There Are Two Kinds Of People…

How many conversations have you had during which someone (maybe you) opined that “there are two kinds of people…” and followed  that up with one of the roughly zillion ways that we “slice and dice” our fellow humans?

People who are open versus those who are closed. People who are honest versus those who aren’t. People who live in fear versus those who embrace change. People who are bat-shit crazy versus people who live in the admittedly-messy real world…

The New York Times recently ran a guest essay that made me think of another example: People who genuinely care about others–including their own children and grandchildren–and those who don’t.

The subject of the essay was something called “Longtermism”–a term I find somewhat off-putting. It began with a thought experiment, asking readers to imagine living the life of every human being who has ever existed — in order of birth. The experiment then went further:

But now imagine that you live all future lives, too. Your life, we hope, would be just beginning. Even if humanity lasts only as long as the typical mammal species (about one million years), and even if the world population falls to a tenth of its current size, 99.5 percent of your life would still be ahead of you. On the scale of a typical human life, you in the present would be just a few months old. The future is big.

I offer this thought experiment because morality, at its core, is about putting ourselves in others’ shoes and treating their interests as we do our own. When we do this at the full scale of human history, the future — where almost everyone lives and where almost all potential for joy and misery lies — comes to the fore.

If you knew you were going to live all these future lives, what would you hope we do in the present? How much carbon dioxide would you want us to emit into the atmosphere? How careful would you want us to be with new technologies that could destroy, or permanently derail, your future? How much attention would you want us to give to the impact of today’s actions on the long term?

These are some of the questions that motivate longtermism: the idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.

As I was reading this, it seemed like a very long introduction to a very important–and very obvious–observation: what we do in the present will affect untold numbers of future people, so we need to act wisely.

We can make the lives of those who will come after us better–or much worse.  Given that reality, it is important to think about the long-term impact of our actions.

As the author notes, most of us tend to neglect the future in favor of the present, with the result that future people are effectively disenfranchised. “They can’t vote or lobby or run for public office, so politicians have scant incentive to think about them. They can’t tweet, or write articles, or march in the streets. They are the true silent majority.”

Yes–but not entirely.

Perhaps it is understandable that people who never had children would dismiss the effect of their actions on that future “silent majority” (although I know a lot of childless people who care passionately about future generations). But those of us who have children and grandchildren have an obvious and important stake in the future. 

A number of the people who comment on this blog are–like its author–elderly. Most of us–granted, not all– are financially comfortable. The bad decisions being made by today’s courts and legislatures, the potential loss of democracy as a result of the significant number of Americans who live in Never-Never land, the existential threat posed by climate change–these things really don’t–and won’t–directly affect us.

But we care about them. A lot.

We care because we care about our progeny, and the progeny of our friends and neighbors. I suppose that makes us “longtermers.” Actually, I think it makes us humans.

I’m not sure what to call all the people who clearly don’t care about others–the people who didn’t care about their neighbors enough to wear a mask during a pandemic, and don’t care enough about future generations to divest of fossil fuels. The author tells us that “there is remarkable overlap between the best ways we can promote the common good for people living right now and for our posterity.” I agree.

Unfortunately, however, there are two kinds of people: those who care about the common good, and those who  clearly don’t.


  1. I think of the word selfish and what it entails. However, I think it goes much deeper than that because we aren’t just the single, “I” are we?

    We are the identity we create to live in this world, but we are more than that. We have consciousness of this identity, so where does that come from, and where does it go when we pass?

    As Einstein pointed out, we are both a singular living being and a consciousness connected to all other beings and this planet.

    People who are “woke” know this about themselves and can expand upon it. When you do, you know that every decision made in the present (because that’s all that exists) is connected to everything.

    That’s it.

  2. If only it were as simple as just “two kinds of people”. Alas, there are shades of caring found in each of us as well as differences in the objects we each care about. And for most there is the desire to see everyone else care about the same things we do and at the same intensity. Humanity doesn’t work that way, but there are things we each can do to increase the amount of caring that goes on in our lives and around us.
    We can make more of an effort in our own endeavors by doing more giving and taking less. It’s called sharing.
    We can look hard at our own lives and differentiate between what is our needs vs. what is our wants. If you purchase more wants than needs, you are on the wrong track.
    And we can praise / complement /acknowledge the efforts of other to encourage them in their efforts.
    It’s the little things.

  3. Truth or consequences. What goes round … comes round. And what comes round defines you.

  4. After reading today Sheila it brought to mind Amir Sulaiman and “Enoch’s Prayer”

    You will be someone’s ancestor. Act accordingly.

    For our children, for our children’s children, for those weapons that will inevitably be formed against them, that your granddaughter can whisper through gritted teeth, I am the granddaughter of so and so, so I cannot fail.

    You will be someone’s ancestor. Act accordingly.

  5. Great, positive subject today (for a breather) – brings up many phrases…monkey see/monkey do…teach your children well…you must be carefully taught…

    Modeling is such a powerful human tool…think about how many of us call up the “thumbs down” by John McCain…

    I weep inside when I see my grandkids’ parents face down on their phones during mealtime.

