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(Not) Our Kind of People

I’m a weirdo. But in a good way. And I hang out with other weirdos-in-a-good-way every  chance I get, because that’s the best company in the world. But we all know weirdos-in-a-bad-way, too, and they are the worst company, the destroyers of any groove and the killers of fun times. You are uncomfortable around them. You want them to go away. You wish they wouldn’t show up at meetups and events. You are keen to brush them off and avoid them so you can find the fun people to hang out with. But it’s not just the bad crazy people that bring you down. Even folks in between, who are just dull or stuffy or so socially conformed that (if you’re a weirdo like me) you just don’t fit in with them, too. They aren’t weirdos. In fact, their principal defect is that they aren’t weirdos at all. But you don’t care much for their company, either (but if it’s the best you can have on the occasion, you can make the best of it).

And of course, like all things, the paragraph above describes a continuum, and people can fall anywhere along it. But the best company is way to one side, the worst on the other, and everyone else in between. If you’re like me, how comfortable and happy and fulfilled you are in anyone’s company is a direct function of where they are on that curve. Or at least, this is true for the good weirdos, the weirdos I fit in with. The non-weirdos are a bit uncomfortable around us, too, and would rather hang out with other middle-of-the-curve people. I can’t speak to what the bad weirdos prefer, because I assiduously avoid them and thus don’t have much data on what they prefer. But those good crazies? They’re my kind of people. (I also know plenty of people midway between good weird and fuddy duddy who like and get along with both, and I’m comfortable around them but still not as much, and vice versa. Thus it all comes by degrees and not absolutes.)

Are you like me? Do you prefer (even love) the company of “crazy” people, who are the good kind of crazy, but can’t stand (and do all you can to avoid) the company of “crazy” people, who are the bad kind of crazy? What’s the difference then between good crazy and bad crazy? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because I’ve been doing a lot of events this past month and a half (doing nine or ten gigs, spanning three states), intensifying the experience I always have when doing what I do, which is for ten years or so now, as a speaker and special guest, speaking to, meeting, and typically dining or drinking with atheist groups all over the U.S. (and Canada). (Although what really got me to thinking about all this was the new awesome Garbage song Not Your Kind of People, which I’ve been playing during my drives this last week, philosophically contemplating its lyrics. Best Garbage album in history, BTW. But then I’m a weirdo, remember?)

Let me describe two scenarios, so you can consider if you’ve experienced the same. (You will, if you get out and hang with atheists anywhere on a regular basis long enough–and probably not just atheists, as I’ve heard the same about church groups and religious meetups and even book clubs and academic clubs, and pretty much anywhere diverse people hang out because of some common cause or passion and not just because they are long established friends. But it’s atheist communities I have the most experience with, extensively and by far.)

Scenario 1. There’s always that one (or few) people at any atheist event or meetup (and again, probably not just atheist crowds, I just have way more experience with them) who are irrational or irritating nutcases in some degree. They might be full on bonkers, but more often they are just mildly off. They aren’t very attentive to the feelings or interests of others, but often obsessed about something (or sometimes several things), to which they’ve often attached a carnival of delusions. They often exhibit textbook symptoms of common mental disorders, like paranoia or narcissism or other things you are sure there must be a name for, and if there isn’t, there should be.

Maybe you know what I mean. The weird guy who is obsessed with getting every atheist organization to speak out against the evils of circumcision and won’t shut up about it. The hyper-libertarian girl who seems like a sound and even-keel skeptic until she starts spouting the easily-debunked mythology libertarians base their beliefs on like some sort of religion, and literally won’t see reason even when her claims are debunked right in front of her, data held up on a glowing iPhone screen. (Like a creationist, she retreats to dogmatic mantras and assertions instead of admitting she was resting conclusions on false premises…because her beliefs, you see, have to be true, so if all her data is wrong, the right data simply must be out there…you know, somewhere). Or those people who monopolize your time and won’t go away or let someone else speak, and want to talk about their issues and not hear about anyone else’s. And on and on. The varieties and iterations are endless.

Scenario 2. You’re with people who are often quite diverse (by age, gender, ethnicity, and interests), who curse like sailors and drink like fish (or love the company of those who do), who all have weird fetishes or goals or interests or senses of humor or personal style, who are in many ways really unlike you and yet somehow so just like you, and yet who are responsible and mature and level-headed in every way that counts. They just don’t “fit in” to all the social norms around wherever. You feel at home with them. You don’t have to censor yourself around them. You can be yourself around them, be a weirdo around them. Yet a lot of society would be uncomfortable around them. Or tsk tsk at them. Or use them as examples of immaturity or insanity or immorality or how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Or in one manner or another wouldn’t like them and would certainly not invite them to dinner (unless they had to or felt obliged to, and even then it’s with trepidation).

Age is often a factor. Bad weirdoes tend to be older, but not always; and good weirdos tend to be younger, but not always. I believe this has more to do with generation than age. It’s a cultural thing, not a biological one (and that gives me hope for the future). But still. I can usually (but not always) find my kind of people in a college crowd, but often don’t in groups with a median age of 50 and up (but again, not always). The latter aren’t filled with bad weirdos, they just aren’t filled with many good weirdos, often not even one.

Audiences who want me to use off color language and poke fun at or ridicule religious stupidity or tell jokes based on your having seen every episode of Firefly? My kind of people. Audiences who become offended or hostile or tsk tsk me for any colloquialism or saying even one slightly off-color word, and who don’t even know what the Flying Spaghetti Monster is (and when told, voice the opinion that it’s offensive or immature and not something atheists should be promoting)? Not my kind of people.

But us weirdos are all familiar with fuddy duddies, and we don’t need a primer on how to spot them or why we don’t get along with them. I’m more interested in teasing out what makes the difference between the annoying or disturbing crazies and the good-company crazies like me and mine. (And the last two months have been unusual in the lack or low counts of fuddy duddies and bad crazies; but maybe I’ve just gotten really good at avoiding them, I don’t know. And even still, there have been a few.)

I think the solution comes from getting at the essence of the bad weirdos. In my experience their common features are

(1) delusionality (false beliefs, held with extreme certainty, despite weak or even falsifying evidence),

(2) poor self-reflectivity (they do not know themselves well, aren’t aware of their flaws or limitations or quirks, and may even be keen on denying them, big fans of the ego-defense, and likewise are not reasonably self-critical nor handle external criticism well even when it’s reasonable and fact-based),

and either

(3) insensitivity (even when they are hyper-concerned about others, it typically isn’t other people in the room, with the result that they have low situational empathy and do not show an interest in others that they expect others to show in them)

or

(4) dysfunctional communicativity (when they are hurt or annoyed or disagree or have an important opinion or knowledge, they fail to communicate it, or do so in ways so oblique or inobvious they may as well not be communicating it, or communicate it but in an alarmingly emotional way that’s oblivious to the social dynamics of a conversation),

or (and this is the worst) both.

