The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Type A is Taking Over

Say it isn’t so.

OK. Granted, I’m a Type C personality.

The hubby and I got a babysitter last night, and went to a party at the home of a friend and former co-worker of mine, and on the way home we had a chance to do something that’s often rare for parents of a young child: talk to each other. Not about our son, or about something that needs to be done around the house. We had a chance to just talk to each other.

On my end, the conversation turned towards something that’s come up more than a few times in my life; that when it comes to personality types, I’m definitely not a “Type A” personality. In fact, I’ve often referred to myself as a “Type B surrounded by Type As”; especially here in D.C., a city which by its very nature seems to be a magnet to for type A personalities.

When I got home, it was still on my mind, so I looked around online, and found this test that would supposedly tell me whether I was a type A or not. I took it, fully expecting it would tell me I was a type B.

I got an answer I wasn’t expecting. It turns out, there’s a third: type C.

And, granted, we can be a little too laid back at times.

Far from being a Type A, you possess many of the characteristics of a Type C personality. Type C persons tend to have either an “everybody must win” attitude to life with “Live and Let Live” as their credo, or they have a more flaccid and submissive slant to their personality. Whatever the case may be, you seem to lack the drive that could help you achieve your goals.

But now it seems like we better be a bit more “goal oriented” in some areas, because the Type A’s are breeding like mad.

Now a new study in the Journal of Personality offers another theory: it is not necessarily wealth that facilitates procreation but a more basic and deeply ingrained evolutionary trait — having a Type A personality. The study finds that adolescents who say they always take charge, tell others what to do, anger quickly, get into fights easily, and walk, talk and eat fast end up having more kids than others when they grow up. That’s true regardless of the kids’ performance in school.

This is terrible news for nerds, since it implies that in the end, even if they go on to invent software or write Lost episodes or produce great books, the bullies and jocks will win in a far more primal way: they spread their genes to more little bullies and jocks. Call it the ultimate victory of Attila the Hun.

Good grief. First the Alpha Males, now this.

I come to bury the Alpha Males, not to praise them. Maybe that’s because I was never one of them. Not the strongest. Not the fastest. Not the bravest. Not the loudest. Leader of the pack? More like the runt of the litter. Decisive? Undeniably, not. Resolute?I was the boy with the big brown eyes, who’d bite his lip and turn away if you glanced in his direction, and run away if you talked too loud.

…Can ya blame me? America is the land of the Alpha male. Give us a guy with a bit of a swagger, a little more testosterone than he has a license for, and penchant for clearing brush or riding a horse, and a surprising number of us go apeshit. In my short lifetime, I can think of only one president who might not have qualified as an Alpha Male: Jimmy Carter. The rest, including Bush the First and Clinton (lest we forget his news-making libido, have been pretty clear-cut alphas…

…And be certain there are rough edges when it comes to alpha males. Sometimes its those edges that attract and repel us simultaneously. I’ll be the first to admit that as much as I feared and envied some of the more aggressive, influential boys I went to school with, I still swooned over them in the locker room. (Until they drove me out of it, that is.)

Those rough edges are still attractive qualities to some Americans, and don’t think that Karl Rove doesn’t know that. Why else does Bush take every opportunity to get down to his ranch and clear brush, except to invoke the image of the cowboy and all it implies; the strength that lies behind stoic silence, the “resoluteness” to stand one’s ground, etc. And after 9/11 America wanted an alpha male in the White House. The problem is that those rough edges that seemingly soothe us also have a downside, as the author notes.

Spoken like a true “Type C,” Beta Male.

The bigger problem is the concept of masculinity inherent in the portrayals pols in both parties as “Alpha Males,” deemed such because they possess qualities believed to be requirements for even being considered a “real man.” The term “Alpha Male” has its roots, of course, in the dominance hierarchies of social animals, and that’s reflected in the terms used to describe both “Alpha Males” in both parties. The “Macho Dems” were “C.I.A. agents, F.B.I. agents, N.F.L. quarterbacks, sheriffs, Iraq war vets” and “red-blooded Americans who are tough,” and (probably not coincidentally) include more than a few netroots supported Dems in recent elections, like Jon Tester (Montana Farmer) and Jim Webb (former marine who picked a fight with the president almost as soon as he hit town).

…You can hear that same sneering in George Will’s dismissive reference to “caring professions” in his critique of Barak Obama’s criticism of the Bush administration’s post-Katrina debacle, which is actually as much of a sneer at those needing care as at those providing care. Especially guys like that other Hollywood “Beta Male,” male nurse (not just “nurse,” mind you) Gaylord “Greg” Focker of Meet the Parents.

When I was in college we had another name for the type of man mentioned above, and it was used just as sneeringly as “nice guy.” We had the “Sensitive New Age Guy,” also known as the “SNAG” whose crimes included being “… a man who listens to his partner, is sensitive to her (or his) concerns, and gives them lots of ’space’.”

How. Awful. Expand that in to the realm of global politics and you get a politician who listens to and is “sensitive” to the concerns of other people and other countries. And while Kerry use of the word “sensitive” in relation to the “war on terror caused him trouble (unfairly I think, because it was merely a poor choice of words where “wage a more intelligent war on terrorism” would have been better), those qualities sound a lot like what will probably be needed to begin cleaning up the mess our “Alpha Males” made in Iraq, while simultaneously mending fences with other countries they’ve offended with their swaggering “our way or the highway” manner.

…We’re just guys who’ve opted out of the “pissing contest with the alpha males” as the Newsweek article put it. Maybe it’s because some of us realized that everyone ends smelling like piss because eventually everyone gets pissed on. The difference is just that the alpha males never stop pissing. Eventually, they piss people off, and those people want somebody to clean it up.

That’d be us.

So, for the good of pretty much the whole world, there has to be a way to deal with this, right? I mean, it takes all kinds to make the world go round. Right? So, what do we do?

As for nerdy, studious guys, the research suggests they can’t expect to be fruitful unless they become more like the bullies who tormented them as boys. That’s because, as past studies have shown, the higher your intelligence, the less sex you tend to have — and, therefore, the fewer kids you will have. The last 20 years have been a golden era for dorks as video games and graphic novels and software engineering have become respectable, even mainstream. But in the end, the brutish football players who tormented them in high school will likely win in the merciless world of genetic favor.

We’re doomed.


  1. Ah, my friend, there’s no need to be worried. The study leaves out one critical balancing factor: mortality rates. For every brush-clearer who thinks that safety is too prissy for him, there’s an ER whose staff is still talking about how his story ended. For every motorcycle-riding adrenaline junkie who’s too cool for the laws of physics, there’s a nice thick solid tree next to the curve in the road that has an oddly deformed patch of bark where he hit. For every belligerent school bully, there’s a knife-wielding bully outside the bar with whom he shouldn’t have picked a fight.

    It all balances out in the end, I think. Although that’s only my opinion, and I’m probably one of those dreaded “ABC” personalities that you only read about in the studies’ footnotes…

  2. Have we met? See I don’t think we will. I scored a 78 out of 100-type A all they way! Now I have to go out and do some conquering, crushing and dominating!

  3. Of course, it ISN’ T so!

    For crying out loud, do not confuse real developemnt in social sciences from the garbage that gets published in the mediocracy press. The few-but-much- publicized alphas make life miserable for themselves and EVERYONE around them, in their uncontrolable need to fit their wet dream archetype!

    Let’s derail the media myths and stop trying to fit into the commercial molds, please.