Thinking out loud

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Three Kinds of Individuals

People have always thought of the world as being divided into two classes of individuals - the rich and the poor; the literate and the illiterate; the socialist and the capitalist; the good and the bad...

But perhaps, its our language that goads us to classify individuals into only two categories. However, if we look toward life, free from our prejudice towards "two" categories, we find that there are infact, not two but three kinds of individuals. And by individuals, I do not only mean one man or one woman. By individual, I also mean one group of school-boys; one company of a thousand people; one city of a million people or one country of a billion.

Every individual or organisation has a personality. For an individual, it may be inborn or acquired. For an organisation or a group, it is emergent. Individuals within a group may vary, but the organisation does behave as if it has a life of its own; and hence a personality of its own.

So, coming back to the question of the three categories. I cannot yet give names for these categories (like the 'haves' and 'have-nots'), for merely appending a negation to the name of one category does not serve our purpose (my reference to language as being a hinderance for classification).

Let me begin by describing the behaviour of individuals of each category. The picture will become clearer then.

Let us start with category 1, which we will call as such for want of a better name. An individual of this category is like a wisened old man. Atleast that's what he thinks he is. He smiles quietly at the follies of his fellow individuals. He does not get angry at the 'blundering' soul. He pities him. Ocassionally, he gently tries to set him on the 'right path'. He suffers so others may not have to. He suffers for he knows that if he refuses to suffer, the whole world would have to.

A simple game will explain this person completely. There is a group of ten people. In each round of the game, every person secretly chooses one of two colours - red or black. Once everybody has picked his colour, the colours are declared. If everyone picks black, everybody gets 5 points each. If everybody picks red, everybody loses 1 point. If, however, atleast one person picks black (but not all), all the people who chose red get 1 point while those who chose black neither gain nor lose anything.

Clearly, on a relative basis, a person choosing red has nothing to lose. He will either gain some points, or lose only as much as any other. But the red person is not the one we are discussing at the moment. It is the black one that we are interested in. With the obvious merit of choosing red, why would anyone choose black? It could be either because he is a visionary or a stupid fool. While the person himself usually considers himself the former, the reds typically see him as the other. We will see why.

From the black's point of view, if everybody made the 'obviously correct' choice, all would be lost. While nobody would be better or worse off than the other, the group as a while will sink lower and lower, The blacks feel that it is their responsibility to ensure that this does not happen.

This immediately brings us to the nature of the second category of people. Well, it is more or less the red people. These people believe that there will always be someone else who will pick black. They believe that there will always be some fool or coward, who would make the safer choice. Such people are very often right about the fact that someone will pick up the tab...someone will take on the responsibility of saving civilisation....

And now the third category of people. These are the people who will suffer and do good, but at the same time worry that the reds might be right about them being foolish. They worry that they suffer needlessly. They figure that it would indeed be easier to pick red, while someone else chooses black. It is a dillemma, and a difficult one at that. We see it everyday, in our daily lives. There are those who bend the rules and get away with it...indeed, reap great benefits out of it; while others who follow them get rewarded only to the extent that they follow them; there are still others who follow the rules but feel cheated.

We see this drama played out on national scales too. Consider three entities; India, the Indian people and the United States...