreements spring from mere ignorance, immaturity, or illness. As examples, education can resolve disagreements over whether 2+2=4 or whether a shoe can be tied, so the evaluativist does not endorse discrimination against one’s opponent in such disagreements. In such disagreements, the evaluativist instead endorses education or health care. The evaluativist endorses segregation or other forms of discrimination only when disagreement cannot be resolved any other way.

Thus, evaluativism is discrimination across The divide with a capital “T.” It’s the permanent divide, the divide that will never be resolved. Doctrines come and go, so mere discrimination on the basis of doctrine does not qualify as evaluativism. Families merge, so mere discrimination on the basis of family loyalty or race loyalty or national loyalty do not qualify as evaluativism. Social norms advance, so discriminating against someone merely because of their stance on an issue such as gay marriage does not qualify as evaluativism—someday both liberals and conservatives will agree about that issue as much as they now agree about interracial marriage (or more). However, all of these conflicts may involve evaluativism; they may be battles in an ongoing war across The divide such that the end of one conflict leaves the same people on opposite sides of yet another conflict.

In other words, evaluativism may be the root cause behind many conflicts (which are blamed on other varieties of judgmentalism only because we fail to notice the sides in the larger war). Stop evaluativism, and a great many other conflicts may peter out. The point of the philosophers who advanced the notion of evaluativism is that the sequence of conflicts never ends, so they must be driven by deeper disagreements that can never be resolved. The evaluativist’s solution is to acknowledge this root-cause and handle it directly through segregation on the basis of our deeper disagreements (like in the book and film Divergent).  In contrast, the solution recommended by is to handle the root-cause by protecting the fundamental types within each family as one would preserve diversity in an ecosystem.

How to tell when judgmentalism qualifies as evaluativism

Although the term “evaluative diversity” shares a root with the term “evaluativism,” discrimination on the basis of evaluative diversity does not always qualify as evaluativism. Discrimination against GRIN types qualifies as evaluativism because GRIN types are permanent (they are destined to re-evolve if eliminated), but evaluative diversity also includes diversity of doctrines, family loyalties (etc.). “Evaluative diversity” is a term from the 1960s. The newer term “GRIN diversity” aims to serve as a refinement that gets to the root-cause of our disagreements.

Alzheimer’s provides an example of evaluative diversity that should not be protected. Evaluative diversity would be reduced if it were cured, because that would return people like my grandfather to perspectives more like the rest of us. Thus, a blanket protection for all evaluative diversity would prevent a cure for Alzheimer’s. It would also prevent education. Yet a cure for Alzheimer’s would not reduce GRIN diversity—Alzheimer’s certainly does not represent a fundamental type destined to evolve in all societies. We cannot have a viable movement to protect all evaluative diversity, but we may be able to have a viable movement to protect GRIN diversity. Some such new concept is required to distinguish which evaluative diversity to protect and which judgmentalism to combat. The GRIN model is the best tool we have, thus far, for making that distinction.

Here’s a practical example: Psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism are three often-criticized personalities. I helped Ray Aldag run a survey among 197 Mechanical Turkers in which respondents answered the GRIN-SQ along with tests for each of these personalities to determine which personalities (if any) deserve protection. Natural gadflies were significantly more Machiavellian (d=0.74) and psychopathic (d=0.69), natural negotiators were significantly more Machiavellian (d=0.47), and the naturally relational and institutional were significantly less Machiavellian and psychopathic (d=-0.30, d=-0.40; d=-0.72, d=-0.43). None of the types were significantly more or less narcissistic.

These results suggest that the concept of psychopathy is a sloppy way of referring to natural gadflies (developed before we had a concept of GRIN types). Meanwhile, the concept of Machiavellianism is a sloppy way of dividing the GRIN types into two camps: the natural gadflies and negotiators vs. the naturally relational and institutional. Judgement against psychopathy and Machiavellianism qualifies as evaluativism, but we have no evidence that judgment against narcissism qualifies as evaluativism. Narcissism may be something we should try to cure; psychopathy and Machiavellianism appear to be misunderstood individual differences we should work to de-stigmatize.

