philosophy

Non-Conformity Beyond Rebellion

I’m a non-conformist at heart. I know, I know. If you know me or meet me, you might not think it. At times, I don’t think it. I’ve had hair in all colours, but I’ve never been the seventeen piercings or mohawk guy (except once after doing the century club and letting my buddy at it with his clippers).

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Rebellion is attractive. None of us really likes the way the world is set up unless we’re one of these over-entitled assholes who get to exploit it and have flexible (or non-existent) morals. We want to be our own thing, make our own path, do it our own way.

The problem is that rejecting everything can often be as self-destructive as joining in.

I used to mock my older brother for liking things that were different just because they were different. Sure, different is better than same, and rarely a bad thing, but some of the stuff that came out in the Nineties as “alternative” was just garbage.

Moulin Rouge is a favourite example. Different to be different, with all kinds of pretentious airs, masking an otherwise shallow plot.

Shallow’s fine, but be shallow. Don’t dress yourself up in weird shit to pretend otherwise.

Non-conformity comes a desire not to be what society or culture or your local groupset wants you to be. But it doesn’t have to burn it all to the ground (though there are many, many institutions that need questioning for both structure and necessity).

One of my favourite “gurus”, so to speak, is Chris Guillebeau. In some ways, he’s very conformist – as a lifestyle and personal development blogger, he heavily endorses travel and has the oh-so-typical marathon runner hard-on. He endorses entrepreneurial ventures, working from no fixed location and has a lot of the same pop psychology terminology as most others in his field.

What sets him apart?

There’s a genuine nature that speaks to me. I don’t know him in person so it’s possible I’m wrong, but when you read or watch him, you feel that this is what he’d be doing whether he was a lifestyle blogger or not. He’d be travelling. He’d be an entrepreneur. He’d be a marathon runner who spends part time playing in a jazz ensemble and drinking good coffee.

What you see is what you get.

He is doing what he wants, and to me, that’s the ultimate non-conformity.

If what you want is something that’s immensely popular, who cares? Let them call you a basic bitch. There’s no shame in enjoying your life and doing the things you love.

I love Green Day. Most punkers would probably call them sell-outs. Don’t care, they still rock. I also almost always find myself singing along to Michael Jackson when he’s on the radio. You don’t get much more mainstream than that.

I also love NOFX and Blur and Houndmouth and The Long Lots, and if you’ve heard of the last one, and you don’t live within a hundred kilometers, good for you.

Non-conformity isn’t entirely about rejection. It’s about doing what you want, how you want, with who you want, where you want. It’s doing what you do, not because someone else thinks you should, but because it’s what you want.

And that goes equally for ultra-conservative parents, traditional narratives of love, marriage, sex or college, job, retirement, snooty art professors, hipsters on the edge of whatever new fad has come their way or old school grunge kids like myself with our Kurt Cobain sneers at anything we’ve judged not to be “cool”.

And it can change in an instant.

The nice thing about conformity or non-conformity is that requires you to give a shit about popularity or what others think. If you don’t, then you’re the true non-conformist, because it no longer matters.

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