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Individualism Versus Non-conformism

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A while back, Ranil Illesinghe has a nice post on the difference between individualism and non-conformism. The whole entry is worth reading, particularly for people new to Objectivism. I particularly liked the litmus test at the end:

I find that the best test to see whether or not someone is an individual is to ask the following question: If the mainstream acted in the same way that he acted, would he:

A. Stay the same OR

B. Do things differently?

If he chooses to stay the same, then he is a true individualist, because it does not matter how many people act LIKE you, as long as you are relying on nothing but your independent judgment. If they start being different for the sake of being different, then that person is the worst sort of coward -- the fashionable non-conformist.

Can you imagine Howard Roark abandoning his style of buildings simply because great masses of people started recognizing their superiority over the buildings designed by Peter Keating or Gus Webb? Perish the thought!

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Interesting.

The motto of Steve Jobs' Apple Computers is "think different".

In business, if you are doing what everyone else is doing, you will probably not succeed very well. You must actually aim to differentiate yourself. I wonder if "non-conformity" might actually be a positive attribute or (even) strategy in business.

Interesting.

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I dont think that question is a good way of determining whether someone is an individualist. Just because someone picks the first option doesn’t necessarily mean they are an individualist. They could be a conformist, and being a conformist is just as bad as being a non-conformist.

*fixed spelling*

Edited by Geoff
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For the Superbowl as soon as I learned the Steelers were coming here (Detroit) I jumped on their bandwagon because I've always thought they were a good and tough team. And I too, liked the idea of the Bus finishing his career here at home with a Superbowl win.

Then I quickly noticed that virtually everyone in the Detroit area was throwing their allegiance to the Steeler, first for reason such as my own, but then for non-cognitive reasons such as well everyone's rooting for the Steeler's here so I guess I should too. This happened on a VERY large scale in this area and was very annoying.

So while I never wavered in my mind of my support for the Steelers during the run-up to the game I just evaded answering who I wanted to win when people asked because I didn't want to be included in with all the second-handers around here in anyones mind.

So, I guess my question is where would I fit in in regards to the threads topic of true individualist vs. "fasionable non-conformist" being that I essentially took the latter and stood it on its head compared to what most people here would mean by that second phrase? In other words, I didn't evade answering because I didn't want to "be aligned with the majority opinion" but because *I didn't want anyone to assume erroneously that I was picking the Steelers because it was the fasionable thing to do*.

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For the Superbowl as soon as I learned the Steelers were coming here (Detroit) I jumped on their bandwagon because I've always thought they were a good and tough team. And I too, liked the idea of the Bus finishing his career here at home with a Superbowl win.

Then I quickly noticed that virtually everyone in the Detroit area was throwing their allegiance to the Steeler, first for reason such as my own, but then for non-cognitive reasons such as well everyone's rooting for the Steeler's here so I guess I should too. This happened on a VERY large scale in this area and was very annoying.

So while I never wavered in my mind of my support for the Steelers during the run-up to the game I just evaded answering who I wanted to win when people asked because I didn't want to be included in with all the second-handers around here in anyones mind.

So, I guess my question is where would I fit in in regards to the threads topic of true individualist vs. "fasionable non-conformist" being that I essentially took the latter and stood it on its head compared to what most people here would mean by that second phrase? In other words, I didn't evade answering because I didn't want to "be aligned with the majority opinion" but because *I didn't want anyone to assume erroneously that I was picking the Steelers because it was the fasionable thing to do*.

Hmmm, this wouldn't fully put you into the complete area of non-conformity, but I would argue that the truly individualistic person would be 100% indifferent to whatever groups others tried to pigeon-hole him under. Throughout the course of the Fountainhead, the media treated Howard Roark as some sort of misguided idealist (essentially accusing him of artistic escapism, while attacking him personally as being cold and unapproachable). But Roark was 100% unaffected by it, that would be how I'd try to react if I was in a similar situation, mostly because he ends up ticking-off the establishment regardless of how they try to categorize him.

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I dont think that question is a good way of determining whether someone is an individualist. Just because someone picks the first option doesn’t necessarily mean they are an individualist. They could be a conformist, and being a conformist is just as bad as being a non-conformist.

*fixed spelling*

Geoff, you need to read my whole post that I made on my blog for the 'litmus test' to make sense. In it, I make distictions between three different types of people: blind conformists, fashionable non-conformists and true individualists.

And Diana, I just discovered your blog - and will bookmark it for future reference.

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Interesting.

The motto of Steve Jobs' Apple Computers is "think different".

In business, if you are doing what everyone else is doing, you will probably not succeed very well. You must actually aim to differentiate yourself. I wonder if "non-conformity" might actually be a positive attribute or (even) strategy in business.