Hopefully this example provides a sense of the importance of refining or confirming the GRIN model. The general public seems predisposed to believe that the narcissist is the misunderstood character—maybe even a viable candidate for president (perhaps because people of all GRIN types are as likely to be narcissists). To hear that the psychopath is the character who needs to be appreciated comes as a shock. It has even been proposed that the neurodiversity movement exclude psychopaths, even though that would be obviously inconsistent (see here, here and here). If psychopathy really is misunderstood, it is plausible that public opinion polls and scriptural exegesis would fail to discover that. The claim needs to be tested scientifically. It requires something like the GRIN-SQ, and the the GRIN-SQ is what we will use until something better is available.

To evaluate types of evaluative diversity may sound ironically circular, and it would be simpler if we didn’t need to draw a line between good evaluative diversity and bad. It would be simpler to embrace all diversity and stop trying to cure Alzheimer’s, narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, etc. It would also be simpler to embrace all judgmentalism and discriminate against anyone who disagrees with us. Neither of these simple approaches is ideal. Furthermore, we live in an age in which we can manipulate our own genes (or at least do things to reduce the odds that our children will be of certain types), so “accept the diversity we are given” no longer holds as a default. Instead of relying on armchair philosophy, public opinion polls, or scriptural exegesis, we need to actually conduct the science to distinguish the evaluative types and to determine which ones are interdependent.

The GRIN-SQ demonstrates such research practically—if anyone has better ideas, please let us know.

Deception as a Means to Manage Evaluative Diversity

Someone more practical than me realized that there are many potential ways to manage evaluative diversity, some of which involve deception.

Photo of Jonathan G. Meath portraying Santa Claus.When I was very young, I ate peas because my Dad told me that they would “put hair on my chest,” and I was extra-well-behaved each December because I was reminded that St. Nicholas was watching. Children do need to be controlled, and any parent who doesn’t consider using deception to control their children is impractical.

To manage evaluative diversity essentially means to prevent one particular evaluative type from counter-productively overwhelming the others. Since the typical person has an evaluative bias, this typically requires moving decision-making from the individual-level to the group-level. Can that be accomplished through deception?

Churches, governments, and markets are three examples in which we move decision-making from the individual-level to the group-level, thus enabling management of evaluative diversity. However, all three institutions existed long-before any one was able to effectively articulate an argument about evaluative biases, so I submit that the only way they could have manage evaluative diversity is through deception: promising to do something else.

Markets, Governments and Churches

Markets have been criticized of late for failing to direct our aggregate power in socially productive directions. At the center of the criticism is a dispute over the purpose of markets: Do they exist to serve society or do they exist to make individual investors rich? Economists point at decade-long trends towards share buybacks and away from productive investments (like R&D and entrepreneurship) as evidence that the purpose of markets has shifted to the latter.

Yet, when we transfer our money (and thus our decision-making power) into market investments (e.g. retirement funds), the promise made to us is not “The market will find more socially-responsible ways to spend your money than you would on your own.” Rather, the promise which convinces us to submit is “The market will make you rich (or at least protect what wealth you have).” If markets exist to benefit society rather than to make the rich richer, then they do so by deception, and that deception may be wearing thin.

Governments have evolved as well. Early governments were dictatorial, citizens had no choice but obey, and governors claimed to apply greater wisdom to advance a greater good. As governments shifted towards democracy, people obeyed less because they considered their governments wiser than themselves, and more because they believed that they themselves controlled their governments. Accordingly, the responsibility assigned to politicians shifted from advancing the greater good to representing the interests of their constituents (against politicians elected by other constituents).

The major criticism levied against modern democracy is that it has become so polarized that politicians are driven less by wisdom than by a commitment to oppose each other (party against party, country against country). If the primary responsibility of a politician is to fight for the interests of their constituents, then this makes sense. If voters have enough individual wisdom to vote, then it also makes sense that voters would elect representatives who obey their constituents. However, wisdom is objective, so individually wise voters would not vote in opposing directions (which, as it turns out, voter do). Apparently, we are deceived about our individual wisdom, and that deception is wearing thin as well.

