More on Dissent and Rebellion

In a follow-up to his post yesterday at Overcoming Bias, Eliezer Yudkowsky blogs today about the difference between really voicing a dissenting pov and just faking being a rebel or iconoclast — acting different for the sake of seeming different to others (and perhaps to self as well, to gain a little distance from those ‘others’). That, as he points out, is just a bias the other way: instead of instinctively or mindlessly leaning toward conformity with the group, self-aggrandizing rebels lean instinctively or mindlessly away from it. Even worse, most rebels feel they are being mindful, are making a real choice borne of special awareness and their own uniqueness, from an established “I” rather than as a reaction to others.

I want to comment on a few things Yudkowsky says. He cites vegetarianism as a true act of rebellion, one that takes a bit of courage (“to tell people that hamburgers won’t work for dinner”), but he sees it as an act of Standard Rebellion, one that other people think they understand and that gives them a handle for relating to you, the vegetarian. OTOH, he says, what takes “real courage” is acting in a way or on principles that are incomprehensible to those around you, that don’t give them a handle for relating to you.

I’m a pesce-vegetarian (I eat some fish but not poultry, pork, beef, etc.). I don’t consider it an act of rebellion. It’s just a preference, like prefering or abhoring mushrooms or liverwurst is a preference. It’s no big deal, even in rural east coast areas, to be a vegetarian. Twenty years ago I brought my own food to cookouts; now there are so many yummy meat-like soy products available and so many people who are trying to eat more veggies that I’m lost in a crowd, and it’s fine.

Second, I think it’s as disheartening when others “think they understand your motives (even if they don’t)” and think they can relate to you based on their assumptions and extrapolations, as it is to have to “[brave] the outright incomprehension of the people around you.” (Yudkowsky seems to say that the first is in some way a better, easier-to-bear situation than the second.)

But on that score, that’s sometimes how Girardian thought feels to me, the way Yudkowsky describes holding a belief in cryonics: “There are other cryonicists in the world, somewhere, but they aren’t there next to you. You have to explain it, alone, to people who just think it’s weird. Not forbidden, but outside bounds that people don’t even think about.”

When I give a tiny explanation of some Girardian idea (as I interpret it), the response is usually that it’s an intellectual exercise unrelated to the real world; in fact, I might be an intellectual who’s not in the real world.  What I see as an ordering principle or overarching story that minutely matches my experience of human social and psychological life and that completely informs my everyday, real life actions (as much as Jesus’s “Follow me” does), others often see as incomprehensible, weird, the luxury of someone who has time to think. Still, I think I prefer that response to being assumed to be a crank, narrow-minded, a nazi, a left-winger, a rabid animal activist, someone who lacks passion for life, a regimented health nut, similar to some celebrity who’s a vegetarian, etc. (all traits found on a Google search of “vegetarians are”), on the basis of my eating habits.

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