Interesting.

Yes, businesses need to differentiate themselves, but it is not for the sake of being different. Different customers value different attributes in products and services, and to tap into these markets, a business has to differentiate itself. For example, let's take a look at the car market.

Lincoln knows that there are people of retiree age who want a big, comfortable car that's not particularly exciting. They differentiate themselves on these attributes, knowing full well that they will not appeal to the kind of customer that would buy say, a Porsche Boxter. Porsche on the other hand, position themselves as being fun and exciting, hence completely ignoring the Lincoln customers.

This is why businesses segment markets - so that they can offer different values to different people. If a car company wanted to be different for the sake of being different, then they could try convincing a customer who comes into a showroom to buy a car to buy a loaf of bread instead and use it as a car. Different and non-conformist? Absolutely! Will this 'car company' survive for very long? Umm... :)

The important thing to remember is that a business differentiating itself well will still be appealing to values of customers. Whereas being non-conformist for the sake of being non-conformist has nothing at all to do with values.

Also, remember that often when a business does something better than another business (i.e. being innovative), by default, it is being different, but this is a secondary consequence, and not a primary motivation.

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So, it would be wrong to value (the reputation of) being different?
In the context of a business, assets (both tangible and intangible) have monetary value based on the future cash flow they can be expected to generate. A favorable business reputation has value in that it assists the owner in producing future sales and profits. A business reputation for "being different" would only have monetary value if it translated into profitability.
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So, it would be wrong to value (the reputation of) being different?

To expand on Ranil's comments, it how one is different that is important not simply that they are different.

As an example, here's my brief recap of a success story (that I can particularly relate to) from Inc. magazine.

Mike Schwartz started and was successful in a couple of businesses in Delaware. He generated enough disposable income that he decided he wanted to start riding a Harley Davidson. He was by no means a "hardcore" biker. At the time he decided this, he was a middle-aged successful businessman, not the model of a Harley Davidson biker.

He went to a "typical" HD dealership to buy a bike and did not get service he would have liked. The dealership he went to, like most (if not all) others catered to hardcore bikers. The service wasn't real friendly, the people weren't as informative as he needed them to be because they expected him to know more, etc. If I recall correctly, he had to wait around a year for his bike to come in. At the time, that business sold around 150-170 bikes a year.

Mike was different. He saw an a target consumer out there just like himself, and many ways to improve on their "business model". He got the money together and bought the business. He realigned how they did business and today he sells around 1700 bikes a year, the wait time is significantly less, and other HD dealerships are falling in line with his model. The whole company took a shift in his direction.

If you are into bikes and have a chance, Mike's Famous is a really cool place to visit and possibly buy a bike.

Mike was different in a specific way that made him successful and admirable.

You can probably look around and find many other businesses that try to be different, but fail miserably.

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Well, 'difference' and 'diversity' (for the sake of being different and diverse) are not values as such.

Ranil,

1. they are not values as such? But can't they be values to *SOMEONE* as such? Why not?

Ice cream is not a value *as such*. But it can be a value to someone, no?

2. (a girl is the only one in the school who is Asian and somehow she loves that fact - is that irrational? does the 'difference' have to have an actual function *as such*?)

Just curious.

RationalCop,

yes, i agree with that. i'm not sure it was an expansion of Ranil's comments, though.

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1. they are not values as such? But can't they be values to *SOMEONE* as such? Why not?

Ask yourself these questions; How does one determine the value of something absent that something having a purpose in that person's life? How does one gauge that value in comparison with other values in that person's life?

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Ranil,

1. they are not values as such? But can't they be values to *SOMEONE* as such? Why not?

Ice cream is not a value *as such*. But it can be a value to someone, no?

2. (a girl is the only one in the school who is Asian and somehow she loves that fact - is that irrational? does the 'difference' have to have an actual function *as such*?)

Just curious.

I like what RationalCop wrote about how it's important to note how/why something is different. Being different for a specific purpose is perfectly fine. In his Harley Davidson example, a person sees things being done in a certain way, but realises that if he does things in a different way, he can be successful. In other words, he did not choose to develop a new business model just to be different, but because that difference had a purpose. That is what I meant when I said that being different for the sake of being different is of no value, because there is no rational purpose for it.

A value is something that can rationally enhance a person's life. A value therefore, has to have a rational purpose. A person being a non-conformist (different for the sake of being different) is an attempt to achieve an identity in a second-handed manner, and no true values can be derived in this way.

