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Mental models - giving people personhood and taking it away

-10 Post author: Elo 11 August 2016 08:32AM

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/giving-people-personhood-and-taking-it-away

This post is about the Kegan levels of self development.  If you don't know what that is, this post might still be interesting to you but you might be missing some key structure to understand where it fits among that schema.  More information can be found here (https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/developing-ethical-social-and-cognitive-competence/)

I am not ready to definitely accept the Kegan levels as a useful model because often it makes retrospective predictions.  Rather than predictions of the future.  A model is only as useful as what it can predict, so if it can't be used on the fly when you want to explain the universe you might as well throw it out.  Having said that, this idea is interesting.


When I was little, people fell into different categories.  There was my parents - the olderClass humans (going to refer to them as Senior-humans), my siblings - which, as I grew up turned into my age-group humans and through school - my peergroup humans.

People like doctors fell into SeniorClass, Dentists, Vets, Plumbers, PIC (People In Charge) - all fell into the SeniorClass of humans.  A big one was teachers - they were all PIC.  A common trope among children is that the teachers sleep at school.  Or to use a gaming term - we feel as though they are the NPC's of that part of our journey in life.

As far as I can tell (from trying to pinpoint this today); the people I meet on my own terms become peergroup humans.  Effectively friends.  People I meet not on my terms; as well as strangers - first join some kind of seniorclass of humans, if I get to know them enough they transition to my peergroup.  Of course this is a bit strange because on the one hand I imagine I want to be friends with the PIC, or the senior-class humans because of the opportunity to get ahead in life.  the good ol' I know a guy who know's a guy.  Which is really not what a peergroup constitutes.

Peergroup humans are not "A guy with skills" much as we might hope for; they are (hopefully) all at our own, or near our own skill level.  (on Kegan's stage 3) people who's opinions and ideas we care about because they are similar to us.


Recently I have noticed events that have taken some of my long term SeniorClass and shift them into my peergroup.  Effectively "demoting" them from "Professional" to "human".  When I think "person has their shit together" or "person doesn't have their shit together".  I guess there were always people who seemed to have their shit together.  Now that I am an adult it's clear that less and less people are competent and more and more people are winging it through their lives.  It's mildly uncomfortable to think of people as being less "together" than I thought they were.

The other place where it's been an uncomfortable transition is in my memory.  I will from time to time think back to a time when I deferred judgement, decision making capacity, or high-level trust in someone else having my own best interests at heart - where now looking back retrospectively they were just as lost and confused as I was in some of those situations, but they had a little kid to take care of/be in charge of/be in seniority to.

What I wonder about this process of demoting people is - what if instead of demoting my adults as they prove their humanity; I instead promote all the humans to Senior-Class.  What would that do to my model of humans?  And I guess I don't really know where I stand.  Am I an adult?  Am I a peer?  I have always been an observer...

I'm not really getting at anything with this post.  Just interesting to observe this reclassification happening and fit kegan's stages around it.  Obviously some of the way that I sorted Senior-class humans is particularly relevant to a stage 3 experience of how I managed my relationships when I was smaller.  I also wonder that given the typical mind - whether this is normal or unusual.  

Question for today:

  • Do you divide people into "advanced" and "equal" and "simpler" - (or did you do it when you were younger?)
  • Do people ever change category on you?  In which direction?  What do you do about that?
  • Assuming I am on some kind of path of gradually increasing understanding and growing and changing models of the world around me - what is next?

Meta: this took 3 hours to write over a few days.

Comments (9)

Comment author: minta98 11 August 2016 11:24:24AM 1 point [-]

What you're saying is pretty interesting, because I think we all classified people in different categories when we were children, and as we evolved those categories evolved too. To answer your questions:

My classifications seem to be way too complex to explain, not even I understand them, but to put it simply, I think I classify between people who I get on well with and people who I don't get on well with. After that, it becomes a dichotomous classification and it just branches out. It's after that first classification that I see whether they have their shit together or not and what kind of person they are. What I dislike about my first classification, is that when I'm not sure if I get on with this person or not, I get confused and frustrated and I don't really know what to think of them.

Yes, definitely. They change categories and that becomes pretty confusing too. If they do, I normally tell myself that actually they were always in that category and I just wasn't able to grasp that. It's kind of rare that they change, but I had a friend with whom I had a fight and after that we never talked again. I guess it's simply because I had not realised 'who they really were'.

That is a good question, and one I could not answer. I think you will never stop understanding the models, because as you said, they are always changing. To be honest, I would say what is next is to start acting upon them. Once you understand a model, try applying it to real life. For example, imagine you classify a certain person as 'advanced'. Try applying what they do to your life, and experiment around to see if you perceive yourself as getting closer to this 'advanced' section.

It's just a suggestion, but I think it's a very interesting topic!

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 August 2016 08:32:22AM 0 points [-]

Taking about Kegan's stages isn't easy. Using the stages means judging other people and people don't like to be judged. They especially don't like to be judged as not yet being on stage X. That said I will speak anyway, if you don't like what I'm saying and find it judgmental feel free to just ignore it.

