Unpopular Beliefs

nonconform cartoonOne of the challenges of being too far ahead is the push-back you get on some of your ideas and beliefs. My ideas and beliefs tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Beliefs that were once unpopular but are now accepted by the great majority of people. Examples:
    • Gender and racial equality.
    • Abhorrence of cruelty to animals.
    • Evolution.
  2. Beliefs that are still unpopular among conservatives but increasingly popular among progressives. Examples:
    • Homosexuality as a perfectly natural alternative to heterosexuality.
    • Universal, not-for-profit health care.
    • Allowing people to evolve their own cultures at the pace and the way they want, as long as they respect the ideas and beliefs of others, and respect acknowledged universal rights and freedoms; acknowledging as well that democracy and constitutional liberalism cannot be imposed.
    • Unschooling, letting young people learn in the community, their own way, at their own pace, the things that they need to learn to live and make a living productively.
    • War must only be a last resort, and never has winners. Humans are by nature peaceful, generous, and well-intentioned.
  3. Beliefs that are still unpopular, even among progressives. Examples:
    • Communal ownership of property; the idea that we belong to the land, rather than it to us.
    • Egalitarian consensus decision-making, rather than hiererchical, role-based decision-making.
    • Polyamorism as being a more natural and healthy way to live than monogamy.
    • Encouragement of negative population growth, to naturally reduce human population below one billion, and commensurately setting aside most of the Earth’s inhabitable land as wildlands, uninhabited by humans.

In the progressive press, news that some people still haven’t accepted Category 1 beliefs is often reported dismissively, derisively, impatiently, even angrily. There is a sense that we’re past that, that we shouldn’t still have to deal with these issues.

In the progressive press, there is a lot of debate about Category 2 beliefs. The progressive point of view is advanced, articulated, argued vociferously. Other points of view are presented, in an effort to understand and refute them.

You will not find much in the progressive press, or anywhere else, on Category 3 beliefs. These are fringe thoughts, limited to the left-wing and anarcho-press. Some progressives may be sympathetic to these beliefs, but they don’t want to discuss them, be associated with them, have to defend them against the rabid antipathy of the mainstream. Some progressives may be completely unsympathetic to them, and consider them a betrayal, a distraction, ammunition to the other side.

I have always believed that things are the way they are for a reason. When I’ve held unpopular beliefs in past, I’ve remained suspicious of them, kept them mostly to myself, thrown them out not as my own but as ‘straw man’ ideas to be prodded, exposed, poked full of holes. Perhaps as a result, most of the unpopular beliefs I held as a young man I no longer espouse.

Or perhaps it is because it was more important to me to be accepted, popular, everybody-else. If you hold an unpopular belief too vociferously, you can be trampled, brutalized, ostracized, lynched. Just ask anyone who espoused Category 1 or 2 beliefs when they were still Category 3 beliefs.

As I get older, I am no longer as concerned with what people think of my beliefs, and I am modestly more competent at defending them, at least with those who are capable of listening. And while some of my youthful unpopular beliefs are no longer things I believe in, I have lots of new Category 3 beliefs, most of which I have aired on this blog at one time or another.

The response I have received to my articles about them, and my espousal of these beliefs, has been, for the most part, pretty hostile, and sometimes downright nasty. Sometimes I feel like just keeping them to myself. But then I ask myself: What if I had lived in a previous generation or more conservative country, and I had chosen to keep silent about then-unpopular beliefs that have since become (thanks in part to people who fought for them) Category 1 or 2 beliefs?

The four examples of Category 3 beliefs above are the ones I have received the most violent negative response to. Most of the people I know (and Americans in particular, for some reason) seem to abhor the idea that we don’t have a ‘right’ to ‘own’ and use the planet and everything that comes from our resources for human, personal purposes. They believe almost religiously that leadership and hierarchy are essential to a functional society, and that there is an inalienable human right to reproduce as many of our own kind as we choose.

There are times when I just shut up about my unpopular beliefs, because to some extent, as Daniel Quinn says, people will only listen to new ideas when they are ready. Arguing with people who are viscerally hostile to what you believe is a waste of time and energy.

