Agreeableness and Cognitive Enhancement vs Heroic Compassion

Agreeableness is a focus of Buddhism and Cognitive Enhancement - Chemical Happiness, Generosity, and Loving-Kindness.  In the second part of the essay, J.Hughes of "Ethical Technology" uses psychological terms associated with conflict-avoidance and associates them with compassion.
The factor of agreeableness appears to be particularly relevant to the virtues of generosity and compassion.  People who score high on agreeableness are more compassionate, trusting and helpful throughout their lives while people low in agreeableness will find it hard not to be uncooperative, unsympathetic and easily irritated regardless of how much they meditate and think loving thoughts. Agreeableness has been found to be correlated with empathy (del Barrio et al., 2004) and volunteering (Carlo et al., 2005).
Agreeableness is also related to several other personality constructs that have moral valence. Michael Ashton and colleagues (2005) have found that agreeableness is related to Honesty-Humility and Greed-Avoidance scales, which include personality descriptors such as sincere, fair, and unassuming as opposed to sly, greedy, and pretentious. Agreeableness and Honesty-Humility are in turn negatively associated with the ‘‘Dark Triad’’ traits of Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Primary Psychopathy (Lee & Ashton, 2005).
This worried me.   So many things in the article trace true to my roots.   I was a philosopher first and a recycler second;  I chose recycling because I wanted a karma or work-ethic yoga which would produce less consumption.  Most work and effort (making cars, for example) tends to increase consumption, especially if your goal is to provide material goods to "have nots".    I spent a long time looking at global population growth, came to some disturbing conclusions, and chose recycling because I didn't think I had the talent for solar energy... conserving energy became my path to creating energy.

A disagreeable lawyer in South Africa
Anyway, the article focuses on Buddhist thought practice and meditation.   It associates compassion (of which Dalai Lama spoke) with agreeableness.  I have been concerned about my disagreements with environmentalists, with environmental regulators, and other do-gooders.    I'm conscious that my taking Socratic method over agreeableness has cost me chits and has been a difficult path.  Jim Puckett has actually taken my defense in some groups, saying that he respects the role of the "crusader" who is trying to right an injustice, and that he identifies with some of my confrontational positions.

What I do not buy in this article is the association between agreement and empathy.   It ignores the complex society which de Tocqueville and others warned us about, a "tyranny of the majority", or unjust concensus.  In the case of recycling exports, I've tried to show that it's a "false majority" which agrees to boycott trade between haves and have nots.

The problem with agreeableness is that the number or percentage of the time you are "agreeable" in mind is defined by the denominator of who you hang out with.   Read J. Hughes article a second time, but this time instead of imagining agreement with psychadelic ingesting hippies, imagine yourself as a member of the Hitler Youth.  Imagine yourself in the church in Birmingham Alabama in 1960, surrounded by friends and relatives opposed to integration.

It's a magnificent article, very well written, and I do take away from it the caution that willingness to disagree is associated with pretentiousness and "bad karma".   But I'm 50, I know this.  And I recognize the patterns of disagreement, the habits and mannerisms formed from protesting. I'm not the first to sacrifice popularity and social charisma-currency over something which most people find inane and unimportant.   We have already discarded our e-waste one time, having it put back in front of us to deal with again and again is not high on most middle class lists of priorities.    If a "green" group has said that there's a good way to do it and that it helps poor people for whom we share empathy, then checking "Stewardship" on the list and moving on seems like needed closure for the end-of-life product, and we can use our choice to mitigate our other patterns of consumption, which we secretly know are taxing the ecosystem.   Let's buy a Prius and move on.

What my favorite quotes, below this blog, say is simpler.  "All right then, I'll go to hell".  Huck Finn was the one person in St. Petersburg Missouri who had the most in common with "n**ger Jim", the runaway slave, the "property" Huck was helping to steal.   We depend on people to know their shit if they are going to take a stand in dialectic, arguing and disagreeing.   But to imply that the person who is most disagreeable is also the least empathetic, the most greedy, or the more pretentious, is a pretty stupid conclusion to make.

The acceptance of loss of heaven, or loss of nirvana, or loss of elation, or loss of popularity, or all the other social rewards bestowed by the powerful or the close-knit "majority", is currency which can be gambled with in the pursuit of justice.  

No matter how many environmentalists say that the 80% of all e-waste exports are burned by primitive monkey-people who need fully functional computers lowered from white man helicopters, no matter how many people I must disagree with, the fact is that it's as untrue a statement as those who said negroes could never be integrated in American society.   Those people thought they were in the know, and in the majority, because they "didn't get out much".  That has never been my definition of heroic.   Gandhi was Hindu, not Buddhist or Muslim, but what distinguished him is not his choice of religion.   He was not agreeable with tyranny, and was able to forge agreements with people very much outside his network, able to fast to bring people beyond their disagreements.

My problem perhaps is that I don't have the guts, as Gandhi did, to go on a fasting protest, to silently wither until the geeks of color get their say.  Arguing may be sacrificing popularity, but it's like scratching an itchy scab.  It's not a sacrifice which most people admire, it can be done on impulse and without higher purpose.  My writing is better when I'm able to channel passion without veering either direction, into anger and defamaption, nor into sympathetic me-too-ist agreements with illogical conclusions.

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