The promises offered by religions may look different from the promises offered by markets (i.e. to get rich) or government (i.e. to gain control). The ancient doctrines of religions teach that we are not wise as individuals. They teach that it is wise to relinquish some of our decision-making power to religious authorities or communities. As Maya Angelou put it,

While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.

Yet, if religious practitioners believe this teaching—if they doubt their own decision-making instincts because religions promise greater wisdom than individuals can muster individually—then why do religious practitioners shop-around to find a church or develop their own personal religion (perhaps combining the religions of their parents)? Clearly, there must be some other promise (i.e. other than the promise of wisdom) which draws modern religious practitioners to religious communities.

I submit that making a career path out of clerical service has turned religions into businesses, and religious organizations accordingly adapt to the demands of their markets. Thus, they promise affirmation, entertainment, friendship, charity, even political advocacy—whatever their unwise practitioners want. The story might have played-out differently if one religion refined its doctrine (or public understanding of its doctrine) so much that it was clearly superior to all conflicting doctrines. However, the statistics tell us that has not happened. Religious scholars failed to reveal the truth in any religion, so, in practice, religion relies on deception as much as government and markets do.

History shows changes in all three kinds of institutions, changes in the direction of trying to fulfill the deceptions which are used to control people. In becoming increasingly accountable to these deceptions, markets, governments and churches became increasingly trapped in them, distracted from accomplishing social good. It becomes less and less practical to come-clean and demand, “Ask not what your economy/government/church can do for you…”

The Alternative to Deception

“Deception” is a word with evil connotations, but deception can be very kind. I do not regret being controlled by my parents through deception. I needed to be controlled, and I doubt that other forms of control would have been kinder. Likewise, the deceptions of churches, governments and markets shifted us correctly from individual-level decision-making to group-level decision-making. Why not use deception to get there?

The problem with deception is its instability. The problem is not just that people who are being deceived eventually see through the deception, but that other people leverage the deception to twist the institution. At the extreme, we have Wall Street bankers who exploit regulatory loopholes faster than regulators can plug them, lobbyists who influence policy through earmarks and political blackmail, and evangelists who build flashy mega-churches where only a minority even attend regularly much less practice their religion the rest of the week. The people at the extremes get wealthy, so the extremes will not go away, and extremes are just the tip of the iceberg.

Many people who see problems with churches, governments or markets hope to reform them by building more sophisticated deceptions: new promises that no one yet knows how to exploit. Maybe that’s a good idea. Then again, the pattern seems to suggest that any deception, no matter how sophisticated, will eventually fail.

The alternative is to face the truth, to develop genuine social self-awareness, a realization that each of us is a mere part of something larger. We do not speak of the welfare of a muscle cell terms of its happiness, its freedom, its status relative to its neighbors, or even its personal salvation. We speak of the welfare of a muscle cell in terms of its ability to serve its function in the body. Similarly, when we achieve social self-awareness, our concerns will become, “What is my personal role?” and “Am I fulfilling it?”

We determine the functions of each part of the body through science, and that’s how we must determine the functions different kinds of individuals play in society. Your function may be to dream dreams, but dreaming is not the way to discern your purpose. To promise people the ability to choose their own function would, again, be a deception. Yet, many people currently cannot tell the difference between discovering true assignments through science vs. being manipulated with false science, so science must be made transparent, incorruptible, and accessible to all.

Social self-awareness is not an alternative to capitalism, democracy or religion—rather, it provides stable motive to engage in capitalism, democracy and religion. When each of us aims to serve our own function and we let objective science (rather than subjective whims) divide our labor, then markets, governments and churches will no longer rely on deception to motivate cooperation.

This is the critical battle of our age. A battle of education. A battle of making education transparent and egalitarian. A battle of raising education to the level of achieving social self-awareness. Markets, governments and churches can all have a hand in this battle. They should advance social self-awareness—but they probably won’t. The champions of this battle are more likely to be outcasts who see no other way forward than to tell the truth. In the end, truth will prevail.

