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A quick recommendation...
This is an outstanding article from today’s Aeon, by Costica Bradatan, in praise of contrarians. The great mystics have, I would like to say, quite often and unavoidably been cast in the role of contrarians, at times unintentionally and at other times intentionally — much to their credit either way, and not infrequently at a heavy cost to themselves.
You can read the entire essay here.
An excerpt to whet the appetite:
It would be wrong to say that jargon is just an ‘academic style’. Jargon is not a style – it is the death of style. It is slow assassination. Drowned in jargon and subjected to its corrosive work, the stylistic richness of the contrarians doesn’t stand a chance. You take this canned version of their thinking into your mouth to taste, and you feel nothing. No matter how savoury and flavourful and wholesome the contrarians are in themselves, and how different from each other, they now taste more or less the same – the unfailing sameness of processed thought. You look for some traces of their unique spirit in what’s been written about them – peer-reviewed articles, conference proceedings, doctoral dissertations, college textbooks and whatnot – but you look in vain: all you can find is blandness.
The system has swallowed them up, masticated them thoroughly, and then spat them out. The contrarians are now safe for public consumption. And utterly defeated.
Have you noticed how, in today’s academia, we feel an urge to speed up and flock toward the centre of the herd? Afraid to be left out, exposed and vulnerable, we would do anything to be where the pack is most dense. Whether we are in London or Los Angeles, in Paris or Beijing, we always seek to melt into the academic herd – as if this were the most natural thing for a scholar to do. Our survival instinct tells us that it is safer to go with the herd, and not against it – indeed, to be at the centre of it, rather than at its margins. We use a fancy term for it, ‘networking’, though that will fool no one: it’s an instinctive reaction, the barely disguised expression of the drive to survive...
We may be hard-wired for herding, and our survival may be due to it, but we can become spiritually whole only away from the crowd. Biology and spirit belong to opposite realms.
Ironically, what we need most badly now is something that’s most difficult to get in our age of compulsive conformism: an authentic contrarian spirit. It is from contrarians and dissenters and other pariahs that we can learn the craft of unherding, and yet they are few and far between. And, if that was not bad enough, even if we managed to get hold of them, their cure will be precarious, uncertain and unlasting. For, again, in the grand scheme of things, it is the establishment that prevails.
Which is all the more reason to go contrarian.
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