Reflections on the Passing of Will Moore
When a prominent political scientist committed suicide yesterday, I was deeply struck by how much he was like not only me but most of the people in my professional circle.
Political scientists on my social media feeds were stunned and saddened yesterday by the passing of Will Moore, a prominent scholar of political violence, at his own hand.
While I was familiar with his work, mostly through his contributions to the Political Violence @ a Glance blog, I don’t recall ever having met him. Some fine tributes have been written by Steve Saideman; Phil Schrodt; Erica Chenoweth, Barbara Walter, and Joseph Young (collectively); and Joseph Young (individually). [Christian Davenport added another excellent piece after this post went to “press.”] They paint the picture of a giving human being who made others’ lives better and seemingly had much to live for.
Alas, he did not agree.
Reading his farewell note yesterday, I was deeply struck by how much he was like not only me but most of the people in my professional circle:
I didn’t “fit” in society. That isn’t a problem of society. Setting aside moments of petulance, I viewed it as a plain fact. There it was. What to do about it? Ask society to adapt to me? Hah!
Being a misfit manifested itself in two broad ways over the course of my life: (1) far too often I angered, insulted, offended and otherwise upset people, without expecting or intending to, and (2) I rarely felt that I was successful explaining my ideas, perceptions, understandings to others.
But the real mysteries involved interactions outside of the formal classroom. Why weren’t my classmates interested in the things I wanted to talk about? Why did they want to talk about things that I found inane and uninteresting?
I would figure out in my late 40s that I am borderline autistic. Of course, in the late ’60s and early ’70s that wasn’t meaningful. Had my parents or teachers known, there wouldn’t have been any useful resources for them to have done anything with the knowledge.
On Briggs-Meyer tests I score either INTJ or ENTJ, depending upon how I answer several questions: in a large group where I have no (leadership) role I am introverted. Hand me a (leadership) role and the size of the group becomes irrelevant: I become extroverted. In addition, as I become comfortable from repeated interaction in a group I switch from introverted to extroverted (primarily by filling leadership voids).
Both types are apparently unusual, each estimated to comprise around 2% of the population. So, borderline autistic and I/ENTJ? Yup: Misfit.
I had a relatively high tolerance for conflict. I did not enjoy it: I found social conflict very stressful. But I was willing to do it, especially in defense of those I felt were not in a good position to respond for themselves. So there were numerous times when I angered, upset or offended people and I knew full well that my behavior / comments would do so.
But I was often surprised when someone, or a group of people, responded to me with anger, etc. Over the years I came to understand myself as adopting a tone that has been described to me by various women in my life as “that tone,” “obnoxious” or “condescending.”
Sometimes I recognized what they were referring to. But, and this is the difficult part, I very frequently did not. Indeed, my ex-wife had to put up with more than a decade of me responding very defensively when she would make that observation.
While INTJ’s might be 2% of the society as a whole, we’re almost certainly the modal personality type in academia—with ENTJ’s likely making up the lion’s share of the remainder. That makes sense: the ability to be fascinated by minutia is a prerequisite to scholarship and damn near useless almost everywhere else.
Judging by the date of his undergraduate degree, I’m roughly four years younger than Will and similarly don’t recall much discussion of Asperberger’s or the autism spectrum in my youth, but I certainly exhibit many of the same attributes. While I’m skeptical of online quizzes for medical diagnosis, he scored a 34 on one autism quotient test; I scored a 35. (The results may not be directly comparable since automatic scoring is currently disabled and the manual scoring assigns the same values to definitely agree/disagree and slightly agree/disagree, which would presumably not be the case with the automatic scoring.) While I’m something of an outlier in this regard even in academic circles, there are a lot of us.
And, yes, the combination of autism-like-tendencies and INTJ personality type is socially awkward. Introverts, by definition, find human interaction stressful and draining. We can certainly be gregarious when called for—my students are always surprised when I tell them that I’m an introvert*–but it’s exhausting, meaning we tend to need a lot of time to ourselves. Adding in the additional challenge of being bad at picking up emotional feedback that most people do instinctively is, well, unhelpful.
Despite these commonalities—and being markedly less successful in the profession than Will—I’ve never given serious thought to “punching out.”
And so the simple way to say it is this: I was done. I was tired of fighting to try to share my experiences, ideas, and views. Large portions of my conversations with most everyone contained frustration where I let things go that bug me.
Perhaps that is true for most people. Perhaps it is part of the human condition. But I had enough and just wasn’t up for the continued effort.
And I was tired of pissing people off, especially when I did not expect to or mean to.
Most of my time is spent “try[ing] to share my experiences, ideas, and views” with others, whether students or readers of my various published work, blog posts, tweets, and the like. While I’ve gotten better at avoiding it, I certainly continue to piss people off, often without any sense that I’m doing so. While it continues to frustrate, I guess I’ve just accepted it a part of the enterprise.
Why not do the things I love? For example, I loved novels, (live and recorded) music, plays, movies, and films. I enjoyed watching ball sports on tv. I loved being out in nature, on a trail or off.
Over the past few years I’ve tried to do that, and while my enthusiasm for those things did not wane, they share something in common: they are consumption. And for some unknown, damnable reason, I could only do so much consumption. Just doing things I enjoyed consuming was a tried and true path to depression for me. To feel good about myself-to be able to look myself in the mirror-I needed to produce.
I recognize much of this in both myself and colleagues. The nature of academia—and of the “life of the mind” in general—is that failure is a constant companion. For all but the top graduates of the top schools, finding a job means applying for hundreds of positions in hopes of being selected to interview for two or three. Those seeking to publish in peer-reviewed journals, especially, face constant rejection; it’s simply a normal part of the process even for the most accomplished and productive scholars.
More broadly, there’s always more work one should have done, so satisfaction seldom lasts long. I likely have more unread books in my personal library than I will ever get to and will add another couple dozen volumes to the pile before the year is up. And my writing productivity has declined considerably of late, which is a constant source of anguish.
Thankfully, while I find this depressing, I don’t exhibit the more severe signs of depression. I’m more irritable than most and haven’t regularly slept well in years, but that’s likely as much a function of getting older and having small children as anything else.
But maybe all of the above is window dressing. As much as I recognize myself in the early part of Will’s parting post, this is alien to me:
For those of you who are aggrieved, upset, etc. with my death, please, to the extent you are able, try not to imagine that I viewed my life as miserable, unhappy, or anything of the sort. Further, please don’t imagine that I went into some (slow or rapid) decline. That narrative may describe well the lives of many who chose suicide. But that was not how I understood my own life and choice.
I first began to weigh the costs and benefits to taking my life when I was a teenager (I suspect, roughly from the time I realized that I could). Suicide is, of course, a taboo. And the first rule of taboos is: don’t discuss the taboo! The second rule is: if you must discuss the taboo, express your opposition and then close the discussion.
So I learned early on not to discuss it.
When I got married I mostly stopped thinking about the suicide option. When we had children I stopped completely. It literally just wasn’t an option to me.
And its important to explain that I experienced these as exogenous choices. I don’t know whether you feel you are able to choose the thoughts that enter your mind, but aside from changing the stimuli (e.g., reading a book, watching a film, engaging in conversation), I did not exercise much control over the thoughts that entered my mind when I was not actively engaged in something. My mind generated thoughts, seemingly independent of my will.
So, until my children became adults, the suicide option just disappeared. I was thus surprised when, after my kids became adults, it returned. But it did.
When I left my ex-wife I was well aware that my time on the planet might be shorter than my body’s life expectancy. I knew I didn’t want to stay in the marriage, but I was far from confident that I would want to live a solitary life. And so it has come to pass
Aside from the bit about not being able to control the thoughts which enter my mind—which is certainly familiar and, indeed, increasingly the case—the rest is just foreign to me. And my mind never wanders to suicide.
It speaks well of Will that, having assumed the responsibility for the lives of children, he put their needs over his own. It’s sad, indeed, that he didn’t think they still needed him now that they’re grown. I don’t say that in a judgment of his choice. Despite our many similarities, I can’t truly fathom the mental state that even makes it an option or the burden that imposes. Still, his loss will be grieved by the many lives he’s touched.
As always in these tragic cases, it’s worth reminding ourselves to be on the lookout for signs of depression in our friends and family. There’s a whole array of professionals who can help.
*We teach a three-week introductory course here that includes a seminar using the Keirsey temperament sorter, which creates four macro personality types out of the sixteen Myers-Briggs categories. While I usually test INTJ, I sometimes test ISTJ; depending on the result, I’m either a Rational or a Guardian on the Keirsey chart. Despite serious dispute over the validity of these tests in the psychology profession, it’s uncannily accurate in the case of an academic who’s a former Army officer.
Here’s the problem with disorder assessments: the disorders themselves very strongly overlap in regard to characteristics. Getting hyperfocused on something or noticing something a sound before others is more commonly associated with, for example, attention deficit disorder. ADD and obsessive-compulsive problems frequently co-exist with autism but this does not mean they are characteristics of autism.
Introversion is frequently mis-identified by psychologists as symptomatic of a disorder (it is only considered such in the United States). In fact the majority of the assessment to which you link is focused on defining lack of extroversion as not neuro-typical. That’s a garbage assumption increasingly under fire in recent years: autistics lack the “neural wiring” that goes along with the innate social development of a supremely social species. Introverts have that wiring but frequently find interaction to be tiring. It should go without saying that A) these are not the same thing, and B) one can easily be mistaken for the other.
Controlling ones thoughts is a learned skill. Buddhists train for this, as do modern day stoics. It has to be practiced continually to maintain. Inability to keep an orderly mind is just a symptom of disorderly life in modern America.
I find these assessments on balance may do more harm than good and wonder what effect this particular one had on Mr. Moore.
Sorry to hear this.
This is not to take away from serious issues of alienation, social discomfort and depression, but…
1) Briggs-Meyers Type classification is bullshit. It’s an unscientific, unvalidated load of woo. A research psychologist once described the categories as “useful for starting conversations among a part of strangers but little else”. It’s on par with astrological signs.
2) ‘Borderline autistic’ is a ‘borderline’ diagnosis.
Depression is one of the more readily treatable mental issues. The unfortunate problem is that it often lessens the person’s ability to seek help when necessary.
I’ve been depressed to one extent or another for 25 years, but it was only a few years ago that it manifested itself in suicidal thoughts. They were always unwelcome but in this latest iteration, they were strangely….comforting.
It scared me a bit, made me realize I need to better attend to my mental health.
Although, I’d issue a caveat on this:
Friends and family are nice, but neutral parties or trained professionals may be better. At my most suicidal there was nothing a friend or a family member could have said to “talk me down.” To the contrary, they were often a source of my misery in weird complicated ways.
So yes, look out for signs of depression in your family and friends, but then refer them to a pro.
Has anyone confirmed that he actually carried out the act because if so I haven’t seen it.
That was one of the best things you’ve written. It’s not a bad thing to be open about yourself. I was always of the school of thought that an idea should stand or fall on its own merits without reference to the individual presenting the idea. That’s true in the abstract, but only in the abstract. In the real world people have these things called emotions. It took me a while to recognize the usefulness of emotions – I was after all a kid who at sixteen made my own posters of epigrams by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and wanted to grow up to be Mr. Spock.
I am very grateful for assisted suicide laws. But I only ever contemplate it in the event of some painful illness. My very writerly approach is to see my life as the biggest book I have to write. I want to do a good, professional job of it – character arcs, reveals, tight pacing. Of course I’m concerned about delivering a satisfying conclusion, but I have only marginal control over that. And I have enough sense of humor about myself to appreciate an ironic ending where I stroke out, lose my words and end up drooling and watching Fox and Friends.
I like the writer’s riff on the famous Patton quote: There’s only one proper way for a professional writer to die: while typing the last set of hashmarks of the last book. There’s a reason I appropriated US Grant’s last name as my main pseudonym: the man wrote a blockbuster memoir edited by Mark Twain no less, while dying of cancer. That’s a writer’s death – though I’m not pushing for cancer exactly. (He says, while puffing on an Ashton VSG in the cigar bar at Caesar’s Palace.)
Anyway, don’t kill yourself. Life is the only show in town. After that. . . well, show’s over.
@Davebo: Arizona State confirmed it yesterday morning.
INTJ here. With regards to Briggs-Meyer, introverted and extroverted don’t mean what they do in normal conversation, they refer to whether the person’s primary function is used in a goal oriented fashion to accomplish some end (extroverted) or is pursued as an end in itself (introverted).
In the case of an INTJ, their primary function is introverted intution: they spend most of their time in their own head trying to fit the various things that are going on into the complex system of abstraction they’ve built over their life. They don’t necessarily have some specific goal in this, they’re just driven to continually refine their abstraction system.
When they encounter a problem that they don’t have an intuitive answer for, they then fall through to their secondary function (extraverted thinking): they try to come up with a procedure to solve the problem. But this action is directed toward solving that specific problem and ends once the problem is solved (if extraverted thinking fails, they can fall through further to introverted feeling or even extraverted sensing).
Interesting fact about those tests: they only say what you want them to say. Honesty in the face of ego, expectations and perception mean we often can and do “cheat” a little to get the answer we find acceptable. They are talking points, starters to introspection perhaps but useless on their own.
We had to take them at work once as a team-building exercise. Take the test, get sorted into groups then work with your group on small projects. By the DISC assessment, I was beyond done and made sure to contradict my answers and got a near perfectly flat graph – that is, I scored extremely weak in every section and had no discernible “personality”. The proctor took one look at it, and promptly sorted me into the I (Influence) category based on “my manipulative tendencies in regards to social image”. We then had to sort through little bits of paper with traits associated with our personality, give up one trait while selecting another from a pool. This devolved into a fight when the blunt category (D for Dominance!) all chose “diplomatic” to represent themselves and started screaming at the rest of us how diplomatic they are and how dare we question it?! No more tests after that, back to good old pizza and beer for bonding with board games and puzzles in the corner for those who don’t really wanna bond but don’t want to be alone.
