We recently received an email suggesting that Bill Clinton is ENFP, rather than ESFP. Our correspondent submitted the following arguments to us:
- The ESFP was called “the Performer” by Myers, and ESFPs often play the clown.
- Clinton has a stellar academic record and is very intelligent.
- Clinton cares about the world, and such global consideration is the hallmark of NFs, not SPs.
We will now go through these arguments. First, let’s take these two together:
1. ESFP was called “the Performer” by Myers, and ESFPs often play the clown.
2. Clinton has a stellar academic record and is very intelligent.
First, nitpick: The ESFP was never called “the Performer” by Myers. ESFPs are called performers in Keirsey’s system, which offers a simplified take on Jungian typology (namely by looking at concrete behavior and functional roles). But Myers and Jung never intended their typology to be used in such a simplified, behavioristic manner. Instead they looked at the person’s inner mental workings – their cognitive functions. As Ira Progroff wrote about Jung’s approach to typology:
“The specific value of Jung’s [type] concepts is that they do not operate on the surface. When … Jung … describes a … type, he is not calling him a name. He is describing the nature of the libido movement in the individual and the psychological function to which this movement is attached.” – Ira Progroff: Jung’s Psychology and Its Social Meaning, Routledge 2013 ed., p. 113
So with regards to Jungian typology, the question isn’t if Bill Clinton behaves in a certain way. The question is whether he has a cognitive preference for Ne or Se. Ne and Se can resemble each other insofar as they are both adaptive, novelty-seeking and on the lookout for possibilities in the external situation. However, one difference is that Ne has a transcendental and introspective quality to it, where Se is more impulsive-instinctive and focused on real-world results.
Clinton’s intelligence, memory, and ability to master complex issues quickly is well-known. Now, if we were using S/N as a covert measure of intelligence, then we would certainly say that Clinton must then be an N type. But as we have noted, the correlations between intelligence and S/N that researchers tend to find are incidental to S/N and do not pertain directly to the dichotomy. To give an analogy, in most modern depictions of Santa Claus he tends to wear a red outfit. But it would obviously be an error to say that if somebody wears a red outfit, he must then be Santa Claus. This is exactly what people are doing when they say that because someone is intelligent, then he or she must be an N type: They are pointing at people in red, assuming them all to be Santa Claus.
Using a person’s measure comfort with introspection as a parameter for S/N is at least not an incidental parameter, but rather one that pertains directly to the nature of the dichotomy. As we said, Clinton’s raw intelligence is legendary, but few people ever accused him of being prone to deep introspection.
“[He is] a man of quick and penetrating insight who seemed to lose perspective when observing himself.” – Rubenzer & Faschingbauer: Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House, Brassey’s Inc., 2004 ed., p. 292
“Introspection … to see what you are doing and how it really affects people. … There is no strong evidence that this process has taken place for Clinton.” – Stanley Allen Renshon: High Hopes, Routledge 1998 ed., p. 68
Again, this is not to say that more introspection is necessarily better or that “Ns are Ss with an extra layer.” Barack Obama, by wide agreement, has a very high level of introspection, but has often been faulted for being indecisive and “stuck in his own head” for this reason. However, if we agree that Clinton is very intelligent and we also agree that he does not exhibit a preference for introspection, this only makes the case for Clinton’s preference for Sensation stronger: Intelligence and introspection are two traits that tend to occur together (as one is a prerequisite of the other). Thus when you get a case where the prerequisite is clearly there, but the propensity is not, this only strengthens the case that there is a preference for Sensation involved.
Back to the “Performing Clown” Argument
As we have already quoted Ira Progroff to say, “When Jung describes a type, he is not calling him a name.” There is a reason for that. When you try to make Jungian typology more accessible by calling the ENTJ “the Executive” or calling the ESFP “the Performer,” you cross the line between type and stereotype. You are effectively taking a typology which is devised to say something about the deepest structures of the psyche and pinning it on something superficial and exterior instead (behavior).
Consider the argument that one may take away from using this methodology: “He performs because he is a performer, and he is a performer because he performs.” Is this not a circular argument? Would it not be more interesting to employ the psycho-dynamic view that Jung and Myers did: “Why does he perform?” Under a psycho-dynamic approach to typology, any type could potentially be a “performer” in terms of outward behavior, but the ways that perceptions and judgments were structured in the psyche will be different for each type, according to his or her functions. This is the difference between a mental process (i.e. a function) and a specific idea, motivation, or behavior (i.e. a piece of psychic content).
3. Clinton cares about the world and that is NF, not SP
This is again a reliance on Keirsey rather than Jung-Myers (and ironically, even Keirsey doesn’t think that Clinton is ENFP).
While Keirsey’s four-temperament scheme certainly has some merits, it should chiefly be used to categorize large chunks of people loosely from afar. The person who is really interested in the individual’s psychology should not use Keirsey’s four-temperament theory as anything other than a very broad-brush approach, and perhaps to make the Jungian typology more easily understandable to newcomers. Ironically, we are not even sure that Keirsey Sr. used his own system to type people. By his own premises, as outlined in Please Understand Me II, it is hard to see how Keirsey could arrive at an assessment like Woody Allen as an ISTP.
The problem with temperament theory is that “talking the talk” all too easily equals “walking the walk”. If someone “cares about the world” he is automatically an NF, and if someone is rational, that automatically makes him NT. Any type can be interested in logic and in saving the world. It is the underlying structure and motivation that Jungian typology tries to gauge.
Keirsey’s four temperaments are fleshed out in a way that makes anyone reading them want to be an N (‘Mastermind’ vs. ‘Supervisor,’ anyone?). Likewise, the person who gets acquainted with Jungian typology through Keirsey will in earnest assume that anyone who is intelligent or intellectually gifted must be an N type. But if you approach it more psycho-dynamically, stressing perhaps that, to an SFP, reaching across and genuinely connecting with the other person is far more important than the interpersonal communicative situation, the specific words and quirks conveyed, more SFPs would actually identify as SFPs, rather than as NFPs. And you could probably say the same for other types.
Though we cannot subscribe to Keirsey’s simplified take on Jungian typology, we must nevertheless acknowledge that Keirsey Sr. assessed Clinton to be ESFP before we did. To our knowledge, Keirsey Sr. was the first writer in the literature on Jungian type to voice this view and so the credit for being the first to make this assessment belongs squarely to him.
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