I Investigated The Question: Why Do Some People Handle Ambivalence Better Than Others?


Future Time (Back to the conversation with MV)

“But you got married,” said MV.

“No, that was later,” I replied. “True, three years after my bicycle trip I did get married, but it took another five years after that before I finally stopped pushing my God idea. Once I rejoined the student ranks, I was back at it.”

“Oh, my mistake,” MV responded. “It’s hard to keep a time line straight when you keep jumping around the way you do. How did you combine sociology with your metaphysic anyway?”

“It wasn’t easy,” I said. “Actually, back in the classroom, I kept my mouth shut most of the time. I needed to become employable, not understood.”

“But what about your thesis,” replied MV, “you said the data supported your ideas.”

“I didn’t write about my metaphysic,” I said. “I wrote about the implications contained in it. Remember, my first two thesis topics were rejected, so when it was suggested that I do survey research on prejudice my topic became prejudice. Actually, I was okay with that. Prejudice always made my blood boil, so I thought getting to know more about it was a good idea. In my literature search on the subject I found a connection between prejudice and ambivalence. Ambivalence played a major role in Adorno’s study of the Authoritarian Personality. In order to escape ambivalence, the child, in Adorno’s investigations, redirected hostilities toward out-groups and away from his or her own authoritarian parents. In fact, the need get rid of ambivalence ended up in prejudiced attitudes in other studies too. I found that curious.”

“So what’s all that got to do with your metaphysic?” responded MV.

“What could possibly be more ambivalence generating than the condition of being-what-is-not-while-not–being-what-is?” I said. Of course I know most people don’t experience the self in that way, but some do, and among those that do, you do not find much prejudice, if any.”

“Except for you, who experiences the self like that? responded MV.

“Anybody who hangs close to the self,” I said. “People who meditate know this firsthand. Existentialists deal with this condition on a theoretical basis, and liberal-minded humanists, although they might not experience self-scrutiny first hand, struggle to keep this freedom alive fore everyone else. If the issues of self-identity, for those people who seek that knowledge, are not ambivalence generating, than I don’t know what is–and that’s the approach I took when writing my thesis. I investigated the question: Why do some people handle ambivalence better than others? And I ended up hypothesizing: People who frequently deal with self-directed inquiries are less likely to exhibit prejudiced attitudes (they get used to dealing with ambivalences) and, thus, the corollary becomes prejudiced attitudes are more likely to be found in people who engage in infrequent self-directed inquires.”

“How the heck is something like that measured? said MV.

“Well, that was the problem,” I replied. “But, while doing my research, I stumbled upon a measure of private self-conscious activity. After looking over the questions, which already had a high reliability quotient built into them, I decided those questions would work for me. My problem was half solved, but finding a scale to measure ambivalence was not so easy. In the end, I created my own questions. My committee had already signed off on my thesis, so this new expanded area of inquiry did not alarm them. The thesis became more difficult to write, but, in the end, it became a scientific investigation of my own metaphysic–if only indirectly.”

“I see,” MV replied, “but I still don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, that was also a problem,” I said. “The four professors on my committee pretty much left me alone. I guess they figured that since I was a good student I could handle the new material. Nobody questioned what I was doing because measuring prejudice attitudes toward African Americans and physically disabled persons (the level of significance that connects prejudice to both groups) was a valued sociological project all by itself. But, now that I think about it, Professor Julian did require some clarification on what I was talking about.”

“He thought you were crazy? replied MV.

“Not at all,” I replied. “He was a big help. If it weren’t for him my thesis would never have made it past the conceptual stage. He guided me through the statistical analysis and that was necessary because I suffered from what some people call math phobia. Anyway, my thesis was a numbers thesis and I was so scared that before I even got started I wanted to ditch the whole project and go to plan B, which, as a requirement for graduation, substituted taking exams for writing a thesis. But I went to Jim and asked for help. It wasn’t hard to go to him because I knew him from an earlier time. We met in the ‘60’s when we were both students at CMU. You might say we were old friends.”

“So what didn’t he like?” said MV.

“Jim was very sociological,” I replied. “He didn’t buy into the ‘freedom issue,’ especially when it came to personal identity and volition concerns. At one point, he turned to me and said, ‘I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about. Draw me a picture why don’t you.’ And that is exactly what I did.”

“What picture? How did you draw a picture of the self?” said MV.

“I didn’t,” I replied, “but the cognitive boundaries that define the self can be drawn. Once again, it’s a holistic thing. It encompasses all that we know, and a little more.”


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