For those who are interested in the Myers-Briggs test, the SP personality types are reputed to be the most fun sort of people, whose focus is on sensory recognition (rather than intuition) and enjoyment rather than decisiveness. Whether or not one gives credence to the division of people into a wide variety of personality types, there are certain occasions where people show a deliberate sort of inconsistency that is focused on the immediate needs of the argument rather than on a larger logical or moral worldview that has always gotten on my nerves. When one wants to have long-term conversations with people, a large part of the enjoyment of that comes from recognizing a certain baseline way of thinking and behaving that remains more or less constant, and then figuring out the layers and complications of the person that depend on certain triggers that allow one to get a deeper understanding of where someone is coming from.
Those whose lives are lived on the surface are focused mainly on getting by on a day-to-day basis. So, for example, when I am talking with some people about music charts, their focus is on maximizing the success of a particular favored song or minimizing that of a song they dislike or have grown tired of based on that particular period of time. There is no thought about making a consistent rule that would be applicable across all times to all songs, for example, because any formulation that would serve to one’s benefit at one time may not another time and one always wants to benefit and does not want to be hampered with rules that are to be applied consistently, because such consistency is a vulnerability.
This happens all of the time in political discourse, one of the many reasons why such conversations are unpleasant and frequently unprofitable. It is hard to respect people when one sees on a day-to-day basis people change their logic and reasoning based on how it is most convenient to what they view as their cause. Admittedly, none of us is immune to this tendency, but some people are especially ignorant to the way that they may say, for example, that no one is above the law even as the events of that very day demonstrate that they practically consider themselves to be above the law when it comes to such things as having one’s spouse being seemingly immune from DUI charges, or oneself being immune from insider trading prosecution that would land anyone else in the federal penitentiary like Martha Stewart.
In such circumstances it is worthwhile to consider the nature of the consistency that people show. Winston Churchill, as a politician, was famously inconsistent over the course of his career when it came to tactics, but what he wanted was consistent enough over the long term that he has been regarded as a statesman. The same could be said, for example, about Abraham Lincoln in the drastic difference many people see from his early political career as an ambitious Whig and his later political career as a principled Republican after 1854 and his return to politics. For all too many people, though, what is consistent is not principles, or a desire for the well-being of others that requires first speaking out against one extreme and then the other based on the spirit of the times that one is combatting, but rather a desire to win at all times. When one wants to win, one cannot be too scrupulous about how one wins, because at different times and in different situations different aspects of one’s arguments or program will be most appealing, and so one has to tilt first one way and then another to suit the moment, always trying to dodge the unpleasant reality of having one’s past comments and positions be brought up for public scrutiny and criticism.
Ultimately, one’s character is deeply intertwined with one’s attitudes about history and the past in general. To the extent that one has an interest in preserving history and encouraging its study and its application to one’s own life, one will generally be a person whose essential consistency can be celebrated and praised even with the reality that there is a lot of growth in the thinking and behavior of a given person, because that growth has an organic basis that does not contradict the past but rather puts it in a better context. Those who seek to wipe their tracks, though, and who do not consider the past to be of importance, are demonstrating their unwillingness to be judged by what they said or did yesterday or earlier today, because it may have to change to suit different circumstances that may pop up at any time, and one does not want to be held to the promises in the dark or the unwanted commitments and statements of standards that are no longer beneficial or convenient. Of such people we should be wary.