This is a casually written post in a series about what I wish someone had told me when I was younger.
I was a weird kid, but I didn't originally set out to be weird. I like doing things other people do and feeling like I belong. But as I got past kindergarten, forces incentivized me to be weird.
There was a bunch of stuff pushing me in this way:
- My IQ scored landed me in gifted classes. Being labeled smart and gifted meant adults gave me a free pass to be weird rather than encouraging me to be normal because weirdness is more tolerated if you're useful in some other way.
- Asthma kept me from being good at sports, so no one really wanted me on their team. So life was easier if I engaged in other activities instead of doing what all the regular kids did.
- I wasn't religious, so I was the weirdo atheist who had to justify his existence and beliefs instead of being a normal, God-fearing person.
- I had OCD, and this meant I sometimes had to do weird things to avoid having a meltdown.
So I ended up hanging out with the other weird kids because the thing we had in common is that we didn't fit in with the normals. We were treated like outcasts by our classmates, allowed to live on the edge of the village, so to speak, so long as we continued to be occasionally useful.
Of course, lots of people feel like they're weird at times, especially as kids, so it comes in degrees. Even popular, super normal kids feel like they don't fit in sometimes, and that seems to be part of growing up, at least in the West. But what I'm talking about is being weird enough that weird becomes part of your identity because other people make it part of your identity, and then you lean into it because you know you can get away with it.
There's virtue in being weird at times. I don't think I have to convince folks here of that! But there is also a lot of virtue in being and acting normal.
Some good things can happen if you act normal, by which I mean act in ways that something like within one standard deviation of whatever the average thing to do is in a particular situation. To wit:
- People automatically assume you're part of the ingroup and one of them, so they are nicer to you.
- People understand how to interact with you and so can more easily help you and make requests of you, and thus they can build stronger feelings of affinity towards you.
- You don't have to figure out how to make the world accommodate you because it already does.
You might object that it's unfair that this is how the world is, and it probably is. Disabled people, for example, face constant challenges because the world doesn't treat them as well as it should because they aren't considered normal. So I'm not saying we shouldn't work to adopt norms that expand the ingroup, push out the circle of moral concern, and be more accommodating to more people. Instead I want to point out how, given the reality of how humans behave, acting normal can be a huge boon if you're able to do it. On the margin, if you can just as easily be weird or be normal, being normal will, in a wide variety of circumstances, be of great value because it will cause other people to treat you better.
This is not to say you should give up on weirdness all the time, only that you should give up on weirdness on the margin where gains can be made for reasonable tradeoffs. Some people talk of spending weirdness points, and to the extent that model makes sense, those points need to be spent wisely. Normal people are willing to tolerate some degree of weirdness; America, and especially urban America, is no longer a highly conformist society the way it was in the past. You can have your weird interests or beliefs, just not so many of them that you push yourself out beyond the central cluster of normality.
What are good ways to spend your weirdness points? Spend them on stuff that really matters. Don't spend them on stuff that's not very important. Some conditional examples:
- Care a lot about animal suffering? Spend your weirdness points on being vegan or something similar.
- Don't care much about what clothes you wear? Conserve your weirdness points and just wear normal looking clothes that blend in.
- Care a lot about the truth? Be very careful in your reasoning—far more careful than is normal.
- Don't care much about politics? Adopt reasonable, centrist policy stances that are so boring no one will want to argue with you about them.
Maybe one day we can live in a world where being more weird is normal and you less need to conserve what things you are weird about. Certainly many people try to create bubbles where what counts is normal is dramatically expanded, although as with all bubbles this means you run into trouble as soon as you step outside it. Maybe you care about expanding the window of what's normal so much that you're willing to suffer the consequences of being very weird now so that normal for future people is 10% weirder than it is today. But if you have no reason to make an identity out of being weird, just be normal where you can be so you can better navigate the broader world of humans you find yourself living in who are far more normal than you and expect you to be more normal than you might otherwise want to be.
The resolution for this dilemma is multiple personas (modes/contexts of behavior/thought), and the essential advice is to have a "normal" persona in your arsenal. Doesn't need to affect the other personas. The bubbles are where one can naturally engage the non-"normal" personas socially.
More general advice is to think about understanding the more alien worldviews of interest as working towards developing personas that could ITT them (which doesn't need to get to the point of functional success or actual enactment). Like empathy, this is easier than explicitly (System 2) understanding those worldviews on technical level. Fine-tune intuitive language models that capture them first.
Maybe this is just quibbling about words, but I don't like conflating "weird" with "uncharismatic", "awkward", "disagreeable", "picky", etc. There are many very weird (unusual; people will be surprised if you do them; you will stand out) behaviors that don't result in the kinds of drawbacks you listed, e.g. signing up for cryonics, or doing moral reasoning from first principles, or having polyamorous relationships.
They only have those drawbacks if you then do things like discuss them tactlessly, or make them central to your social identity, or act judgmentally or intolerantly towards people who behave normally, etc. But you can usually just not do those things.
I have to Say that this essay made me chuckle a bit. It made me think of the notion of a Social Suit I’ve learned to put on after 66 years that helps me be social comfortably and fit in…meaning I applaud you for pointing this out. I think we all have our own inherent strangeness that our Modern psychotope’s socioplasm en-structurates our behavior around that our individual selves emerge from. I notice it in how many of my younger friends find putting on make-up, wearing a suit, or, conversely, being incredibly strange makes fitting and being successful in the workplace reflected in the new psychotopic norm of Everyone is Queer.
Looking back on it, this wasn’t always the case, and I was fortunate having spent most of my working years in the edgy academic environment of a San Francisco General HIV/AIDS clinical where being weird was the norm. What I think I finally learned from a cultural theorist friend, who’s spent his career reflecting on the Philosophy and Psychology of the Machine, is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with this normative psychotopic structure that’s built into the edifice of Modernity’s rational edifice as long as you recognize it as the stage-prop it is. The problem is remembering it’s an artificial mean of central tendency as a ratio of a central perspective that we all deviate from in our humanness. Today when I look at the left and right in terms of Wokenstanism or Christian Nationalism, I see this Social suit as a way of conforming towards a totalitarian unity.
Meaning I hope the younger generations continue embracing individual differences as what makes up the diverse social background we all emerge from as individuals…
This tangentially reminded me of one of many worthwhile things (IMHO) Richard Hamming said in his You and Your Research lecture (https://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html):
"By realizing you have to use the system and studying how to get the system to do your work, you learn how to adapt the system to your desires. Or you can fight it steadily, as a small undeclared war, for the whole of your life."
All of the comments on this post have too few negativity decibels to correctly compensate for OP's density, and the rationalist norms prevent me from giving the correct amount of decibels. (Everyone is dense in some ways all the time; the only way to not be dense is through constant exposure to at least one sample of every type of smart person and unfortunately even smart people will block you, so no one is safe from density)