Good weirdos are not any of that. And I think that’s why I like them so much. They are communicative, sensitive, self-reflective (and thus self-knowing), and harbor very few delusions, and rarely any that are extreme. In fact, I suspect this is why they are weirdos and not “normal” (as society at large would define it). It’s certainly true for me. We have all been outcasts and nonconformists, because we were always skeptical, always critical of social norms and expectations, and self-reflective enough to know we were being asked to change ourselves (really, in fact, to deny or even destroy ourselves) to fit in, and we didn’t want to, because we liked who we are, or at least liked many of the things society didn’t like about us (we were still happy to fix or improve on everything else about ourselves as much as we were able).

In other words, we’re weirdos because we wouldn’t want to be anything else. Which means we are aware of what makes us weird, we are aware of how that doesn’t “fit in,” and we have done the math on that and concluded we’re better off that way. (I’ve found that the bad weirdos often are not aware of their weirdness and haven’t rationally or self-reflectively chosen it, and even when they have, it has been on the basis of delusions, or egotism or narcissism.) We merry few love each other’s company despite our differences, often because of them, because we all share these four features in common (communicativity, sensitivity, self-reflectivity, and low delusionality), and we feel reassured, our sanity restored, to know there are other such people out there in the world. They give us hope. And we enjoy getting to know them, counting on them, helping them, learning from them.

There is an even more fundamental quality that I think underlies the four features I’ve identified as being what I like about the good weirdo. And that’s rationality. The stereotype is to imagine a rational person as an unemotional one, a Vulcan. Boring. Endlessly analytical. Maybe even cynical (in the bad sense). But that’s a largely bogus stereotype. There is another tendency to equate rationality with conformity to social norms, such that someone who doesn’t conform to norms is “irrational” and if they’d just start acting normal and have normal interests and speak and dress normally then they’d be “rational” again. But that’s not what “rational” means, either.

To be rational is to draw conclusions (and thus form beliefs) with logical validity (i.e. without fallacy) from well-evidenced premises (which, in consequence, results in a highly consistent belief system anchored in reality). That’s it. This doesn’t mean you diagram everything and work up the syllogisms and perform a formal analysis or even fact-check everything. It just means you think clearly and well, you have (and constantly seek to develop) a good knack for spotting flawed thinking, even in yourself, and know how to draw a valid conclusion from the information you have. It also means you change your beliefs when the evidence changes your premises in a relevant way, and you care about making sure your premises are correct, a concern held in proportion to their importance (we fact check the less, the less important our being wrong is–this is simply a time management thing). And part of that desire to be sure is what leads us to expose ourselves and our beliefs and ideas to diverse people who might tell us about things we didn’t know. The intelligence of crowds…diverse crowds, smarter still; rational crowds, most of all.

Bad weirdos are irrational, in the real and proper sense of the term. Even when they in every other way conform to social norms; even when they go full Vulcan (especially then). Another feature of being a rational person, which bad weirdos likewise fail at, but good weirdos are typically far ahead of the curve on, is having goals and desires that are mutually consistent.

Obviously these things exist by degrees, and thus so does rationality. A completely irrational person never draws a single valid conclusion in their life. Most irrational people are not anywhere near such a total lunatic status. But they are irrational in enough ways, with enough frequency, that it begins to make them into bad company, even (often enough) a bad citizen. Rational people might be irrational about some things, some of the time, but not enough to matter, or at least matter all that much. And they will care about whether they are being irrational about something, at least something important. Conformity to the unreasonable expectations of others being one of those things.

Good weirdos are true individuals. They make themselves into who they want to be. The result is that they don’t act or think like the bulk of society expects them to, because they don’t want the same things as everyone, don’t have the same interests as everyone, and don’t conform to stereotypes. And above all, they understand that about themselves and thus respect it when they see it in others–and so they don’t expect others to conform to their expectations or interests or anything else, except those things that are truly necessary to a good society and thus truly reasonable to expect of others: (1) reasonable compassion, (2) reasonable honesty, (3) reasonable courage, (4) reasonable self-reflectiveness, and (5) reasonable skepticality (which is that attitude of a good skeptic, not just doubting everything but requiring beliefs and claims to be in proportion to the evidence and thus always questioning whether some belief or claim really is, before accepting it uncritically).

This is why they reject such social norms as “good” and “bad” words (context, not vocabulary, decides that), why they love getting drunk among the safety of good people and have no hangups about that, why they have a good sense of humor (maybe even a dark or perverted sense of humor, but always one that’s self-critical and sympathetic), why they can talk openly and frankly about sex, politics, and religion and still get a laugh or a smile from each other. Why they can be proudly nerdy or geeky and silly and loud all at the same time. And why I can always count on them.

Hail good weirdos all. You are truly my people.

Comments

  1. HP says

    Well, I’m generally considered the bad kind of weirdo, so take this with a grain a salt. I’ve met very few people who don’t consider themselves to be quirky and unusual and interesting. (How many times have I heard someone claim, “I’m a Cubs fan!” as if it were a significant quirk?) In fact, I’d say that describing oneself as “kind of weird” is pretty typical.

    Of course, I’ve met some people who aggressively pursue normality, and I’d say most of those have some kind of recognized personality or mood disorder, and are generally unhappy.

    When you say you like the good weirdos but not the bad weirdos, all you’re really telling me is that you like people who are socialized to behave much like yourself. Which isn’t telling me much, other than that you have the same kinds of cognitive and social biases as any other human.

    Which isn’t to say that you’re not a wonderful person, but then, most people are.

    • says

      You need to get out more. The majority of the population is conformist and doesn’t like nonconformists. Just count the number of people who complain about bad words. Or who think it’s “weird” that I party with transsexuals, Navaho punk rockers, BDSM advocates, married lesbians, tattoo artists who consistently dress in classy 40s style clothing, parents with bible study degrees who openly admit they can’t stand kids, neurobiological engineers who are into vampire fiction, photographers who tell hilarious stories about the silliness of Christians they’ve met, college students who dress like pirates, and endlessly on.

