Antogonizing the Dunces of the Confederacy


“To be great is to be misunderstood” . – Ralph Waldo Emerson


“When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: when all the dunces are in a confederacy against him”.  Jonathan Swift knew exactly what it was to be a contrarian, and he spoke without equivocation about it’s virtues, while emphasizing the importance of remaining true to yourself while under assault from the jeering and heckling mob. He also recognized this uniquely human characteristic  as pivotal to success and happiness.

So let’s explore contrarianism …

Common Misconceptions

Examples of contrarianism are abundant in varying degrees, more often than not conjuring up images of disgruntled, inflammatory, and angry young men; or old curmudgeons that are argumentative nihilists and mean-spirited provocateurs hell-bent on stirring up controversy.

Some see the contrarian as a less incendiary figure, more like traveling vagabonds, freethinking bohemians, or eccentric beatniks living on the far fringes of society.

The dictionary defines the contrarian as a rebel, demagogue, or renegade who takes an opposing view or stands apart from the majority.

Although these are typical definitions of the contrarian, they are far too simplistic.

What a Contrarian is not

Upon first glance, a person who is frequently against the majority might be considered a contrarian, however if this person was thoughtlessly reflexive, or knee-jerk in their oppositional thinking only to be perceived as different, what would you call them then? I would suggest they are followers of another orthodoxy, and just as light-minded as those who blindly adhere to common convention.

What about those who live an unconventional lifestyle in order to be considered non-conformists, rebels, or renegades? Leading a life outside the mainstream in order to draw the ire of that same population you abhor, or to simply attract attention to yourself, is self-deception, not contrarianism.

Then there are those who set their minds to “auto-respond”, thoughtlessly opposing everything and anything that is popular without reason or consideration. It rarely occurs to these simpletons that an idea’s unpopularity doesn’t automatically make it true anymore then its popularity makes in untrue.

What is a Contrarian

Contrarianism’s chief concern is not with what you think, but how you think. Its essence lies not in what you do , but what you are .

Contrarianism happens in the six inches between your ears before it happens at the end of your arm. It’s not your visible labor that makes you a contrarian, it’s your invisible labor. It’s what happens on the inside  -  It is your thought process, not your profession, occupation, or something you do or don’t do that identifies the contrarian.

Contrarianism’s primary concern is not with what you think, but who is doing the thinking?  If there was just one thing that contrarianism emphatically insists upon, it is that you use your own God given mind to form your own well reasoned independent opinions, and not simply rely on the thinking of others. Contrarianism demands that a opinion should be as a result of thought, not a substitute for it.

Other people are generous with their opinions and happy to lend them to you, and while taking them up on their offer is awfully tempting because it saves us the hard work of doing our own thinking, it is a slippery slope that should be traversed with great caution, for in life the borrower becomes slave to the lender, is bound by them, and obligated to them.

Rolling a thought over in our own head takes effor t, and most people will do almost anything to avoid the painful process of thinking. The vast majority will accept a well-worn belief if it means they don’t have to exercise their own judgment . But in the same way you cannot benefit from someone else exercising for you, you cannot become mentally fit from someone else thinking for you. Just as your body needs to be moved, exerted, and pushed in order to get stronger, your mind is a muscle needs to be stretched and used as well or it will become flaccid and flabby.

There is the distinct possibility that by consistently allowing others to do your heavy-mental lifting for you, you will deteriorate into such a weak and feeble mental condition, that you’ll eventually become disabled, hobbled, and incapable of producing an original thought on your own, and nothing is as pitiful as a person who cannot, or will not, think for themselves.

The Problem with Conformity

The conformist lives in a mind-numbing state of self-incarceration. They are snared by fear and trapped by their need for affirmation, and worse, most are blind to their own affliction. Just as an infant born in captivity cannot comprehend the life they’re missing on the outside, most conformists are equally oblivious to their own half lived lives. Whats worse, is in order for someone can break out of prison, they must first realize they’re locked up.

People who are overly influenced by society, small groups, and other people, live in fear of the consequences of their own thinking, as a result, they unquestioningly borrowing their thoughts and opinions from others in order to avoid the pain of working things out on their own. They are chameleons that suffer from perpetual agreement, who will alter, remodel, or transform themselves to fit the prevailing social or cultural norm.

They are compliant people who are motivated by approval, acceptance, and the comfort of belonging. They are terrified by the idea that they might have to stand apart, or be alone. They seek unanimity over individuality, dogma over truth, and the status quo over unreasonableness. Because they are deliberately unconscious and relentless ignorant, they cannot comprehend the rich realm they’ve abdicated by becoming a conformist.

