Tuesday, February 03, 2015

with thanks to commenter JK (and notes on "K-rage")

Commenter JK, who frequents both Jeff's and Malcolm's blogs, left a comment at this post over at Malcolm's blog—a comment that contained many links to fun activities, including a link to the so-called "Big Five Personality Test."

The general consensus in academic psychology is that there are five fundamental personality traits. When it is said that there are five fundamental personality traits, it is meant that there are only five traits that are completely independent (knowing [someone's] level [in] one trait gives you no information about [his] level on any of the others)[,] and all other personality traits will be correlated with one or more of the big five. This test uses [public-domain] scales from the International Personality Item Pool.

(I have no idea whether it's true that there's a "general consensus" about how many "fundamental" personality traits there are. I suspect not: psychology, inexact science that it is, is fractious and rather Protestant in its splittist disposition. "Five" sounds suspiciously pat and very marketable, and it happens to be a magic number in many different cultures, probably thanks to the fact that we have five fingers on each hand.)

I display my Big Five results below for your consideration. Click on the image to see it full-size.

It was surprising to see that my extraversion was at around 60%: I had expected it to be much lower. Part of the reason for this may be that the questionnaire tended to ask questions about concern for others versus questions about one's desire to immerse oneself in social situations (the sorts of questions one would find on, say, the Myers-Briggs test). I think I often am concerned for others' welfare: I sometimes find myself helping drunk people, or homeless people. I've broken up the odd fight before. And concern for others' welfare is why I've been a teacher for so long.

It wasn't surprising to see that conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness were at a high level; there's a bit of Captain Kirk in me, and that's probably why I'm an expat. I didn't come to Korea to muck around in the familiar (e.g., Itaewon and that whole anglophone demimonde); I came to Korea to experience a different world. I may not be the world's biggest extravert, but I tend to get along with those I meet, and I do like going on the occasional adventure, assuming I have the funds to do so.

Speaking of personality, I have mixed feelings about this article on "K-rage"—the stereotypical tendency of male or female Koreans to fly into uncontrollable rages (yes, it's an actual slang term)—that I saw through a link from James Turnbull on Twitter. To some extent, the article seems to confirm my own fears and hesitation when it comes to dating Korean women. I've heard far too many stories from non-Korean expats about how Korean women can go nuts on you—the insane jealousy, the insecurity, the high-maintenance bitchiness that comes from being an over-privileged citizen of a nouveau riche country with a powerhouse economy.*

Some of the older ajummas that I knew in America advised me against dating Korean women in Korea—not because they were thinking of K-rage in particular, but because they saw modern young Korean women as too spoiled, emotionally stunted, and materialistic, whereas the gyopo women who had been raised in America were actually more in touch with true older-generation Korean values thanks to their parents, who had passed those values down to their children. Still, there may be a K-rage tie-in to the extent that K-rage is cultural... but is it?

Scientists say that about fifty percent of one's personality is genetically determined (again with the magic numbers, and I have no idea how one determines what constitutes "fifty percent" of one's personality). If so, then it doesn't much matter whether a Korean child is raised in Korea or in America: he or she is going to be temperamental. But I wonder to what extent K-rage is just a racial/ethnic label for something that is far from unique to Koreans. I've seen, for example, non-Korean kids in the States who were holy terrors in public situations; I often found myself thinking sternly, "If that were my kid... this wouldn't be a problem." In fact, I'd say that, on the whole, Korean kids tend to behave better in public than many non-Korean kids, and that that civility extends to when these kids become teens and young adults.

That said, there's doubtless a reason the K-rage label exists at all, and those other scary marital anecdotes I've heard, mainly from expat friends who are (or who were) married to Korean women, shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Korean women can indeed be very temperamental. I know: my mother was such a woman. Maybe one day I'll tell you about the shit I went through as her child.

The other reason for my mixed feelings about the K-rage article, though, stems from my disappointment at the blithe way the author writes off her own K-rage with an "I can't help it." While it may be true that genes determine personality to a great extent, "I can't help it" seems to imply that one really has no choice about, or no control over, one's own emotions. It's true that my anger at something can catch me unawares and flare up before I get a handle on it, but it's also true that I can engage in certain mindful practices that will help me become the master of my emotions and not their slave.

This is the difference between maturity and immaturity, and it's actually related to the larger global debate going on right now regarding Muslims who fly off the handle at sacrilegious depictions of Muhammad or at perceived insults to their religion. This animal-like inability to control oneself is, I think, largely a fiction: pace the twisted logic of Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary, who has laughably contended that France is essentially at fault for the deaths of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, there's nothing inevitable about such rage (should we call it "M-rage"?). To allow people to get away with saying "I can't help it" is to allow them to abdicate responsibility for their own actions. Whether we're talking K-rage or Muslim rage, people can and should be able to control themselves: that's what human freedom entails. By extension, this means they should be held responsible for when they fly into childish, petulant rages, doing violence to loving relationships or to provocative cartoonists.

*Of course, there are exceptions. This should be obvious. I have friends who are happily married to Korean women, and who never report that their significant others have flown into yet another rage over some trifling matter. Are they all just hiding the dirty truth from me? I don't think so. I think that, if they were truly having that sort of trouble in their marriages, they'd say something, if for no other reason than to let off some steam.


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