On Being a Contrarian


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Every society has its contrarians—those who buck the tide and think for themselves. What makes them different is that they flatly refuse to buy into the idea that anybody else’s opinions or decisions are better than their own. I think it was Robert Heinlein who said democracy was the idea that the decisions of a thousand idiots are better than the decision of one wise man. The contrarians I know read the books, watch the news, and do their own research, especially if the accepted research contradicts their personal experiences.  They are the ones who practice diversified farming instead of mono-cropped agricultural industrialism. Contrarians drink raw milk, use butter they made themselves, load their own ammunition, grow food gardens and can butcher an elk on the kitchen table. Contrarians are the ones who are likely to be labeled: “not a team player”; “has trouble taking direction”; “resistant to instructions”. A contrarian has little use for government bureaucrats, manipulated statistics, political spin or similar attempts to make her go along with the herd. Most of the contrarians I’ve known are also pretty good shots, for some reason…

While they come in a variety of genders, sexual persuasions, sizes, colors and genetic backgrounds, they share some characteristics:

  1. Realism – when confronted with satellite pictures of melting glaciers and shrinking Antarctic pack ice, they accept that the world is getting warmer. They don’t argue about emails or political agendas.
  2. Tenacity – if they don’t understand something, they keep plugging away at it. If they’re learning a new skill or don’t know how to do something, they keep practicing until they can. They don’t quit and they never give up.
  3. Intelligence – this is not a matter of IQ points, but the ability to use whatever brains you’ve got clearly, creatively and consistently.
  4. Self-directed learning – they may or may not have advanced degrees, but they are constantly looking for answers to questions that other people haven’t even started asking yet.
  5. Global thinking – not global in the sense of the world but global in the sense of being able to see the relationships between things like cheap oil and how it has affected American farming for the worse, or between strawberries in the market during December and the impact that has on air pollution. They think holistically.
  6. Willingness to make changes – personally and politically.
  7. Stubbornness – to paraphrase something someone near and dear to me once said, a contrarian is a stubborn as an oak post.

I have also found that it’s generally the contrarians who will give you the shirt off their backs, the hamburger—raised on the farm, of course—out of the freezer, and the gallon of gas when you’re stranded along the road. They know that the buck stops right next to that face they see in the mirror. Let’s hear it for the contrarians, bless their stubborn, persnickety little hearts of gold.

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One Response to On Being a Contrarian

  1. Jan Steinman
    Twitter: JanBytesmiths.com

    You forgot one thing: contrarians can’t always be summarized in seven easy steps!

    In fact, I find #6 (willingness to make changes) to be a bit at odds with some of the other things. “Stubborn?” Well, when I know I’m right, I know I’m right, dammit! But a good contrarian won’t let insistence on “being right” interfere with a better idea coming along!

    I consider myself both a contrarian and a pacifist. Many people confuse that latter term with “passivist” — someone who would rather give in than fight. But you can fight in a non-violent manner.

    Ghandi was a pacifist when he and his followers “attacked” a saltworks, allowing themselves to be clubbed while they tried to peacefully enter the saltworks. He was a pacifist when he got millions of people spinning their own cloth, rather than buying it from their oppressors.

    There’s something about the American love of weapons that I find both distasteful and counter-productive. In fact, I find it not very contrary at all to insist on Second Amendment rights above all else. One can be “a good shot,” and yet refuse to use that skill against another human being.

    So let’s get really contrary, and figure out clever, Ghandian ways of beating the system in a non-violent manner. Drinking raw milk — on the capital steps, if necessary — is a good start. Refusing to participate in the economy any more than necessary is another. (Don’t want to pay taxes? Don’t make money!) But thinking your stash of weapons is any match for Blackwater mercenaries returning from Iraq is not a good start in changing things, unless you’re hell-bent on martyrdom.

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