Their lazy minds prefer to assign the thinking to someone else. Problem is, if you choose not to think for yourself, by default you subjugate yourself to the thinking of others. It is a simple fact, you either think for yourself, or you end up living your life at the behest of those who do.

Media, large corporations, governments, and special interest groups all have a special interest in what you think, and spend billions spinning their webs to beguile and cajole you into thinking and acting the way they want you to for their own purposes. In the end, you either control your thinking or someone else will.

The much-celebrated contrarian investor Warren Buffett, is fond of saying, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, including me, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense”. This is sound advice from a man whose net worth estimated at 37 billion – a vast fortune made entirely from independent thinking and betting against crowd.

There is only one reward for conformity: everyone will like you … that is, everyone except yourself. And how you feel about yourself, how you esteem yourself, and think of yourself, has more to do with your success and happiness in life than any other single factor.

The Problem with Contrarianism

Contrarianism demands independent thought, and thinking for yourself requires courage, which explains why so few people are contrarians. Conformity on the other hand requires a certain degree of mental apathy, and the lazy mind demands nothing of itself, which explains why so many people are conformists.

Our society is guided by a hypersensitive political correctness that quickly quells the independent thinker while encouraging and celebrating conformity and compliance. Those who have the backbone to stand on their own two feet and take principled risks for the sake of their convictions, stick out like a bright light in a dark room.

Those who go against the common convention should expect to be dismissed as “unreasonable” by those who are hypnotized by the status quo.  Rather than a reason to retreat, this should be considered a high compliment. It was Mark Twain who said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.

What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant and crackling mind of a contrarian, and the feeble, anemic mentality of the conformist.

The Paradox of Unreasonable

I wholeheartedly agree with Seth Godin who says that “unreasonable” is the new reasonable. It is unreasonable that succeeds, not reasonable. It is the contrarian that is unreasonable, and this is why he succeeds. In a homogenized sea of sameness, it is those who stand apart by standing on their own that are the ones that get noticed and succeed in this world.

You must be the purveyor of your own thoughts and the rightful owner of your own opinions. You cannot rent space in someone else’s head nor confiscate someone else’s opinions while simultaneously remaining independent of them. You cannot spend intellectual capital that you do not have to buy the life that you want. You must use your own intellect and make your own way if you want to live your own life.

If you want to be successful at work, as in life, you must be contrarian in your thinking. You’ve got to have the guts to throw your heart out there, and risk getting it stomped on. Become the free-thinking individualist that you where born to be, and you will present a threat to the status quo, therefore expect to draw the ire of the majority who will consider you rule breaker, trouble maker, and unreasonable for going against the common convention. This is a good sign and exactly what you want, because if you fail to achieve this kind of notoriety from the crowd, then it’s highly likely you’re not living up to your God-given potential.

Never forget: if you are misunderstood by the majority, and the dunces are standing in confederacy against you, this is the most obvious and clear-cut evidence that life will ever give you, that you are on the right path.

15 thoughts on “Antogonizing the Dunces of the Confederacy

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been a practicing contrarian all my life. I’ve never really thought about it that much before, it was just what came naturally. But lately, I’ve become aware of how different I am from the mainstream, although I don’t think you would notice it from the outside – a lot of my life choices actually appear quite conformist. I don’t wish to go against the flow for the sake of it, and I don’t especially need to be recognized as a contrarian, but lately, I have been feeling somewhat lonely in my contrarianism. So it’s lovely to see my thoughts put so eloquently into words. Thank you. I’ve only just discovered your blog, so I’ll go and read the rest now.

  2. Elizabeth – it sounds like we have a very similar story, so no, you are not alone, there are just far fewer of us, than there are of them. Thank you for your kind words and appreciate you stopping by. I hope to hear from you again.

  3. Enjoyed the article. Thinking hurts and requires intense effort, which is why most people don’t want to buck the trend of complacency. Original thought requires an unbelievable amount of effort, self-examination, and willingness to throw out convention to pursue the truth wherever it leads. The world is filled with pressures to turn everyone into politically correct sheep that are easily manipulated.

  4. Happy New Year! Thanks so much for this! I havent been this thrilled by a blog post for a long time! You have got it, whatever that means in blogging. Anyway, Youre definitely someone that has something to say that people should hear. Keep up the good work. Keep on inspiring the people!

  5. Contrarian,

    Thank you for the comment in my feelgooder post. No so much for the comment per se, more so that I could track back to this site. Very good content – hard to find free and clear thinkers. I look forward to your work.

    Vergil Den

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