Sociological Taxonomy, or just plain Name-Calling?
Benjamin, the Donkey, in George Orwell’s, Animal Farm - When the animals were all excited about the revolution on the farm:
“Benjamin, .. seemed quite unchanged since the Rebellion. He did his work in the same slow obstinate way as he had done it in Jones’s time, never shirking and never volunteering for extra work either. About the Rebellion and its results he would express no opinion. When asked whether he was not happier now that Jones was gone, he would only say “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey,” and the others had to be content with this cryptic answer.” (37-38)
When Snowball and Napoleon were vying for leadership of the animals:
“Benjamin was the only animal who did not side with either faction. He refused to believe either that food would become more plentiful or that the windmill would save work. Windmill or no windmill, he said, life would go on as it had always gone on — that is, badly.” (55-56)
Later in the story after the revolution had been betrayed:
“…their life, so far as they knew, was as it had always been. They were generally hungry, they slept on straw, they drank from the pool, they laboured in the fields; in winter they were troubled by the cold, and in summer by the flies. Sometimes the older ones among them racked their dim memories and tried to determine whether in the early days of the Rebellion, when Jones’s expulsion was till recent, things had been better or worse than now. They could not remember. . . they had nothing to go on except Squealer’s lists of figures, which invariably demonstrated that everything was getting better and better. The animals found the problem insoluble; in any case, they had little time for speculating on such things now. Only old Benjamin professed to remember every detail of his long life and to know that things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse — hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life.” (119-120)
Good old Benjamin, the donkey in George Orwell’s classic social satire, Animal Farm, represents one class of people, the gentle cynic who is not much excited by those things that excite others. He is the type of person who has lived a long life, has seen too much to hope that things will change for the better, and does not jump on the latest bandwagon. Call his class the ‘donkey class’ and ask yourself, who among your acquaintances falls into this class? Working out an answer would be a useful exercise.
Some people are incurable classifiers; they’re inclined to divide people into classes; and some people are not. I try to avoid the temptation to classify people and refuse to join those are always ready to stereo-type people into derogatory. But this implies that would I list myself outside the class of those who put people into different classes; and this, in turn, implies a distinction between those who classify others into classes and those, including myself, who don’t. So, despite my intention to avoid classifying others, I have done exactly that.
Eric Hoffer, in his book, The True Believer, spends some time describing the personality type who is a “true believer” in a cause, whether religious, political, or any other ideology and life-style. It is interesting to note that Hoffer classifies people such as atheists and skeptics as embracing their own form of ‘true belief,’ and thus falling into the class of ‘true believers.’ Presumably, he does not see himself as a true believer; he calls himself a gentle cynic and has some of the qualities of Benjamin, the donkey.
There are many old and contemporary ways of dividing people up into contrary classes.
Here I list a few.
Liberals, Progessives, and Political Conservatives
Democrats and Republicans
Rich and Poor
Religious and non-religious
God believers and non-believers
Europeans and Non-Europeans
Men and Women
Married and Single
Parents and Childless
City dweller and lovers of the country life
Dog lovers, and cat lovers
Lovers of pets and those who prefer to be without pets
Cowboys and Indians
Ranchers and Sheepmen
Motorists and Bicyclists
Those who love silence and sounds of nature
Those who cannot exist without electronic noise
Those who like coffee and those who prefer tea
Those who have money and those who don’t
Those who like fresh air and the windows open
Those who prefer to keep the windows closed
Those who like jazz and those who prefer the classics.
Those who love camping and those who cannot stand it
Those who like the sounds and activities of their neighbors
Those who are annoyed by the noise of their neighbors
Those who hear too much; those who don’t hear enough
Those who love spectator sports; those who consider them a waste of time
Now for some griping: Some people are angels; some are ‘jugheads’; and others are ‘jerks.’
Angels are the kind-hearted, optimistic type who find good in everyone and everything. They are people who don’t just talk about the Golden Rule, but live their live according to that principle as much as anyone is able to do that. (Believe it or not, there are such people among us.)
Jugheads are people who are rude, inconsiderate, nuisances because they don’t know any better. Consider a common jughead act that we often experience out there in the social world: the guy who plays his auto stereo at highest volume and has never thought of the effect the sounds have on others within fifty yards.
Jerks are people who are rude, inconsiderate, nuisances because they don’t give a damn. Consider a common jerk act that we often experience out there in the social world: the guy who plays his auto stereo at highest volume, knows it bothers others within fifty yards, but could not care less.
(These three classes do not exhaust the classes of human beings.)
Appearances are Deceiving or the Perils of Stereo-Typing:
(A few years ago an old friend told me this story, which I shall recount as he told it me: in the first person.)
My first meeting with the Department Chairman
Early in the 1970s I made first visit to the philosophy graduate program office at the University of California. This happened in late summer when I had an appointment with the Department Chairman, call him “Professor Morehead.” This was my first meeting with him. I told the secretary up front who I was and why I was there. She had me wait for a few minutes.
A skinny, raggedy, somewhat unkempt man was emptying out the trash cans at the secretary’s area in front of the faculty offices. I took him to be the janitor. Another person, well-dressed man, walked through the entry to an office. When the secretary told me that Morehead was ready to see me, I assumed that he was the stylish dresser and headed for the room that he had entered. As I started to pass by the chairman’s office, the raggedy, unkempt man stuck his head out the door and motioned me over there. “That other guy,” he told me, “was a graduate student taking a summer class,” before heartily shaking my hand and telling me with a smile, “I’m Morehead.” To my surprise, the “janitor” was Professor Morehead, Department Chair and Professor of Philosophy! He enjoyed a good laugh at my confusion.
Morehead was a great guy, very informal in attire, who later encouraged me with my dissertation project and helped me to achieve my dream, a graduate degree in philosophy!