Confusing Evaluativism with Sexism

Navy womenOver the past few years, the U.S. Navy has been sending women a recruitment mailer promising, “you can do all this while staying in touch with your feminine side — and while bettering your world along the way.” It was sent to women in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. But last week the mailer was scrapped over concerns that it perpetuates sexist stereotypes.

The stereotype, of course, is that all women have a not-expected-in-the-military side that men don’t. Rather than reserve the word “feminine” to refer to women, the brochure used it to refer to an evaluative disposition. Then women not of that disposition asked, “Am I not feminine?”

The Navy obviously intended a very inclusive message. They were not the first to use the word “feminine” in a way that allows for the possibility of feminine men. On, we use the term “naturally relational” instead. Base on the sample used to validate the GRIN Self-Quiz, naturally relational people are twice as likely to be female as male, however, not all are female, and not all females are naturally relational. In fact, there were women of every type, over 60% of women being not naturally relational.

One might like to administer the GRIN-SQ in the military to confirm whether naturally relational people are relatively rare there. The purpose would not be to find a more precise word than “feminine” to use in recruiting—most potential recruits have never heard the term “naturally relational.” Rather, the purpose would be to balance its diversity the way ecologists balance diversity in an ecosystem.

The most adaptive teams include all four GRIN types. A society lacking naturally relational people, specifically, would experience reduced network localization, which essentially means command would be more centralized. An error in such a network can have broad consequences; in contrast, an error in a free market would take-down no more than one business, and competitors would quickly fill the gap.

Jared Diamond famously speculated that centralized command cost China dominion over the Americas. Two hundred years before Christopher Columbus’ voyage, China had an entire fleet of ships capable of crossing the Pacific, but they were all under the control of one emperor, and that emperor decided to destroy the entire fleet. Columbus was turned-down by many countries before he found a patron for his expedition—in Asia, he would have had only one potential patron, so he would have had only one chance.

Our military is an important part of our society. We will be at a loss if it lacks one of the kinds of people it needs to successfully innovate solutions to conflict and to its own evolution. Kudos to those who were smart enough to target for recruitment people who have been called “feminine.” I look forward to the day when common language includes terms which make this message easier to communicate.

Teamology: Evaluative Diversity Promotes Success

Teamology: The Construction and Organization of Effective Teams“Teamology” is the name of a new branch of science somewhere between psychology and sociology. It studies teams and what makes them successful. This seems like an important new science, given that the impact of evolution on the human genome has been increasing and optimizing the success of competing teams rather than of individuals. However, experiments turn out to be logistically far more difficult to conduct in teamology than in psychology. All of the research mentioned in Douglass Wilde’s Teamology: The Construction and Organization of Effective Teams relied on the power of professors to make guinea-pigs out of students (Carnegie-Mellon, Stanford, Loyola U of Los Angeles, Oregon State, Shanghai Jiao-Tong, Sungkyunkwan U., U.C. Berkley, U.C. San Diego, U. of Florida, and U.T. Austin)

Teamological evidence is crucial to management of evaluative diversity because the reasons to protect evaluative diversity are:

  1. Love: For the sake of our children and grandchildren who are likely to be diverse
  2. Religious: For the sake of the One who created diversity
  3. Selfish: For our own sake, believing that we are part of teams which need evaluative diversity (as ecosystems need biodiversity)

The first two motives assume merely that we have diverse predispositions, a hypothesis which is well-confirmed by a wide range of experiments as detailed in Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences. The third motive additionally assumes that diverse teams are more likely to succeed. Teamology is the only field in which experiments can confirm or reject that hypothesis (or tell us which kinds of diversity are beneficial when).

There is strong theoretical reason to expect team success to rely on evaluative diversity. GRIN-diversity reflects specialization in mitigating distinct factors which limit rate of adaptation:

  • Gadfly to increase the rate at which novel configurations are produced
  • Relational to increase network localization through subjective evaluation
  • Institutional to increase fidelity with which proven configurations are reproduced
  • Negotiator to increase selection pressure privileging better configurations

If it turns out that GRIN-diversity does not maximize rate of adaptation, then there must be something wrong with our theory of evolution. One test of the GRIN model involves comparing the success of computer systems with different GRIN-diversity. Computers with a dearth of any GRIN-type fail just like any machine missing one of its essential parts. Having found that confirmation in machines, it makes sense to compare the success of human teams with varying GRIN-diversity.