With your Asian girl example - if she liked her Asian features (let's say, really delicate skin, petite build, etc.) because she thought they were feminine or cute or whatever, then that is fine. In such a case, it does not matter if the whole world had the exact same features, because she has evaluated that these things are good, according to her judgment. But if she simply liked the fact that she was different, and nothing else, then she would hate the fact that she was Asian if she ever set her feet back in her 'home' country.

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1.

With your Asian girl example - if she liked her Asian features (let's say, really delicate skin, petite build, etc.) because she thought they were feminine or cute or whatever, then that is fine. In such a case, it does not matter if the whole world had the exact same features, because she has evaluated that these things are good, according to her judgment. But if she simply liked the fact that she was different, and nothing else, then she would hate the fact that she was Asian if she ever set her feet back in her 'home' country.

Not necessarily. Absence of a 'value' you enjoyed in another context does not mean you will "hate the fact" that you would not enjoy it any more (in another context); but even if this was not so (if she did hate the fact that she could no longer enjoy this 'value'), it does not show that the value was therefore wrong. And perhaps she might value the fact that she is the only one in her 'home' country who was previously in America!

2.

A value is something that can rationally enhance a person's life. A value therefore, has to have a rational purpose.

Are you sure you are always conscious of (or you always know) the "rational purpose" of all the things you value? (including vanilla ice-cream?)

3. When you emphasise the irrationality of valuing difference "for the sake of being different", aren't you saying something that is true about so many other things - if not everything - that you value? Do you value 'intelligence' "for the sake of being" intelligent? Well then if this is true of (almost) all other values, then the emphasis becomes moot.

[Again, i liked your article and i think it's very important; just curious about its psycho-philosophical underpinnings].

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1. Yes, the term 'hate the fact' was wrong in that context. I interpreted your original Asian girl example as she was simply glad that she was different. But now you're talking about something that is deeper than that. If she enjoyed the fact that she was the only person from her country that was previously in America, then this actually is something very different to her say, being proud of looking Chinese. (Which was my original interpretation).

2. Of course. I can easily tell you the rational purpose of all my values, including vanilla ice-cream! (But I prefer chocolate).

3. I don't quite understand what you are trying to say here. Could you rephrase it for me? Personally, I don't value intelligence for the sake of intelligence, but I do value applied intelligence.

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1. Yes, the term 'hate the fact' was wrong in that context. I interpreted your original Asian girl example as she was simply glad that she was different. But now you're talking about something that is deeper than that. If she enjoyed the fact that she was the only person from her country that was previously in America, then this actually is something very different to her say, being proud of looking Chinese. (Which was my original interpretation).

2. Of course. I can easily tell you the rational purpose of all my values, including vanilla ice-cream! (But I prefer chocolate).

3. I don't quite understand what you are trying to say here. Could you rephrase it for me? Personally, I don't value intelligence for the sake of intelligence, but I do value applied intelligence.

3. Precisely. So, if you do not value intelligence for the sake of intelligence, then there is no reason to emphasise that it is wrong to value being different for the sake of being different because that is true for so many other things (including intelligence). It does not answer the question of whether 'difference' can be a (rational) value (just like 'intelligence').

2. I doubt very much that you do know the rational purpose of all your values including vanilla ice-cream (ah - you prefer chocolate - you are even more enlightened than i thought!). Your answer for preferring chocolate to vanilla is probably that it gives you more pleasure and you value that. But if that is all you need to say to define a "rational purpose" then you can say the same thing if you value 'difference'. You might simply say: it gives me pleasure to be different! (Or perhaps do you have another "rational purpose" you could articulate for your valuing chocolate ice-cream?)

1. Let me give a better example. Would you say that people who say, "i don't want to buy this particular model/color of car because it is just too common in this city; i will buy the other rarer model instead" are irrational/un-independent, etc? [Assuming of course that the one they choose is not necessarily inferior to the common one - but they chose it simply because it is not driven by everyone (and not because of higher perormance, etc); it is simply 'different'.] Is that irrational?

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Are you sure you are always conscious of (or you always know) the "rational purpose" of all the things you value? (including vanilla ice-cream?)

I doubt very much that you do know the rational purpose of all your values including vanilla ice-cream (ah - you prefer chocolate - you are even more enlightened than i thought!).

It's exceedingly rude for you to ask someone a question and then strongly imply they are lying just because you don't like the answer. What is your proof that he lying?

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Blackdiamond, you are overcomplicating the issue.

1. My point all along has been that values need to serve a purpose, and that choosing to do something differently primarily for the sake of doing something differently (i.e. not because it is better) is irrational, because any value you derive in this manner is second-handed. For instance, in other people, the values that I regard most highly are:

a. Honesty, because it shows that they are in touch with reality, and are willing to deal with it.

b. Ambition, because it shows that they are willing to live a purposeful life, and life without purpose may as well be death.

c. Creativity, because it shows that they will not follow blindly, and think of better ways of doing things.

