~ typology hell ~
Hello, hello! I’m glad you’re here, because today, we’re going to dismantle a lot. In fact, I think I want to completely destroy typology today… and not just because I feel like it, but also because I have all the resources to do it. But of course—we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? I mean—how am I going to destroy typology? What the heck does that even mean? Good questions, and of course, I’m glad you asked them. So! Allow me to explain it a little more thoroughly…
I’ve long embraced the idea of encouraging critical thinking when approaching typology, the systems created to categorize and assign type to people based on various criteria revolving around their personalities. Typology has historically been founded upon incorrect assumptions about the human psyche that see categories (types) of people that are necessarily transcendental in that they require further research to be realized but are accepted to “exist” regardless of what evidence exists to substantiate this claim, and my belief is that while typology has changed in substance i.e. the specific theories that dominate conversation relating to it, this default hypothesis about type permeates discussion even today, but much more covertly; instead of acknowledging type itself to be transcendental, typological theories are instead seen this way, from where type is supported in the same way within those specific frameworks.
My approach to typology has therefore been very different—I recognize that neither type nor typological theories should be analyzed as though they are transcendental, but I have also recognized the usefulness of these frameworks without giving credence to the beliefs from which they were borne. I have thought it possible to use these typological theories to discuss their types without believing in the underlying transcendental psychological phenomenon of type.
But what if it isn’t?
Let’s cut the fancy talk here. I could continue but it would be super dry and it’s both really boring for me and very unengaging for you, so there’s no point to it, right?? But to continue from there: I’ve long known that there isn’t any real such thing as “separating the art from the artist,” but I never was able to recognize how I could apply that train of thought to typology. Basically, if the conditions that made something possible were completely off, it’s VERY LIKELY that what they made possible is also completely off. And can you interact with that thing that was made possible using a framework (from how you live today, now, in 2019 or possibly later) that is fundamentally different from what existed to actually make that possible (now think 20th century, early psychology, essentialism)? A lot of people might actually think so—but this doesn’t really make sense. Maybe you can enjoy something (“Hargessulki”) made by somebody from the 16th century with dated morals, but you should also be able to recognize that Hargessulki was not created in your time, with your morals, and your frameworks, and that consuming it as such means consuming it without respect to the context from which it came; not that it isn’t valid to do so, but understanding Hargessulki entails understanding what factors—beliefs, thoughts, ideas, practices, etc.—created it. Otherwise it wouldn’t even exist!
So, how does this apply to typology? If you’ve read “Contextualizing cognitive functions,” you should be fairly up-to-date on how certain influences worked to create type dynamics in Myers-Briggs theory, which have since evolved into the “cognitive functions.” The likes of psychologists such as Jung and Freud paved the way for archetypal typologies to burst into popularity as psychologists began to search for the truth in type… a phenomenon that continues to spread around in niche Internet communities despite academic psychology moving toward trait-based personality mapping.
We call that the Five Factor Model, commonly known as the “Big Five.” Despite what some people would like to tell you about how much more “scientifically valid” it is, the Big Five is hardly unlike the various typological theories that remain so popular in the mainstream. In fact! If you approach typology like I have been doing—where type is discarded and types become arbitrary categories—the Big Five effectively is just another typological theory to use… just without the added fluff regarding “true types.” In the end, I thought, all of this is incredibly arbitrary and end up just being different ways of looking at personality. These are just some of the different lens through which we can look at it, and while the beliefs underneath them can be outright gross, they’re still usable, right?
And now… I don’t know. If we direct our ideas to those like “the art & the artist,” we realize that these theories aren’t actually as arbitrary as we might like to think. Yes, looking at them now, these theories CAN be constructed in whichever way we’d like to put them together, but how HAVE they been constructed thus far? Which theories have always stuck out? Which underlying beliefs have supported those theories that have always stuck out? What patterns do these theories have? Just what exists outside of the box?
This is when I realized it—typology is incredibly one-dimensional. And not only that: its one-dimensionality is super dehumanizing. It forces us to look at people through a lens that they are too complicated to be constricted to. It makes us believe in patterns—a NARRATIVE—that exist to nobody but to the conditions that created its various branches. It makes us bend and twist people in ways that are incredibly disingenuous to their true character because it sees them only in a particular way, and that particular way is not human subjectivity itself but rather a set of hard-coded words with particular meanings that project an understanding to you—the typologist—that excludes everything that it doesn’t include. Granted, everything is like this, but would it not be most ethical, most realizing, and most humane to cast aside the layers on top of which we observe experienced reality and instead interact with it on the base floor and relate human experience to human experience? Typology lacks perspective—it ignores that which it does not recognize and replaces people with ideas. Why doesn’t this deserve to be challenged?