On of the predictions of Kagan's model is that when I'm faced with a person who believes in one model to explain everything, I'm unlikely to be able to move them via rational argument in a single interaction towards not being attached to a single model.

David Chapman wrote good articles debunking Bayesianism as not being able to explain everything but a stage 4 person who reads them usually can't simply accept them because moving to stage 5 involves a lot more than just exchanging one belief.

Kegan's model also suggests that it's pointless to have that debate about people who are at the stage 3 to stage 4 transition and for whom a framework like Bayesianism can be very valuable because it gives them a structure to think about the world.

On my local LW dojo I think most participant are capable of stage 5 thinking and plenty of people on this website are also capable to have a debate on that stage and can think in those abstractions. Some people however aren't. At the facebook group the amount of people who aren't is even higher.

That put my sometimes into the role of advocating Bayesianism at one discussion because I was dealing with someone for whom it's an improvement and a step in the right direction and the next day speaking about the flaws of Bayesianism and taking it as a system to explain everything.

Someone between stages 3 and stage 4 will hear when I speak about the flaws of Bayesianism that I want to say that it's a flawed system and there's a better system. But that's not what I'm advocating in those circumstances when I want to make the general point of not attaching oneself to one system as happens in Kegan's stage 4 but being between systems.

In the spirit of what Saul A. Kripke writes in Naming and Necessity: It really is a nice theory. The only defect I think it has is probably common to all philosophical theories. It's wrong. You may suspect me of proposing another theory in its place; but I hope not, because I'm sure it's wrong too if it is a theory. And that doesn't mean stage 3 relativism.

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 11 August 2016 09:16:34AM 0 points [-]

I am not ready to definitely accept the Kegan levels as a useful model because often it makes retrospective predictions. Rather than predictions of the future. A model is only as useful as what it can predict

OK, let's think about some predictions I can make from Kegan's model, about things I have no idea if they are true:

  1. There are significantly more people who go from caring emotionally about relations with colleagues at work to not caring, than the other way round.

  2. When adolescents become able to resist peer pressure, it is correlated with increased tendency to make commitments to themselves and others.

  3. In politicians who in their lifetimes change from being idealistic to being self-serving and calculated, we will observe a period of backing off from politics in the middle of the change.

  4. People who have trouble with social relationships, will also have trouble dealing with situations where the society formulated formal rules, but the optimal solution lies outside of those rules (such as law etc.).

I know that these are kind of vague, but that's what I could think of on the spot.

Comment author: Elo 11 August 2016 10:15:24AM -1 points [-]

trouble with social relationships

That could constitute anything from "lives by a tit-for-tat system" and so has difficulty with society, to "does not understand being considerate for other people", and so has difficulty making friends. But these two social relationship troubles potentially land in different ways at stage 2 and stage 3 (or both stage 2). Where I expect tit-for-tat will have trouble with the law, consideration for other people will not.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 August 2016 10:02:48AM 0 points [-]

In politicians who in their lifetimes change from being idealistic to being self-serving and calculated, we will observe a period of backing off from politics in the middle of the change.

Why do you think that Kegan's model makes that prediction?

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 11 August 2016 01:56:20PM *  0 points [-]

Why do you think that Kegan's model makes that prediction?

I don't think it's fair to say that "Kegan's model makes that prediction" - the model itself (in the form I know it) is a little bit too vague for this. I'd rather say that I'm making that prediction USING Kegan's model, and I apply it to politics in this way:

  • idealistic politicians who are in it to help people = stage 3
  • gap = politicians who think politics doesn't make sense so they are not politicians anymore = stage 4
  • calculating politicians who are in it to play the system = stage 5
Comment author: ChristianKl 12 August 2016 08:27:34AM 0 points [-]

To me that seems like a misapplication. The politician who makes sure that his friends get forward can be at stage 3 without being idealistic.

A politician who is in a party because they want to advance capitalism or because they want to advance liberalism would likely be in stage 4 because their loyality is to the institution and not to people.

I have an impression of some politician who operate at the city level in Berlin that doesn't come through the media. I would categories those people mostly as stage 3 or stage 4.


How would you characterize yourself in Kagan's framework?

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 13 August 2016 03:24:16AM 0 points [-]

I'm not going to argue about this - as I said, I think the Kegan's model by itself is underspecified, and you can apply it in various ways to the same situation. Quite possible your application to politics makes more sense.

How would you characterize yourself in Kagan's framework?

If you are asking this question, you don't understand some critical things. Never ask this question.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 August 2016 11:57:04AM 0 points [-]

If you are asking this question, you don't understand some critical things.

That might very well be true. I have invested a bit more thought into the Spiral Dynamics model of developmental psychology and extrpolate on that basis with the information that Wikipedia provides about Kegan's model.

But when it comes to polticians Wikipedia lists "Culture of mutuality. Mutually reciprocal one-to-one relationships." for stage 3 and "Culture of identity or self-authorship (in love or work). Typically: group involvement in career, admission to public arena." for stage 4. Being driven by wanting to increase the wellness of people in general seems to fall more into stage 4 than in stage 3.