Narcissistic Contrarianism

by HalMorris 5y21st Nov 20141 min read29 comments

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The recent discussion on neo-reactionary-ism brought out some references to (intellectual hipsters and) meta-contrarianism linking to a 2010 posting by Yvain.

For some time I've been thinking about "narcissistic contrarians" -- those who make an art form of their exotically counterintuitive belief systems, who combine positions not normally met in the same person.  There can be good reasons for being a contrarian.  If you're looking for a scarce resource, it may help to not look where everyone else is looking, hence contrarian stock market investors may do very well, if they actually see something others don't; same with oil explorers.  Less creditably, I believe Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise made reference to the way a novice pundit or prognosticator may have nothing to gain by saying anything like what other people are saying, and much to gain, in taking some wild extravagant position or prediction if it happens to attract an audience others have ignored, or if the predictions happens to be right.

The Narcissistic Contrarian is much like the Intellectual Hipster, but more extreme.  The Intellectual Hipster usually stakes out a few unusual or incongruous positions, to create an identity that stands out from the crowd.  The Narcissistic Contrarian is constantly dazzling her fans.  Something written by Camille Paglia made me think of the idea in the first place.  Nicholas Taleb is another suspect although I think he started out with some good ideas.  If she/he manages to get a fan-base, they are apt to be pretty worshipful -- they can't imagine being able to come up with such a wild set of insights.  The contrarianism is for its own sake rather than an attempt to find and settle on some previously undiscovered thing, so it particularly likely to lead people astray, into unproductive avenues of thought.

Does anyone else think this is a real and useful distinction?

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