Temperament: What if Keirsey’s Idealists (NFs) really did rule the world?

Our issue of the day is asking what the world would be like if Keirsey’s NF Idealists truly ruled it.  In last week’s blog I did my best to describe Keirsey’s NF Idealists on his terms.  Bear in mind as you read this that I am assuming in order to keep it simple, that there is no important effect of Extraversion/Introversion or of Sensing/Perceiving.  That could not be true in the real world but adding those in would complicate this thought experiment beyond any reasonable bounds.  A second assumption is that these NFs are purely that.  They would answer all N/S questions in the direction of N (Intuition), and all F/T questions in the direction of F (Feeling).  This is possible, as I have seen such answers on our own Harkey-Jourgensen scale, but it certainly would be rare in the real world.  Below is last week’s summary of this Idealist description.

 IN SUMMARY:  The NF Idealist and Abstract Cooperator is abstract in word, in        language, and in a passion for the future.  If a person could be said to be abstract in deed, also, this would be the model.  They are passionate communitarians, caring more for the needs and feelings of every individual than for any hard fought group decision.h.  Whether it is the best decision is less important than whether it is the decision that promotes consensus and minimizes disharmony.  Anger and conflict are deeply painful and avoided at almost all costs.  According to Keirsey, their greatest intellectual strength is Diplomacy with Strategy as a close second.

NF interests focus on people with positions in teaching, counseling and mentoring very common.  Related to this they are often excellent in personnel positions, in hiring, training, and skills development.  Others find their finest roles as activists in human rights and related political social areas.  Careers in commerce or science are relatively infrequent. College majors are generally in the humanities and social sciences, though art also is of interest.

Their self-image is built on genuinely being a caring and benevolent person.  It is nurtured both by the bonds they feel with others and the kindesses they extend to others and by the relfection of this in how they are treated by others

In the present they are oriented toward ways to improve life for self and others, and the future is where they see these coming to fruition, believing always that better things are coming.  Their special place is on the pathway to wisdom, understanding and a better future.  With this, their time is always tomorrow.

They value enthusiasm as a daily way of being, trust their own intuition, especially about other people, yearn for romance as “idealized love”, and passionately seek identity as an understanding of the self–generally a life-time quest.  Very similar to this is their search for the ultimate meaning of life.  They most prize  being really seen (recognized) by another as the unique individual that they see in themselves, and aspire to be a true sage, ever questing after knowledge and understanding.

In the first scenario, here, I am assuming that all human beings on planet earth are NFs as they have been described above, and that this has been true from the beginning of human life.  I will follow the same set of questions used for SPs and SJs.

What would education and commerce be like.  That is really two questions–one easy and one hard.  I would think that the equivalent of our K-12 schooling would be very loose and free, with much emphasis on learning at your own pace, and exploring the things that interest you.  I would expect a great deal of emphasis on creativity, and learning about ideas of all sorts. What I am suggesting was perhaps best described by A. S. Neill, the founder of Summerhill, who “believed that the happiness of the child should be the paramount consideration in decisions about the child’s upbringing, and that this happiness grew from a sense of personal freedom. He felt that deprivation of this sense of freedom during childhood, and the consequent unhappiness experienced by the repressed child, was responsible for many of the psychological disorders of adulthood”.*

Later education would probably be heavily weighted toward the humanities.  Whatever the areas might be called they would surely focus on sociology, psychology, philosophy, history, religion or religious history and theory, and related areas.  Perhaps to a lesser degree there would be thriving studies in music, dance and artistic endeavors of all sorts. Even at this level, it would be likely that group discussion would dominate over lecture, and much learning would be self-paced.

Presumably physics, engineering, chemistry and other hard sciences would be relatively minor areas of interest, although one question arises there about biology and medicine. Warmheartedness and interpersonal caring should drive even NFs (at least some of them) toward studying the nature of illness and the potential cures.   But would this lead to a rigorous study of biology, anatomy and human chemistry?  It is a little hard to imagine.  Alternatively it might lead more to what we think of as alternative medicine–noninvasive ways to reduce pain and tension, and  Yoga-like, meditation-like methods to reduce stress and promote healing.  My own guess is that the alternative approach would dominate and courses would be offered in these areas..

Commerce:  Logic leads me to think that NFs would not develop a capitalist economy.  I can imagine people being asked to contribute fairly to community needs, from growing food to building homes, but doing so in their areas of greater interest or talent, and certainly not for personal profit.  (This might be one source of unavoidable conflict though.  No doubt most Idealist members would prefer teaching, lifelong scholarship, mentoring and counseling, but in an all NF world, somebody has to pick the fruit.)

Work groups, similar to our pre-industrial guilds, might be one offshoot, but without a sense of competition between members or member guilds.  For more remote groups trade and barter would be probable mechanisms, but you would expect this to remain fair and communal for these purest of NF Idealists.