Evaluative Diversity in Human Teams

Douglass Wilde taught engineering at Stanford University. Each year, his students would work in teams to produce reports which would be entered into competition against each other and against teams from other universities. Teamology presents the method Wilde developed to form and organize winning teams. The method was tested over the course of decades and at U.C. San Diego, U. of Florida, and Jiao Da (Shanghai).

Wilde’s method essentially involved:

  1. Measuring students’ evaluative types,
  2. Dividing into teams so as to maximize evaluative diversity, and
  3. Assigning roles within each team to match measured types.

Wilde’s research was conducted before there was any way to measure GRIN-types. His assignment algorithm used a survey of preferences along Jungian dimensions: Introversion (I) vs. Extroversion (E), Structure (J) vs. Flexibility (P), Facts (S) vs. Possibilities (N), and Objects (T) vs. People (F). Here are Wilde’s formulas to transform those measures into preferences for eight roles:

Wilde formulas

Wilde reports that about 25% of Stanford teams won awards when self-selected, but about 75% won awards when formed by this method. Replication studies found similar results, though they measured success differently and also found that diverse teams “took longer to coalesce” than randomly formed teams did.

How Many Types?

Jungian personality theory disagrees with the Big Five model on the question of traits vs. types. Size is an example of a trait, while sex is an example of a type. We often point-out that types are of discrete categories, while traits fall along continuous scales, but in the context of teamology it may be more important to note that stable types are interdependent, while traits are not. For example, a human society could thrive in certain environments without any especially large members, but could not thrive in any environment without any females (or males).

Interdependency impacts the ideal number of individuals per team. For example, since bees have three sexes, their “families” should be larger than in species with fewer sexes. In contrast, diversity in traits is valuable only to accommodate diversity of situations, so diversity in traits will afford a team no advantage over the best possible individual when the situation is stable or when the individual can adjust his/her traits to match the situation. If adjustment is not feasible, a team of just two polar-opposite members could have full diversity in traits. Thus, if traits were the only source of valuable diversity, then teamology wouldn’t be so important (at least beyond pairs).

Jung’s theory predicts at least eight types and no traits, but the statistical characteristics of measures of Jung dimensions look like traits rather than types. The Big Five model predicts all traits and no types. Truth is probably somewhere in the middle—some traits and some types. The GRIN-SQ produces the statistics to prove that at least four types exist. One might wonder whether teamology could be used to further increase the number of types proven to exist.

The studies Wilde cited involved teams of three to five members each, so they could not possibly have demonstrated the interdependence of more types. If they balanced types, those types might best be called S, N, T and F, since those variables are doubled in his formulas. In the data Wilde provided from his 2006 class, of the 13 students assigned to fill multiple roles, 92% were assigned to be both P and J and 69% were assigned to be both E and I, so any specialization would have been on other dimensions. As implied by the diagram above, the typical team had one member with primary specialization in each quadrant (though some students were also assigned to serve as back-up for other quadrants).

The experiments described in Teamology compared teams formed by Wilde’s method to teams formed randomly or though pure self-selection. It would be far more instructive to compare to teams with all but one type, so that one might identify specific types which make a difference (and perhaps characterize the difference each makes). Wilde initially doubled team performance merely by assigning the students with highest MBTI-Creativity Index (T+2E+2P+6N) to separate teams (leaving no black-hole of gadflydom), but tripled performance relative to self-selection by separating the highest scorers in all eight roles. The difference between these experiments does imply that creativity diversity isn’t the only kind that matters, but specifically what else matters remains to be measured.

Separation of Powers

The reason why the diagram above divides the roles on the left against the roles on the right is that Wilde’s scoring formulas mathematically make those on the left equal to the negative of those on the right. For example, even if a student’s two most preferred roles really were Tester/Prototyper (E+P+2S) and Visionary/Strategist (I+J+2N), the results of Wilde’s preference measure could not possibly reflect that reality. They sum to zero, so at least one is guaranteed to be zero or negative. That is a consequence of the assumption that diversity is structured around dimensions.

