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The Pitfalls of Professionalism: Science, Art, and the Enneagram1

© John Fudjack - November, 1995


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In this article it is my purpose to address some of the issues involved in the trend toward increased 'professionalism' in the study and use of the Enneagram. The Huffman and Frager articles in last month's issue of EM opened a debate on this topic to which I feel compelled to offer a third perspective. I also want to talk about the role of 'science' and the role of 'art' in enneagram work.

The Pitfalls of Professionalism

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Like Mr. Huffman, I have serious concerns about increased 'professionalism' in this field. I do not think that 'amateurism', however, is the only alternative, and I would like to show why I think this to be so.

Like Dr. Frager, I am concerned that whomever participates in this field of inquiry will remain open to the scrutiny and criticism of others, and excercise self-criticism where possible. But I am far from convinced by Dr. Frager's argument that it is the 'professional' who has the greatest capacity for self-criticism.

Let me begin by trying to focus on what I find suspect with 'professionalism'. I tend to agree with Stephen Nackmonovitch, a musician and writer, when he says:

A certain amount of specialization is necessary to handle any large task, or any large body of knowledge. But the barriers we set up between specialties tend to become overdeveloped. The professions acquire an inertial mass that deadens everything they touch. We confront a proliferation of disciplines and -ologies, most of which function primarily to protect their own professional turf. We fragment learning at the expense of the richness and flexibility that should be inherent in a living body of knowledge. (Free Play: the Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts, p. 119)

It is difficult, in the present climate in this country, to come out against professionalism in any field. The prevailing culture in our organizations and institutions is strongly biased toward a deeply embedded 'rational/empirical' approach that favors professionalism. We glorify science and technology, opt for increased role specialization in all fields of human inquiry and put our faith (more or less blindly) in credential-granting institutions and hierarchies. We increasingly believe that if we are to be taken seriously we must acquire (a proliferating array of) 'professional' credentials, and pursue status in 'the professions', often at the cost of neglecting the pursuit of 'truth'.

In every field of human endeavor we seem to see increasing professionalism - even in those fields where this development is particularly suspect. For example, we expect our elected officials to be 'professional' politicians, in contrast to valuing increased democratic participation of the citizenry at large, despite the fact that this often puts us at the mercy of 'experts' and despots. Last night I heard a TV commentator suggest that in our justice system juries should be replaced by judges, as judges are 'professionals' who would better 'understand' the 'scientific evidence'. This is truly dangerous stuff.

Because there is such a strong bias in favor of professionalism, because it is so obviously and indisputably good in our society, we may feel hard-pressed to conceive of its alternative. What might we suggest in lieu of 'professionals'? Surely not 'amateurs' (as suggested by the terms in which the Huffman/Frager debate was cast), a word that evokes a peculiar and unacceptable image of science as a 'pastime', and the scientist as dilettante.

Contrasting professionalism with 'amateurism' merely stacks the deck in favor of the 'professional', as far as I am concerned. It is my contention that what we should be comparing the 'professional' scientist to is not the amateur,but the real scientist! And, as a matter of fact, this is basically what Thomas Kuhn did do, quite some time ago, in his seminal work in the field of philosophy of science - he distinguished between 'normal' science and 'revolutionary' science. Let me briefly explain this distinction. Part of what it is to be a 'professional' is to 'profess, declare, or avow an opinion, belief or practice' (according to my dictionary). It involves a 'declaration of belief in and obedience to' a particular paradigm and its associated matrix of theories and practices. And declarations of belief in prevailing paradigms and obedience to the specific rules established within such paradigms can be anathema to the search for truth.

