“Christopher Hitchens was a dear friend [of mine] and a man who lived for the mind.” – Ayaan Hirsi Ali
On the face of it, many people seem to instantly recognize Hitchens’ preference for Se over Si. Some even take that Se to be auxiliary (ISP) or even dominant (ESP). Yet what we will posit in this article is that actually Hitchens’ Se is his least developed function, also called the repressed function or inferior function.
The Difference between Dominant and Inferior Se
Dominant and inferior Se manifest very differently. When you use Se, you perceive things exactly as they appear to be and as convention would have you believe they are: A nice car is a nice car, a sexy woman is a sexy woman, etc. It is one of the extroverted perception functions (along with Ne), which means it’s about “taking it all in” (as opposed to the introverted perceiving functions, Ni and Si, which are about noticing certain reactions within yourself as you’re taking in data from the outside world).
Using Se involves no judgments, and indeed it abhors having to intellectualize in any way since doing so misses the point: You do things to do them, not to figure out some stale theory. A natural consequence of this take-it-as-it-is perception is an emphasis on being cool, sexy, dominant, a winner, the man, the alpha, and so on. You are what you are right now, and who wants to be a loser?
At the other end of the spectrum, though, Ni is the opposite of Se. Where Se revels in the obvious, the immediate, and the physical, Ni drives you (nags at you, really) to “take a closer look” and find the non-obvious, the fundamental, and the ethereal. When you use Ni, you specifically avoid perceiving things in their immediate state, and instead you seize on the fringes as indicators of something beyond the obvious.
Where Se encourages you to be the life of the party, Ni encourages you to slip out into the hallway and reflect. The dominant function is the one a person feels most comfortable using and in which their self-image is most thoroughly invested. The inferior function is the opposite of the dominant (Se-Ni) and the inferior function is simultaneously the one a person most conspicuously avoids.
Dominant Se types, then, are most comfortable when they are free to “take it all in” without having to speculate about hidden meanings, their future significance and suchlike, while dominant Ni types, on the other hand, are most comfortable developing (not to say belaboring) their own subjective perceptions of what is really “beneath the surface” or “the essence of things” without having to burden themselves with the immediate reality of the now.
Inferior Se as it appears in INTJs
The INTJ’s inferior Se frequently manifests in a reversal of the cool-sexy-popular program that the dominant Se-types (ES-Ps) deploy in social situations. The INTJ’s Se-in-inverse results in a sort of “bizarro Se” whereby not following current trends and fashions, being out of touch with popular culture, unphysical, and bookish are -from their subjective, belabored perspective- what really makes you cool and sexy, and where energetic and upbeat people who follow Se standards are insinuated to be mere brutes, if not downright losers.
If the repressed Se of INTJs had a motto, it would be: “I’m the man precisely because I’m not trying to be ‘the man’ in any way you commoners understand it.”
Cue Christopher Hitchens
Hitchens himself had much the same “bizarro Se” about his style, and if you’ve followed his activities, you may have noted the faint but unmistakable traces of an interest in animalistic dominance and sexual prowess that is sought manifest through florid writing and intellectualized innuendo. Here is a particularly famous instance of his habit of intellectualizing the sexual. He says:
“I won’t try to do it for you on camera, but there’s an attitude—with the head thrown back and the mouth wide open and the horseshoe of lovely teeth and the tongue on display and so forth—that is a bit of a surrender. It’s worth it for its own sake. And it’s a simulacrum of something even more worth it.”
So what is Hitchens doing there? As Hitchens observes the body language of others, he perceives not the object itself so much as the subjective suggestion it evokes in him of a broader insight into the way the world is (Ni).
In fact, Hitchen’s evocative interpretation of body language is much the same as reported by one of Jung‘s patients, whom Jung diagnosed to be an Ni dominant type. To repress and ignore the here-and-now in favor of being carried away by one’s own subjective associations is what it is like to have a dominant Ni preference. It is a way of perceiving things that is stimulated by anything that provokes a sense of something deeper (or in Jung’s words: more archetypical) than they evoke by themselves.
Christopher Hitchens’ Se
So we posit that Hitchens is an Se type, rather than an Si type. But how does he handle that Se? One thing that is immediately obvious is that Hitchens does not feed his drive to the sexually dominant alpha male by going to the gym or by any other obviously physical thing of any sort. In fact, his preference is much to the contrary.
Indeed, what Christopher Hitchens does is to talk up the importance of being witty, erudite, a raconteur; of being an intellectual buccaneer capable of quoting sonnets (like he incidentally is himself). And though such characteristics are well outside the core domain of extroverted sensing, the ends that Hitchens leverages his intellectual means towards are to position himself as the alpha male, and thus in fact the core domain of extroverted sensing.
Thus we say that Hitchens has a preference for Se over Si, but at the same time, his Se is an overstressed and mutated “bizarro Se”: The coolness and sexiness that Hitchens pretends to have made manifest with regard to himself comes across to his audience in an oddly damp and auto-erotic manner; as if Hitchens was “sweating on the inside” to appear to us as a person whom we will venerate and revere.
Se in INTJs: The Brain Trying to be the Muscle
Here is an excellent profile of Hitchens by the New Yorker. From start to finish (including the title and the accompanying photo—indulging in the sensual even as he neglects it) there are many points of contact with the standard profile of an INTJ. For our purposes, however, selecting one particularly poignant passage will do:
At times, Hitchens can look like a brain trying to pass as a muscle. He reads the world intellectually, but emphasizes his physical responses to it. […] When Hitchens’s prose hits an off note, it often includes the visceral or the pseudo-visceral, whether in a paean to oral sex for Vanity Fair (“I was at once bewitched and slain by the warm, moist cave of her mouth”) or in commentaries on current affairs. […] On these occasions, the bookish Hitchens is elbowed aside by an alternate self: a man as twitchingly alert as Trotsky at the head of the Red Army. [He has a perchant for] performances of masculinity.
“The brain trying to be the muscle” is a nigh-perfect phrasing of what it entails to inferior Se: Insecurities spring up as one struggles to assert mastery in a fundamentally foreign domain (Se). The impulse to assert oneself in that domain is largely unconscious; it takes the form of fleeting physicality, in an otherwise decidedly unphysical person, to the effect of giving off a stand-offish vibe that almost points to the threat of physical force.
H.L. Mencken, another INTJ, captured that same mixture of intellectualism and physical force perfectly when he said: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats.”
Se in IN-Js: “I Don’t Like the Binges but the Binges Like Me”
Finally touching upon what is perhaps the most obvious occurrence of repressed Se as it appears in INTJs, there is the childish and uncontrolled indulgence in sensual pleasures, especially food, alcohol, and tobacco (but not so much harder drugs, for some reason). Here, again, another giveaway of the fact that their Se is repressed Se is that their binges take the form of a repetitive, narrow-but-deep focus, i.e. they will eat an entire container of ice cream or smoke an entire pack of cigarettes without seeking to combine this with other sensual pleasures, as people with more conscious use of Se are wont to do.