      And the whole point of my post is that the people I like to hang out with very conspicuously aren’t socialized to behave much like myself–except in those very specific respects I teased out as being what actually makes for the best company. I am not into BDSM. I have no tattoos or any interest in getting one. I am not into vampire fiction nor am I an engineer. I am not black, Indian, Pakistani, Persian, Jamaican, or Ghanian (yet have partied with those who are). I am not a woman, nor a lesbian, nor transgendered, nor a parent. I never dress like a pirate. I do not dress in vintage clothing nor even have any particular style of vestment. I don’t even drink beer (to me it tastes like piss).

      But for those commonalities I specifically identified as key, my kind of people are diverse and different from me and each other. This or that one may share other things in common with me (music, games, movies, tv shows, books, fields of study or interest, etc.), but many do not, so these differences and similarities are incidental. And indeed that they are incidental is what makes us different from most people. That’s why country music fanatics don’t typically hang out with punkers or swing cats or goths. But I hang out with all of the above…when they, too, have broken the bonds of social expectation and do the same.

      And that is what makes them the best sort of company, and my kind of people.

    • Zengaze says

      Richard is claiming he’s not a pisshead. There are various forms of piss, and not all piss is in fact piss.

    • Julien Rousseau says

      Richard Carrier says:

      I am not into vampire fiction

      What, not even Buffy and Angel?

    • says

      Vampire fiction: I meant literature. (Although I suppose it is worth pointing out that my love of Buffy and Angel has nothing to do with the vampire angle in either, strangely.)

    • F says

      That whole thing about rationality, and all the examples, just went whizzing by, didn’t they?

    • Scott B. says

      If you feel you are the “bad” kind of weirdo (as defined here) and want to chalk it up to simply a subjective difference of opinion; that, in fact, you may simply be a “different kind” of weirdo (rather than actually a bad weirdo as Richard has defined it) — then you need to reread this post way more carefully. No matter where you may find yourself on the “weird scale” (or, don’t even consider yourself weird at all) the traits Richard ascribed to the “bad” weirdos — which you explicitly think may apply to you — are simply bad traits to emulate, are they not?

      As a weirdo myself, I have a high tolerance for people who occasionally exhibit “bad” weirdo traits. As a good weirdo, I think it is less important to always “be” a good weirdo (I would doubt any of us are always “good” — well, besides Richard, of course) than it is to recognize and acknowledge the objectivity to the traits Richard lists. In short, there are truly “good” personality traits one may wish to conform to, even for nonconformist weirdos, which do lead to forming strong, lasting, and non-dysfunctional relationships. Conversely, there other “bad” traits that are truly dysfunctional even among those who flaunt conventional wisdom. I think, if you reconsider them, Richard has made a pretty solid list of some very important traits one might wish to emulate — whether one considers oneself weird or not. But to assert, as you do, that what Richard is calling a “bad” weirdo is merely a “different” kind of weirdo misses this point. Your position is, in effect, denying the clearly anti-social nature of certain behaviors. Really think about it: which of the “bad weird” personality traits outlined here — overly delusional, bad at self-reflection, insensitive to others, bad at communicating ideas — are traits one might ever remotely consider in a positive light?

  2. says

    I don’t know yet whether I’m your kind of weirdo or whether you’re my kind. I also don’t whether the following is something you want to talk about or not. If not, fine, your house, your rules. But the theme of who is and isn’t whose sort of people seems somewhat related to it, and I’ve been looking for a place to talk about this:

    I got a nasty shock a little over a week ago at another blog, one that was linked here, a blog devoted to mythicism. I won’t even name it if you don’t want to get into it. Anyway, the blog author posted a piece of writing by an author he describes as a mythicist hero of his, and the piece just dripped with antisemistism, that was the nasty shock. The quoted author in his turn listed people he revered as mysticists — listed the goys completely separately from the Jews as if it were the most natural thing in the world to sort people according to “race” — and at least one of them was an actual Nazi. Maybe more than one, I didn’t research every single name on the list of Gentiles. Several others were “intellectual” ancestors of the National Socialists.

    I pointed this out to the blog author. He seemed either not to know what I was talking about or not to care. I googled the Nazi’s name, and one of the first hits I saw was a post by the same blogger from a few years ago praising the Nazi. In the reader’s comments from a few years ago someone else pointed out, hey, this guy was a racist Nazi ideologue, and the blogger’s reaction back then also was indifferent and/or clueless.

    And at that point I unsubscribed that blog. My life’s too short to commune and make common cause with people who don’t get how Nazis and their racism were bad.

    So my question is, have you encountered racism among the atheist and mythicist communities you know, and if so, how do you deal with it? It seems like Nazis would not be your kind of weirdo, but, hey, I wouldn’t have thought that about that other blogger either. I shouldn’t assume anything. To me, racism is very, very badly flawed thinking, completely irrational, period.

    • says

      Yes, those are bad weirdos. No, I haven’t run into (personally) that kind of extreme racism. Although I have encountered milder forms of racism, mostly it has been outside the atheist community. But yes, occasionally I encounter racism of a non-trivial kind there, too. But those are usually bad weirdos or fuddies. I can’t recall meeting a good weirdo who was racist anywhere beyond quaintly (by which I mean people who are “racists” in the often unavoidable, and IMO largely trivial way, that Crommunist says he himself is, which is not the kind of racism you are talking about).

    • says

      “No, I haven’t run into (personally) that kind of extreme racism.”

      But you know this blogger. This is the blog post that gave me that nasty shock a little over a week ago: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/1950s-scholarship-on-the-historicity-of-jesus-vardis-fishers-summary/ The novelist Vardis Fisher is Neil Godfrey’s hero, Neil says. The “most erudite critic” Drews in Fisher’s list is Arthur Drews, the Nazi whose first appearance in Vridar this is not.

      According to Wiki, “Drews condemned Nietzsche as an ‘enemy of everything German’, as an individualist whose thought was antithetical to National Socialism, and for granting the Jews a prominent place in his political philosophy.”

      Which if true would mean that Drews was right about Nietzsche, and that at least one Nazi, in a party full of people who praised Nietzsche while obviously having no idea what he stood for, had an entirely accurate view of Nietzsche’s attitudes and had possibly even read him. (You have to look for whatever silver linings you can find in a situation like this, I think.)

    • says

      I don’t see the relevance of a long dead Nazi here. I thought you were talking about living atheists I might have occasion to meet. I am not even aware of Drews being an atheist (very few Nazis were, and Drews was famously a founder of the neopagan movement, not exactly an example of atheism; Drews also died years before the rise of Hitler, BTW). Likewise, his being a Nazi in no way pertains to his merits as a scholar. That is called an argument ad hominem. “He’s a racist Nazi, therefore he is wrong about Mythicism and none of his scholarship is any good.” That’s illogical, right?

