Why Ben Stein is INTP

This article is no longer part of the main site, but remains online for documentary and historical reasons.

We have had requests for the typing of Ben Stein as INTP, with one person saying he hardly conforms to the persona of ‘intellectual loner’ and suggesting he must be some sort of Te user instead. We agree that Ben Stein is not a stereotypical INTP (we think he is Antisocial which, with regards to the functional level of personality, is more common for E-TPs), but we believe him to be one nevertheless.

To get closer to Stein, consider his writings. Stein shares his personal story and philosophy of life in the book How Successful People Win: Using Bunkhouse Logic to Get What You Want in Life. His story is that he started out rather passive in life, but then he noticed that people who were less smart than him and his friends were nevertheless enjoying more of life’s bounties.

This observation (which hits the sorest spot in the Antisocial psyche) bugged Stein so much that he started observing the behaviors of those people around him who got ahead even though their intellectual merits were questionable compared to his own. What Stein observed was essentially all of the psychological dirty tricks that are anathema to Introverted Thinking.

In an unusual move for an INTP (but again one that is consistent with the every-man-for-himself attitude of the Antisocial personality) Stein then experimented with emulating the behaviors he had identified, and what he found was that behaving in these ways indeed opened doors that had previously been closed to him. In other words, Stein started out as a passive observer of life, then used detached analysis to identify how to get what he wanted, and finally he bit the bullet that he would have to work at behaving in ways that do not come naturally to him. What makes him different from your standard INTP persona of “intellectual loner,” then, is that Stein was motivated to change himself, whereas most other INTPs (who lack the Antisocial drive to jockey for position in life) do not find it worthwhile to start consciously using the dirtiest tricks of psychology to get their way.

Here are a few quotes from Stein’s own mouth:

Those high achievers were on a different railroad line altogether. Those girls and boys who found happiness in their work and in their homes were definitely operating off a set of instructions unlike the ones that had been issued to the rest of us. On the coldest of psychic mornings, when our engines would barely turn over, their motors would always start on the first try.

[Once] I was rather certain that I could differentiate between the useful [things that I had observed] and the useless attitudes – those that led up and those that led nowhere – I took the first hesitant, tentative steps toward actually behaving in the ways that seemed to lead somewhere promising.

It hurts to acknowledge that life is as arduous as it is, but that acknowledgment will help you over many a rough period in the long run. Further, it is fundamental knowledge to the successful in the world. They take for granted that the world is a tough place. So should you. It’s part of accepting reality.

So that, in a nutshell, is our rundown of how Stein can be a Ti dominant, even though his derived persona is very different from most other INTPs on the site. Want more? Watch this:

Video: Ben Stein and Richard Dawkins

In this clip, Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins (another INTP). The two men are on opposite sides of the intelligent design debate, so one might well expect the exchange to get heated and emotional, but as it turns out, their discourse is quite civilized. Both men exhibit a behavior that is regrettably uncommon in such exchanges: Each man lets the other finish without interrupting, and also each man carefully listens to the arguments that the other party is presenting and replies to what was actually said, rather than replying to a strawman version of that argument.

Stein has a fairly lowkey, Socratic style. He simply asks one question after another, in a strategy that could best be described as (attempting to) give Dawkins the rope with which to hang himself. Now, we are not saying that Stein’s debating technique is completely fair-minded, because he does use some of those dirty tricks which he observed as a youth (such as using ominous music and cutting to voiceover); but overall he does maintain the pose and debating style of an NTP type.

Stein’s Lessons to Himself

Yet another way to approach the topic of Stein’s type is to look at which lessons Stein thought it important to stress to himself in his book on parenting, Tommy and Me: The Making of a Dad. Does an Ne type need to remind himself to look at a matter from multiple perspectives? Rarely. Does an Si type need to remind himself to give meticulous and precise details? Not really. On the other hand, a person will frequently find value in the distillation of points related to his or her non-dominant function into concrete, bite-sized lessons. So which lessons does Stein find it important to stress to himself? Let’s see:

Do not allow your children to be rude. I always tell my son that he can feel any way he wants. He can be sad or happy, energetic or slothful. This largely cannot be controlled. But how he acts toward those around him can be controlled. He is not allowed to turn his back on adults as he is talking to them, to fail to answer others when they greet him, to talk only about himself, to use other boys’ toys and not share his own.

