I picked up Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, not because it would have any bearing on writing Mind&Politics, but simply because I’m an introvert and thought it would be interesting. She writes that sometime around the beginning of the 1900’s, we went from being a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality”. A culture of character concentrates on guiding individuals to higher moral values and becoming better citizens; a culture of personality guides individuals to participate in society and interact successfully with their fellow citizens.
Then, in this past week’s article on The Crowd Pleaser, David Brooks, to a degree, brings Susan Cain’s introversion/extroversion thesis into the political sphere. Writing about Mitt Romney and why he is having trouble sealing the deal with Republicans and conservatives, Brooks calls Romney “other-directed”. Referencing David Riesman’s 1950 The Lonely Crowd, about how different eras nurture different personality types, Brooks indicates that the service or information age economy favors the other-directed personality.
Cain uses Dale Carnegie’s quest to win friends and influence people as a springboard to describing the extrovert personality and its strengths and how it has become favored in today’s world. She describes the culture of personality as focusing on how others perceive you, and links its rise further back than Brooks does to the industrial economy and the move of individuals to the cities, where they had to work, not with neighbors, but with strangers, and had to learn how to navigate in this new social setting. Making favorable impressions on those around you became critical.
Brooks speculates that Romney’s career (rather than in a specific industry like shipping or airlines, it was in “management of management”) leads him, as a politician, to think of himself as the product that he is selling. This product changes as his target market changes; in other words, he has learned the lessons on how to read the group he is presenting himself to and tailoring his personality and his message to appeal to and influence that group.
But, “this is a bad moment,” Brooks writes, for a politician “to be coming across as an other-directed person.” In our “spiritual anxiety,” in our “period of fragmentation,” we are looking for leadership which is rooted and resolute.