  6. At age 85, I can only think in terms of “Longtermism” as I have no guarantee I will be here to see who is elected president in 2024. Looking back at my ancestors, primarily Republicans and all that term entails TODAY, we don’t even have a guarantee that the meaning of either Republican or Democrat will remain in the future. Those parties have already traded places since the end of the Civil War, a vital issue staunch Republicans seem to be unaware of. Caring for “self” over the welfare of all others became the goal of Republicans at a destructive degree since Trump’s intervention with his “deconstruction” of our government by doing away with democracy, Rule of Law and refuting the Constitution of the United States as we knew it. Ayn Rand’s book “The Virtue Of Selfishness” made one good reference to what may appear to be selfish when she used the example of traveling with your children on a plane and for whatever reason, the oxygen masks were required. She stated putting on your own mask first would enable you to be strong enough to place the masks on your child. This stealing the very oxygen of all by ignoring Climate Change and Global Warming for profit for the 1-2% who control the wealth in this country. Follow the money!

    “We care because we care about our progeny, and the progeny of our friends and neighbors. I suppose that makes us “longtermers.” Actually, I think it makes us humans.”

    The lack of humanity being the strength of today’s Republican party is why President Biden, during his presidential campaign and scheduled to speak tonight, he refers to our “Fight for the soul of America”. The Republicans and their followers blatant lack of humanity (soul} regarding all others on a life-and-death level as we haven’t witnessed as Americans until they latched onto Trump’s unleashing of violence as a right. We are either human or we are not.

  7. In most cases, we refer to other species of life as their collective selves. Dogs, celery, birds, fish. But how hard is it to think of humans collectively? It’s true that we are each the sole occupants of our skin, and sense everything around us through our senses and compare it to only our memories but we have this ego thing that would like to ignore the bigger picture; that we only exist as one of our species. We truly are unable to survive by what’s inside our skin.

    Let’s start acting like what we are and drop the fantasy of ego. Let’s act like we are human history, the human present, and the human future, and live only on earth.

  8. In 1971 I discovered that there really are only two categories of people in the world: People-People and Anti-People-People. Those Teo categories cut across all others. You can find them clearly within every other category.

  9. I guess I’m “longtermer” as well, maybe of a weird sort. In my view, Stephen Hawking’s prediction, that humanity
    will not live past the end of this century, is probably accurate. Still, I engage in recycling and care about other
    people, other species, as well.
    JoAnn tells us that she is 85, while I will be 80 later this month, survived a VERY close brush with death only 5
    months ago (massive heart attack), but the tag-line on my e-mails is “I am because we are.” This is the
    meaning of a Bantu phrase about the irreducible connection of all humans, if not of all life. In my view, again,
    it is the latter.
    This is, as pointed out above, a major difference, it certainly seems, between “longtermers” and those focused
    only on the next quarterly report, at most. Trump, being the Malignant Narcissist that he is, and those in his thrall,
    are focused only on their moment to moment selves, and are willing to throw overboard anyone, or anything, in their way.

  10. I didn’t or couldn’t breed, as much as I tried, and my poor health and financial disposition kept me childless. I don’t have any step children to care for either but I still care deeply about the future of my fellow citizens of this planet. I cannot understand how anybody could NOT care! Who are those empty evil people? I’m glad I don’t believe in an after life because I don’t want to be anywhere near those people. Good thing I live in the country because I have no patience for people that don’t get it.

  11. I would extend this concept out to all aspects of creation — it’s all an interconnected web.

    According to Chief Seattle “Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
    This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. ”

    Even if we think “to hell with my neighbor” it really doesn’t work that way because in the end “Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” If only people understood that. Also Jesus said “Whatsoever do you do unto the least of my brethern, you do unto me.

  12. Longtermism vs. Indianapolis’ parking meter deal — we got and spent the money; now we are stuck with a terrible deal for decades.

    Sorry, but I can’t help but add a joke amongst math and computer people.
    “There are 10 kinds of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who don’t”

    For the rest of you – “10” is the binary representation of two. Sorry, but I admit to enjoying the moment of confusion I felt when I first saw that.

    Beyond all of that, I think Peggy has it right.

  13. There is a way to abort the parking meter deal. First, the City-County Council reduces parking fees to 25 cents per day, but demands stepped-up enforcement by Dennison Parking (the REAL villains in the parking debacle). Second, parking fines are abolished. Third, the city rides herd on Dennison while it bleeds money. When Dennison cries “Uncle!” the City buys BACK the parking meters for a song. For good measure, the City places a special tax on ALL Dennison lots and garages, particularly those they have bought with OUR money extorted from us via the meter program. Then, the meter program is re-instated with ALL money going to the City. Dennison gets a free trip to Bankruptcy Court. THAT is how you stick it to the local parking monopoly.

  14. Note to Robin Hood – Denison Parking sets the meter rates, and I believe also the fines. Also, the contract can only be broken if Denison stops running the meter program. It was a sweetheart deal for Denison from day one.

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