But there are other times when I cannot remain silent. When I just have to stand up for what I believe in. “If at first an idea isn’t considered absurd”, Einstein said, “there is no hope for it.” Maybe I’m just stubborn. Or maybe I’m relearning to pay attention to and trust my instincts. If you don’t like what I say, that’s fine. I don’t want to argue. But I’munrepentent. My unpopular beliefs’ time is coming.

New Yorker cover by Charles E Martin from September 11, 1971

Category: Our Culture
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11 Responses to Unpopular Beliefs

  1. David Parkinson says:

    Thank you for expressing your unpopular beliefs. I hope that the next few years will see another uptick in the number of once unpopular beliefs flooding in to fill the vacuum left behind by all the popular beliefs which have failed, are failing, or will soon fail. The idea recently popularized by Naomi Klein, that in times of crisis the ideas lying around are the ones likely to be used, suggests that these unpopular beliefs are just killing time in history’s green room. The question is: are the small number of bad new ideas (or bad old ideas with some new gloss) going to be pushed from the top down? Or will an uncontrollable riot of new untested crazy ideas from every marginal area of society overwhelm the ability of the centre to stay in control?Maybe the payoff for being useless and marginalized, and constantly struggling to validate our ideas — even to ourselves at times — will be that even our time will come. It’ll take quite a breakdown in normal service to enable that; but by all accounts we’re heading for some serious crazy times ahead.In anticipation, I’m trying to keep my ideas as marginal and unpopular as I can. :-)

  2. Jordan Mechano says:

    Dude, my favourite posts of yours are the ones farther to the fringe. Safe, popular ideas don’t make me sit and stare at the wall for half-an-hour lost in thought. Keep stretching!

  3. Jordan Mechano says:

    Safe, popular ideas also don’t make me want to get up and do something.

  4. I look at my relationship to the world in much the same way. When you have answers for how people can live better, and then people are resentful when they hear them… it seems absurd to me. I have long admired your outspokenness, Mr. Pollard. One question I have, is “shouldn’t those of us who do think things through independently and logically, be not only providing our wisdom as such… but also helping others to tread the course we have trodden?” I was particularly inspired many years ago by Immanuel Kant – and his recurring insistence about this ethic of people thinking things through for themselves. And over the years since, I have sat down and done that… and I certainly am able to live well because of what I’ve learned. However, I look around me, and see that other people are still stuck in many ways in their lives.But what to do about that? I think that sharing ideas in raw form like you are doing is wonderful. But there’s some similarity between how people view raw ideas, and how they would think about computer program sourcecode. They don’t really know how to judge what the quality of those things are, until they see the source code running. These kinds of insights you share, Mr. Pollard, are like source code for human endeavors. Unfortunately, those of us who spend our time in such deep thought, oftentimes don’t have the resources to be able to put our ideas into practice. It’s interesting to watch your weblog, and observe your interactions with people in the comments here. I think that Canada is far more friendly towards intellectuals than the usa is. In the usa, all the dialogue in the mainstream media (and much of it in the blogosphere) revolves around competition and conflict. It’s awful to live in a nation where everybody who writes or speaks publicly is engaged in some kind of fight. I mean, even npr radio (which is analagous to your cbc) usually treats it’s interviewees very meanly. The idea which propels this discourse here in the usa, isthat through “debate,” (that is to say verbal conflict) more meat comes out of the topic for the audience to hear about. A person who writes like you do – and in the manner I aspire to – is certainly nothing but fresh meat tossed to the dogs in that kind of environment. Because people like that are always working on the outer edge of the consensus building process. You are the kind of writer who supplies the hypotheses that scientists can take and test. You are the kind of writer who provides the inspiration, that artists can take and make visual art and film and music from. The other question I ask myself, is whether there is any marketability for these kinds of essays. I have decided I’m not going to try to market my essays – because folks who love to read essays are very few and far between. There isn’t a way to make money, when the sale of books would be so low. Instead, I’m going to set up a store, selling artwork through cafepress, and selling software I’ve created.I certainly rambled there, Dave… but when I see the way you write, I think I’ve found a kindred spirit. And all of these questions and ideas start gushing out of me.