I think this is a more radical stance on typology and it can be extended to a lot of things out there that dehumanize us by diminishing the variability of human experience. It’s a perspective that has evolved from recognizing the ridiculousness of one-dimensional theorizing with respect to our experiences as humans to understanding that Grand Theories on incredibly complicated issues are bound to get things very, very wrong. In our world where things aren’t as perfect as they should be, the problems typology poses to humanity happen to be mirrored in bigger, more established perspectives that oppress, hurt, and erase people every day. Maybe typology is a silly little thing, but the role it plays here in our silly little corner is a benign form of what [manifestations of similar ways of thinking] already exists out there and makes the world a worse place.
Like it or not, the very basis of typology at the most rudimentary level has historically depended not on its efficacy as a personality categorizer or a trait sorter, but on its vision of personality as an experienced reflection of type, an idea that represents the pure archetype your personality can be related to. Typology has evolved over time to obscure that, but hobbyists even today insist on holding up ideas like the “One True Type,” or the notion that various typology theories intermingle with one another to form a greater, more unique picture (type) that truly represents your personality and that a specific combination of how your type is interpreted within these various theories is necessarily true to who you are and the overarching type you represent. It doesn’t really matter how many theories are involved in creating your type, because the end goal is essentially the same—to relate your personality to more abstract concepts that can be applied to aid you within your “domain.”
The bigger point to all of this, though, is that typology does treat itself as all-encompassing, even though hobbyists today widely reject treating it as so. But there’s admittedly still a lot of variance among them—some only mean it superficially, some accept it subconsciously, some avoid confronting it, some really do reject it, etc. etc. It’s much more complicated than I can make it sound in a couple of sentences!
But it’s probably unwise to focus on the people involved in typology right now. Maybe they take its claims really seriously; maybe they don’t. We’ll explore this further down the road because the case against typology has all to do with how it affects us as people. It’s just kind of hard to talk about affectation without being familiar with what typology really is, so let’s get on that!
The thing is… typology takes itself very seriously. Its boundaries are made to be rigid, recognizable, and (just enough) conceptually disparate (lack of overlap between its categories) to effectively work in categorizing people into what appear to be distinct categories. This might arguably be why the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has seen so much success in scientific studies correlating its facets to other psychologically-related phenomena; the categories, when treated simply as categories, are generally effective in acting as disparate, significant categories—I use “significant” here to describe how these categories relate in a statistically significant way to psychologically-related phenomena.
Now! With all that recognized, we’re going to take a big leap and question the nature of these categories themselves: how they’re defined, how they’re bound, and how they’re interpreted within their constraints. That’s a little abstract, though, isn’t it? How about this: why do all typology theories approach personality the same way?
Let’s talk about “the same way.” There’s obviously no objective standard through which we can substantiate that claim, but I feel like it’s easy to recognize how narrow their scope is when we look into what we have today to describe our differences. We don’t need to go there yet, though. Let’s start off with the obvious: the traits that all these theories recognize are, in the abstract sense, not very dissimilar to each other.
Myers-Briggs can be our base with “intuition/sensing,” “extraversion/introversion,” “thinking/feeling,” and “judging/perceiving.” These are very comparable to the Jung-inspired Russian typology theory Socionics, which only replaces the last pair with “rational/irrational” as Jung had originally described the dichotomy in his work. Speaking of which, both Myers-Briggs and Socionics heavily borrowed from Jung’s terminology and… conceptuology (not a word, but you know what I mean, right?). The Jungian types made their way into Socionics IM elements and MBTI type dynamics. And lexical analysis created the Five Factor Model, which… also uses extraversion, “openness to experience” (same abstract domain as “intuition” and “perceiving”), agreeableness (same domain as “feeling,” though it translates less absolutely), and conscientiousness (same domain as “judging,” but again, it translates poorly, too). It also brings “neuroticism” to the table, which… HEXACO incorporates while also adding an “honesty & humility” facet. These are both unique domains, yes, but are they pushing any limits?
The most accepted method of “accurately assessing personality” these days is to come up with various scales (based on identifiable traits) that are tested for with several questions placed on a Likert scale (you know the ones that go from “strongly agree” to “strongly agree” on a five-point scale?); the more unique facets there are, the more precise the instrument is.
