Non-conformity and groups

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes brilliantly about the substantial difference between joining a rebellion and founding one. The difference is that if you join "Standard Rebellion #37", you are merely joining an existing group of people who are going to think you are cool. Joining an existing rebellion is just switching sides.

But being the first one to think original thoughts, stepping outside of the box, saying "No!" to what everyone around you accepts for a "fact" - that takes a willingness to separate from the group and replace it with nothing, a willingness to put a higher value on correctness than on being part of some kind of group. To paraphrase Eliezer, it's the difference between going to school dressed in black, and going to school in a clown suit.

I did go to school in the clown suit. I did get the non-understanding, the quizzical looks, the "you're weird", the shrugs. Even so, I never considered conforming an option. It would mean relinquishing my essence for the dubious benefit of getting acceptance and approval from people who I know have much lower potential. It would mean stooping down and joining the ranks of the stupid.

Why would I do that?

I persevered, and it was tough, and it was challenging, but over the years I found the woman who is now my wife, I found other people who are on a similar wavelength, and now my life is not so isolated intellectually at all.

Meanwhile, I learned the value of being the first to speak out against the popular consensus, which makes it easier for others to speak out as well. If you know the consensus is wrong, and you're the first one to say it, others who are not so sure will come out of the woodwork as well. If no one says it - chances are, they won't.

Other people in similar situations have done other things. My wife felt there was something very much wrong with the popular consensus, but she didn't have enough self-confidence to assert her disagreement until she met me and I started encouraging her. Before, she was letting herself be remolded as others saw fit, and she suffered.

Another person I know has no problem at all copying the way an average person thinks, impersonating your regular Jane or Joe, in order to gain the benefits of group membership, while in fact being radically different from the group.

Me, I just can't stand that duplicity. If I'm going to join a group, it'll be a group that is on my wavelength. I'm not going to make myself agree with a group just to join, and I won't pretend I agree in order to join a group. It's not worth it for me. Conforming is tortuous; the benefits of pretending are vacuous. But when you are able to join with people you're truly compatible with, the benefits of that are deep, valuable, and sincere.


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