Physical inventions/Mental inventions.  Intuition gives the Idealist a large push in toward creativity in any direction, but given the lack of interest in science and engineering you would expect the focus to be far more intellectual and spiritual than physical.  Physical inventions that provide comfort, food, entertainment, as for example musical intstruments, should certainly be developed, but all those things that require a prolonged interest in logical and analytical study of the sciences do not seem likely.  As was true for SPs, this has nothing to do with innate intelligence, but everything to do with  what is and is not interesting to the NF.  Idealists in today’s world use, and no doubt love, all the techy gadgets from e-readers to Smart Phones–items that allow them to delight in communication with others and give access to all sorts of information.  But–alone in an NF world–would they have developed the long line of technology that made these instruments possible?  Some form of the printing press I feel confident they would have developed, because that technology did not build on a long tedious line of scientific discoveries.  But the iPad?  All you NFs out there may want to flood me with angry comments, but I am not even certain that the electric light would have appeared in a people who did not delight in science.

Mental inventions?  Absolutely!.  By this I mean really complex philosophical theories about life and its meaning,  perhaps forms of psychotherapy we cannot even imagine, forms of personal intercommunication we can’t imagine, and ways of enhancing memory that we have not thought of at all.

What would the social culture be like? I recall a saying (approximately) that faculty members argue and fight so much precisely because there is so little to fight about.  I don’t think these ideal Idealists would literally “argue and fight”, but I do think that relatively small issues would lead to interminable meetings, searching for the consensus that would make new projects possible, and would also heal the endless small wounds that sensitive NFs encounter.

Keirsey tells us that his Idealist NFs are just incurable romantics.  He comments that “Romance, in the sense of idealized love, is not something which NFs  can take or leave; it is vital to their growth and happiness, a nourishment they cannot live without, just as its opposite, the uninspiring, commonplace relationship, is flat and stale and lifeless.”  Accepting this as part of the package, I assume you would have a sexual scene in which there are many partners over time, but more as a pattern of serial monogamy than as happy one-night stands.  If that is a sound interpretation, then I would suppose that there are many, many rejected and distraught partners along the way, and still more reasons for many hours of group and personal therapy.  (Or perhaps they would have invented a way around this problem that I cannot imagine).

Child care and development would be a very strong area of focus, with the mental and psychological health of the child being of central concern.  Similar to what I suggested about early education, I think the philosophy would be purposefully permissive, as equalitarian as possible at each given age, and with great concern for the child’s own self-regard.

You would expect that violent crime would  just be non-existent for these Idealists.  Most problems could be expected to be what we would consider less than criminal–failing to do your full day’s work,  trysting with someone else’s romantic partner, or speaking ill of someone else in a hurtful way.  Is that really possible? Well, This is a hypothetical model, so I suppose if there could be such a thing as a 100% Idealist there could be such a world.

Yet another puzzling social issue concerns what would become of Idealist self-image and values.  Keirsey tells us that it is very important that one part of their self-image comes from seeing that they are authentically caring and empathic toward others, and that this is reflected back to them from others.  In terms of  important NF values, finding their own unique self is a major lifelong quest, and what they prize most in relation to this is recognition by another or others, of this unique self.  In a world, absolutely full of wonderful NFs wouldn’t it be really hard to find your unique self, and even harder to find someone else who sees your uniqueness compared to all other NFs?

What would government be like?  My hunch is that it would be structured as a democracy in some form–possibly as a true democracy rather than a republic or representative structure.  However, this would present serious philosophical problems for Idealists since all forms of democracy have winners and losers.  Based on that thought the only form I can imagine is a theoretical democracy with a sort of endless consensus process.  The governing body meets, discusses, finds disagreements and refers the issue to committee.  The committee meets, discusses, finds disagreements and divides various aspects of the issue into sub-issues and refers these to different subcommittees.  This continues until there is no one else to refer the problem or its parts to, so the bottom-feeding committees meet and discuss until, like a nearly hung jury, anything that will resolve the issue or sub-issue begins to look good. At this point they send a ‘consensus’ decision back up to the next level and the process repeats until there is consensus at the top.  With long experience with this, many lesser issues probably get resolved at the top simply out of a sense of “whatever”.

Would they be warlike?  The short and simple answer here is absolutely not.  In a totally NF world it is hard to imagine any reason for a war, let alone a willingness to plunge into that kind of violence.  If, of course there are other planets with warlike creatures and scientific bents, of course, then there would be a whole new problem.  Even then, however, I think the NF answer would be surrender.

And if NFs became in charge of a world already full of SPs, NTs and SJs, well, I am not sure it would be very different from some of the more advanced social democracies in Europe right now, except that if they remained 100% pure Idealists, I doubt that they could hold on to the reins of power for long.

