SMART PEOPLE – STUPID PEOPLE – CONFORMIST PEOPLE
The problem with smart people is the same problem as with dumb people. The intelligent might gather at symposiums rather than stadiums but it’s all the same conventionality, honed down to superficial variations on themes so comfortable they’re effectively ringfenced into a passive self-serving parochialism.
On the one hand there might be a dinner party with companion wines attended by erudite Philosophy professors talking Marxian dialectics, on the other a post-match pub piss-up arguing the toss about the recent game. Stark contrast? Aesthetically perhaps but this subjective beauty is only skin deep. Both end in the same hangover. Both pass time pleasantly then push the reset button next day, social egomania duly satisfied. As if by unspoken agreement, no demands on tomorrow except more of the same.
This absence of “what next?” is more serious than first appears. Having smoothed the edges of any impulse for action, the business of socialising entertainment is complete. Opportunity is lost, time and time again and nobody notices. Conformity is a blithe spirit: a certain safety, a soft familiarity, a format well-honed to most effortlessly pass the time. Most of all it is a conformist evasion of risk – that perquisite uncertainty that makes genuine challenge dangerous by default. Understandable, certainly, but decadent (at best) and craven (if truth be told).
OUTLIER-PEOPLE – UNPLEASANT NON-CONFORMITY
Nature has been managing the patient evolution of our species for billions of years and just as improvements to make greater fitness for the physical environment parse random mutations into successful enduring characteristics. This process can apply to the cultural development of homo sapiens – culture being the successor to physical attributes as an expression of survival of the fittest that’s more precise and far more flexible across much shorter timescales than the drip-drip of natural selection. But what drives cultural development and what defines its pace, given it’s responsive to environment and conditions and threats and the yardstick is a culture’s successful spread – by inheritance – across subsequent generations?
Conformists aren’t the engine of progress. At best the conformists capitalize on the foothold of a new but extant culture and work through its spread, the extent of which depends on the paths of least resistance -wordspun into greatest efficiency by those whose paths of least resistance chanced to take therm into positions of power over the cultural gestalt of a society. Nature has its catalysts built into the human narrative, however, and – distilling to the fundamentals – these catalysts are human beings of a particular and unusual stamp. Nowadays this small percentage of the corpus homo sapiens is called: the outliers.
The outlier is the creative and destructive force in human society and culture. The outlier is a flavour of mutation, a purpose made manifest by Nature, to drive progress in the crucible of whatever conditions happen to exist. It’s a solution proven over the eons – else there would be no outliers by now – and it’s nothing so simple as a perfect or positive or fortunate or superior human types. Quite the contrary!
NATURE’S CUNNING CASUALTY RATE
Outliers are bred not born into the condition and whether it expresses itself in scientific genius like Einstein or artistic virtuosity like Kafka or athletic excellent like Fosbury or political power-abuse like Trump or sailing the Southern Ocean like Ellen MacArthur or military opportunism like Napoleon: same impulses, different circumstances.
A good analogy is to extend the virus model for human culture i.e. our species is a multiplying virus on the surface of the Earth and the more there are, the more get born, until resources and environment stem the spread and limit the surface. Humans are more sinister than viruses because when we hit limits if enough pressure builds up the human brain gets applied to finding a solution. There have been many solutions over time and each breaks the human virus through successive glass ceilings; and population grows.
WHERE DOES THE SOLUTION ACTUALLY COME FROM?
The vast majority of humans are pragmatic realist, driven to adapt to the extent of their environment and no further; if there’s no need, once the cultural baselines have been crossed. It’s no surprise the reuniting of the homo sapiens genetic schism caused by the Bering Straits submerging the Asia America land bridge took tens of thousands of years to happen. And only happened because conditions were right for outlier types to take risky voyages over the unknown horizon in fragile wooden tubs. Geography was an effective limit at stages throughout human history. Migrations happened but not without catalyst. No society got up and moved itself without good reason; and any large-scale movement needed both conditions to be right to fuck up “home” and the right type of outlier to point at a distant point and say “follow me”. Even down to the level of families taking the voyage from Europe to America in the 19th century, it was only a strange mix of ambitious or persecuted or crackpot outliers dragged their kin over land and ocean. Much diluted by 2018 this personality still flavours libertarian sympathy in the US in a way that’s incomprehensible to comfortable Western Europeans.
