Note: Re-posted from my now-defunct Until blog, Jan. 5, 2007
Types are personality structures that are relatively enduring over the course of a life. They are usually based on relatively innate factors such as biological and early childhood conditioning. They are not easily subject to change. Generally, a person carries her personality type with her throughout life. (Although it’s possible to speak of cultural types, sociological types, and political types, we’re just looking at the types of individual psychology here.)
There are many ways to divide up the the personality into sets of types (and types always come in sets, for they are bestowed with meaning not only by virtue of their own qualities but in comparison and contrast to all the other types of the system). Commonly used types include the Signs of the Zodiac in popular horoscope astrology.
Actually, back in the day, astrologers never looked to the signs as indicators of personality because astrology was primarily an effort to tell the fortunes of great nations and their leaders, not to examine the interiors of individual subjects. But modern Western mythopoetic astrology is a very different animal than classical astrologies.
Carl Jung has done more for elaborating our contemporary understanding of personality types than just about anyone else. In Jung’s work, he wrestled with the task of adapting the wisdom of traditional insights into human nature (such as astrology and mythic archetypes) and making them acceptable to the modern world.
Out of astrology, Jung salvaged the notion of personality type in two ways. First, he and his followers sometimes assert that the signs of the Zodiac are themselves nothing more than personality types. Aries are aggressive, Taureans are stubborn, Cancers are emotional, Leos are arrogant, Virgos are picky, Libras are peacemakers, Scorpios are sexy, Sagittarians are highly opinionated, Capricons are ambitious, Aquarians are intellectuals, Pisceans are mystics. An entire complex tradition of astrological investigation into human nature and destiny has been thereby reduced to a most hollow and meager shell.
Secondly, Jung offered as the bulk of his work on types a fresh start with typological insights that were inspired by astrology but ultimately found a grounding in the scientific analysis of the personality. Jung made several very careful bipartite distinctions that are still in use in psychology today. Most famously, he distinguished between introverts and extraverts.
For introverts, reality is primary within them–their feelings, their thoughts, and “inner life.” For extroverts, reality is primary outside them–the playground of the universe, other people, and social interaction. For Jung, most people fall into one of these camps and there is very little movement between the two. Certainly, an introvert or extravert can learn to adapt their behavior to a new environment, but they will likely feel like a fish out of water.
Another interesting way of talking about introverts and extraverts has found expression in my book Soulfully Gay. Therein, I speak of homophilia and heterophilia as the two dominant drives of all Reality: the desire for reunion with Spirit by going within or towards the same is hemophilia.
Heterophilia is the desire for reunion with Spirit by going outside the self or towards the other. A homophilic personality type, like introvert, will tend to gravitate to relationships with persons and things that help to mirror back to him aspects of his own reality. A heterophilic personality type, like the extravert, will tend to seek out relationships with as widely varied and diverse relationships as possible to try to get far away from the self. Of course, nobody is purely hemophilic or purely heterophilic; these are just convenient ways of talking about universal tendencies among personality types.
Jung was also among the twentieth-century thinkers to promote the notion of masculine and feminine (or God or Goddess, or King and Queen archetypes) as a valid typology. Although the dichotomy between male and female modes of reality has been undermined by some forms of deconstructive postmodern analyses, and while this point is still controversial, I think it is safe to say that most psychological models have found valid differences between how average males and average females interpret and respond to the world around them.
These tendencies, traits, leanings may be deeply rooted biological truths or they may be the remnants of what’s left of premodern patriarchal ideologies that promoted a God-given role for The Man (dominant, active, ruler of the public realm and household) and The Woman (submissive, passive, excluded subject of the public realm and helper/caregiver in the household), or a combination.
The influence of these premodern notions of masculinity and feminity is still so strong in our culture, that many people today are allergic to talking at all about cross-culturally universal tendencies among the genders. However, the general consensus of the scientific and anthropological research in these areas in favor of the existence of generally orienting types is overwhelming and compelling.
From research into brain differentiation to the impact of hormones, from socialization, to cultural adaptation, the idea that we can talk about masculine and feminine personality types is just too useful to reject. The only thing we need to reject are simplistic, reductive attempts to reduce the notion of “type” (i.e., an essence or deep structure of the personality) to merely essentialist, old-fashioned ways of talking about gender.
Another important two-part distinction related to human beings is the notion of Ascent and Descent in Ken Wilber’s integral psychology. Wilber examined the various spiritual paths of the world religions in many of their variations, from esoteric to exoteric, from ancient to modern days. What he found is that it’s possible to divide these approaches into two camps: Ascenders and Descenders.
Ascending paths identify reality with something transcendent or beyond the manifest realm: God, Heaven, a Spirit-out-there, Emptiness, Atman. For spirituality, Ascent is the road of shedding the chains of the apparent and illusory world, or a world of sin and temporarily, in favor of a World more real and actual, or an eternal paradise. Most of the mainstream religions of the past 5,000 years in history have arisen out of a shared set of economic-structural agrarian bases.
Conventional religion has been so successful in uprooting unorthodox views of spirituality that sadly many people today believe that Ascent is all that spirituality is about. These souls have horrifically confused spirit with Spirit. No wonder many people want nothing to do with a Heaven or Nirvana or Paradise, when Gaia herself cries out for rejuvenation.
For Wilber, as for most in the integral spirituality movement, there is another type of spiritual path no less valid than Ascent: Descent. Descending paths identify reality with the here and now, this world, these relationships, this body, this mind, this soul. Descenders frequently tap into the primal root force of Existence–called Eros–and make the expression of Eros into a sacred activity of worship. Pre-agrarian religious traditions (often called Native American, indigenous, pagan, or goddess-centered worship) are examples of Descending paths. Paths of Descent may lead to prerational sentiments or transrational insights.
Out of these two primal typologies–Masculine/Feminine (on the horizontal plane), and Ascent/Descent or Self/Other (on the vertical plane)–we discover the primal cross at the heart of reality. When seen together as two intersecting lines, these two sets of two types each give rise to a more complex typology of four types. There are Masculine Ascenders, Feminine Ascenders, Masculine Descenders, and Feminine Descenders.
To put this typology in another form, as I do in Soulfully Gay, there are four core underlying types at the heart of all reality: Straight Men (other-directed masculinity), Straight Women (other-directed femininity), Gay Men (same-directed masculinity), and Lesbians (same-directed femininity). Bisexual and transgender represent various combinations of these types.
Of course, these typologies don’t really correspond exactly to socially-defined sexual identities, and persons of all genders and sexualities may actually be of any type. But as a generally valid orientation to get a discussion rolling along, it’s helpful to think about the four fundamental directions and forms of reality.