ADDENDUM TO KEIRSEY’S MODEL:  Unlike Keirsey’s model for the other temperaments, where there are at least a few shortcomings showing, I personally feel that  he has described the NFs as too self-less.  I would agree that NFs long for harmony, avoid  conflict like the plague, and value relationships with others almost above all else.  However, I see no reason to think that NFs in our real world want what they want any less than any other temperament. No doubt many are truly kind, considerate and caring, but I suspect that many other NFs simply fight for what they want in less overt ways, using anything from persuasion and gifts of friendship to outright manipulation.  In the government by consensus model, described earlier,  I suspect the less good-hearted NFs are very busy before committee meetings getting their votes in line!

Coming up next week: Describing Keirsey’s Rationals (NTs)


Keirsey, David (1998).  Please Understand Me II.  Prometheus Nemesis:  Del Mar CA

*A. S. Neill’s ideas can be found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A.S.Neill






This entry was posted in Anything/Everything-Temperament and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Temperament: What if Keirsey’s Idealists (NFs) really did rule the world?

  1. Samuel says:

    Hitler may be an extreme example. I’m not fully certain but he seemed to be fighting a partially metaphysical war. He saw his race on the verge of extinction and equated himself and germany as Oden defending Asguard. He definitely was not someone sensitive to feelings. If you viewed a set of people as deliberatly trying to destroy what is sacred though, you might find it easier to injure them. Idealist tyrants who are reactionary usually find a strange dissonance when they finally implement their violent tacticts. That’s why they usually have artisans carry it out. I find that if I cause pain on any level or see it in anyone, then I am unable to hate that person or desire any further injury to them.

  2. Samuel says:

    I really like this exploration.

    I would disagree though, with the idea that idealists are purely pacifists. I think even Keirsey would disagree as he has shown that Joan of Arc and even Bin Laden were Idealists. I might even dare to think that Hitler may have been an Idealist. I’m an INFP so I’m not bashing the personality. When the cause becomes life or death (death of anything including a way of thinking) an idealist is willing to fight to the death – even the death of others if the drive is powerful enough. Many tyrants have been idealists. This I think as a democrat (which I am) is a fatal mistake that idealists have made for centuries. We are willing to kill and oppress those who we perceive as oppressors. This kind of tyranny is justified. We see the republicans and fundamentalists as oppressors of humanity. Many of my idealist friends have declared that if they could, they would put the “right wing” into concentration camps and re-instruct them. I myself have felt the glow of violence when I’ve encountered SJ’s trying to control people and SP’s trying to degrade what I thought as pure. Just a thought…maybe several thoughts

    • INTJ says:

      Yes, probably several thoughts! I understand what you mean about idealists also being tyrants on behalf of their passions, but I suppose I always expect the Feeler part to want community and togetherness rather than ruthless action. But then again, a Machiavellian Idealist does sound quite possible. I guess Hitler, and maybe Bin Laden, seem too directly forceful for my sense of the NF.

      Republicans and Democrats, hmm. I am one of those divided conservatives–not socially conservative but strongly in favor of free markets, and almost libertarian in my defense of free speech and hatred of political correctness. In those areas that really matter to me I really do sense a lot of authoritarianism on the liberal side, as surely as on the “fundamentalist” side, and fear that the free mind is losing ground in this war.

  3. Lars says:

    I too think Keirseys NFs descriptions are too extremly positive regarding human interaction.

    I have an objection about the romance/sexual aspect of NFs: recently i read myself a bit into the Reiss Profile, which is about 16 general motivations. The inventor Steven Reiss himself and some other studies compared the Reiss Profile motivations with Big Five and MBTI. Nearly all motivations had correlations with one or more Big Five factors – most with Extraversion and Neuroticism – but three Reiss motivations had no significant correlations with any Factors: “Romance/Sex”, “Physical Activity” and “Independence”.
    So maybe one could say NFs are more romantic than others, in the sense of more open to feelings, but they have no more or less Romantic/sexual drive than others.

    I wrote in my german Blog about the correlations with the Reiss Profile: Reiss Profile, Big Five und MBTI

    My sources for the Reiss Profile were Steven Reiss book “The Normal Personality: A New Way of Thinking about People” and two studies:
    A comparsion of the Reiss Profile with the NEO-PI assessment of personality, Sara E. Boyd, 2010;
    Relations between big five traits and fundamental motives, KR Olson, DA Weber, 2004

    • INTJ says:

      Hi Lars,

      I will check out the Reiss reference. Sounds interesting. Nice that you agree about Keirsey and NF niceness. After many many years as a faculty member and department chairperson, my experience was that seeming NF types could be as deadly as any other type in stirring up political opposition. By the way,, your comment somehow got classified as spam this morning. I usually delete the whole batch of daily spam at once so was just lucky to spot yours first.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *