The Four Quadrants of Conformism - Deepstash
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How to classify people

One of the most revealing ways to classify people is by the degree and aggressiveness of their conformism.

These classification parameters are useful for classifying people in most societies. The result of the classification will depend more on the person's personality rather than the beliefs prevalent in its society.


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The cartesian representation of conformism

An intuitive representation of the degree and aggressiveness of conformism can be done by using the Cartesian coordinate system.

The horizontal axis runs from conventional-minded on the left to independent-minded on the right.

The vertical axis runs from passive at the bottom to aggressive at the top.

The resulting four quadrants define four types of people. Starting in the upper left and going counter-clockwise: aggressively conventional-minded, passively conventional-minded, passively independent-minded, and aggressively independent-minded.


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An analogy with kids

  • Aggressively conventional-minded: they believe not only that rules must be obeyed, but that those who disobey them must be punished.
  • Passively conventional-minded: they're careful to obey the rules, but when other kids break them, their impulse is to worry that those kids will be punished.
  • Passively independent-minded: they don't care much about rules and probably aren't 100% sure what the rules even are.
  • Aggressively independent-minded: when they see a rule, their first impulse is to question it. Merely being told what to do makes them inclined to do the opposite.


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Distribution of the four types

The four types are not equally common. There are more passive people than aggressive ones, and far more conventional-minded people than independent-minded ones. So the passively conventional-minded are the largest group, and the aggressively independent-minded the smallest.


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It seems to me that aggressively conventional-minded people are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the trouble in the world.



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Protect the independent-minded

Why do the independent-minded need to be protected, though?

Because they have all the new ideas. To be a successful scientist, for example, it's not enough just to be right. You have to be right when everyone else is wrong. Conventional-minded people can't do that.


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How do the independent-minded protect themselves

In the past, the way the independent-minded protected themselves was to congregate in a handful of places — first in courts, and later in universities — where they could to some extent make their own rules.

For the last couple centuries at least, when the aggressively conventional-minded were on the rampage for whatever reason, universities were the safest places to be.


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Software engineer by 🌞 and sleepyhead by 🌑. Software architecture. Distributed systems. Personal productivity. Cats.


We have many ways of classifying people in our society. Some of them are very specific, whereas the others aim at giving a rough classification. The latter type is the classification proposed by Paul Graham in this article about conformism.

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