    • Roo Bookaroo says

      To: Richard Carrier

      This post by Steven Bollinger is very instructive. A warning not to take somebody’s testimony at face value without further investigation.

      It is an excellent case of misrepresentation due to the poster’s ignorance of the history of Biblical criticism.

      The page where this poster made his splash was on Neil Godfrey’s Vridar:
      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/1950s-scholarship-on-the-historicity-of-jesus-vardis-fishers-summary/

      Godfrey was celebrating one of his heroes, Vardis Fisher.

      Fisher was obsessed with Jesus in his novels. At the end of his novel “Jesus Came Again: A Parable”, Fisher included a discussion of the scholarly views of his day (1956) on the historicity of Jesus.

      So Godfrey produced the list of names found in Fisher’s book, which I felt was simply copied by Fisher from some other book or encyclopedia, of writers who discussed the question of historicity of Jesus.

      So in those names were Claude Montefiore, the famous Jewish critic who compared the morality of Jesus with the morality in the Wisdom books of the Tanakh. He is famous in history for his pro-Jesus positions.

      Then came Joseph Klausner, mentioned in the list as “another Jew”. Klausner is formidably famous as a major Jewish historian of Hebrew and Christian doctrines. He became world famous with his books “Jesus of Nazareth’ and “From Jesus to Paul”.

      This poster was offended because it was mentioned in Fisher’s list that both Montefiore and Klausner were Jews.

      This poster naively thought that he had a good occasion to kick up a rumpus about this flagrant display of “anti-semitism”,which he felt was aimed at him as well.

      I, idiotically, (and that became a good lesson for me too) thought I could take him out of his racist delusions by pointing out that Jesus having been a Jew, as well as the whole Jewish Christian movement, the views of Jewish scholars are particularly important, often much more so than those of non-Jewish scholars. Even today, many top-quality Biblical scholars are of Jewish origin: Geza Vermes, Maccoby, etc..

      I mentioned the famous study of major Jewish scholarship. “A good book to read in this context is “The Trial of Jesus: A Study in the Gospels and Jewish Historiography from 1770 to the Present”, by David R. Catchpole (Brill, Leiden, 1971). It covers the inputs of dozens and dozens of learned Jews or Jewish history experts on the interpretation of Jesus and the Gospels.”

      But I think that went like water over a duck’s back. When you deal with people ignorant of the field, it is a waste of time to try to instruct them. They don’t do nuances. They only know black and white.

      Then, lower down in the list was “Drews”, that is our familiar Arthur Drews, who everybody in the field knows as a major early 20th century Jesus denier, with his epoch-making book “The Christ Myth” of 1909, which is a classic in the literature of mythicism. Everybody knows the important role that Arthur Drews played in the debates of the times (1900-1920) about the “Jesus: Myth of History” debate. Drews’s writings are referenced by practically every Biblical scholar. He is a giant figure of the movement and is related to the critical thinking of the Radical Dutch School.

      Now this poster had discovered that Drews did become a Nazi propagandist later on. He was not alone. Many people became Hitler fans, including many British, French and Italian aristocrats, and the remarkable Savitri Devi as well.

      So this poster protested to Godfrey; “My reductio ad Hitlerum did not fall out of a clear blue sky. As I mentioned, at least one of the people Fisher singles out as “the most erudite critics,” Arthur Drews, was a committed Nazi. According to wikipedia, Drews…etc…”

      This reader started accusing Fisher, Godfrey and everybody else involved of flagrant “anti-semitism”, because he couldn’t digest the fact that Jewish writers were granted a privileged position in Biblical criticism, and acknowledged as such, and he couldn’t accept the fact that an important writer like Drews later used his rhetorical talent in supporting the Nazis as a German movement.

      Anyway, the strident accusations by this poster were ridiculous, especially at somebody as fair as Neil Godfrey or Tim Widowfield. He was having his day on center stage: “Hey, you all, look at me, how aggrieved I am, me, an innocent Jew, forced to be subjected to Fisher and Godfrey’s anti-semitism.” Godfrey and Widowfield both ridiculed this poster’s “reduction ad Hitlerum”.

      Anyway the whole thing was a huge waste of time, dealing with somebody totally out of his depth discussing the literature of mythicism. He knew nothing about Fisher, about Montefiore, Klausner, Drews, Godfrey and Widowfield.

      This poster used his total ignorance to play the indignant injured and steal the limelight away from Fisher to himself. We all knew how deeply wrong he was. It was clear that he was hugging the largest fraction of the page for himself.

      And now we have here, on Carrier’s blog, this wonderful interpretation of the “incident” as described above by this poster. And he’s come here for a repeat of his performance of the “innocent injured”.

      This is a kind of classic textbook case of how people distort the presentation of their own actions and glamorize them in a favorable light. And the reason why judges are insistent on hearing both sides of any story.

    • says

      Thank you for that update, Roo. I benefit from readers filling me in like this when these things happen. I haven’t the time typically to dig through these threads myself. So your summary is much appreciated.

    • says

      “Drews also died years before the rise of Hitler”

      No, he died in 1935.

      And I didn’t say anything about whether his scholarship on Jesus was good or bad. I just said he was a Nazi. And not just incidentally, unideologically a Nazi like Oskar Schindler, and also not somebody who was “in dem Kaefig mit den Loewen, veruschend, sie zu baendigen,” as Martin Heidegger described himself to a german exile who was complaining about his supposed collaboration, but a Nazi out of conviction, a hard-core racist.

      No, that doesn’t mean he was wrong about the historicist/mythicist question. Again, I never said he was. Just that he was a fucking nasty Nazi. That’s all. A fact which imho is worth at least a “Hmm yes that’s disturbing” in passing. Which I didn’t feel I got from Neil, or from Roo, hey Roo, soooo lovely to see you again.

    • says

      Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933. Drews was two years from dead already by then. But Hitler did not initiate war plans (or a final solution) until 1938. He did not even pass anti-Jewish laws until late 1935.

      And either way, that Drews was a Nazi is wholly irrelevant here. That you are obsessed with it says more about you than the value of his scholarship.

    • says

      Anyway, obviously Roo and I see Neil’s post differently, not to mention my comments on it and the comments of others, maybe you’re comfortable just taking Roo’s word for it that I’m a nutbag, maybe you’d like to follow the link both Roo and I posted and see for yourself if you think I had any reason to be disturbed.