It would not be surprising that  the person responsible for devising visions should like to be the person with the power to decide whether those visions are good nor that the person responsible for empathizing should like to be the person with the power to interpret policies (and thus to show mercy). However the danger in mixing such roles is rather obvious—we might call it “conflict of interest”—so we can appreciate the separation of powers forced by Wilde’s method. Wilde’s claim that Visionaries should not be the Testers sounds reasonable (and is supported by his research), but this might have nothing to do with preference.

Are Teams With Greater GRIN-Diversity More Successful?

In theory, the S, N, T and F roles sound like the four GRIN-types:

  1. The S roles include “Tester”, “Investigator” and “Inspector” which match the Negotiator specialization in selection
  2. The N roles include “Innovator”, “Entrepreneur” and “Visionary” which match the Gadfly specialization in generating novelty
  3. Wilde’s measure for T associates it with “logic”, “truthful”, “unaccommodating”, “intolerant” and “impartial” all of which match the Institutional specialization in fidelity.
  4. F would be Relational by process of elimination. Specialization in network localization is undermined in Wilde’s experiments because the structure of students’ social networks is designed and enforced by the experimenter. However, students would be accustomed to social processes developed for groups formed more naturally, so a team lacking relational evaluators would have the handicap of needing to engineer new social processes (e.g. radically new ways to resolve conflicts). Thus, a Relational member might be valuable even in engineered teams.

Empirical comparison of measures confirms that teams formed by Wilde’s method would have greater GRIN-diversity than teams formed at random. N correlates strongly with the Big-Five dimension of “Openness” which is significantly related to Gadfly evaluation. F correlates moderately with the Big-Five dimension of “Agreeableness” which is significantly related to Relational evaluation. Thus, teams formed by Wilde’s method are likely to include one natural gadfly, one naturally relational person, and two people of other GRIN type(s).

Yes, the more successful teams do have greater GRIN-diversity. Again the GRIN model is supported.

But what we really want to know is in which circumstances any of the four GRIN-types might not promote success. To measure that, we would need to compare teams with each type deficiency (and with none) in different circumstances, and it would be better to use direct measures of GRIN-type than to use Jung-types as a proxy. Also, instead of imposing team structure, it would be better to let people form (and re-form) their own teams, and teams-within-teams (unless people segregate so much that they offer no opportunity to observe naturally formed diverse teams). There is much research yet to conduct.

Engaging Conflict

On March 18, Greg Carpenter and Chris Santos-Lang will present a workshop titled “Engaging Conflict” for the Wisconsin United Methodist Church Laity Convocation. Click the image below to see the slides:

engaging conflict

Greg and Chris will speak about resources to help churches with existing conflicts, but emphasize resources churches can use proactively to keep conflict from becoming destructive in the first place. For example, churches can build humility by:

  • Spreading Teachings which reveal the weaknesses of each type,
  • Listening to people different from oneself (use the GRIN model to discover/articulate differences)
  • Monitoring shifts in diversity and support for it

Chris will discuss the Books reviewed on this site. The following articles on this website are also relevant to the workshop:

People who want to help address evaluativism should be sure to contact Chris.

Why am I being punished?

If it’s not my job to be right…

…then why am I being punished for not doing the right thing?

Why am I in prison?
Why was I fired?
Why did my loved ones leave me?
Why do I have to pay?

Our video about evaluativism suggests that the first practical step to overcoming evaluativism is to believe that it is not your job to be right—rather, it is your job to be yourself. It says that people who aim to be right more and more often are aiming to be God, that we should instead be like lawyers in a courtroom, serving the cause of truth by sticking to our assigned opposing perspectives, knowing full-well that at least half of the opposing perspectives must be wrong in some way.

So, let’s suppose you were serving the cause of truth by sticking to your assigned perspective, it turns out that you were wrong, and now you are being punished… Should you become someone else?

