Are We Led By Neurotics?

What’s neuroticism? “Neuroticism is a measure of general sensitivity to negative emotions such as pain, sadness, irritable or defensive anger, fear, and anxiety.” – Peterson Big Five Assessment.

People who measure high on this metric tend to be more affected by pain, anxiety, sadness, variability, and fear. Those who score low can address risk better, and recover from difficult situation by way of taking action on the issue. They recover quickly.

One of the common attributes of a highly neurotic person is irritable and defensive anger. That’s a foundational part of cancel culture. You might want to look at cognitive dissonance too.

The advantage of neuroticism

Looking back to ancient times we can understand how neuroticism was a valuable characteristic. Suppose a herd of gazelles are enjoying life and the most neurotic senses the presence of lions. The others with a high degree of the trait respond to that one gazelle and in an instant the herd is off and running.

What is the downside of a false alarm? Very little. Maybe they are a little tired. Maybe breathing heavily. No significant price.

Suppose on the other side none noticed the lion. There will be a big cost for the herd. As the result of this advantage mismatch, neuroticism survives and can still be useful.

The questions

Is neuroticism a characteristic of people who easily accept woke ideas?  Ask if they are excessively fearful and agitated by variances that may not matter at all. I have seen no study or even evidence or opinion on this relationship, but I would not yet dismiss it as meaningless.

Is the government response to Covid in part motivated by how the most neurotic of the population has reacted to it? It has been suggested that some governments are using polling data to inform their response to the problem. Which percentile on the neuroticism curve should they aim for. They seem to be led by the highly fearful. Even if Covid turns out not to be a huge or insurmountable problem, the hide or run away option seems appropriate, as a first action. But notice, the gazelles do not run forever. The reassess and change their behaviour. If they surveyed the herd would the highly fearful seem dominant. Do you think the leaders of the group would decide to stop and reassess?

How does climate change fit? You can assess the climate change action the same way. People express fear and the government introduces polices that are extremely costly and may not have much effect. Bjorn Lomborg seems not too fearful, reasonable even. He is like others in business and elsewhere whose are much less to likely to react to risk negatively. Search for an answer over the time frame available. You can see his reasoning instead of his feelings in a 57 minute video at Uncommon Knowledge

What does the media offer? Reasoning or emotion? Fear and drama sell media offerings. What do you expect them to offer? It’s a business and getting attention and connecting is crucial. That’s true for politicians too.

Polling data and media attention should not be a guide for government policy.

An example of how it plays out

Dr. Gretchen Roedde of Latchford Ontario is retiring at least in part because “The level of rage in the public is unbelievable,”¬† You can see a more complete discussion at the Toronto Sun. Northern Ontario Doctor Closing Practice.

Latchford is about 70 miles north of North Bay and Dr Roedde is the only doctor in the community. They might get some service in Cobalt 10 miles away if the single doctor there is taking on new patients. Maybe in Temiskaming, a little further away but more doctors.

How many people with non-covid conditions value the services of Dr Roedde? Diabetics, pregnant women, cancer patients, heart attack survivors, children. Probably most of her practice. Who loses?

No personality trait is entirely good or bad

Neuroticism is like that. As with all things balance matters. Objective reality must eventually inject itself into the situation. Anticipatory danger must be tested. Failing that, the possible dangers  appear and will be treated as real.

Eventually, we understand policy responds to the apparent preferences of the people. Is the range of those preferences considered against a factor like how people deal with fear? If not why not? Would calming fear be better for the people even if not so good for media and politicians.

As always, follow the money. If you were a corporate media company, do you think stories that played to people who were more easily made fearful or anxious would sell better than ones aimed at people who believed they were capable of dealing with whatever faced them? The corporate media has some negative characteristics in my view, but stupid is not one of them.

The bits to take away

Fearful people seem to be driving policy.

Objective reality is currently invisible. I suppose it may be impossible to “know” about the virus and its capabilities.

Low neurotic people tend to want treatment and prevention happening as one. Treatment minimizes short run harm while prevention may reduce the problem in the future. Is the current bet that prevention will work valid? If there were good treatments available, would that aspect matter at all?

Fear and anxiety provide weak counsel. Objectivity is impossible when drowned in anxiety.


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I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

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