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...


  • Finally found the time to post eh? :)'ve articulated it so delicately. You're absolutely right in your classification. There are the we-do-what-we-want-bcoz-we-have-the-money-and-we're-free-to-do-so,-others-go-to-hell kind of people, then there are the kind of people who think the guys in the first category are taking everybody headlong into disaster and so sacrifice their own happiness to try and rescue everybody, and finally, the people straddling the fence, the reluctant sacrificers who realize the situation, and yet don't know what to do. The first category of people doesn't realize that although they're technically correct in being free to do as they wish, some things come with a larger moral responsibility. I've observed this at a micro-level..but it seems to apply equally well to things like nations!

    Your game describes things rather accurately. If we're to increase our corpus of knowledge and resources, we're ALL gonna need to choose black. Even if ONE fellow decides to RG and picks red, we're screwed. Enough examples abound...the Kyoto Protocol? It all boils down to good faith...and there simply isn't enough of it.

    By Blogger ansari, at 1:38 PM  

  • The Game-"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."
    Don't know if the game specifications( the numbers) were randomly chosen or had some kind of significance, but to me it seems that there is another possible interpretation of the choices players make:

    The person who picks black: Believes that the game is to be played as a group, "that everybody plays so that the group as a whole benefits", and plays according to this belief. I am myself a bit unclear abott the part in quotes, since in this particular case the max. group benefit also results in max. individual benefit for ALL the players. The case in which some ppl in the group suffer(may or may not include this particular individual) but the total benefit is more than total loss, would be interesting to consider.

    The person who picks red: Plays as an individual, with benefit being considered relative to outcomes for other group members, who are now considered competitors by this player. Does not necessarily need to gamble on the fact that someone will pick black, but works with the knowledge that nobody else can do better than him whatever they try. In each round, either earns more points than competitors, or maintains status quo. In short, is satisfied with doing better than the competition.

    The person who figures out that it is easier to pick red when someone else picks black and so is in a dilemma:
    Understands that if everybody co-operated and picked black, all of them would get max benefit. At the same time, realises that not everyone is playing for the group and so some might pick red. However, since all of them make choices without explicit knowledge of the other's choice, does not know exactly how many players are playing for themselves and how many are playing for the group. Hence is in a dilemma.

    How this will map to real people is open to interpretation. Will comment about that later. However, it is clear that this is not equivalent to your interpretation of real people.

    By Blogger Suyash, at 5:15 AM  

  • You're right that a person playing a game may behave differently in real life. But an analogy, as always, is only as good as it is.
    The point I'm trying to make is that even in real life, there are three kinds of individuals....take the case of the united states, india and the indian people. Without offence to any US lovers... The US is known to waste..and waste in large amounts...they have a lot of resources and they can afford to spend it...even though they could help the world by burning less fossil fuels. The Indian mentality, on the other hand, is to conserve. Even on a national level, per capita consumption of petrol is much may attribute it to poverty...but even so. People prefer to save. People are still not open with using Credit cards...unlike in the US, where credit spending is probably the principal means of making payments (my guess...but probably correct).
    Here the rule is basically, you cannot and should not spend what you don't own. India as a whole tries to stick to it, the USA does not.
    Consider now the dilemma of an individual Indian. Increasingly, one begins to feel..."well why not...US citizens can spend what they don't own and be more comfortable than us....why can't we..."
    The reasons could be many...fear of debt, or whatever. It needs to be studied.
    This isin't a very clear explanation. Perhaps in my next post.... :)


    By Blogger Parijat, at 7:35 AM  

  • My point was not that a person playing a game may behave differently in real life. In fact, I do not object to the idea that the strategy chosen by a person in a game may reflect that individual's "default" behaviour etc. I was only trying to say that the particular choices made by people might be due to reasons different from those outlined in your post and so tried explaining an alternative in my comment. Your idea about there being three kinds of people might be true, but in my opinion their nature is as I have explained in the comment. Interesting game though- did you cook it up or did you happen to find it somewhere?

    By Blogger Suyash, at 1:54 AM  

  • long comments for long blogs, parts mein likh kar yaar, itna saara padhne mein aalas aata hai. btw another good one :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:45 AM  

  • Thanks Rajat ;)

    By Blogger Parijat, at 6:04 AM  

  • :)) :P

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:44 AM  

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