Cartoons and Robots: A Taxonomy of People

On Sunday, March 04, 2007, my cousin wrote the following:

Beep Beep, i turned into a robot.

Now, she didn’t know it at the time, but in doing so, she was providing some incontrovertible evidence in favor of my taxonomy of people. Sure there are a lot of classifications floating around there. We’ve all heard them: there are two kinds of people: those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don’t, for example. Then there are more comprehensive groupings. If you haven’t already, try your hand at the Meyer-Briggs-Keirsey-Jung temperament sorter—I’m an INTP, by the way—and the Which Superhero are You? quiz of MySpace fame—I’m 80% Spiderman. These extravagent typologies, for all their benefits, still require tests. There has got to be an easier way.

And so there is! In college I came up with a relatively simple though telling taxonomy of people while sitting in the dining hall. It’s nice for a few reasons: there are no tests; the results are 100% accurate; and the system is easy to learn—there are no fancy, technical definitions. In fact, there are no definitions at all. Just two primitive labels. (In modern geometry, the terms point and line are often left undefined. So at least there’s some sort of precedent for this sort of system.)

So what is my system, anyway? Well, to start off, I don’t claim that any description of a person is complete. Instead, I deal with approximate descriptors. In my system there are two, undefined building blocks: robots and cartoons.

The Robot/Cartoon Taxonomy of People
Level 0Robot Cartoon
Level 1Robot pretending to be a CartoonRobot pretending to be a RobotCartoon pretending to be a Cartoon Cartoon pretending to be a Robot
Level n Robot (prentending to be a {Robot or Cartoon})n Cartoon (pretending to be a {Robot or Cartoon})n

[Note: I wish I had made one of those tree diagrams, like the ones that are used in dichotomous keys. Here’s an example of the type of tree I mean.]

But that’s just the beginning. As there’s often more than meets the eye, we can have higher-order descriptors that give a more honest approximation to a person’s true character. There are six first-order personalities. We’ve already met two: the robots and the cartoons—those people who truly are pure robots or pure cartoons. A lot of people fit this description, but then there are lots of others who are hybrids. These folks might be: robots pretending to be (PTB) cartoons and cartoons pretending to be robots. For completeness’ sake, I should mention the ever abstruse robots pretending to be robots and cartoons pretending to be cartoons. These folks typically are self-aware. They’ve thought about how robots (cartoons) ideally should act, and they try to live their lives that way. Haven’t you ever met someone who was a caricature of himself? Maybe you’ve met a cartoon pretending to be a cartoon.

The great thing about this scheme is that it scales gracefully. Therefore resolution of your analysis is limited only by your level of neuroticism and time. You can take this system as far as you want: run with it. I can’t distinguish traits beyond two levels, myself. Please let me know if you ever meet someone who is unmistakably a cartoon pretending to be a cartoon pretending to be a robot pretending to be a cartoon pretending to be a robot.

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