“That proves you are unusual,” returned the Scarecrow; “and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.”

The Land of Oz

“Men have become the tools of their tools.”

John Stuart Mill


Let me begin in an odd place. Progress is the inevitable increase in complexity. This means when we speak of a simpler past, in many ways, we are correct. The less things are connected, the more simple it is. And if there is one thing one could say about civilization’s progress, it is that we have been quite good at inventing things that connect us. The consequence of that progress is, well, increased complexity. This complexity has a variety of different consequences, but let’s focus on individuality today.

Which leads me to self-expression as a tool for individuality.

Today’s world demands that we each, individually, cultivate a habit of constant self-expression. More and more we are encouraged to ‘be yourself,’ “bring your whole self everywhere,” and more and more we are encouraged to become more aware of our ’emotional selves.’ This is encouraged whether we want to or not or whether it’s healthy or unhealthy with regard to the health of “me.” This happens because we live in a self-expressive culture and society. In addition, we are constantly encouraged to trust our instincts and our impulses above anything else. In other words, trust the things inside ‘me’ and distrust the forces outside that we perceive discourage our instincts and impulses or even suffocate what is best for me. All of this means self-expression is a weapon against a world attempting to make us less unusual, less distinct, and less of ‘me.’ I would argue this isn’t really a true battle’, but I don’t think it’s too far off to suggest that everyone wants to etch a sense of self in the walls of the world – through behaviors, habits, and attitudes. The trouble arises in that, paradoxically, self-love has a nasty tendency to encourage unhealthy focus on instincts and impulses. Unhealthy self-love isn’t always ego-ism, but it does encourage ignoring wisdom from others and the outside world. Along those lines, true love demands connectivity and through that connectivity it has a nice tendency to counter unhealthy instincts and impulses by balancing them out with what other people value. In fact, true love eliminates the distinction between me and you. I want to be careful with the word eliminating. I do not mean to suggest that ‘me’ is completely erased, but rather me has a reflective mirror with which to objectively and subjectively reflect upon itself. “Me’ becomes a bit of a blend of all the people one has met and all the conversations one has had. Its kind of like Hanzi Freinacht’s transvidualism. Anyway. In other words, your personal and unusual no longer reside solely in the purview of ‘me,’ but also in the context of the collective. I would argue this is where the healthy unusual resides.

Which leads me to ‘me’ and competition.

I don’t think it’s a big stretch to suggest society encourages competition as a means of maximizing one’s “me potential.” Well. That is fraught with peril. For example. In recent research lower social-class university students (and other adults) do worse than their higher-class counterparts on a reasoning task only when they’re led to focus on outperforming others. Competition, in other words, exacerbates social inequality. In other words, competition constrains potential.  I would posit this occurs because people with higher status, and wealth, believe life offers them more chances even if they get something wrong, while lower class people feel like there is less margin for error. I would also posit competition encourages ‘less unusual’ among the masses, i.e., conformity enhances probability of survival/some thriving, as well as encourages mediocrity. I would argue that in a competitive world, every ‘me’ must to start with where power lives. This is counter to self-reliance, self-responsibility and ‘power of me’ narratives because all of those things suggest you should think in terms of your influence on the world. Instead, in a competition-based world, you need to first and foremost understand your influence is in the hands of the existing power. This is painful to say, but there are no real independent individuals in this world. I would be remiss if didn’t point out technology has exacerbated this issue. Technology makes us feel more independent and, yet, the reality is it makes us more dependent upon other people’s opinions, attitudes, beliefs and input. We have, in other words, become tools of our tools. Which leads me to communities of unusual. Communities of unusuals may seem weird to suggest. And, to be clear, I am not suggesting a conformity of a certain type of unusual, but rather I am suggesting a coherent community of those who are unusual in some way. I suggest a community because when you are in groups, you can be very powerful. You can change things. You have confidence when things go wrong that you don’t when you’re on your own. It changes the concept of power. In fact, it is Grace Blakeley, at the end of Vulture Capitalism, who reminds everyone that when people work together, they have more power than any system.

Which leads me to eccentricity (the word most associated with unusual).

I, personally, do not believe unusual is equal to eccentric, but let me explore eccentricity a bit. I could find the only person to have looked into eccentricity: David Weeks, an Edinburgh psychiatrist and co-author of the 1995 book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness. What he discovered during a ten-year study of 1,000 peculiar people < including a Chippewa Indian who walked everywhere backwards and two Californians who hypnotized frogs> might surprise you. I think most people believe that extreme eccentricity is a short step from serious mental disorder. But, in fact, Weeks’s subjects suffered less from mental illnesses such as depression than the majority of the population.

Fewer than 30 had ever been drug or alcohol abusers. He also found that eccentrics visit the doctor 20 times less often than most of us and, on average, live slightly longer.

The study conclusion? People benefited from non-conformity. Simply put, those who don’t repress their inner nature in the struggle to conform suffer less stress. Consequently, they are happier and their immune systems work more efficiently. Overall, Weeks found that eccentrics tend to be optimistic people with a highly developed, mischievous sense of humor, childlike curiosity and a drive to make the world a better place. Well. Kind of maybe makes you start thinking about envying eccentric people rather than laughing about them, huh?

Anyway. I believe eccentrics are the people who tend to see problems <and life> from new and unexpected angles.  Their slightly odd, off kilter, perspective allows them to conjure up innovative solutions. They are the visionaries, even within smaller individual life moments, who make giant imaginative leaps. Weeks, in his study write up, suggested maybe that like the occasional mutations that drive evolution, eccentrics may provide the unusual, untried ideas that allow human societies to progress. Not too shabby for folk who are very often dismissed as cranks and crazies and nutjobs.

“No new horror can be more terrible than the daily torture of the commonplace.”

H.P. Lovecraft

Which leads me to I am worried about the world.

Society, and communities, appear to have abolished any type of eccentricity <or individuality> within meaningful power positions. Society, which tends to dictate behaviors, seem designed to promote the rise of the ‘accepted and acceptable’ behavior.  Think about that. One can be fairly sure that you won’t find too many Teslas surfacing in the next few years as they are weeded out early by the application of standardized policies designed to produce standardized human beings. When I was younger it seemed like businesses had their share of quirky, slightly nutjob, people and they added color to the office. They added a dimension to the work, and workplace, which sometimes made a tough day better and a tough assignment less challenging. Not always, but at minimum it made the experience more interesting by far.


Look. I am not suggesting more people be eccentric, but maybe possibly less people should find conforming as important as they do. Maybe embrace being, well, unusual. That’s it. If for no other reason than a research study suggests you may be happier.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

In the end I imagine the challenge remains that we reside in a world that glorifies individual success, yet, our greatest power lies in our ability to come together. A truly empowered and resilient society can only arise from a sense of unity and collective purpose, not self-interest. How can we reclaim the power of the collective without losing our sense of self? Maybe we should be asking how we can create more communities of unusual. Maybe it will be the communities of unusuals who will be most likely to have the ability to navigate increased complexity and ensure progress for civilization. Ponder.

Written by Bruce