“The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.” -Alan Watts
To Be Contrary or To Be Authentic
Contrarianism is defined as: the opposition of popular opinions and social norms for the sake of opposing and being different, for the sake of going against the current. Contrarianism is, too often, the natural rebellion of those who’ve grown weary of continually being placed in a box and instructed on how to think, how to feel, what to like, who to love, and how to live. Contrarianism is the self’s last-line of defense against intrusion, its last stand against unsolicited servitude, but it’s also, at its core, the annihilation of the self’s potential for individuation, its drive for authenticity; contrarianism, in essence, is akin to going nuclear. In a society which relentlessly continues to impose its will on each of its members, contrarianism is, for many children and teenagers, their last hope for separation; but, despite its facade of individuality and wholeness, contrarianism is merely a self-induced extermination of being, a self-inflicted suicide in the absence, and loss, of all hope for self-expression and realization.
Contrarianism is the way some teenagers respond to a world which refuses to afford them the opportunity to discover, and create, themselves, one which prohibits even a miniscule expression of selfhood; so, they naturally rebel. They place society’s norms in their rearview mirrors, as they engage in activities deemed immoral and intolerable; they use drugs, they break the law, and they create individualized moral codes that are steeped in cynicism, perceiving themselves and/or their groups as the only ones worth serving.
By now, it’s well-known how difficult it is to be a teenager and how hard it is to attempt to succeed, academically, while creating an identity, making friends, dating, discovering one’s sexuality, and navigating through a world of bullies, authority figures, and emotionally-charged peers. For most of us, by the time we’re ten, we already have some inkling of what’s expected of us, of the world’s demands; we learn the roles that we’re expected to take on from our parents and our teachers, and we become aware of our limited autonomy in the decision of our fate. Some of us decide to toe the line and become upstanding citizens…
And others, well, they decide to be different, not themselves, just different; thus, becoming the ones whom our society labels as deviant, the rabble-rousers, trouble makers, and the cast-aways. They become our criminals.
Contrarianism and Developmental Stages
While attending virtually any psychology course on development, you’ll learn that life exists in stages, in a process of growth which begins with enmeshment (feeling, and perceiving, oneself as being one with their caregivers), and reaches its pinnacle with individuation, which is the creation of one’s own identity, an authentic self who can stand on her own. The irony lies in this ideal’s sharp contrast with reality. If one were to mindfully look around, they would wonder if automatons, rather than people, populated the world, because despite our innate drive for selfhood, we’ve managed to create a culture of sameness, of individuals who aren’t truly unique. To listen in on one conversation in a crowded restaurant is often akin to hearing them all. And the few who, nevertheless, continue to yearn for individuality often find themselves lost in a monotone sea of banality; it is they who, in their quest for separation, diverge, shattering any modicum of selfhood, and doing so for vengeance. But, as they drive daggers into the heart of a shallow and disapproving culture, their true-selves become casualties of war.
Is Being Normal Healthy?
Normalcy, which is often the goal of psychotherapy, lies at odds with the contemporary view of healthy psychological development; for to be normal is to be identical, and to be identical is a failure of individuation. Our communities frequently stifle us on our quests of self-discovery, and more importantly to me, our therapists, who try as hard as they can to direct us toward normality, stifle us; they try to teach us to adapt, thus working toward molding us in our culture’s image for the sake of mental health. Yet, while mental health positively correlates with social adaptation, it positively correlates with self-expression, too. So, rather than persisting in extending normality, we ought to celebrate our differences, focusing instead on individual uniqueness and the actions that express our deepest traits. Instead of preserving socially similar environments, we should work to help others find solace in communities of uniqueness.
The construct of the self is difficult to define and even more challenging to deconstruct; I still can’t differentiate between the parts which are innate and those which are developed. But, I’ve accepted its ambiguity and learned to love its mystery. Someone once told me that the philosophy which was intended for popular consumption was mere sophistry, as the real philosophy went on in silence; and that version of philosophy, in my opinion, is the philosophy of self, the discovery and creation of who one really is.
In her rebellion against normalcy, the contrarian loses her sense of self, becoming defiant for the sole purpose of rebellion. Authenticity dies through compliance and defiance, with the image of a phantom in its place. I often speak of death as a catalyst for life (referring to the awareness and acceptance of it as the driving force for fulfillment and satisfaction) and I’m more certain than ever that its mental suppression helps perpetuate Watts’ mask, for death is the great cleanser of bullshit and the great bearer of truth, the one whose bell will continue to toll until its voice is finally acknowledged. Death wishes nothing more than to be acknowledged, and to acknowledge its truth is to accept one’s path, or rather the pressing need for its creation. Although death’s inevitability remains certain, to die wondering who you could, or would have, been is not. The time to heed its call is at hand, as the hour, and the sole opportunity for creation, fades from view. What is authenticity, and who is your authentic self? Only you can know.
Please check out related blog posts, about topics encompassing self-esteem, dating, relationships, death, meaning of life, mental health, hip hop, authenticity, social justice, and love @ existentialcafe.blog.