    • Roo Bookaroo says

      Richard:

      You had mentioned the problems and waste of time caused by people ignorant of the basic facts and full of their own fanciful delusions who come pestering scholars.

      This one is an authentic weirdo, blowing his lone trumpet.

      Arthur Drews (1865-1935) developed his theories of Jesus existence-denial in the 1900-1910 era, and wrote his famous book the Christ Myth in 1909. That is from age 35 to 45.

      Hitler (1889-1945) was in his teens. WWI was still a long time away, and Hitler started his political campaign around 1925 in Munich.

      Drews’s theories had absolutely nothing to do with Hitler or Nazism.

      This man is self-deluded. Waste of time for everybody. Nothing to learn. Except to avoid obsessed Jewish weirdos. Hitler is their big paradigm for everything under the sun.

    • Roo Bookaroo says

      To: Richard Carrier

      EPILOGUE TO THE ARTHUR DREWS CONTROVERSY

      The key document is THE CHRIST MYTH (1909)
      http://www.amazon.com/Christ-Westminster-College-Oxford-Classics-Religion/dp/1573921904/ref=cm_rdp_product
      With a very instructive review by Michael Hoffman.
      Wish this review had been longer.

      Arthur Drews (1865-1935) remains unfairly neglected by many and widely ignored as one of the real giants of the Christ Myth Theory in the 20th century, along with John MacKinnon Robertson, Paul-Louis Couchoud, and George Albert Wells.

      He is also unfairly badmouthed and maligned, because of his flight of mysticism in writing the “Deutsche Religion” in 1934, one year before his death.

      His articles supporting a kind of pro-Nazi paganism were the product of his old age, at a time when many bright minds were concerned about the disintegration of Germany after WWI and the terrible economic consequences imposed by the infamous Peace Treaty. They were trying to find reasons for a resurgence of the battered moral of the country, and many philosophers, academics and artist, like Drews, joined in the debate.

      For Drews, the interest remained an object of theory and speculation. The Nazi propaganda had created a myth that had become overwhelmingly popular in this context. The Nazis presented their movement as having a mythical value of rebirth and transfiguration.

      Drews was never involved in any practical application of Nazi policies, as he was a feeble old man approaching death. His involvement was purely theoretical and intellectual. He was influenced by his life-long interest in the pagan religions and myths so precisely inventoried and analyzed by James Frazer. Drews saw the National Socialism theory as a modern form of pagan myth as described by James Frazer.

      However, Arthur Drews’s theory of the Christ Myth was developed when he was in his prime, in the 1900-1910 period, as a consequence of James Frazer’s anthropological survey in the “Golden Bough”. For him too, Jesus had been used to propagate a promise of liberation, rebirth and transfiguration.

      Hitler was still a teenager. WWI was a long time in the future, and the Nazi movement didn’t start in earnest until 1925 in Munich. There was no ground or meaning in attributing a “Proto-Nazi” ideology to Drews in 1900-1910, when Nazism wasn’t even born, and, without WWI, could very likely never have existed.

      It is absurd to dismiss Drews’s maturity thesis on the Christ Myth Theory on account of his old age writings. He got engulfed in a national movement of National Socialism mysticism, the general triumphant ideology of the 30s, at a time when he was too old to do otherwise. In the same manner that in his young days he had seen Christianity as a national myth, he saw, in his old age, National Socialism as another form of pagan myth.

      By contrast, a philosopher like Heidegger (1889-1976), 24 years younger, was much more of a real Nazi trooper. He succeeded his mentor Edmund Husserl, a Jewish professor, in his chair at Freiburg, doing nothing to help him later, and became involved with the Nazi policies towards academics.

      Nonetheless Heidegger is still recognized as a major exponent of existentialism and is quoted world-wide, especially for his famous book “Sein und Zeit” (1927), a philosophy also developed well before the Nazi movement became the preponderant force in the country.

  3. Grog says

    I have no idea what you are going on about in this post. I feel like the one left out of an inside joke. Wait…Oh…I get it now.

  4. says

    “They might be full on bonkers, but more often they are just mildly off.” I probably (hopefully) fall under the latter category. “How can you falsify that?!” Remember that, Rick? :)

  5. says

    Interesting thought experiment while reading was to try to evaluate where I fit into your classification scheme. Think on balance I’m more good weirdo than bad weirdo, though I do recognize some overlap with the dark-side traits.

    Recently had a job interview at one of Europe’s top high-tech companies. Already got the rejection letter. They said I was too rational. I wonder what alternative they were looking for (in what particular way they would have liked me to be irrational). And why.

    • says

      I’d like to know their answer, too! I can only guess that they meant by “rational” something like one of the two incorrect definitions (“too Spocklike” or “too normal,” with the assumption that either would mean you wouldn’t fit in with their workplace culture; but whether they could really know that about you from the highly artificial and time limited circumstances of a job interview is another question entirely).

  6. Roo Bookaroo says

    It’s clear that it’s good for you to speak out your whole mind while full of your recent ruminations on the subject.

    But once this is done, as in this post, why not, at some later stage, go back to it and start beefing it up with concrete examples, to give a solid meaning to the torrent of abstract words used in this essay.

    One example came to my mind, as I was reading: “…until she starts spouting the easily-debunked mythology libertarians base their beliefs on like some sort of religion…”. I thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting if Carrier could inject right here some concrete tidbit, illustrating what this woman’s “easily-debunked mythology” was about? Not every reader is clearly informed of what Carrier has in mind in each and every case of his allusions. Clear to him, of course, not necessarily to each reader.

    Nobody has done this kind of fantastic overview of the various ideologies among those atheists examined by Carrier in the course of his travels and lectures. He makes the point forcefully:
    ” I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because I’ve been doing a lot of events this past month and a half (doing nine or ten gigs, spanning three states), intensifying the experience I always have when doing what I do, which is for ten years or so now, as a speaker and special guest, speaking to, meeting, and typically dining or drinking with atheist groups all over the U.S. (and Canada).”

    This is a tremendously invaluable experience, not easily replicated by anybody else. It amounts to a kind of anthropological survey of the culture of a given American subgroup.
    It might be worth turning this collected experience into a full-fledged booklet or ebook at some point of his life.
    If not now, perhaps later. A kind of “on the road” with the new breed of American skeptics and atheists.
    Which could be contrasted with the experience for instance of somebody like Richard Dawkins whose travelings and associations have been among the elite scholars of the same segment of ideology and their opponents.