I chose those values not because the mainstream had rejected them or because the mainstream follows them. Those are the values that I admire. I could not care less if those three values were what everyone in the whole world looked for.

2. You doubt me? Why? You are right in saying that the reason I value Chocolate ice cream IS because it gives me more pleasure. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with getting pleasure out of simply being different? Well, because that is second-handed, and the things that gave you pleasure one day may no longer give you pleasure on a different day simply because you always have to change for the sake of change in order to be 'different'. A person who got pleasure out of being 'different' may like vanilla one day, and if the tastes of the majority changed the next day so that they all now liked vanilla too, he would have to suddenly not like vanilla, and like chocolate. Don't you see how this is pure secondhandedness?

3. In the case of the car, no, I don't think that's irrational, because this different car is as good as all the other cars. Driving a different car in this case may actually be a rational thing to do - it will be easier to find the car in a car park, for example. What would be irrational is if they picked a vastly inferior car that did not suit their purposes, just to be different.

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Blackdiamond, you are overcomplicating the issue.

1. My point all along has been that values need to serve a purpose, and that choosing to do something differently primarily for the sake of doing something differently (i.e. not because it is better) is irrational, because any value you derive in this manner is second-handed. For instance, in other people, the values that I regard most highly are:

a. Honesty, because it shows that they are in touch with reality, and are willing to deal with it.

b. Ambition, because it shows that they are willing to live a purposeful life, and life without purpose may as well be death.

c. Creativity, because it shows that they will not follow blindly, and think of better ways of doing things.

I chose those values not because the mainstream had rejected them or because the mainstream follows them. Those are the values that I admire. I could not care less if those three values were what everyone in the whole world looked for.

Ranil, i understand this very much. These are major values that you refer to, but there are other 'smaller' values like vanilla ice-cream which different people have. For those 'major' values, you expect a rational person to pursue them because they are OBJECTIVELY right for them. And i argue that you DO know the rational purpose of these particular values because you have focussed on them a lot (as an Objectivist).

But for the smaller values, i do not expect anyone to know "the rational purpose" of all of them because they are too many and not always that important for someone to expend so much energy thinking about their "rational purposes." For some of these values, we are not even conscious of having them. For example, you might not realise your favourite color is 'blue' until someone asks you to think about it!

2. You doubt me? Why? You are right in saying that the reason I value Chocolate ice cream IS because it gives me more pleasure. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with getting pleasure out of simply being different? Well, because that is second-handed, and the things that gave you pleasure one day may no longer give you pleasure on a different day simply because you always have to change for the sake of change in order to be 'different'. A person who got pleasure out of being 'different' may like vanilla one day, and if the tastes of the majority changed the next day so that they all now liked vanilla too, he would have to suddenly not like vanilla, and like chocolate. Don't you see how this is pure secondhandedness?

Ranil, you are committing the fallacy of appealing to extremes. A person might make a "non-conformist" choice in their car choice, etc but this does not mean they will make a non-conformist choice in every single thing they do. I can not imagine any "non-conformist" who takes this sort of approach in their food tastes. If you don't like sweet stuff, you don't like sweet stuff. (Or are you defining a non-conformist as one who ALWAYS makes a non-conformist choice - even when buying a toothbrush?)

The chocolate ice-cream example was simply a case to show that one does not always know (or care to know) precisely what the purpose of ALL their values are. I said "I doubt" you, not because i think you are lying but because i think you are mistaken (a possibility Mr. RationalCop did not consider, evidently.)

3. In the case of the car, no, I don't think that's irrational, because this different car is as good as all the other cars. Driving a different car in this case may actually be a rational thing to do - it will be easier to find the car in a car park, for example. What would be irrational is if they picked a vastly inferior car that did not suit their purposes, just to be different.

My point, Ranil, is that the person making this choice of a different car might not even think of all those utilitarian aspects of the choice - like finding it in the car park, etc - but can make the choice just because they think "it's boring to have the same car as everyone else". Are they irrational if they did not think of those more "useful" purposes of choosing a different colored car WHEN they were making the choice?

[incidentally, your last statement is "What would be irrational is if they picked a vastly inferior car that did not suit their purposes, just to be different." This statement seems to emphasise the "vastly inferior" aspect - "that did not suit their purposes" - of the car as grounds for your judgment of their irrationality. Would you then agree that if the car was not "vastly inferior" their choice would not necessarily be irrational even if it was "just to be different"?]

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