Notes on Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in the world: the ones that entertain and the ones that observe. —Britney Spears, “Circus”


There are two kinds of people: those that keep files and those that keep piles. There are two kinds of people: chaos muppets and order muppets. There are two kinds of people: the ones that divide the world into two kinds of people and the ones who don’t. 

“Two kinds of people” is a joke, a Socratic question, and a provocation. The joke promises a grand theory about something that turns out to be inconsequential, and invites people to sort themselves according to categories: introvert or extrovert, Taylor Swift or Kanye West, I-cut-my-sandwiches-in-rectangles or I-cut-my-sandwiches-in-triangles. The Socratic question isolates the variables of a given problem to reduce the noise of a complex world and provide a bird’s-eye view, the level of abstraction that is necessary to observe patterns and themes. Oversimplification can be a crucial dialectical tool, a provocation that invites a move back to the concrete or an application of the theory. Am I one of these two kinds of people? Are you one of these kinds of people? Are there two kinds of people?

Are there two kinds of people? Categorical thinking is a useful social tool. We divide the world into categories to make sense of it and to position ourselves and others within it. But the binary has its uses and its abuses. At its weightiest, “two kinds of people” is “us” and “them.” Man or woman, enlightened or ignorant, pure or impure. One of the reasons that binaries can be problematic, besides their rigidity, is that they can become naturalized, seemingly organic. Two Kinds of People includes examples of binaries used poorly and binaries used well—like any tool, a binary’s usefulness is in how you wield it. 

In “Beyond Representation: Trans Embodied Methodologies,” Ace Lehner theorizes trans embodiment: a movement not from one end of the gender binary to the other, but further into one’s own body. This transition privileges how a person feels over how others perceive them, resisting the colonialist visual regime that sorts people into categories based on who sees them and how. Trans artists like Travis Alabanza break this false visual logic with the haptic, insisting on inhabiting themselves.

At the Baltimore Museum of Art, guards have recently sorted the BMA collection into an exhibition of their own, Guarding the Art. While the museum has received positive media attention for this inclusive initiative, the guards themselves have been excluded from the bargaining rights they are seeking in a drive for a wall-to-wall union at the BMA. In “Art Workers,” Siân Evans interviews guards at the Baltimore Museum of Art about their experience working with upper management on this “performative” exhibition and management’s error (now happily rectified) in sorting art workers.

Danya Glabau’s essay “Mom Versus the Experts” traces the fight between moms and various kinds of baby experts: doctors, parenting groups, and Instagram sleep-training gurus. “Momming,” posited as a feminized relationship to power and work regardless of the mom’s gender, requires a caregiver to navigate conflicting advice from various expert sources. As moms bow under the ever-expanding rationalization and standardization of baby care, their experience as caregivers dismissed and diminished, they grow to mistrust all experts. As Glabau puts it: “No longer a sideshow to politics, the mom-expert relationship is a central political problem for our time.”

From fictions of the mind to fictions of the palate, Ben Wurgaft investigates the kinds of personal taste–with an emphasis on gastronomy–and how they type or fail to type us. In “There Are Two Kinds of People,” Wurgaft asks why we insist on categorizing what we know to exceed categories, with reference to The Magnetic Fields, jellied eels, and much else. When do we learn useful things from this practice and when does it become, after Adorno, a kind of “ticket thinking”?

No ticket thinking for poets–Jane Yeh writes this issue’s ekphrastic poem, a response to Claude Cahun’s Que me veux-tu? (1928), or What do you want from me?. Cahun’s photograph uses the technique of double exposure in service of one of her striking self-portraits. “Self-portrait as a Double Exposure,” Yeh’s poem, playfully adapts the formally rigorous exercise of Cahun’s photo, finding the cute and the campy hidden in its stark sensibilities. 

Steph Westendorf’s expertly crafted quiz “You’ve Got A Type” allows you to drill down to the “very essence of your being.” This highly scientific personality test succeeds where years of psychotherapy have failed; it tells you once and for all who in the hell you are. Are you an “A,” a “B,” or a fiction of the mind?

Two Kinds of People is deftly illustrated by Dorothy Siemens. Her dynamic, often playful images hint at both the utility and limitations of binary thinking.  

When we sort ourselves into categories, some earnest and some silly, we declare our allegiances. Identity categories facilitate alliances between like-minded people and make collective identities possible. They give us a sense of belonging. While it can be a practice of freedom to choose our own identities, those imposed on us can fit awkwardly, even painfully. The danger of the binary is in the hand that divides kin from kind.