    • says

      Of course, part of the point is that if you’re my kind of people, you probably already know what I mean (because you’ve lived it, or some variant of it). But I also wanted to avoid naming names or giving out TMI. I wanted to keep it generic, fill-in-the-blanks for a reason. It’s the generalitizability of these encounters that is the point. The iterations are endless.

      But my more avid readers will have met with plenty of examples of my encounters with libertarian mythology, for example, on my blog. The latest I met with on my travels is the claim that if we taxed Bill Gates 100% he would have no money left over to donate to charity. Which, besides being a classic fallacy (a straw man–no idiot is proposing a 100% tax), is false: charitable donations are exempt from income tax. They are thus not taxed at all. That’s a tax rate of 0%. The libertarian dream. So I suppose libertarians will now give all their money away to charity. Why, that way, they can live tax free! (Well, okay, the limit is 50% AGI, so you can’t get all your income exempt that way, but there are plenty of ways you can. Like, for example, spending the rest on hiring employees for a business. Yeah. Job creation exempts you from taxes. Which gives the lie to the claim that tax increases reduce hiring. Money spent hiring people is not subject to income tax.)

      Almost as commonly heard are stories of the form “x happened to so-and-so” which are typically urban legends or stories that have been wildly distorted from their true form. And in their mythological iteration they contradict the known facts of how things actually work (which is often what gives them away). And when you look the truth up (Snopes style) you find out your suspicion was correct. I was recently told a variant of the “$140,000 welfare recipient,” for example. And was grateful Snopes already did my homework for me on that one.

      (Another example is the insecticide ban myth a libertarian tried on me in my Factual Politics exchange. He refused to give any details by which to check his claims directly, but I found enough to prove it dubious. I even neglected to mention the most dubious feature of that myth, which was the claim that banning a single insecticide made it impossible for gopher control businesses to continue. Obviously gopher extermination businesses still thrive everywhere, so what we have here is another libertarian myth in the making, on which they base their ideology, just like a religion. See my blog on the reality, as opposed to the mythology, of government regulation.)

  7. fullyladenswallow says

    The best time I ever had was with some of the folks with whom I shared a poetry workshop. Definitely good crazy. Some of their poems reflected this. And then, yes, there were also those who could brighten up a room just by leaving. Sometimes I think it would still be really cool to have a relationship based on good crazy.

  8. says

    Not so sure it’s a spectrum really. There can be aspects of good weirdo and bad weirdo (and even fuddy-duddy) within the same person.

    Me, for example. I value skepticism and rationality, I don’t judge people for being into comic books and toys (and generally like such people), but at the same time I can be insensitive and obsessive about particular issues (as you may have noticed).

    • says

      I’m not sure that qualifies you as bad crazy. Only if you kill the mood of a room or people want to avoid you would that qualify. Otherwise you’re not crazy, just flawed, as we all are in various ways. Everyone has issues and failings. That’s not what I mean by crazy.

  9. Aaron Ross says

    Great post Dr. Carrier…in Kansas City we are plagued with these two “Atheist Leaders” who post vicious rants, and even threats on local blogs.

    (The former Religion Editor of the KC Star, Bill Tammeus, still has a blog with their rants archived but had to shut down comments. When one of them told believers they would end up in a ditch,like Jimmy Hoffa, everything went to hell.)

    It made a lot of us quit going to the Meet Ups because they were the organizers of EVERY ONE OF THEM…and one of them still is.

    • AZryan says

      Couldn’t all the ‘a lot of us’ just form a new group and promote it as being anti-those two chumps, and coming from a more ‘positive’ foundation? Hell, then actively pull everyone else out of the original group until it’s just left with chumps and lackeys.

  10. Jes says

    Eloquently put. Many share these feelings even if they couldn’t explain them, and it’s refreshing to see them communicated so well in print.

  11. AZryan says

    Great article.

    I think the synopsis is pretty much that you like highly rational, emotionally moderate/well-balanced people. The ‘good weirdo’ aspects just naturally emerge from this.

    And you can’t stand irrational people and/or emotionally imbalanced jerks who ruin everything.
    Makes sense.

    I think the ‘Vulcan (or Robot) stereotype’ is something that might need a bit more said about it though. I’ve gotten that myself many times, even though I think I’m probably more emotional than the typical, generic shmoe. But with rationality being a moderating layer sitting ‘on top’ of our emotions, that does tend to make it look like we’re suppressing our emotions at key moments when it’s most rational to do just that -and when other people can’t help (or don’t try to help) flipping out.

    I think that’s mainly where it comes from, and people are just insultingly exaggerating that onto how we act all the time. Hence–some truth at the core of the stereotype.

    I know I’ve had to explain to many people that ‘irrational’ is the opposite ‘rational’, not ‘emotional’, but the confusion is fairly understandable.

    You see on common ‘personality tests’ that they have a rational/emotional scale, making them appear to be opposites just like introvert/extrovert and all the other scales down the list.

    And I think you’d probably agree that there are many people who would consider the article you wrote to be highly analytical (‘cuz it is), and very boring (which it wasn’t…to anyone who’s also highly analytical), so you’re kinda projecting that Vulcan stereotype right here, while claiming that there’s really nothing to it. There’s at least something to it.

    Many people just can’t think that clearly. I think ‘critical thinking’ is one of the key foundations of education that we utterly fail to teach in our schools.

    To many, seeing someone else think with such rational clarity, and not get tripped up over misguided, emotionally-charged tangents, makes them more inclined to ‘reject’ what’s being said, rather than ‘learn something’, or simply be ‘inspired’ or even ‘interested’ by it. They unconsciously ‘feel’ like only a robot could think, or speak, like that. But it’s ‘cuz they just ‘don’t get’ being rational. Plus…the don’t ‘want to’, either.

    Hell, the simplest way to know who’s going to be President is to figure out which candidate people ‘like more’. That’s it. No issues at all. No party lines. Just who more people ‘feel’ more comfortable with.

    That’s why Obama, one of the most emotionally controlled, rational, analytical Presidents in modern times…projects an MLK-inspired preacher style when he’s on the campaign trail. ‘Cuz he knows he can only win by people ‘feeling’ that he’s right, not by just explaining exactly why he ‘is’ right–a failing of the masses of course, not Obama, who’s only playing the game.

    ALSO of key importance in all this, is the fact that Firefly really was a pretty lousy show–at least until the tail end of it’s one season run (‘Out of Gas’ being it’s only really excellent, cleverly crafted episode, and why it’s always everyone’s favorite).