The normal scientist (who might also be called the 'professional scientist') works within a given paradigm, according to the rules of that paradigm - whereas the revolutionary scientist struggles to work with competing paradigms (and hence often with ambiguity and paradox), facilitating shifts from one paradigm to another. The revolutionary scientist, in order to do her job, must be able to step out of the current paradigm - no easy task. Because it is so very difficult for someone who is immersed in a paradigm to transcend it, as Kuhn and many others who have followed him have pointed out, revolutionary scientists are usually outsiders . They are not the 'normal' scientists, who have established themselves so deeply in the prevailing paradigm that they have difficulty identifying and challenging the tacit assumptions associated with that framework. The outsider, precisely because she is not wed to the prevailing paradigm, is not limited to 'professing' the theories that that paradigm judges to be 'valid' and 'relevant'.

Compare this to what Dr. Frager asserts. According to him, there are

...only two differences between amateurs and professionals. One is that professionals have received considerable, systematic training [sic] in the theories and techniques they use. Relevant theories and techniques are not likely to be left out of their education'. [emphasis mine]

But, we should ask, 'relevant to whom?' Theories are paradigm-specific entities; theories relevant in one paradigm are irrelevant in another. For instance - what appeared 'relevant' to Einstein were treated as 'anomalous' facts, totally irrelevant, to propents of the prevailing paradigm of the day. So when Dr. Frager announces that there is only one set of 'relevant' theories which everyone should learn, he is tacitly coming down on the side of the 'normal' scientist, who (by definition) is more concerned about 'professing' the views of a particular paradigm than facilitating shifts in paradigm (ie, 'scientific discovery'). The 'revolutionary' scientist, who is almost always a paradigm outlaw, is more likely to balk at the word 'relevant' employed in this way, as this very word is often used in the attempt to discredit his or her best work. [To see how this happens you have only to look at recent biographies of the pioneers in 'chaos science' - many of whom had trouble in acquiring credentials in their 'professions', as a result of their pursuit of what was seen as 'irrelevant' interests by 'the professionals', even while they were making their most significant scientific discoveries!]

Frager continues:

An amateur may learn as much or even more in any given area, but that learning and training is not likely to be as systematic.

Thank god, the revolutionary scientist might say. Thank god the outsider notices the anomalies, the inconsistencies in what generally passes for 'systematic' training in a field, as it is out of these anomalies that new paradigms will emerge and human understanding will develop - This is how real science works.

'The other difference [between amateur and professional]', says Frager, that professionals are taught to be highly self-critical. The hallmark of a real scientist is to doubt one's own most cherished ideas and theories.

But if Kuhn is to believed, it is mainly the revolutionary scientist, the outsider, who characteristically demonstrates this capacity for self-criticism. The 'normal' scientist, our 'professional', characteristically does not. For the epitome of self-criticism is the capacity to shift paradigms, to uncover deeply rooted paradigmatic assumptions, to question the 'relevancy' of seemingly relevant facts, and notice the significance of seemingly 'irrelevant' facts. And this capacity is the hallmark not of the normal scientist, but of the revolutionary scientist.

It may be the case that all scientists, whether 'normal' or 'revolutionary' types, are critical (for, after all, they are mainly 'thinking' types - predominantly 'NTs'). But most direct their criticism to others (and characteristically put themselves in the position of defending, not criticizing, the 'professions' to which they have gained admittance at great personal expense).

Let us take Dr. Frager's article itself as an example. I am sure that he would agree that it is not an exercise in self-criticism; his main interest appears to be in defending his own (cherished, I would assume) beliefs and exercising his critical skills not on himself but on Huffman. It is clearly not in the spirit of inquiry, but debate, that Frager is writing. Indeed, he asks not one question in his entire article. I am not disparaging debate; it has its place. But compare this to Huffman's article, in which a number of questions are asked - and they are not merely rhetorical questions; they appear to me to be genuine questions, emerging out of an urge to articulate sometimes vaguely-felt concerns and confusions. Some even appear to me to be rather deep questions, ones that I would characterize as 'scientific' - although admittedly no one individual can be the final judge of what is a good question and what is not. Would it not have behooved Dr. Frager to have considered real answers to Huffman's questions? It is the (sometimes seemingly naive) questions of the outsiders that reveal the anomalies out of which new, not-yet-formed, theories and paradigms emerge, if one doesn't let cherished beliefs get in the way.

