Cultivating weirdness

The simplest and safest way to live your life is by cultivating “sameness”. Look around at what successful people do, and do the same thing. All your cool friends go to college? Go to college. They all work in a start-up? Work in a start-up. All your middle-age friends take up Pilates, take up Pilates.

At an individual level, this works remarkably well. Play it safe. Do what others do… and I can always guarantee a comfortable middle-class existence.

There is an alternative to cultivating sameness and that’s cultivating weirdness. This is slightly different from cultivating “your weirdness”. I could wear a funny hat. That would get me attention. But my purpose in cultivating weirdness is not to “look different” but rather to “think different” (as Apple liked to say). Cultivating weirdness is not the same as joining an “alternative scene”. That would be another instance of “sameness”.

On social media, instead of following just people who think like me… I avoid people who think like me. Instead, I seek extremists in all directions. This means that, yes, I do end up reading for hours people who take the bible literally. I am routinely exposed to people who are openly white supremacists.

I also try to be slightly out-of-sync, but with a purpose. Is gardening out-of-fashion? Interesting. Let me be a gardener. Is everyone wearing a smartphone? Interesting. Let me go without a smartphone.

This way of life is terribly inefficient. That’s because accepted ideas are much more likely to be useful than weird ideas. But my goal is not to be right. What I hope to provide is a critical reflection. In other words, I don’t mind being wrong as long as I am wrong in an interesting way.

Daniel Lemire, "Cultivating weirdness," in Daniel Lemire's blog, February 15, 2016.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

4 thoughts on “Cultivating weirdness”

  1. Reading writings by extremists is like watching animals in a zoo. You don’t learn anything, it’s just for amusement. It is better to read writings by people who are rather normal and intelligent, but in some particular matter have an opinion exactly opposite to yours. If you feel very strongly about this matter, you might find that it is almost impossible to read them without getting angry, but if you manage to do it and seriously consider their position, I think you can learn a lot.

    I have done this for years and I find that my opinion on some things that I had strong opinions about before have mellowed a lot. Maybe five years ago I was still almost a militant atheist. Now I don’t believe in absolute knowledge about anything anymore and I see religions as a rather harmless way to get a sense of belonging and comfort. I still don’t believe in religions because I think that in these matters the burden of proof is on the person who claims that something outside our experience exists. On the other hand, I accept that there are many things we do not understand and one possible (if, in my opinion, not the most likely) explanation for them is some sort of deity.

  2. There is often a glimmer of enlightenment (even unintended) in the writings of weirdos (or should I say “fellow weirdos”). Religious nuts may have done a lot of reading, even in the Greek; they might quote something that gives valuable insight. Racial supremacists are often amazingly well-educated; their outlook is simply warped in a particular direction. People have called me a “fascist” for the unpopular opinions I project, but they still listen when I care to preach to them.

    Conformists conform. They utter predictable homilies, predictably. Who needs that? Only the insecure (and of course salespeople, who know that the best way to close a deal is to pretend interest in a mark’s yakking).

    Probably the most interesting individual I’ve ever known was also one of the most difficult and certainly tragic: Canadian poet Edward A. Lacey. Catholic, homosexual, brilliant, struggling to escape a repressive environment / upbringing. And what a talker. Definitely a weirdo.

  3. To the anonymous. I like to call religion a “temporary” theorem before himanity peels another layer of how this universe is built.

    Religion to me is like filling the void and delibirate attempt to avoid years of schooling. That fluffy feeling of someone in the sky watching over you, soothing effect on mind and body but a mind game nonetheless.

    Sorry for digression.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may subscribe to this blog by email.