The Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, which was part of the very air I breathed during my childhood, classifies personality into four binaries: (I)ntrovert and (E)xtrovert, i(N)tuitive and (S)ensing, (T)hinking and (F)eeling, (P)ercieving and (J)udging. (I’m a fairly strong INTP, which is news to nobody.)
The process of dividing things into binaries, then assigning things placements on that scale, of course, is already a pretty rationalist way of thinking about things. Like the goofy philosophy-major T-shirt: “There are two kinds of people in the world: those that think there are two people in the world, and those that don’t.” (Obligatory ThinkGeek reference)
My own philosophical schism — and by philosophical, I suppose I mean the inner framework that I use to decide what’s important to me, and how I’m going to weigh values when making choices — is kind of hung up between two places, which I’ll oversimplify here (not that I could get it right if I had the space):
The Stoics (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius): “You must control your desires! Control your desires, and you won’t live in a state of frustration and disappointment!”
The Epicureans (Epictetus) “Your desire for pleasure and tranquility is good! Arrange your life so that you can achieve this state of happiness.”
When I have a choice to make, I usually hear from both camps.
To this, I’ll add a third incredibly important formative influence from my childhood, a Roz Chast cartoon from the New Yorker (click to zoom, new window):
Okay, here’s how Binky is applied in my case. I’M HUNGRY A LOT OF THE TIME, which causes you to rethink your values. WHY am I not eating that 10-point Au Bon Pain cranberry muffin, the one right there by stairway 3? Right, so I won’t cringe when I see pictures of myself (yes, I know I am not a ham beast, but I’m not skinny, either.) But… aren’t I really being unrealistic about this weight-loss project?
“Stick to your 26 points for victory!” says my inner stoic, appearing in miniature on my right shoulder dressed like a narrow spinster in a Salvation Army uniform. “By controlling your intake of food, you control your weight, and therefore your destiny! It’s simple!” But then, in a small puff of smoke on my left shoulder comes my inner epicurean, played by Socrates from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, except he’s wearing wraparound shades and a turned-up collar like the cool kids from an eighties movie (hey, I can’t explain it either):
“Come on, you know, if you’re too hard on yourself now, you’ll just quit after a few weeks. Just eat the muffin” he says, his eyes turning into spinning whirlpools superimposed over the terminator shades: “Eat it, you know that the idea of mastery over desire is the product of an overly neoplatonic interpretation of the stoic agenda introduced by that rotter Descartes, John, and it doesn’t take into account the realities of being human.”
I start to weaken, thinking of the three dollars in my wallet that could buy that there cranberry muffin, and Socrates presses his advantage: “Haven’t I seen you reading the phenomenological work of Alison Jaggar, pointing out the dangers of nonmaterialistic dualities that don’t value or respect the needs of the corporeal body? E-e-e-e-e-at the muf-f-f-f-innn. Heidegger is here, and he says ‘eat the muffin’ too.”
Then I just think of Binky, and go “fuck it, I’m not eating that muffin.” Whew! Thanks, clown.