He is expected to show some respect for the pain of those around him, to congratulate those who succeed, to have some empathy for others’ feelings. He is expected to know that while he is the apple of his Dad’s eye, he is not the center of everyone else’s universe.

By insisting upon something above minimum politeness, I make sure he gets some notion that others’ feelings are worth taking into account. If he can get that into his little tow head, he will have learned the most basic foundation of human interaction. (boldface added)

The lessons themselves may come in a form that is reminiscent of “traditional morality,” employing a “rude-polite” axis, and will no doubt make the Keirsey-inspired readers in the audience relegate Stein’s lessons to Keirsey’s notion of the SJ temperament. But to our mind, the thing to note is how the individual components of Stein’s conceptions of politeness are not conflated into a whole: Stein is very ardent with regards to distinguishing between one’s inner state, which, according to him, “largely cannot be controlled,” and then one’s actual outward behavior, where he thinks people almost owe each other some measure of appropriate common courtesy. Our main point in responding to the notion that Stein’s lessons to himself attest to an SJ temperament is that the duality that Stein allows for – feeling slothful on the inside while being obliged to showcase politeness on the outside – is simply not consonant with Keirsey’s portrait of the SJ morality. In Keirsey’s conception, SJs do not experience a discord between their personal feelings and desires and what they perceive their duty to be and so they do not have to consciously struggle to live up to the latter; rather they experience their feelings and desires as aligned with their duty – a phenomenon known as psychic equivalence.

“If only children were more like computers”

What else does Stein have to say about child-rearing?

Patience is indispensable. Children are not computers. Behavioral flaws cannot be corrected by flipping a switch or rewriting a few lines of code. You have to correct them a lot to get even the beginnings of improvement. This is standard.  If you try to correct by force or terror, you get a terrorized child, not a correct child. Patience has the highest payoff of any virtue in dealing with children. (boldface added)

In the above excerpt, Stein reveals that he is also not a parent to whom continual parental discipline, in the form of extroverted judgment, comes naturally – wouldn’t parenting be so much easier if one could simply ‘rewrite a few lines of code’ in the child’s head and be done with it?

Finally, throughout the book Stein emphasizes the importance of respecting the child’s individuality and independence which is again typical for the hands-off parenting style of a dominant introverted judger and decidedly atypical for the Keirseyan notion of the SJ temperament.

Exit Keirsey – Enter Jung

Furthermore, leaving Keirsey and returning to classical Jung, we would add three more points to our analysis of Stein’s lesson above: (1) The Feeling that Stein touts in his lesson – the kind of feeling which he regards as ideal – is Fe and not Fi. (2) The aforementioned duality in Stein’s analysis of politeness (one can feel slothful on the inside and this cannot be controlled) makes it – all other things being equal – more likely that he is an introverted judger than an extroverted judger (for the latter will more often try to force their inner state to comply with whatever outwards behavior they have determined to be the right one) and finally: (3) Stein’s imposing an obligation on others to exhibit Fe regardless of their inner state resembles the moral law of Immanuel Kant where people must dutifully struggle to live up to an impossible standard of morality and obligation to their fellow men regardless of their inner state. Could it be that this longing towards Fe – a longing that is a the same time imbued with a certain impossibility, a fait accompli – attests to a repressed, inferior state of affairs with regards to Stein’s Fe?

We think that it does.

16 Comments

  1. Unlike Stein, what types largely believe that emotions are chosen realities? That behavior is a choice, as are one’s perspectives and resulting feelings?

