A Two-Zone World

Thought experiments are interesting. They allow the indulger to build scenarios seemingly bearing little or no relevance to reality, while paradoxically capturing reality perceptively.

Imagine a world carved up into two zones. Let’s call zone 1, Cleverland and zone 2, Foolishland. The initial state is characterised by perfect division.

The residents of Cleverland are all advanced in education levels and indulge in furious enterprise. Genuine humility from this group is a trifle far-fetched and on average, every Cleverland resident tends to assume (s)he is the all-knowing one. And as CleverMan/Woman enthrones him/herself, it follows that everyone else is inferior to the Enthroned. Supposition of wisdom precludes any effort at self-critical introspection. Being overly aware, they assume they are the only ones existing in this vast universe.

On the other hand, inhabitants of Foolishland whoop it up in foolishness. A zone overflowing with simpletons, they take immense pride in their remarkable idio(syncra)cy and resist any approach that tampers with their ignorance. Education levels are universally low and their world-view is what could be termed, rather limited. Generally, no resident of Foolishland is wise enough to pass oblique judgments on their fellow zone-folk. No one is superior (or inferior) to anyone else. Being overly ignorant, they assume they are the only ones existing in this vast universe…

As time wears on, certain patterns emerge from the two zones. Cleverland is a cauldron of fiercely competent individuals who take the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest to the extreme. Fraudulence develops into a stylish appendage to enterprise and happiness comes to be viewed as a zero-sum game. Altruism in social gatherings is a fashionable indulgence and so is a professed appreciation of art and other such exotic pursuits. Invisible veils camouflage a Frankenstein-ian alter ego but paradoxically, Cleverland folk are strongly opposed to visible veils.

Foolishland, as might be expected, is not a conducive environment for profitable business. Being foolish, B is fooled by A, C is fooled by B…and so on the group is stuck in a permanent get-fooled-by-the-next man loop. It is interesting to note the parallel with Cleverland. Cleverland inhabitants are likewise stuck in a perpetual fool-the-next man loop (only here, A fools B, B fools C and so on). Somehow, fool-thy-neighbour sounds less repulsive in Foolishland.

Deceit is virtually non-existent in Foolishland. Being intellectual still-borns, Foolishfolk have scant appreciation of art and other pursuits that please the higher senses. Social gatherings are an interesting affair. Due to the absence of spurious altruism and other such wondrous emotions, they speak what they think, sometimes leading to awkward situations as a result. However, Foolishfolk are secure in the knowledge that no one is a phony and their forthrightness becomes a source of cheery humour. Uncomfortable situations are very much a part of Cleverland social gatherings too. However, these are almost always caused by the uneasy knowledge of fakery. Insecurity runs high as a result of distrust, derived from the existence of veiled niceties. Somehow, foot-in-the-mouth moments seem less repulsive in Foolishland.

At some point, there’s an intermingling of the zones. The Clever who saunter into Foolishland cannot believe their good fortune. Ill conversant in the advanced methods of survival so finely polished by the Clever, Foolishfolk find themselves done in rather easily by the Clever. The Foolish – who generally don’t lie – gradually learn the fine art of deception after suffering at the hands of the Clever. The slow learners become perennial sufferers and some never learn at all. The latter group, which dwindles over time, owes its gradual extinction to the natural process of death rather than to conversion.

The Clever quickly become Socrates-like figures in social gatherings; the proverbial one-eyed King leading a kingdom of the blind. Foolishfolk advance a little along the intellectual scale but most stay around their natural rate of foolishness. Rather than growing Clever, they learn ways to survive without too many mishaps. While the Clever learn little from the Foolish, the latter learn a lot many things…of the dubious variety, from the former.

What should the majority Foolish do in such a situation?

Foolishfolk that end up in Cleverland, swiftly run into trouble of various sorts. Apart from being undone by the superior intellect of the Clever in business dealings, they encounter ridicule in social gatherings. They gradually learn that there is no market for qualities like authenticity and straight-forward mannerisms. Unable to grow an invisible veil, they become social recluses, preferring the company of fools to the company of intellectuals. They, however, learn the fine art of deceit and somewhat improve at projecting an interest in art…but don’t get very far. The Clever need a certain level of genuine fakery to make the cut. The Fools flunk badly…

What should the minority Foolish do in such a situation?

Indeed, who is the ‘Clever’ and who, the ‘Foolish’?

Would you rather inhabit Cleverland or Foolishland?

Endnote: Nothing is ever binary. Shades of grey abound everywhere…the author is aware of the apparent frivolousness of the above thought experiment.

And probably the apparentness is real…for it resembles the world around us, dominated by the ‘Clever’ with an occasional sprinkling of the ‘Foolish’.