But this is ridiculous! Just consider how subjective taking the super objective test would be. You’d have to place your lived experience on a five-point scale—think about how much variance would exist between the test-takers. Maybe some people are very prone to “strongly agreeing” and “strongly disagreeing.” Maybe other people stick close to “neutral.” Maybe some people try to imagine what the result would be if they chose a certain option; maybe some don’t think about it at all. Maybe some people spend five minutes thinking about how they want to approach the question; maybe some spend seven seconds. Maybe somebody interprets the wording one way, and somebody else another way. How much objectivity really exists here?
But here’s the other thing… if a test that does its very best to reduce subjectivity ends up having so much variance between people who may otherwise seem very similar to us as psychoanalysts, how subjective do you think us relating our experiences to the abstract concepts behind these tests would be? The answer: absolutely, astronomically, extraordinarily subjective.
Things end up like that because we’re incredibly unique people. Every single person on this planet has had their own life with their own body and brain and their own experienced environment with their own experienced influences and their own company, their own ideas, their own paraphernalia, their own… blah, blah, blah. The real problem with typology becomes extremely apparent when you dig into how much there is to you as you exist… it’s that typology tries to establish a narrative, and you’re so much more than a story foretold by essentialist psychologists of the late nineteenth century.
You might be a little confused. What’s so bad about a narrative? We tell stories to each other all the time. We pass on what we have experienced through communication: in a digestible chain of events with our own subjectivity painted into it. There’s nothing wrong with that, you may think, and you’re not wrong for thinking that. It’s just one of the ways in which we exercise our humanity—ways through which we communicate who we are within the world.
But with every narrative we communicate comes a plethora of ideas and biases weaved into every word we say and every idea we express as dictated by the mountain of experiences that influenced the way we think—this is true for everything we know and express… but when we apply it to a narrative, our messaging ends up being construed in a way that can very directly relate to our influences and how they shape our experiences; this is because narratives relate to the “abstract interpretation” part before the “literal sequence of events as reality would have it” no matter how we choose to express them.
But there’s also a big difference between how we create narratives and how typology creates narratives. We are awarded agency and perspective: we are conscious beings with unique thoughts, experiences, and ideas. We are the interpreters, the abstract thinkers, and the information synthesizers. Our hand in creating a narrative will be rooted in who we are—people with individual thoughts and beliefs.
Typology is different. Its stories are written down in words, the product of years of us—people—building upon the central ideas we have been able to extract out of typology as it exists… that is, how it’s written down and passed onto other people. It would be fair to say that typology is an influence and hence creates narratives through how its existence affects us as people and how we form thoughts and ideas… specifically in the form of an abstract narrative we create in our heads.
Fundamentally speaking, typology represents a massive oversimplification of who we are and both supports and creates those notions that we are easily reducible by demonstrating just how we can be effectively reduced to categories that appear true to who we are. A big problem with typology may not be that how it groups people up is incoherent (it is, if you scrutinize it carefully enough) but that these groups encircle how we can be defined and how we should be defined.
Looking at people as “intuitives” or “irrationals” or “statics” barely scratches at the surface of who we are, and betrays the depth of our character by playing into looking at people through a framework that intrinsically encourages using these concepts to define people systematically and universally. Maybe you could make the argument that “yes, these concepts are bad to give credence to because of how they were formed and are supported, but doesn’t this mean that everything we use to describe each other will probably have roots in something bad, too?”
Let’s assume there is evidence to support the idea that all descriptors we use to differentiate each other are rooted in flawed, ancient philosophies. If we were able to recognize how these descriptors were born out of bad ideas, couldn’t we create something better with that new knowledge? Couldn’t we bring about systematic change in how we describe each other based around ideas that support our personal experiences by bringing attention to what needs change?
I think this is what makes destroying typology so great. It doesn’t put us at a standstill because of the “logical implications” that would hold, but instead propels us forward by bringing awareness to how bad ideas can influence both opinion and discourse and moving ahead with laying out an outline for how things can be made better. And it isn’t just about typology—this framework is useful for pointing out flaws in just about anything that exists right now that brings us further down.
So, this is great and all. But why not get into what makes typology so unnecessarily rigid? Why not point out specific flaws about why it’s so bad instead of deferring to this abstract argument?
I think it’s largely unnecessary, to be honest. If you can understand the abstract argument, you should be able to pick out the little flaws yourself, because being exposed to this framework will inevitably make you see things just a little bit differently… maybe just enough to be a catalyst for the destruction to come. But the argument is super abstract. and it’s probably a good idea to do some of the legwork together. So let’s do it! Of course, there are probably a countless number of ways to approach that, but let’s do an easy one to start with: the Enneagram and its meaningless constraints.
