There is a sort of pattern I am seeing emerging from people who label themselves as rule-breakers and as edgy. Everyone does this in the same way. To quote Margeret Thatcher: “Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” A sort of Wittgenstein’s Ruler. Those who call themselves rebellious are missing the point – not because their intention is wrong, but because there is another strategy, like I recently discovered for myself. Our culture paints it one way: if we wish to meaningfully rebel in today’s society there is only one way to do so – with power and force – and if you go against that one way you are actively doing harm to the movement. Obviously, this isn’t true. Everyone’s got their own style that – once discovered – can help them cope with the downside of feeling.
All kinds of rebellion work when a sentiment is strong enough for you, and it’s up to you to find how you want to go about it. What I have found interesting and relevant for myself is the fact that there is more than one way to rebel.
One of the ways is more interesting – more interesting to witness in particular – it tends to be more of a spectacle. Extroverts prefer this. It’s how they portray rebellion on TV, it’s the way we are more familiar with and the only one I knew existed. The lesser known form we hardly ever hear about is a lot more uninteresting to watch, and frankly it’s boring to most, better suited for introverts. Both work in their own way. Different people in different situations call for different tactics. One is not better than the other. This is new for me. But let’s start with what we are all familiar with.
This is painfully obvious – I know – but, but spectacles are interesting, non-spectacles are not. And for whatever reason western culture is obsessed with making a spectacle of our strongly held beliefs. It seems that no intense point of view can be held privately, calmly, and with dignity – because God forbid that would be … uninteresting. Anything being uninteresting and un-entertaining is a sin in modern times. In our world if we want those strongly held beliefs to be seen and heard we must display them as interestingly as we can. To see interesting in action, all you have to do is look at social media, Youtube, anywhere really. Rule #1 seems to be: I have a message near and dear to my heart but the only way to spread this is to peacock louder than anyone else. What does this bring me to do? Whatever humiliating and outrageous thing it is we need to do in order to be trending topics online. A desire to revolt so strong that we are willing to do it in whatever way, no matter the cost and no matter if it backfires. Looting is a good example of this. Looting certainly is interesting. And this is not to say the intent behind them is invalid but it can conflate your true intent, further complicating the issue. It’s also just not for the introverts. The current George Floyd protests (not the same as looting) are an example of when this form of interesting rebellion works, and it’s beautiful.
What magnifies the degree of spectacle to which we “perform” is the fact that if you wish to be relevant and heard you must also be wholly focused on being irreverent. While there is value in irreverence when appropriate, we should think about pivoting and not being so dependent on irreverence as a strategy.
On the other hand there is a lot more uninteresting way to go about it too. David Foster Wallace puts the it better than I ever could:
“People who rebel meaningfully .. don’t buy a lot of stuff and they don’t get their view of the world from television and are willing to spend 4-5 hours researching an election rather than going by commercials and advertisements. The thing about it is that we see rebellion as this very sexy thing and that it involves action and force and it looks good. My guess is that the forms of rebellion that will end up changing anything meaningfully here will be very quiet and very individual and probably not all that interesting to look at from the outside. I am now hoping that rebellion takes the form of less interesting rather than more interesting. Violence is interesting. Horrible corruption and scandals and threatening war and demonizing billions of different people are all interesting. Sitting alone in a chair and thinking about what this means and why the fact that what I drive or what I eat or what entertains me might have something to do with who I am or how people see me isn’t very interesting to anybody else.”
Maybe instead of calling a spectacle to ourselves in social settings the best way to misbehave is by going to the small home of some of your closest friends, sitting with them and talking amongst yourselves about your lives. What you think the meaning of your life is, what could explain the mental health crisis in 21st century America, what effects will consumerism have on our psyches in 100 years, anything you find important. As fewer and fewer people do this the more and more rebellious it becomes. It becomes rebellious simply because no one is doing it anymore.
A sort of intellectual askesis. More of us are cut out for it than we believe.
This crossed my mind the other day; most Americans don’t know anything about their surroundings, where did the couch you’re sitting on come from? The hamburger that some kid passed to you in a greasy bag through a window, where did that meat come from? What could be second order effects of this? We are completely and dangerously unaware of almost everything that immediately surrounds us. There is a kind of citizenry that we are not familiar with. We know nothing about our locale’s, nothing about our history and aren’t interested in consequence.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau on citizenship: “The making of citizens is not the work of a single day, and in order to have citizens when they are men it is necessary to educate them when they are children.”
The truth is this type of rebellion is not all that fun, or entertaining. However, this is more of an appealing option for a growing amount of people. This model is certainly more sustainable than what we currently have going on for us which is entertain ourselves until we are completely moral beings.
We can even see this in where we choose to live. Before modern industrial cities were as populous as they are now, they were rare. The first types of people who were rushing to big cities were people who were raised in rural settings who set out to the bright lights to try and find their true individual selves. This was as an act of a rebellion, an abandoning of tradition. Cities were breeding grounds of nonconformity, creativity and newness. After so many decades of people who self-label themselves as individualists start gathering in one place, they start conforming. The creative spirit of big cities has been watered down. Cities were once a place to get inspired and it’s becoming apparent that it’s becoming just the opposite of what it once was. Hugely over-connected megacities have been filled with full of unoriginal, bland people, interested in short-termism for quite some time now and people are leaving.
A way someone could really uninterestingly rebel could be moving back to a more local and connected environment. Literally moving. Out of the cities to where we once ran. Going to small villages, homesteads, flyover states, this sort of thing. I know for a lot of us this isn’t an option but voting with your feet is a a great way to make your stance known. More and more of us are realizing that this form of living may be where true creativity and independence lie.
I bring this up just because I know a lot of people I work with and close friends who are sick of feeling used and they are sick of the BS around them and they need a way to handle it. I have found this form of rebellion useful for me and my well-being and I think it may work for other people if they only knew it existed. Stop raging online, stop trying to change other people’s minds. Go ride a bike. Go read in a patch of grass like a mystic would.
Misbehavior is more of an art than a science. I wish we wouldn’t waste such a scarce resource by only practicing it in one way. A deeply personal kind of askesis has become underrated and is one of the most meaningful ways to rebel. And sometimes it’s okay to be uninteresting. Personally, I hope the future skews more in this direction but it’s certainly not for everyone.
“I believe in the virtue of small numbers. The world will be saved by the few.’ – Andrè Gide