“The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.” -Alan Watts
Contrarianism- the opposition of popular opinions and social norms for the sake of opposing and being different, for the sake of going against the current. Contrarianism is, too often, the natural rebellion of those who’ve grown weary of being perpetually placed in a box and insisted on how to think, how to feel, what to like, who to love, and how to live; contrarianism is the self’s last defense against intrusion, its last stand against unsolicited servitude; but, contrarianism is, in essence, the annihilation of the self’s potential for individuation, its drive for authenticity. In a society which relentlessly continues to impose its will on each of its members, contrarianism is, for many children and teenagers, their last hope for separation; however, despite its facade of individuality and wholeness, contrarianism is nothing more than a self-induced extermination of being, a self-inflicted suicide in the absence and loss of all hope for self-expression and actualization.
Contrarianism is the response, and reaction, of many teens to a world which refuses to afford them the opportunity to discover, and create, themselves, a world which prohibits even a minor expression of selfhood. As is cliche by now, it’s well-known how difficult it is to be a teenager and how hard it is to attempt to academically succeed while creating an identity, making friends, dating, discovering your sexuality, and navigating through a world of bullies, authority figures, and emotionally charged peers. For most of us, by the time we’re ten, we already have some inkling of what’s expected of us, of the world’s demands; we know, from our parents and our teachers, which roles we’re expected to take on and perform, and we knew of our limited autonomy in deciding our fates. Some of us decide to toe the line and become upstanding citizens, and others, well, they decide to be different, not themselves, just different; they’re the ones whom our society dubs as deviant, the rabble-rousers and trouble makers, the cast aways. They become our criminals.
Ironically, while attending virtually any psychology course on development, you’ll learn that life exists in stages, in a process of growth which begins with enmeshment, feeling and perceiving yourself to be one with your caregivers, and reaches its pinnacle with individuation, the creation of an identity which is one’s own, an authentic self, a being who can, and does, stand on her own. The irony lies in this ideal’s sharp contrast with reality. If one were to mindfully look around, they would wonder if the world were populated by automatons, rather than people, because despite our innate drive for selfhood, we’ve managed to create a culture of sameness, of individuals who aren’t really individual. To listen in on one conversation in a crowded restaurant is often akin to hearing them all. And the few who continue to yearn for individuation and individuality often find themselves lost in a monotone sea of banality; it is they who, in their quest for separation, diverge, resorting to the shattering of any modicum of selfhood, and they do so for vengeance, to drive a dagger into the heart of a culture which won’t allow them to be themselves.
Normalcy, often the goal of psychotherapy, lies at odds with the contemporary view of healthy psychological development; for to be normal is to be identical, and to be identical is a failure of individuation. In our quests for self-creation and self-acceptance, we’re frequently stifled by our communities, and more importantly to me, we’re stifled by our therapists, who try as hard as they can to direct us toward normality. So, rather than perpetuating our attempts to define and extend normality, we ought to celebrate our differences, focusing instead on individual uniqueness and the qualities which we’ve created to express the deepest parts of our souls.
The construct of the self is difficult to define and even more challenging to separate; I still can’t differentiate between the parts which are innate and those which are created. But, I’ve accepted its ambiguity and learned to love its mystery. Someone once told me that the philosophy which was intended for popular consumption was mere sophistry, as the real philosophy went on in silence, and that philosophy, in my opinion, is the philosophy of self, the discovery and creation of who you really are.
In her rebellion against normalcy, the contrarian loses her sense of self, and becomes defiant for the sole purpose of rebellion, and one way or another, whether through compliance or defiance, authenticity dies, replaced by a phantom, an image of a person in its place, the real thing being long gone. I often speak of death as a catalyst for life, and I’m more certain than ever that its mental suppression helps perpetuate Watts’ mask, for death is the great cleanser of bullshit, the great bearer of truth, the one whose bell will continue to toll until its voice is finally heard. Death wishes nothing more than to be acknowledged, and to acknowledge its truth is to accept one’s path, or rather the pressing need for its creation. Although death’s inevitability remains certain, to die wondering who you could, or would have, been is not; and now, just as ever, the time to heed its call is at hand, as the hour, and the sole opportunity for creation, withers.