Tuesday, September 03, 2002

It's an old joke: there are two types of people in the world -- those who divide everyone into two types, and those who don't.

There are many different choices as to what axis to divide the two types along. The one that has held the most meaning for me is the xenophile/xenophobe division, played with at length in Robert Anton Wilson's original Illuminati trilogy. While strict usage might keep these words to their root meanings of love of foreigners and fear of foreigners, he spread them to a wider sense.

In that usage, xenophiles enjoy the new and strange, and like change; while xenophobes fear change, and want the known and stable. Because it defines attitudes towards change rather than positions on particular, ever-shifting issues of the moment, this division seems more precise to me than one along the conservative/liberal line.

I'm largely in the xenophile camp. I have the work and hobby history of a dilettante, the kind of list of previous activities you used to see in the author notes on the back covers of book jackets. My favorite part of any project is the beginning, where there is plenty to learn. Endings -- well -- there is reward in seeing something completed.
It can be a challenge to work for that reward instead of the glitter of something new.

We live in a time of very rapid change, and in a time when few can avoid encounters with others who are different. A little xenophilia eases greeting the new.

Meanwhile, the xenophobes put on the brakes, and give us a chance to catch up. This, too, is useful.

So the best outcome requires a balance between fearing and encouraging change.

But xenophiles are more willing to appreciate those creating the other end of the balance.

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