  5. gfr says:

    On the topic of communal property ownership, I think that’s maybe more a trend that’s coming about, albeit still in a pretty conventional framework. As people try to scale down their possessions or cut costs, there are more businesses or organizations engaged in renting or loaning (in the for free sense) various objects. The increasing popularity of car sharing is an obvious example. The woman who started a toy rental business online is another piece of evidence people are thinking differently about “stuff” than in the past. I see stuff as a burden. You should have only as much as you need to be comfortable and no more. If it’s not useful or entertaining, it’s just taking up space and possibly causing you worry if you’re concerned about damage to it, maintenance to it, insurance, etc.

  6. Jon Husband says:

    Holding onto my current (and relatively many) category 3 beliefs at my age seems increasingly to me to indicate that my last half of middle age and my old age will be lonely and more-or-less disengaged.The thing I find interesting and astonishing is that many of what you portray as category 3 beliefs (with the possible exception of polyamory in the ways you have previously described it) are beliefs or position that many of the “gurus” or pundits or long-term consultants will have taken, written and published on.Which then takes us to the status quo … the desire on the part of the PTB to remain “in power and in control” has led, I would argue, to the increasing use of confusing and obfuscatory rhetoric and endless manipulation of laws and the other levers of power (most noticeably in the USA, to a lesser degree in Canada and western Europe) .. I don’t know enough about BRIC politics, culture and societal dynamics to offer much more of a POV, other than I suspect that the similarities are there.

  7. I love that you share all your beliefs, esp. the Nutty, Category 3 ones. After all, conscious change can’t happen without thinking over where we are and where we might get to, and those scenarios may be just as viable–or more so, to your point–than what we have now or what else we might envision.I especially appreciate that while you hold your beliefs, you continue to challenge them: hold them up against the light of reason and examine them closely. Because, as you say, we hold some beliefs because of bias, no matter where we fall on the progressive to conservative scale. Push too hard and hold on too tightly, even to something that doesn’t exist yet, and you’re no better off than someone who refuses to consider the possibility of change at all.For example, while your ideal of polyamory doesn’t appeal to me, I understand it’s quite possible that my resistance may come from my particular clutch of fears and neuroses; for me, now, it looks like not-the-thing.On the other hand, if someone had told me 30 years ago that today I’d be happy in a monogamous relationship with a man who’s legally married to someone else–and who likely will be until her death, for medical and financial reasons–I’d have said you were insane. Because at 17, I was dealing with lowest-common-denominator ways of explaining life. Now, when I have a reaction to something like polyamory, I can use it as a way to meditate on myself, and to more objectively examine my views. Which may not change, even after long reflection and true challenge, but which will surely belong to me more fully.

  8. Mireille says:

    I don’t know whether this is the right place to post this. Anyway: as to your fourth unpopular belief, about negative population growth: do you know the lecture of Andrew Bartlet, emeritus Professor in at Boulder on “Aritmetic, Population and Energy”? It is on YouTube, cut in 8 parts of about 10 minutes. Here is the URL of the first part: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY. It is impressive. Also, you may want to check out other video’s of the person who published this lecture on YouTube: Wonderingmind42. For example the one called “How it all ends”, at http://www.youtube.com/user/wonderingmind42.And about egalitarian decision making: do you know the socratic method of deciding?

  9. Mireille says:

    Whoops, I pressed the wrong button and posted my message before I was ready with it (quite some text got lost). Never mind.

  10. David G. Jones says:

    War as a last resort? War is a resort only for the hair-triggered incompetent and the profit-taking scoundrel. There is simply no excuse for one country taking up arms against another when the means for averting conflict are there – always – for those of wit and intelligence to find.

  11. vera says:

    My most bitter arguments of late have been all about population control. As soon as I suggest we should not be “saving” every damaged baby, trying to prolong human lives, or especially that we should get rid of all the experts trying to figure out how to feed more billions of humans and instead fund those figuring how to make less humans, starting NOW! — the whole 16 tons comes down on me, as though I was some kind of a genocidal maniac. Nuts.

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