Jules Romains in 1934 (Photo: Wikimedia)
through John Horvat
Classification of humans is largely prohibited these days. Many consider it discriminatory to pass judgment on a group of people. Pointing out bad traits can be hurtful, they say. It is best to leave things unspoken and see all of humanity as one big spoiled mass of beautiful immaculate snowflakes.
Yet there were former people who classified people. At the time, it was valued to make accolades, for it testified to judgment and insight into reality. These discussions, although negative, helped people understand and improve themselves. They enriched the culture with lively debates and stimulating conversations.
Wise observer of life
One who classified others was the French author Jules Romains (1885-1972). He was a member of the French Academy and a prolific writer of satire and novels. Although he was liberal in mind, he was a keen observer of life and people. In an essay showing his sharp intellect and expressiveness, he outlined three groups of people.
He believed that people could be classified according to the topics that normally occupy their minds. Such thoughts control their actions and orient their lives. By classifying people by thought types, he avoided judging their opinions, which could quickly degenerate into party-political debates.
Those who think of ideas
So his first division, superior to the others, consisted of those who usually think of ideas. These people can abstract from the concrete things and develop thoughts about the nature of things. People of ideas find solace in philosophy and theology that deal with the foundations of existence. They think of art and science that help others understand the universe and its meaning. These people are thinkers who think about things and discover patterns and theories. Although they are separate from concrete things, such thinkers develop useful ideas that can be put into practice and thus help the practical life to run more smoothly.
Rational explanation of faith
As a secular liberal, the famous author naturally disregards religious ideas, themes and doctrines. Religious ideas soaring to the heavens enable people to hold the highest rhetoric that attracts and orders souls. The rational explanation of faith represents the highest expression of this classification.
The nature of the events
The second group consists of people who usually think about events. These people are more focused on action and history. This category is less important than the first because it appeals less to the forces of the mind. Of course, an event is not just something that happens. Events are the things that affect public opinion. World War II was an event. Likewise, he would have seen the 9/11 attack on America as an event.
Thinking beyond self-interest
Political issues, such as debates and elections, are events. Events are important manifestations of cultural, economic or national achievements. They find their expression in history with achievements that inspire current action. Events motivate people to think beyond their own interest and promote the common good.
The French novelist did not speak of religious events – the highest kind of events – such as the incarnation of the Word and the redemption of mankind. The story revolves around them. Anyone who thinks about events can therefore have a positive impact on society. They enrich the culture with their discussion of these historical achievements.
Those who think about facts
The third category of people are those who usually think about facts. Facts differ from events by their insignificance. The small actions of eating, drinking and sleeping that occupy everyone’s time are not events, but facts. They have very little impact on society as a whole. Mediocre individuals are usually obsessed with the trivial facts of their small worlds. They talk about the weather, sports and minor incidents. Their conversations are bland and unappealing compared to those of ideas and events.
A fourth category
The well-known Catholic thinker, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliviera, has added a fourth main category in his commentary on Jules Romain’s three classifications. It is a prevalent mistake in these postmodern times. This fourth category consists of those who usually think only of themselves. These egotists see themselves as the center of the world. They find it difficult to be interested in others except as a means of self-exaltation. For example, with my aunt, the emphasis is on me, not on the relationship, even less on the aunt’s qualities. The person is obsessed with himself. Me, myself and I dominate the person’s mind.
Obsessed with what others think
The members of this group represent the triumph and delirium of mediocrity. Their superficiality and emptiness make their lives and those around them sour. They are boring and uninteresting. They quickly become narcissistic. They are constantly worrying about how each action will reflect on them in their self-centered world. Such people are obsessed with what they should wear and say and what others think of them. They always seek admiration and approval from those around them. They do not claim to be masters, but easily become slaves to fashion and public opinion.
The fourth category dominates
Tragically, this egocentric category is the most common classification today. Social media intervenes in this group of people by encouraging them to think for themselves. They are constantly pressured to present themselves in the best possible light on Facebook and other media, even if it distorts reality. Another contributing factor to the dominance of this classification is the accelerated pace of life. Those who embrace the rat race fail to think about the meaning of things and thus become preoccupied with ideas. Their feverish immensity causes them to ignore important events and even difficult facts.
Lose yourself in the anonymous crowd
Today’s society discourages splitting people because it will necessarily give a bad impression of the majority. Self-worshiping individuals hate distinctions that reveal their shortcomings. They prefer to immerse themselves in the anonymous crowd, free to pursue their mediocre desires in their small worlds. In fact, the dominance of the fourth category is so great that it allows for a different, simpler set of classifications: those who think only of themselves and those who do not.