  2. You readily concede that he’s not above manipulation — concerning his interview with Richard Dawkins — but are willing to overlook it in favor of him adopting a “lowkey, Socratic style”. You cherry-pick quotes that weren’t meant to be taken literally (“FLIPPING A SWITCH, LINES OF CODE, BUZZWORDS!!!!). I find it troubling that you’d align Stein’s personality with that of Einstein or Darwin — the same person who was a major benefactor of a propaganda documentary that has been widely decried by the scientific community. Just because a person calls himself noble and humane doesn’t make it so; just because Stein displays a few tokenistic gestures of goodwill doesn’t mean he’s not above imposing himself on others. The lack of irony behind this post is rather startling.

  3. While you may have a point that our text have been done better, we don’t see you offering much that is constructive instead.

    You do have a point about the buzzwords not being best practice when typing people, a line of argument that – we concede – is not especially cogent and which would probably not convince us in itself.

    Yet you don’t seem to offer any actual arguments against the fact that Stein can painlessly commit himself to prolonged bouts of Socratic-style inquiry, which is indeed an intellectual process and not a specific word or isolated instance of behavior.

    In fact, your broader premise seems to be that Stein can’t be an INTP because his message is anti-scientific. But that is doing just the same thing which you decry part of our post for doing: That is relying on a static checklist of mental contents (rather than mental processes) to determine the type of someone.

    So to sum up: Yes there are problems with some of the arguments in this post, and you call them out correctly, but you do nothing to falsify the better arguments, or Bein Stein’s functions in general.

    As for cherry-picking, well that is necessarily what goes into selecting quotes for a post like this. What other method would you prefer? Finding 35 random quotes and then going through them one by one? That doesn’t seem like a text that a lot of people would read.

  4. My comment wasn’t an attempt to re-type Stein but to simply bring what you’re saying about him and your justifications into sharper focus. I don’t see why the onus is on me to provide anything constructive in terms of typing people that I don’t even know when I’m not the one with the site dedicated to doing just that.

    And if you know that you’re cherry-picking just by virtue of your approach, wouldn’t that be cause for concern in not taking everything a person says about themselves at face value? I’ve seen Calvin Coolidge go from INTJ to ISTJ to INFJ on this very site — all wildly different types. If you dig deep enough, you can find quotes to shoehorn someone’s personality into just about any of 16 different types in the spectrum. You seem to have this perception of Stein as pensive and shrewd with a knack for empirical thinking, but you don’t seem to reinforce the caveat that these are all judgments he makes about himself within his own body of work.

  5. >I don’t see why the onus is on me to provide anything constructive…

    Well, strictly speaking, the onus is not on you. Yet what we do at this site is that we research people and then make inferences based on that research. In a lot of cases people can take or leave it, and in a few ones we try and give a coherent argument, and especially so when the typing is controversial (such as because people except all INTPs to align with ‘science’.)

    It seems that your comments are being made in bad faith. Where is it that you see that we profess to take “a person says about themselves at face value”? It seems to us that we went out of our way to acknowledge your point about buzzwords in your last post. We also answered you politely in spite of the fact that you came on rather blowhard-ishly and you relied on the same erroneous premise in toto that you faulted us for using (and we only used it in part).

    Instead of acknowledging your own faulty premise, which would be good form, you then rush ahead to other points of criticism. We have, in the course of four years, typed Calvin Coolidge as INTJ, ISTJ, and INFJ. And who, we ask you, has in your opinion done a better job? Is it Keirsey, who also changes his typings around like we do, and even admits that he does not want to take the time to keep his lists accurate, so that he types the same person as two different types at the same time? Or is it perhaps Jung, who also shifts his typings around like wildfire, and who can rarely put a type on someone without equipping his text with all manners of copouts, escape hatches, and qualifications?

    At this site we take a Popperian approach to typing where claims are presented, refined, subjected to qualified opposition, refined again, and so on. If you have a better method, by way of which we could improve our research programme, by all means, let us hear it.

    We are also curious: Where do we say that Stein has a “knack for empirical thinking”?

