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Rigid versus flexible

Wednesday 2 May 2018

The words ‘rigid versus flexible’ have been scrawled in my untidy list of blog ideas for quite a while. Suddenly, to my huge surprise, I find that objective psychological research seems to provide some confirmation of what I thought was just a quirky, mildly entertaining insight. Let me explain...

My theory, to give it an unjustifiably serious title, is that people’s political attitudes are more based on deep-seated attitudes of mind than on methodical consideration of actual policies. Such habits of mind might be called ‘ideologies’, except that such a label implies more conscious coherence than is actually involved. It’s more, I feel, that one’s preferred ideology is chosen because of one’s preference for thinking in certain ways. These ways of thought can be broadly divided into ‘rigid’ or ‘flexible’.

The Rigid Party thinker likes things to be clear-cut, and well-organised. It is much more comfortable to see the world as black-and-white, not as a vague series of grays. This leads to a taste for rules, for precise instructions which tell you how to behave and what to value.

The Flexible Party thinker likes things to be loose and variable. Life is more stimulating if it’s unpredictable and not organised into exact, fixed patterns. This leads to a reaction against rules and norms, drawn up by other people, which require you to behave and think in repetitive ways.

Now, I argue, the Rigid approach tends to apply to right-wing political positions, which insist on Law’n’Order and an obedience to properly constituted hierarchies ... while the Flexible approach tends to fit with left-wing positions, which promote the idea of Freedom for The People, who set their own rules according to their own desires and tastes.

However... it’s much more complicated than that. For instance, right-wing liberalism exalts the individual (or at least, the individual businessman) in a world which is flexible to the point of anarchy; while left-wing counter-culture tends to conceive the free choices of The People as orthodox and monolithic, resulting in a perfect rigidity of rule-based conformity.

Yes, but I insist on the fundamental taste for Rigid or Flexible. Individuals choose what they want to promote out of any given belief system. For instance, out of the vast literature of Islam, you can choose the elements that make you a Taliban (extreme Rigid), or a Sufi mystic (extreme Flexible). Or there are those who take dogmatically rigid attitudes to Flexibility, and wish to stamp out the slightest hint of politically incorrect Rigidity.

Well, that’s my mini theorette... now read this article from the Guardian “It’s official: the Brexiter v remainer battle will never, ever end”  Don’t worry, it’s not all about the damn’ Brexit issue, but it does explain something about a taste for fixed and Rigid borders and discriminations. And do notice the mention of “...the ability to associate words and ideas across different contexts ... as a measurement of cognitive flexibility...” which is very much what we IB English B teachers are aiming to promote, isn’t it?

And me? I’m dithering (flexibly) between being a Flexible Rigidist or a Rigid Flexibilist.


Life & Works
20 Jun 2018
On stupidity
22 Mar 2018

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