I’ve always found it kind of funny how upfront the Enneagram is with its weird boundaries. It isn’t surprising, but it’s still really funny. There isn’t any actual defense for why it is structured the way it is… other than that it has spiritual roots and that you’d have to simply accept that the structure exists simply because it has existed.
But don’t you think it’s weird that people aren’t open to restructuring it in a more true-to-life way? I see people torn over identifying between options that hardly fit them… and it would probably be more helpful if those options were reframed in a way that could possibly fit them—at least, better than they do now.
The Enneagram is a nine-point typology theory that recognizes nine fundamental types, each which are paired with two respective wings on either side (e.g. type Five has a Four wing or a Six wing). The gist of it is that you’d identify your core type by reading about “fears,” or unconscious catalysts for ways in which you responded to life-changing events in your childhood that shape your personality today, and be able to recognize the personality pattern you developed based on that fear.
I think the Enneagram does a decent job in justifying why your response to a fear would be exclusive to that fear, because the key is that it’s explained so that the fear supports the reaction and the reaction supports the fear. They’re not exactly divorceable concepts, which is a really clever thing to do when you want people to respond well to your justification—if a single concept is explained in two parts, and I emphasize the connection between the two parts rather than move in to describe the single concept, more people would be able to understand that it works.
And again, this is all still a little abstract, but it helps contextualize all of this as we move in toward specifics and why it doesn’t take much to “break the rules.” The problem with creating boundaries like the Enneagram does is that it doesn’t create the proper conditions for reasonable justification, which is a more of an intrinsic problem with abstract categorization than one with the Enneagram specifically as a system.
Let’s take the concept of wings, for example. The Enneagram says that if you identify with a core type (e.g. type Three), you must also identify with a wing, or one of the types adjacent to your core type. This is enforced in varying degrees: sometimes you’ll see sources deemphasize the existence of wings, insist that you can be balanced along them in varying degrees, adhere strictly to winged archetypes, or maybe talk about the potential to be “balanced” along them. It’s an inconsistent thing, but something interesting to note is that there’s one rule that never seems to go unbroken: core types must be adjacent to their potential wings.
And like… why? The only reasonable explanation for that is if the core types have been defined in such a way that they could only have wings adjacent to them, which would be really weird if sources can’t decide how wings even work—you’d think they’d have that figured out, wouldn’t you? But let’s map everything out for the sake of it; let’s try to come up with ideas of what core types would look like with any wing rather than just those that are adjacent to them.
1w9: principlist with standards revolving around peace; calm, quiet, and certain; unobtrusive and self-sufficient
1w2: principlist with standards surrounding helping others; active, crusading, and helpful; involved and helpful
1w3: principlist with standards aimed at success; disciplined, ambitious, striving to show good principles; perfectionistic and oriented toward being better
1w4: principlist with standards revolving around honesty and prizes emotional exploration with respect to those standards; evaluative, understanding, uniquely principled; explorative and conclusive
1w5: principlist with standards revolving around intellectual pursuit; studious, information-seeking, definite yet moldable with respect to new information; verifying and serious
1w6: principlist with a strong orientation to rules and authority; careful, perfectionistic, well-behaved; believing in causes related to justice and safety
1w7: principlist with strong attention to presentation and laxity; loud, fun, serious, and forward; open and attentive
1w8: principlist with standards surrounding power balances; moral, fair, sympathetic to weakness; strong, responsible, and obstinate
Is it worth continuing? 1w9 and 1w2 are the supposed “real” types here, but there isn’t any reason why the rest wouldn’t work, either—granted, types like 1w7 and 1w4 are a stretch because of how contradictory they are, but luckily, they’re already mapped out in their integration and disintegration patterns… so maybe look there for more inspiration.
Oh, and of course, the integration and disintegration patterns don’t really follow from the types, either. They’re explained extensively, but it’s never in a way that would ever hint that the patterns should be exclusively attributed to that type. Why does 1 integrate to 7 and disintegrate to 4? Because it makes this really cool looking diagram, silly! There really isn’t anything else to it—1 could probably disintegrate well into 3 or integrate into 8 very nicely, but the diagram shows the lines coming out of 1 toward 4 and 7… so that’s what we’re stuck with.