Many cultures become hostile to outlier activity, especially as a society’s self-preservation becomes tied up with practical cognitive dissonance e.g. in fantasist totalitarian regimes or dogmatic theocracies or satisfied exploitation hegemonies. The outliers are easy to pick out – as their impulse only needs to shout truth to power to stand out – and thus far it seems truth, or what is reality, matters enough to enough people there’s been a species-wide positive progression as dissonant societies eventually crack and crumble. The “heroes” responsible for driving cracks to crumble are some of the most famous identifiable outliers. It should be a sobering thought that being one of the poor bastards doomed to an outlier life is one of the most dangerous lives possible. Most die prematurely in obscurity or madness or violence or abandoned or, perhaps worst of all, dying in some isolated place looking back at a gathering of the non-outliers who’d trusted and followed, their eyes full of sadness and blame.
The terribly low odds and personal risk faced by outliers shouldn’t be reason to persecute or try to eliminate them. Nature has been managing the patient evolution of our species for billions of years (if we start counting with the first unnecessary but extremely effective eukaryotes) and millions if we tally from the hominid divergence from the Chimpanzee common ancestor back in the Lower Pleistocene era. Homo habilis came down from the trees and toiled without words for two million years of natural selection before homo erectus found fire and a million years later homo sapiens followed our Neanderthal and Denisovan cousins off the Rift Valley plains. We know well enough the markers for successful mating in any tribe of humans, mud huts or marble palace, same dynamics play out. Every trait visible today has undergone thousands of generations testing against fitness to survive. It’s easy to see why intelligence, adaptive thinking, strength, longevity, empathy, selfishness, fear, hope, risk and reward carry through. More complex is creativity, imagination, originality but these are clearly simpatico with group continuity. Outliers are not quite the same category yet Nature has carried this defining often life-risking, group-threatening characteristic safely through the eons despite its unpredictable outcomes.
WHY WOULD NATURE BE SO WASTEFUL WITH MUTANTS?
I wonder if the analogy of mutation applies here. It’s through random mutation that occasional improvements in the genes become formalised, spread and evolve a species.
This can play out well or end badly. Badly in most cases – 99.99% of all species went extinct – as successful mutations drive a species to specialise in dominating its particular environment and this eventually tends to extinction if that environment changes or there is no more food left to make new food to keep the specialist alive.
But when it plays out well the results can be spectacular as the mutation sets in motion a trait development that transcends environment like mobility or light-sensitivity or wings or lungs or warm blood or intelligence or thumbs. The anthropology of evolution is a plethora of just such object lessons.
So it is in evolution of traits, it is in culture and societies – the homo sapiens macro determiner of successful persistence of specific gene sets. The outlier personality is a rare one but it still exists and in the context of human intelligence applying itself to dealing with reality, it makes sense these outliers are an improvement on mere random mutation as a way to drive society and culture forward. Be it the geographical spread or the new solution to a threat or the advent of writing or the theory of relativity, outliers are the necessary ingredient.
About all the failure outliers nature’s bad strike rate.
Reciprocity and respect for outliers define society success progress resilience invention.
Nurture the outliers with sympathy to get the best strike rate.
Persecute and vilify to drive them underground, to rebellion or silent useless wasted resource.
Modern society wasting outliers after youth if they’re not picked up.
“HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF OR RUNS IN CYCLES. PEOPLE ALWAYS THINK THEIR GENERATION IS UNIQUELY CURSED OR BLESSED.”
WHAT MAKES TODAY DIFFERENT TO TIMES PAST?
Scale, the walls limits are physically far from human adaptation – augmentation needed evolution not capable.
We fill the Petri dish.
If we eat everything we break the ecosystem we die no matter how smart.
We gotta adapt ourselves else Earth is all there is.
As technology grows and population tracks, impact inevitable, scale of impact no longer local so humanity becomes more like a slow motion asteroid than part of Earth’s historical ecosystem.
Without educated majority society ends up with more impact then prediction thus falls into the over specialised eaten everything fate.
Without outliers the educated might at best predict using known methods but risk is infinitely greater as outliers improve techniques AND originate solutions.
Moreover if a society doesn’t embrace outliers the number activated shrink to only those who’re also sociopaths or extremists or also insane. This is not just bad policy but a dangerous gamble with society’s long term future.