Friday, May 16, 2008

New Individualism and the Locus of Control

A few weeks ago, I talked about my “New Individualism”. While I like to use free market rhetoric by talking about personal freedom and individual action, there is actually more than just sentiment to back it up. Quite a few psychologists believe the concepts that I have used to build my Individualism.

Let me introduce a term, if you don’t already know it. Locus of Control. People either have an internal locus of control, an external locus of control, or a combination of the two.

Having an internal locus of control means that you believe that you are in control of your life and you assume that your decisions determine most of the events, good and bad, that occur in your life. Having an external locus of control means that you believe that luck and chance determine the events of your life and your actions have little to do with what happens to you.

For example, someone with an internal locus of control would believe that if they prepared really well for an interview that they would likely get the job. Someone with an external locus of control would believe that if the interviewer happens to like them or they caught the manager at a good time only then will they get the job.

I took an on-line survey here to determine whether I had an internal locus of control. Not surprisingly, I scored as having a high level of internal control. This part of my personality explains why I abhor the idea of the government “helping” me. I tend to feel that if life threw me to the wolves I would come back with a dog-sled team.

In place of real research, I trolled through Wikipedia and read some of the source materials for Locus of Control and another related topic Self-Efficacy. Having an internal locus is not just a personality type. Those who have an internal locus also tend to have these personal characteristics:

1. More likely to work for achievements, to tolerate delays in rewards and to plan for long-term goals
2. Increased ability to delay gratification
3. Better able to resist coercion
4. Less prone to depression

Externals are more likely to be:

1. Less willing to take risks, to work on self-improvement and to better themselves through remedial work than internals
2. More stressed and prone to clinical depression

These two sets of beliefs explain much about the political dynamics in our times. Offshoots of Socialism, which infect the Democratic party, tend to rely on external locii of control to justify their actions. It’s Wall Street Conspiracies and Big Oil who are out to steal from the helpless little guy. It’s “Life’s Lottery” that lets job losses and health care catastrophes randomly strike good honest people that justify massively inefficient social insurance and welfare programs.

It’s not that the most disciplined of savers is never effected by events outside of their control, but the negative effects are greatly diminished by someone who has practiced the daily discipline of saving money and being a hard-working employee or owner.

As I have said before, striving for a society “that recognizes personal action, not as a burden, but the narrow gate to personal freedom.” It is not cold hearted and calloused it is kind and compassionate. Individual action brings safety. Individual action brings security. Individual action brings personal empowerment. These things cannot be achieved outside of ourselves.

Creating a society where we are protected, not by our own character and ingenuity, but by whims of those in power leaves us worse off. When looking at the symptoms of an external locus of control, is it any wonder why so many Americans are on psychiatric medication? Is it any wonder why we can’t delay gratification and have a zero savings rate? Is it any wonder why so many are up to their eyeballs in debt? Is it any wonder that we cannot seem to lose weight? Just look at the systems of having an external locus of control. Look at the symptoms of a society that believes we have to make everything equal because the differences between people are not the result of choices, but of mere chance. Look at the philosophies that imply that taking control of one’s own destiny is unnecessary because a few people at the top will take care of us all. Look past the brashness and bravado into the private hell of millions of Americans waiting and waiting and waiting for their lucky break.

True love and true compassion do not let people wallow in doubt and self pity. True love asks them to stand up one more time. True love pushes them to walk one more mile. True love leads them across one more river; over one more mountain. True love pokes and prods until the unflinching fury of human potential brakes free of the shackles of inaction. True love brings freedom.

One final quote from a man named Teilhard de Chardin:

It is our duty as human beings to proceed as though the limits of our capabilities do not exist

As always, tell me what you think.

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