It won't do, I said the other day, to go on looking at the reactionaries, the racists and racially insensitive people who keep turning up in the Reagan administration as occasional bad apples. It's time, I said, to pay some attention to the man in charge of the barrel.

To which a reader responds: "All those apples didn't get into the same barrel by accident. They didn't get into it as a result of conscious selection either. Apples just naturally gravitate into the barrel in which they are comfortable with the other apples."

With that important insight, it may be worth a minute or two to look at some of those apples.

The most numerous variety in the Reagan barrel (a variety that includes Reagan himself) is the Simply Insensitive. These apples are distinguished not by sour-spiritedness but by their inability to understand group sensitivities. They can respond with genuine charity to the plight of an invididual but cannot understand the group reaction to a symbol such as Bitburg or a code phrase like "states' rights" or "law and order."

While, as individuals, they may have been on the losing side of some issue or political battle, or castigated for their political views, most of them have never been members of a victimized group, and they tend not to understand the difference.

A close cousin of the Simply Insensitive is the Pomme Politique. This strain may itself be free of bigotry or any feeling of racial supremacy, but still will quite deliberately say the word or make the gesture that encourages those who do harbor such feelings. PPs behave this way not because they are, for instance, anti- black, but because they view blacks as politically unavailable and therefore expendable.

Two other look-alikes are the Counter-Revolutionary apple, identified by its deep-dyed belief that the civil rights and social reforms of the '60s and '70s constituted a wrongheaded revolution and its almost religious commitment to undoing the damage, and the Pomo Filosofico, whose distinguishing feature is a tendency to philosophize about rules while remaining indifferent to results.

When pressed, the PF will claim to prefer good results (racial integration of the work force, for instance) to bad ones, but given a choice between fair rules and fair outcomes, it will go for the rules every time. If a rule that is crafted to sound race-or sex-neutral nevertheless produces results that favor white males, the result may be deemed unfortunate, but the rule must not be changed.

Even expert apple-sorters sometimes have trouble distinguishing between the Counter- Revolutionary and the Pomo Filosofico, as in the case of the deputy attorney general for civil rights. Is his push to reopen settled affirmative action and school desegregation cases an attempt to turn back the clock (the mark of a Counter-Revolutionary) or an instance of the "let's have fair rules and the hell with the results" attitude (of the Pomo Filosofico)?

And finally there is the Hard-Core Racist apple, whose anti-black bias is purposefully pursued and (often) baldly articulated. Unlike the CRs or PFs, who say they don't like the way things have happened, the HCRs make it plain that they don't like what has happened, and they will support any approach that promises to undo it.

One last word: if you really want to know your apples, you have to examine them one at a time. When they're all in the same barrel, it's awfully hard to tell them apart.