But Dr. Frager appears (in this article at least) not to be interested in this type of dialogue. In fact, he tells us so when he states right up front that his purpose in writing is 'to correct a number of factual errors and misunderstandings' of Huffman's. Does this indicate an intention on Dr. Frager's part to 'profess' as opposed to 'inquire'? And although the language in which he has chosen to describe his task (a language of 'facts' and 'errors') may sound quite scientific, after reading his article a number of times I am at a loss to identify even ONE of the so-called 'facts' that Huffman is 'mistaken' about. It may be difficult to avoid using the vocabulary of 'science' in the manner in which Frager does; but when we do we run the risk of entering the realms of pseudo-science. The mere use of words like 'fact' does not make it real science, let alone 'revolutionary' science.

One further question: Are we limited to describing enneagram work as a 'scientific' endeavor?

Many practitioners in the area of psychology (including some giants in the field - Freud and Jung amongst them) desperately sought to have their work confirmed as 'science', which implied (and continues to do so) a 'rational-empirical' approach. Jung, for instance, seemed to want to be considered an 'empiricist' (and sought to avoid the label of 'mystic'). But at what cost?

And what, indeed, is the price that we pay for conceiving of enneagram studies as primarily a matter of 'science', to be conducted first and foremost by scientists, according to the prevailing (rational-empirical) model of science? Well, at one level, the answer is obvious: matters that the empiricist finds it most difficult to deal with (such as spirituality) will tend to be ignored or undervalued. While, for instance, we may become progressively more absorbed in the finer details of 'consistency in typing individuals' (as this is something that 'scientific' psychology appears to be suited to address), we are likely to steer away from discussions of the 'spiritual' uses of enneagram studies (as science typically avoids what it construes as 'metaphysical' concerns) and downplays the use of the enneagram as a means for developing compassion between individuals.

One has only to look at what happened, as a matter of historical record, when the MBTI replaced the original Jungian typology. Whereas Jung (and the Jungians) describe one type (the 'introverted intuitive') primarily in terms that make it clear that this type is most at home with mystical experience (Jungians characteristically use Boehme and other mystics as typical of that type), the MBTI fails to mention, let alone highlight, this connection. Apparently 'mysticism' is not a legitimate endeavor, at least in the organizational context in which the MBTI is characteristically utilized. Might the 'introverted intuitive' argue that the MBTI has thrown the baby out with the bathwater? Is the Enneagram in for a similar 'dumbing-down' at the hands of science, with its empiricist bias?

In contrast to emphasizing 'consistency and uniformity in typing', could one envision someone arguing that the most important effect the enneagram (or any system of typology) has is in heightening our capacity for self understanding and for empathy with individuals of a different persuasion? From this perspective, the important thing may be the struggle that we actually go through in attempting to perceive things from radically different perspectives, for it is this struggle that builds our 'empathic muscles'. Let me try to make an analogy - Jung somewhere said that each time a therapist took on a new client, she (the therapist) was better off dropping theoretical assumptions and building a totally new theory around the individual, in his/her uniqueness. From this perspective, would it really matter if every individual that uses the enneagram arrived at an understanding of it that was peculiar and unique to that individual?

Does it really matter if individuals see radically different things in the enneagram, and use it for different applications? Sometimes novels and/or poetry or other forms of art are judged by the degree to which they continue to generate new interpretations and insights. Why not ask for as much in a theory of personality? Perhaps personality theory (and maybe even psychology) is, in the final analysis, actually more akin to 'art' than 'science'. Ancient wisdom is often cast in ambiguous terms that defy easy analysis, and resist consistent and uniform explanation, forcing us to go deeper and deeper - this is part of the charm, the beauty, the wisdom of such systems. Why settle for the linear and easily understood where one can have such richness and dimensionality, complexity and depth?


1. This paper first appeared in the Enneagram Monthly in November of 1995
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