    It was probably given the low-ratings ax before those later, renewal-worthy episodes were even produced. It’s theme song is one of television’s worst ever (followed by Justified’s). The Little Spacecraft on the Prairie mores and dialogue were implausible and cornball. And the blatant Mal ‘Solo’ and his hunk a’ junk, smuggler ship rip-off, didn’t win it any points for originality.

    The fact that it began right ‘after’ the similarly-themed, but far better in every imaginable way, Farscape, makes it all the more of a mystery how you frequently mention the former, but I’ve never seen you mention the later? Have you never seen or heard of Farscape?? I think both were somewhat a combination of Star Wars and Star Trek, but only one really got the mixture right. Both were certainly the same idea of a space-faring Sci-Fi about a band of thrown-together misfits on the run against a large, nazi-styled force.

    I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t find it to kick far more ass than Firefly. Four outstanding seasons and an excellent/fitting 2-part TV movie finale.

    Ok, hope that wasn’t too much ‘bad weirdo’ for you. Didn’t mean it to sound harsh, it’s just I’ve been wanting to say this Farscape/Firefly thing to you for a long while now.

    • says

      Of course I disagree wholeheartedly about Firefly (we could go through every measure of art: lighting, sound, set design, costuming, editing, score, character development, backstory, dialogue, storytelling, contextual realism, directing, special effects, performances, and compare and contrast and it will rate above every other show made for tv and most blockbuster movies). That’s not to knock Farscape. Being less than best does not equal sucks. However, by themselves, aesthetic disagreements (even when objectively arguable and not just rooted in subjective differences that have no “right” answer) do not make for a bad weirdo.

      But on every other point, you are right. Although I was thinking more of Julia Galef’s points in her talk on the Straw Vulcan.

  12. says

    I too hope I am a ‘good’ weirdo [there being no doubt on the ‘weirdo’], sometimes being the only reasonably scientifically literate in a crowd can lead the rest to think you’re a ‘bad’ one, especially when realistic explanations aren’t what most believe or want to hear. Having a generally saturnine disposition doesn’t often lead to being thought the ‘life of the party’, but then I’ve been told by enough people that I posses hootness that I can believe plenty aren’t brought down by my spewings.

    I remember seeing on TV an older, very proper looking lady who said something about how anyone who uses a lot of profanity clearly has nothing interesting to say. I wished I could have replied to her that most of the really interesting people I’d been around tended to swear regularly, but of course we’d both be right. Said another way, when I go visit my mother in her retirement village, one of the things I regularly think is how I’d rather be dead than live on with nothing more to say and think than what most of these folk go on about.

    A number of lines in the post made me want to yell out how many definitions of ‘delusion’ mention that delusions shared by a large percentage of the population somehow aren’t delusions. That’s always a real ‘WTF’ for me, did religious people interpolate that in those definitions somehow?

  13. says

    “Or those people who monopolize your time and won’t go away or let someone else speak, and want to talk about their issues and not hear about anyone else’s.”

    Richard, I want to apologize for committing this particular infraction at a Q&A this past weekend. You had made a bold statement about the fine-tuning God being incredibly improbable, and I thought I saw an error in your logic. You were very patient with me as we went back and forth for a few rounds until the moderator politely suggested that others might want a chance to ask a question.

    You graciously agreed to discuss the topic further over lunch. Despite my desire to hold on to this particular argument of fine-tuning, it became evident that you were right, and a bit of further explanation on your part finally convinced me of that. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time, and let you know your patience wasn’t in vain.

    • says

      No worries! There was no bad weirdo there. It was a genuine case of communication facilitation. I wasn’t sure what you meant, you weren’t sure what I meant, so we got down to working that out, and so we did. Good times. And I am better off for it.

  14. says

    My goal in talking with people is to be helpful, not comfortable. So, I don’t find much value in dividing people into vague categories like this. It strikes me as a particularly frustrating kind of elitism, the kind where people don’t even know they are being excluded or why.

    I’m always reminding religious people that separation of church and state protects them, too, because they could be in a minority someday or somewhere. I want to remind Richard of that here. That the people who annoy us need us, too. We can give them a little time. And we can learn from them. Diversity is our great strength.

    But I’m sure Richard is magnanimous with his students and many people. We all have the right to choose our friends. But this piece struck me as cliquish.

    • says

      Separating good weirdos from bad is not cliquish. It’s necessary for human happiness. Just as separating out criminals and liars is (you wouldn’t say avoiding psychopaths is being “cliquish,” so clearly all instances of exclusivism aren’t so described).

      Separating good weirdos from fuddy duddies is cliquish, but in precisely the way that is necessary for human happiness. We can have détente and not be totally exclusive to each other (I do in fact interact with both), but there is a fundamental reason why fuddy duddies don’t like us and don’t get along with us, and the problem is theirs, not ours. For the very reasons I explain.

      Indeed, that is a key point of my post: there is a difference between arbitrary cliquishness (excluding people merely because they are different) and objectively justifiable cliquishness (excluding people because they don’t understand the value of difference and thus don’t enjoy the company of it).

  15. says

    I applaud you young weirdo! For over 40 years my weird fascination with ancient history has given me all kinds of grief. But it turns out that most of the time it gives me the aura of “smart guy” to the ladies. In my dotage that cant be replaced. Dog bless the weirdos!

  16. F says

    I discovered I was a weirdo early on, because all the dullnormal people kept telling me so, and wanted to fix or ostracize me. Which made me a loner for a good chunk of my life, which just reinforced negative weirdo perception of me on the part of the normal types. Thanks, guys. I don’t know if I would ever be capable of being socialized to the norm, but you spared me any remote possibility of that ever happening.

    The “bad” weirdos (and the bad weirdos, i.e., creeps), even though lacking in introspection and self-reflection, seem frequently to have loud, if not rich, internal lives, and appear to lack what were once (possibly still) known as “ego boundaries”. This is something that tends to make them annoying to dangerous.

  17. says

    Great piece! This encapsulates many things I’ve seen over the years being involved in various underground music and art scenes (as well as political activism and the like…). I’m always drawn to people who question the value judgments of the “normals,” but that iconoclasm has to be consciously chosen and done with some flair…a form of “reasoned rebellion” that has some damn *teeth*! It’s along the lines of Nietzsche’s remark about how it’s necessary to “give style to one’s character.”

