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Greta, you are excessively, qrotesquely, decandently cool.

I myself have grappled with these concepts at times. I tend to reject the mainstream, and I sometimes worry that I may be doing it reflexively, and simply deluding myself into thinking that it is otherwise.

Nowadays, I am reasonably satisfied that this is not so, but the doubt still lingers, and it worries me, because that kind of thinking is every bit as ridiculous and harmful as you imply.

Steven Alleyn

I have spoken personally with Deepak Chopra through the medium of and I can assure you of one thing; the man is a douchebag. I don't want to slander, but he speaks in circles and seriously annoys the hell out of me.

The 327th Male

All true, but in the case of reality TV I can make an exception. Reflexive disdain is completely appropriate there :)


Completely true. I sometimes feel a little reflexive guilt when I say I'm into something conventional (like pop music or a specific reality tv show or a movie), but in the end, I mostly do what's fun and comfortable for me. I like body mod, but not because it's "hardcore." I shave my head, but although I embrace the "statement" it makes, that's not the only reason I did it (trichotillomania and overheating were big parts of it). I'm not crazy about plastic surgery, but I believe that if it isn't my body, it's not my choice. I try not to let the people who I'm with determine everything I think.


Greta is absolutely right once again. Lisa Randall did a little video thing for Seed magazine and she mentioned in passing that there was a survey done asking people who identify as creationists and people who are convinced evolution is true about how evolution actually works. BOTH GROUPS WERE ENTIRELY FUCKING CLUELESS as to how evolution actually works!! Both groups were merely accepting their respective truth claims merely on perceived authority and political identity. This should SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF ALL OF US.

Kit Whitfield

I'd say it's a sign of alternative medicines and so on actually having gained a toehold in mainstream culture. A hundred years ago, if you wanted a tattoo and weren't a sailor, then you probably really wanted a tattoo, for reasons of your own; as the culture around you would think you very weird for getting one (probably including your friends and contemporaries), you'd have to think it through, come to your own decisions. Now tattoos are fashionable in certain circles, you don't need much of a reason; plenty of other people are doing it too.

Everybody's prone to tribalism to a certain extent, and the most free-thinking group in the world is likely to develop its own customs - and the larger it gets, the more people will be in it who are just following the lead. If you define your tribe as 'not-mainstream', you're in a bit of trouble, though, because like you say, you're depending on the mainstream - and also you're going to develop your own habits and get conventional in your own way, which is probably not what you originally wanted. After all, Christianity was a pretty freaky cult for a long time, and now look...

Cryptic Philosopher

Dangit, Greta, why can't you just be a non-conformist...just like all the rest of us??? :p


A lot of this anti-intellectualism, I think, comes from a good motivation taken too far. For instance, it's absolutely true that pharmaceutical companies would rather develop drugs for minor but profitable First World lifestyle diseases, while leaving serious Third World killers like malaria untouched because there's little profit in it. It's absolutely true that drug companies have at times tried to cover up unfavorable data to get a new pill approved. It's even true that, at times, innocent people have been victimized and exploited for medical tests they didn't consent to be a part of. Everyone should know these things, and we're in the right to condemn them.

But where the New Agers go wrong is in failing to recognize that this doesn't constitute reason to reject modern medicine as a whole. For all its faults, and for all the terrible things that unethical scientists have done, scientific medicine still works, and is far superior to any of the alternatives that don't rely on testing and verification. The New Agers think they can find a better, "purer" way of knowing that doesn't have those sins on its ledger - but the price of having something that works is that people are occasionally going to misuse it. The only method that can never be misused is the one that does nothing at all. And that, unfortunately, is a very apt description of much of the modern woo-woo crowd.


This excellent entry reminded me a lot of another favorite entry from another blog about cultural fascism, so I'll use this as an excuse to link to it here. (There's a follow-up on the next day too)

If you reflexively reject something just because it's mainstream, you're being every bit as controlled by mass opinion as you would if you reflexively embraced something just because it's mainstream.

This reminds me of an Art Buchwald column (yes, I'm showing my age) on how the US president can deal with the French: first, give a speech about some program, and ask for international cooperation. Then, have the US ambassador have a private word with the French president, saying, "In confidence, our president had to give that speech because there's political pressure on him to implement this program. But privately, he'd be quite happy if you were able to scuttle it." Then sit back and watch the French commit themselves wholeheartedly to supporting the program.

Neal Stephenson also had a wonderful aphorism along the lines of: just because alternative medicine is different from clinical western medicine doesn't mean it's better, any more than the fact that the atmosphere on Jupiter is different means that it's better for you than the one on Earth.

PS: Yay


Donna Gore

When my son was a teenager he said, dressed like, and did everything his friends did.
The punk, the goth, whatever. And I would say to him "You're conforming to non-conformity." At the time, he didn't get it, or the peer pressure was too strong for him to resist. I think now he understands what I meant.

the chaplain

Insightful post. You've articulated why I try not to give myself a label. There is no one stream of thought with which I agree completely.


As always an illuminating and enjoyable post. This form of thinking is also evident with that other alternative....alternative energy. It's like we haven't been making windmills since the 15th Century or something. It is scary that people latch on to these kind of things and waste valuable time and resources on non-solutions whilst the problem continues to compound itself with interest.
Keep up the good work.


This is exactly the argument I've had with my "alternative" friends, esp. my sister-in-law. I've just never put it in such a concise and thoughtful manner.


As usual, Monty Python had it right.


Several people have commented about how always swimming away from the mainstream means the mainstream has more control over your choices than you do. One person mentioned Art Buchwald, but we can even go back to William Blake and find the same message: Being the opposite of something means you are tethered to that something. If you genuinely want something Other, you are going to have to think your way around to doing something Different, not something in direct Opposition.

Now whether people in general want to do that big nasty THINKING step is another problem. I'm teaching a rhetoric of science course this fall, and getting 35 students to think their way through excepts of _The Origin of Species_ is going to be all sorts of fun.....


This is your great effort to share your ideas.Alternative medicine is not better than natural things and exercise.

(URL removed due to apparent commercial content. -GC)

Barry Logan

I find your post very enlightening Greta - personally I've never understood the whole 'I'm not conforming just for the sake of not conforming' agenda!

(URL removed due to commercial content)

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