Image is powerful. The personas we thrust upon ourselves and others cast deep shadows. It’s a common human tragedy to get lost in them.
If you think that failure is a constant companion of the “life of the mind”, compare it with show business. You can audition thousands of time before you’re hired. Most people in the field can’t make a living doing it.
@James Pearce: So much this. Especially since relations with my family aren’t really that great these days.
As one who has pondered suicide in the abstract on many occasions, I am probably going to be the only one here who finds this man’s death to be something other than tragic. He thought about it long and hard and decided to go out on his own terms.
I can find no fault or tragedy with that.
As to the pain his death has caused to his children and others, would they have felt less pain if he died by other means years down the road? Is he being selfish by taking this action and not being more mindful of how it affects others? Of course, but it’s his life and he should get to decide how and when it ends should he so choose. To say that others should have more say than he strikes me as selfish on their part. (let the record show I have known 3 suicides)
As to depression, yes I “suffer” from it, just like every body has to “suffer” from something. Get help? Ha! Tried it, hated it, to he** with that. Not worth the trouble. At this point in my life I know best how to deal with it anyway. As to the manner and timing of my death, should I ever decide to make that choice, it will be my decision to make.
Nobody else has any say in it.
Regardless of the contested validity of the tests in general, the results seem to be least partially confirmed, because I completely trust that both Dr. Joyner and Mr. Moore expressed their feelings accurately.
As Michael pointed out, this was indeed one of James’ most powerful posts. It’s impossible for me to not be reminded of the post after his wife suddenly passed away, which I was amazed at. On the one hand, I felt maybe this is what bloggers do, but even so I was surprised by the calm analytical mind at work. It’s still at work in this post.
James – I feel these two posts alone paint a significant portion of your life. I have little doubt that you are very dedicated to your daughters, and I hope you have the necessary support, emotional and otherwise, to continue raising them the best you can.
@Ben Wolf: @Argon: I agree that assessment is incredibly complex given symptom overlap and that online quizzes are unlikely to be particularly good predictors. I used the same test Moore did out of curiosity and for comparative purposes. And, yes, I’m skeptical of Myers-Briggs and cite the scholarly skepticism of it in the OP; I do find it describes my particular set of predilections pretty well and to be relatively reliable in that I’m almost always an INTJ and am an ISTJ in the rare exceptions; I’m not all over the map.
@James Pearce: Concur on the need for professionals. My understanding is that people who need help tend to either not realize it or not to think it’s worthwhile, so it’s up to others to be on the lookout.
@michael reynolds: Thanks. This isn’t a type of writing
I’m particularly comfortable well, as I’m more the detached analyst type. I can see suicide as an outlet from an excruciating terminal illness; otherwise, I seem to be wired to drive on.
@Stormy Dragon: That’s my own experience, at least.
@KM: There’s a whole subfield of psychology, phenomenology, dealing with the subject. I find it incredibly abstruse. But, yes, it’s probably next to impossible to objectively assess our own personality.
@Dave Schuler: Oh, sure. Academia is by no means alone. There are a handful of industries that attract very talented people to compete for a relative handful of secure positions. It’s pretty hard to make a living writing books as Michael Reynolds does.
@Dave Schuler: “If you think that failure is a constant companion of the “life of the mind”, compare it with show business. You can audition thousands of time before you’re hired. Most people in the field can’t make a living doing it.”
And even those who do — aside from the most super of superstars — struggle constantly for their next job. People who want to get in tend to assume that all you have to do is get through that door, and then you’re in. The fact is, the entertainment industry — or any artistic effort — is a constant string of doors…
While things could well be different now, when I was in Education school the data that our teacher presented showed that the largest number of ENTJs was in K-12 teaching (with that cohort moving on to become almost all of the administrators) at about 80-85%. University teaching had more Is than Es and more Ps than Js. Poly Sci could well be a outlier relative to that balance, particularly if it attracts people who served in the military or attracts people who like to control systems.
When I was diagnosed with depression, my insurance paid for pharmaceutical treatment but only for talk therapy to the degree that was necessary to judge effectiveness of the drugs given (I believe I saw my psychiatrist a total of 5 visits and then the Internist took over managing the drug). Worked well for me, but it is important for the practitioner to prescribe the right type at the right dosage. I was very lucky to get a guy who new his stuff and maximized both the drug treatment and the conversations.