  6. I don’t really see where you get off on comparing your methodology to those of Jung or Keirsey. But hey, whatever helps your “research”.

    “Instead of acknowledging your own faulty premise, which would be good form, you then rush ahead to other points of criticism.”

    Way to miss the forest for the trees.
    Not worth it.

  7. Speaking of missing the forest for the trees, we did not only compare our method to Jung and Keirsey. We pointed out that everyone who has hitherto been engaged in this practice has made mistakes and we asked you if you had a better method.

    You also neglected to point out where we say that Stein has a “knack for empirical thinking.”

  8. I have to agree with sofie. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him typed as INTJ a week from today.

  9. If you want certain knowledge, maybe find another hobby.
    Jung and Myers changed their typings because they were serious about it. People on the internet who claim that so-and-so is DEFINITELY a so-and-so type are not.

  10. One thing I don’t understand is: How is it possible to have the “P” characteristic when you’re willing to go to great lengths to impose on others a world view completely at odds with observable reality, which could be discovered as such through a minimum of information seeking and critical thinking?

    If you are indeed right in accepting Stein’s claim that he is “smart”, it follows from his dabbling in “creation science” (a contradition in terms) that he is cabpable of willful ignorance on a massive scale. How does that square with a tendency to “See goals as guidelines and keep a lookout for new possibilities that come along” or being “flexible and adaptable”?

  11. 1: As we also say on the page you’re quoting, being “a P” is an oversimplification. Rather, Stein is a Ti type (therefore P).
    2: Generally, smart people are often capable of massive self-deception. They’re used to getting away with things that they really shouldn’t because they’re smarter than everyone else.

  12. I’d just like to speak up in favor of Stein being an INTP. The quotes on parenting are _very_ key to my opinion. His method of parenting is _very_ consistent with INTP type parenting if you read the various perspectives on this. He definitely exhibits Fe in his style of parenting, but to me also, he sounds just like my INTP wife. I am very glad to have my INTP wife, because my parenting style would have drifted much closer to the “terrified child” type in times of stress were it not for her. And yes, parenting would bring out his Si and Fe, IMO, plus, I suspect that his religious upbringing has also played a huge role in his development. I know it has in my wife’s. I know various SJ type folks, and I know their style of parenting is nothing like what he says, and they might even violently disagree with some of the things he says.

  13. Thanks :)
    The above article is not our best work, however, the resistance towards Stein as INTP mainly seems to come from people who believe that INTPs could never believe in ascientific things.

  14. As an INTP and Christian myself, I find it highly offensive for someone to say I cannot be scientific or that I cannot be Christian. One’s personality does not determine their belief system. It has more to do with shaping how they understand and interact with the world. As for the insulting claims that INTPs cannot be anything but rigid secular science disciples, our very nature makes us open to other explanations and skeptical of any view that claims to be 100% true. There is not room enough here, nor do I wish to take up a full scientific defense of my faith in this forum, but I as well Stein would tell you there are proveable facts and validating life experiences that support our Christian worldview. When criticizing INTPs in the future, you would do well to not be so judgemental.

  15. @Nick

    Im curious who you are responding to? The writer of the article, a poster in the comments, or just a general viewpoint?

    I agree with you, in some ways. INTPs can most certainly be scientists, and can also be Christians, Muslims, Hindus or just about any philosophical perspective you care to mention — even INTP Christian scientists are far from rare.

    As for there being scientific facts in support of Christianity, I’d say yes and no. On the one hand, there are some astonishing coincidences in physics, from which it is POSSIBLE to infer an intelligent design behind it all. On the other hand, science cannot come up with supernatural explanations for things — because it’s obviously useless in a supernatural context where there are no objective facts. Also, there are many other religious and philosophical perspectives that an intelligent design, if there really is one, could be “evidence” for. Christianity has little-to-no more “scientific validity” than the rest.

    So I’d say it’s best to keep an open mind to all the possibilities.

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