The Prevalence of Punishment

First, let’s acknowledge how often punishment happens. Roughly 1.4 percent of men (5 percent of black men) and 0.1 percent of women in the U.S. are currently incarcerated. If we include probation and parole, the numbers multiply by four (about 6 percent of all men). Roughly 14 percent of working age men in the U.S. have been convicted of a felony at some point in their past, and over half of all men in the U.S. will be arrested at some point in their lives.

That is not to say that women are less likely to face punishment. If we define punishment to include any suffering imposed by one person on another, then we realize that most punishment is not imposed by legal authorities. Other countries currently host thirty-seven ongoing military conflicts, each large enough to kill over 100 people per year. Meanwhile, over 35 million people currently live in slavery, and 22,000 children die every day from poverty. Our planet currently produces enough food to nourish every single one of us, so it is perfectly reasonable for the victims of all of these atrocities to wonder, “Why am I being punished?” That question may arise just as often to women, and in countries where incarceration occurs less.

Back in the U.S., 85 percent of romantic relationships will end in a break-up, and the median employment tenure is just 4.7 years for men and 4.5 years for women. Even if you call it “amicable separation,” every ended relationship is an instance of punishment where one party maintains, “You are not behaving correctly (at least not for me).” Instead of finding ways to leverage the diversity implied by our disagreements, people are believing that we are supposed to agree, that we are supposed to converge on the same values even when our physiological differences predispose us towards opposition. We punish each other for failing to meet this unrealistic expectation.

These statistics describe just the tip of the iceberg. Punishment begins long before physical separation. It begins with apathy. Only about a third of U.S. employees are currently considered “engaged” in their jobs. The other two thirds of us are either feeling punished or punishing our employers. Many relationships with loved ones are similarly on-the-rocks, as are relationships between citizens and their government. We might not be hosting ongoing military conflicts in the U.S., but we are still a besieged nation. Punishment is happening all around us every day, even if most of us are not physically in a prison.

So, if you are feeling punished, then you are not alone. Given the prevalence of punishment, it doesn’t make sense to take it personally. The best explanation for why punishment is so widespread is that we, as a society, are not very good at dealing with each other. That is a social problem—not your personal fault.

Here’s the good news: Just as you wonder, Why am I being punished? cavemen used to wonder, Why do I have fleas? As a society advances, both questions become asked less and less often. We’re just slower at ridding ourselves of punishment.

Social Reform

Even if punishment is just an infestation not yet fully stamped-out in modern society, those of us who are being punished will still wonder, What should I do about it? Should I change?

The effect of punishment had better not be to reform the person being punished. If the person being punished simply made an error, then the solution is education rather than punishment. On the other hand, if the conflict being resolved did not result from error—if it instead resulted from differences in physiological predisposition—then to reform the perpetrator would decrease opposition, thus reducing diversity and handicapping society.

Rather than reform convicts, the effect of punishment should be to reform society. Punishment enables social reform by providing separation and shifting resources. Convicts pay the price to make social reform possible. That’s really unfair. Society owes a debt to individuals who suffer punishment, and we should repay that debt by accelerating the social reforms their punishments fund. This is obvious regarding punishment of the innocent, as in the stories of Socrates and Jesus of Nazarath, but is equally true when punishing the guilty.

For example, suppose a child becomes addicted to a drug: Although we confine the child to rehab to address the immediate danger, we ultimately must reform society so that it does not provide children with access to such drugs. A bored child is sent to her room for getting into mischief, but we ultimately need to reform society (perhaps a dysfunctional family or classroom) so that the child stops being bored. A debtor loses his home so a bank can stay in business, but we ultimately need to reduce the ability of sellers to convince consumers to make inappropriate purchases.

Why is it that half of the people who are released from prison return within three years? It is because society is not reforming fast enough. Imagine a man who pays a mechanic to fix his car. When he returns, the car still doesn’t work and the mechanic asks for more money. “I payed the price,” the owner demands, “You said it couldn’t be fixed while the peace was being disturbed, so I stayed away. I gave years of my life in a prison. Was that for nothing?” We should be ashamed to ask that man to pay the price a second or third time.