You could, of course, reframe those new wing descriptions into integration and disintegration patterns—it would work just as well, and I’m sure you could substantiate it at length. I could probably come up with longer, more elaborate descriptions for this new thing, but the exercise is just about showing that it’s possible rather than to “reform the Enneagram.”
If the Enneagram’s approach to typology is purely spiritual and unquestionable, its opposite would be a system based on science and empirics. It would approach typology from a perspective that would instead ask: “What’s the best way to categorize personality?” The Five Factor Model, or the Big Five, has received a lot of praise and disgruntled acceptance from typology hobbyists. It’s the boring typology that has no magic in it—you take a test, get a bunch of answers, and don’t understanding anything more about yourself through it. But it’s the scientific perspective, thinks the typical typology hobbyist. I don’t like it, but it’s something those scientificky people could use if they want.
There are also, however, Big Five enthusiasts among typology hobbyists (or rather, newly converted ex-typology hobbyists) who saw the light and now believe in science. This is empirical, they say. It’s based on the lexical hypothesis. At first, the argument seems compelling—why wouldn’t a psychometric system based on the words we use in our language be a good way to assess personality?
But the problem is, again, largely in the approach—the application—of these ideas. Whether or not the lexical hypothesis is “a good idea” doesn’t actually matter (I honestly don’t think it’s anything special, but it isn’t really worth discussing here) because the way the idea has been applied doesn’t provide anything new to the typology narrative.
What do we mean by that, though? I think it’s better phrased in this context as a “typology perspective,” in which people are the sum of a collection of traits. Nothing about this one-dimensional view of how traits interact with and create a personality is ever questioned—the idea of traits being situational, brought about by certain situations, being a product of specific conditioning… or anything else, really, is never really brought into play. Sometimes Five Factor-based tests ask for specific frequencies of how often traits come up, but quantifiability is an iffy concept to bring into the picture in the first place. If the test will be both specific and vague about frequency (e.g. questions with phrasing like “very often” vs. those with like “three times a day”), can they both be assessed using the same criteria to calculate your results?
At the end of the day, it’s still taking the same approach: your personality is a collection of absolute traits that can be isolated and assessed in terms of frequency. And I ask… how much better is that compared to type-centric typology? It’s the same sort of thing but just with a completely different skin, and I guess you could debate whether or not it’s typology since it doesn’t in itself make any judgment about type as a concept and is more of a “personality trait assessor” than anything. The approach it takes is hardly dissimilar, however, and that’s still the problem it refuses to address.
To slap “scientific” or “empirical” on it as though to differentiate it from typology is frankly a load of nonsense, and it should burn like everything else in typology hell.
So like, what’s the deal with typology? Is there anything good about it? I guess there are a few good things about it, but it’s relative to even more backwards things that exist out there. It’s power that says that typology isn’t all bad, because frankly, it kind of is all bad because it isn’t good enough. Power says that typology has the potential to correct (or on the flip side, reinforce in a different direction) prejudices people once held in different directions; typology offers a worldview within which all that differentiates people is type rather than… class, race, sex, gender, religion, culture or any of that. In a way, that could be interpreted as a good thing because it shows people that… we’re not all that different. But the approach is absolutely dreadful. People have huge, huge differences based on their upbringing, conditioning, and adapting to this world, and eliminating those differences in favor of an extremely simplistic system that draws different abstract lines in the sand is… not great either. It is, of course, very divorced from the issues that separate us now, but it’s an invitation to indulge in the same kind of essentialism brought about by how background-based discrimination differentiates people.
But is that indulgence so bad? I mean, as long as you recognize what the problems are, it’s okay, right? I don’t know, honestly. I’m not a moral mastermind, and I’ll leave that judgment up to you. But this whole thing—typology hell—is a case for its destruction in the absence of power that reinforces the essentialism epidemic, and I do sincerely think that this is something that will have to go entirely.
I mean, there are people who advocate for eugenics on the basis of type, and while they don’t really represent any serious movement in the typology community… does it make sense as to why type is just another thing to add to that list of concepts people use as a basis of discrimination? And the thing about type is that it isn’t even real. Sex? Gender? Race? These are meaningful categories that, while not transcendental, do exist to meaningfully distinguish traits and have an immense amount of power upholding them as categories today. Type does not and should not even in the presence of the existing power that upholds it as a concept, because that power simply isn’t meaningful.
Do we have the power to burn typology? I do think, at least, it’s somewhere in our reach. So, let’s burn it down—down with typology hell.
lila sader maraberetz
13th of october, 2019