By Tim Bearly
Everybody is ostensibly a “maverick” and a “nonconformist” these days. That is, if you ask them. Light a flame and melt away the cellophane wrapping and you will quickly uncover that there are limits to what these charlatans of rebellion are willing to question and challenge. Their lofty ambition and esteemed careers make it patently clear that these paper tigers, contrary to the pretense they seek to maintain, are unabashedly sycophantic. Indeed, contemporary human societies do not have a propensity to revere the true rebel. Why would we, after all, treat with reverence those who seek to destroy our most cherished values and traditions?
Indeed our society is replete with self-proclaimed “radicals.” But as we examine their behavior and discover the frontier of their dissent, a more typical and less courageous character promptly emerges. A political partisan might appear to be an honest critic of government when the opposition party is in power, calling dissent “the highest form of patriotism.” The sentiment quickly fades when the tide turns and the party he supports secures power (at which point dissent becomes tantamount to treason). This phenomenon does not appear to be exclusive to any party or group. In fact, it appears to be part of the nature of all groups and the people who belong to them. (Tribalism and ingroup-outgroup psychology are certainly a strong component here.)
Oddly, we often consider people to be “rebels” when they are skeptical or critical of the other party, class, grouping, breed, etc. (But by this definition every human being on the planet would be a rebel, thus rendering the word utterly useless). However, a true rebel is the one who is not only critical of the other tribe, but the one he’s affiliated with as well. Unfortunately this has proven to be a difficult task, perhaps because it goes against our evolutionary nature. Furthermore, an honest dissenter is less likely to be given a platform with which to make his voice heard. Going after group A will win you the support of group B, and going after group B will win you the support of group A, but it’s hard to garner support if one is critical of both group A and B. Consequently, the voice of the genuine rebel is frequently drowned out by the masses of obsequious phonies.
Ultimately, a party, group or institution of some kind must embrace you if you wish to become successful. Consequently, this requires that you are either incapable of seeing or refuse to see the problems/corruption among the establishment that has embraced you. This embrace is no badge of honor. This is evidence of your sycophancy, nothing more.
Everyone but the tyrant has a problem with tyranny. But the rare individual, who is critical of all manifestations of tyranny (public and/or private sector), seems to have less of an appeal to our “us vs. them” nature. Thus, if you’re a liberal and you want to get published (under the guise of being a dissident) then you’ll write an article about corporate tyranny. Inversely, if you’re a conservative then you’ll write an article about government tyranny. But if you really endeavor to be a dissenter, then write an article about how tyranny comes in as many flavors as the rejection letters you are about to receive. Likewise, most of us detest racism, yet few seem to be going after all forms of it, instead opting to cherry pick select cases that fit their agenda, and appeal to their supporters. All the while maintaining the “revolutionary” charade.
Many seemingly unconventional thinkers who, despite the fact that they allegedly speak truth to power, have become quite successful in their careers. But there is one huge problem with this picture. Contrary to the impression, their popularity and success is often evidence of their own willingness to play to the crowd, not be critical of it. The problem is more compounded with more popularity. It feels good to be popular, and that’s something not to be jeopardized. Furthermore, popular people tend to lack the requisite isolation needed to think about the world from a different perspective.
As noted, the herd mentality is a characteristic that is not exclusive to any group. Moreover, when dissent and rebellion become the fashionable mentality of the herd, it should come as no surprise that there are so many imposters masquerading as the aforementioned. It’s high time that we revamp the criterion, and raise the bar for what it means to be an authentic rebel. The true rebel is not a true believer. He does not “belong.” And, like Socrates, Galileo and countless others, he’s typically persecuted for attempting to help us escape from our comfortable caves of ignorance.
Henceforth the rebel will not bill the “bad boy” pop star who sells millions of focus grouped records. Nor will it be the so called “rogue” politician. Or the cohesive protesters with a clenched fists in the air. The true rebel is not the guy with the “rebel flag”. The true rebel is not heard.
Tragically, we tend to praise the most obedient among us (soldiers, men of faith, etc,). Those who have a proclivity to obey without question seem to be the ones getting the most of this praise. This propensity could prove disastrous. What could this mean for our future as a species? Can we survive if we continue to venerate the subservient and blackball the dissenters?
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