The Case for Non-Conformism
P.S. *You Will Not Stampede Me* now on Kindle
This week, I published You Will Not Stampede Me: Essays on Non-Conformism (now on Kindle as well as paperback). But let’s back up. Taken literally, the non-conformist slogan “Do whatever you think best” isn’t just foolish. It’s literally criminal. Just look at serial killers — they’re monsters, but very independent monsters.
In the ancestral environment, everyone knew everyone. Punishing non-conformists was therefore easy, leading humans to evolve a deep fear of being different.
In the modern environment, you are close to — though not completely — anonymous. Most of the people you encounter are barely aware you’re alive. And even if they notice you, their disapproval is ordinarily impotent.
While your personal acquaintances can still punish you for non-conformity, they rarely will. Why not? At least in part, because doing so is too weird! Upshot: Keeping your own counsel is shockingly safe in the modern world.
Condorcet notwithstanding, the majority is often deeply wrong about important matters. Even if the majority correctly understands what is true of the majority, it often fails to grasp what is true of you.
A large share of popular errors arise despite the lack of even halfway decent arguments. As a result, the heuristic of probing, “What exactly are the arguments for the popular view?” is powerful and revealing.
The majority is egregiously unreliable on topics where the personal costs of error are low, starting with politics and religion. Humans are emotional about almost everything. Unchecked by personal costs, however, emotionality runs rampant.
Although politics and religion try to enforce conformity, they’re usually too emotional to punish dissenters harshly enough to succeed. So if the powers that be make reasonable requests, comply. Otherwise, defy.
Don’t be a martyr to your own defiance. Civil disobedience should be Huemerian, not Kingian. Playing dumb is defiance in one of the cleverest forms.
Different beliefs and practices are popular in different subcultures. They can’t all be right, so identity must be overrated… at least on average. Even if your subculture is perfect, you should admire the non-conformists in the competing subcultures.
“Do the opposite of whatever is popular” is folly. “Strategically analyze the consequences of marginal deviations from whatever is popular” is wisdom.
Though I’ve always been a non-conformist, I’m a much better non-conformist than I once was. As a teen, I went out of my way to anger others with my non-conformity. Now I strive to make friends wherever I go. Which, per Mark Twain, is so weird that gratifies some people and astonishes the rest.