At one time, it seemed reasonable to blame crime on individuals, but the big insight about evaluative diversity is that no individual is complete—we are best as parts of something larger, something diverse. No one is righteous when the stability of their lifestyle relies on punishing the other parts of that something larger.

Privacy and the Threat of Punishment

One of the GRIN types, natural negotiator, has a special relationship with the threat of punishment. Natural negotiators are achievers, so they are empowered by a shift towards capitalistic systems in which they can compete; however, competition is empowering only if everyone plays by fair rules. Thus, negotiators want there to be enough fear of punishment to dissuade their competitors from breaking the rules. If the governments we construct make rule-breaking the best strategy for getting ahead, then we are systematically oppressing natural negotiators. Therefore, we need to take punishment seriously.

The point of punishment, from the perspective of the negotiator, is not to get revenge, but rather to reduce calculated future crimes. In other words, the punishment is not directed at the person being punished; it is directed at people who have not yet committed the crime. Again, the goal is not to reform the convict, but rather the goal is to reform society, to scare everyone else into not committing crimes. The best way to figure-out when punishment would discourage future crimes would be to ask a jury of peers, and that is what we do.

On the one hand, such juries need to make sure the punishment is not too mild. If the crime can be leveraged to make billions on the stock-market, then the risk of spending ten years in jail might not be enough to dissuade the crime. Even if a convict is reformed, it could be a mistake to release him/her early because that release could encourage a different person to commit a crime (expecting a similar chance at early release). When we view punishment as a threat, it would be wasteful not to make it harsh.

On the other hand, if punishment is so frequent that it seems inescapable, then people will figure they might as well commit the crime. Therefore we cannot punish every hurtful act. We also have to be very careful about discrimination: if black men, or Muslims, or psychopaths are highly likely to get punished, then the punishment system may encourage them to be criminal. To make punishment work as a deterrent against future crime, we must collect strong evidence, so that the innocent can expect to avoid punishment even if they happen to fit a certain profile.

Collecting strong evidence requires reducing privacy. Partly that is about ubiquitous cameras, but its also about getting inside people’s heads because we need to know their motives. When we use punishment to deter crime we are punishing a motive—we are punishing someone for expecting to be able to get away it. That insight inspired the movie Minority Report in which privacy is so far gone that people could be punished even before the crime was committed.

Minority Report was onto something, but rather than punish the person, we should reform society. For example, if we know that Jack thinks he can get way with robbing the local convenience store, rather than punish Jack, we can improve the security system of the local convenience store (and make sure Jack knows about it). It doesn’t seem like a violation of privacy when the knowledge is used merely to identify security holes. That is where we are headed: a world that doesn’t need punishment to deter fowl-play.


We have told you that it is not your job to be right—rather it is your job to be yourself. Yet such behavior seems idealistic in a world filled with punishment. Interracial friendships likewise seemed idealistic in a world filled with racial slavery. Some people currently think punishment is unavoidable just like people used to think racial slavery was unavoidable, so being yourself can be an act of courage and faith.

If a natural negotiator is punished for trying to profit, should they stop trying to profit? No. Do not be reformed. It is the rules of profit that should be reformed.

If a naturally institutional person is punished for following their religion, should they stop following it? No. Do not be reformed. It is the religions that need to reconcile.

If a natural gadfly is punished for thirsting so much for change that they frustrate others, should they stop thirsting for change? No. Do not be reformed. Society should embrace progress so fully that gadflies are too busy facilitating change to waste time frustrating the establishment.

If a naturally relational person is punished for protecting their loved-ones, should they stop loving? No. Do not be reformed. The problem with love is that not everyone is loved enough.

It might not be right to try to profit, to follow a religion, to thirst for change, or to protect loved ones. Any of these activities can be wrong. But it is not your job to be right—it is your job to be yourself.

The short answer to the question, “Why am I being punished?” is that you are part of something larger, and you are serving that something larger by taking the hit. It is not fair, and should happen less and less often. In an ideal world, people would never do anything that would justify punishment—the only place it would be useful to talk about guilt and innocence would be in a history class. We are moving closer to that ideal world. In the meanwhile, you may be guilty, but the blame falls on all of us for not moving to the ideal world sooner.