    By the way, this is Rob, the UCI grad student that chatted with you for a bit at the Anthill Pub last weekend. I was planning on getting out to Riverside to watch you dismantle that apologist but it never worked out – anyhow, my copy of Proving History just arrived so I’m looking forward to digging in. I just finished Aviezer Tucker’s Our Knowledge of the Past, which also uses a Bayesian approach to historical method, so the timing is good!

  18. says

    I know the feeling.

    On a related note, I’d like to hear your thoughts on people who think that what you define as “good weirdos” should STFU in the movement. You know, people who like to argue to Christians that we heathens are “just like you, minus the god part.”

    • says

      Those are fuddy duddies.

      And by my observation, they are the past. We are the future of the movement.

      But they don’t have to STFU about that any more than we do. Let them make their case. That’s the best way to show everyone they have none. (Particularly those who actually claim we are “just like Christians minus god,” if they really mean that, because that is most definitely what we ought never be like: judgmental, gullible, imperialistic, ethnocentric, arrogant, self-righteous, sexually repressed would-be tyrants without an army–or with, as the case may be. Not that that describes all Christians, just a damn lot of them–enough to elect Presidents.)

  19. Tim says

    >>seems like a sound and even-keel skeptic until she starts spouting the easily-debunked mythology [OPTIMISTIC RATIONALISTS] base their beliefs on like some sort of religion, and literally won’t see reason even when her claims are debunked right in front of her eyes

    I thought you were describing yourself there, Richard, the way you react so poorly and vehemently toward critics and critiques of some obviously flaky claims you make, like the mystical value of persons (but not other animals), the mystical moral value of happiness (however defined, rather than, say, duty, etc.), that acting to achieve our desires is acting morally (that one is truly bizarre given it misses the whole point that morality is about acting in the Right way), that atheism is a religious choice (it’s a lack of religion and we want no association with religion at all), etc.

    And I say that as an atheist.

  20. says

    I use a simpler rule of thumb for differentiating “bad weird”. It’s normative. It’s the difference between having a fascinating political argument and one where people walk away angry.

    I hang out with a number of vegetarians and vegans. I don’t hang out with anyone who insists that I be vegetarian or vegan.

    That guy who believes in that big conspiracy theory? He can’t shut up about it because I won’t give him the validation of agreeing with him. Same with that libertarian. Same with those people with magic bullet solutions to society’s complex problems. Same with the fuddy duddies and their social expectations.

    This rule is also easier to explain to people on the ASD spectrum. When it comes down to it, I get along this way with people with a variety of social challenges as well–as long as they’re not telling me who I should be.

  21. jasonmartin99 says

    Richard, interesting post, but I would submit that you’re not really a weirdo in any real sense. I would say that you remind me of a large percentage of people I met while I was in college (and that’s a good thing). Granted that I only really know you through your videos on Youtube, but you do not appear to be weird in any significant way. I would call you eccentric, maybe, but not weird.

    I’ve thought a lot about this because I am a weird person, but it’s not something I ever chose to be. I would say that people who are truly weird are not proud of it, and it’s something we’d like to change if we could. I always laugh when younger people try to set themselves off as being “weird” and “different” by, for example, dying their hair green or adopting some strange set of opinions that are deliberately contrarian, etc. See, a truly weird person would never go out of his way to broadcast his eccentricity to the world. Rather, he would try to hide it, if possible. The true weirdo gets into the most trouble when he’s around a set of culturally-adjusted people, and he tries to fit in: the result is usually terrible and awkward. The true weirdo often suffers for his “apartness”, his “otherness.” When I was ten years old, I basically had half my face ripped off in a car accident. The result of this was that, in time, I became a pretty strange person. Fitting into mainstream culture was no longer a possibility for me. I was set off from others in a way that marked me for the rest of my life, but I was also forced to see the world from a perspective that is almost completely unavailable to the average “normal” person. This way of seeing the world belongs to very few people in the world, and most of them struggle with it greatly. Many weirdos are set off at birth, because of some quirk of personality or extreme intelligence, or a bit later through family circumstances or some life-altering environmental event (but this event must take place during childhood when the brain is still wiring itself). Their otherness is stamped onto them early in life when their personality is still forming, so they only gradually become aware of it. I should add that I think my weirdness is of the good sort; that is, I’m not weird in a batshit crazy sort of way, or in a way that would make other people really uncomfortable. My weirdness is simply the result of having to see the world from a place that is completely off-limits to the vast, vast majority of people. To be honest, I would probably prefer to be more “normal.”

    Anyway, sorry for all the rambling; I wish I was a better writer. In closing, yes, Richard, you definitely belong to a minority, a sub-set of people, but I doubt that you are any sort of weirdo. If you were, I strongly doubt that you would be congratulating yourself for it on this blog. But I may be wrong about that. Anyway, I really enjoyed this post of yours, as always, and look forward to reading more from you.

    • says

      Everyone is weird in different ways. The standard of “normal” is “mainstream America,” i.e. the majority population (counting rural and suburbs along with cities, counting north, west, east, and south, predominately white communities and predominately black ommunities, etc.).

      I’ve met several people who would describe their weirdness same as you. And there are weirdos like me who can “pass” as normal, and weirdos who can’t. The bottom line, if you score all four good-weirdo attributes (communicativity, sensitivity, self-reflectivity, and low delusionality), you’re good people, and you just need to find others like you to hang out and bond with. If you think you fall short on any of those measures, and you think this is the cause of your difficulty hanging with normals or of your angst over wanting to be normal or anything else you’d like to change, if that is the case (I’m not assuming it is), then I would recommend working on those attributes. They can be improved with self-reflection, practice, and habituation. (I myself am an example; for most of my life I was a highly-awkward, culturally inept introvert with, like you, a totally weird perspective on life and the world who seemed never to see eye to eye with others, and who would never countenance public speaking, much less socializing with strangers.)

      But yes, you do have to become comfortable with who you are, or strive to become comfortable with who you are, or if that’s intolerable then to strive to become what you can be comfortable with, but never sell yourself short because you fall short of other people’s expectations of how you’re supposed to be (except those five reasonable expectations I mentioned: a non-trivial measure of compassion, honesty, courage, self-reflectiveness, and skepticality; and especially the four best attributes to aim for listed earlier).

      Make that your mission in life. If it isn’t already.

    • Stephanie says

      Asperger’s is a spectrum, and I’m not an extreme case (I’ve been called Aspie-lite). But I don’t think of myself as socially inept, maybe just socially awkward. I would never fit in with the ‘normal’ crowd, even if I wanted to.

      But am I a bad weirdo? I am willing to admit when I am wrong, I know my flaws (well, at least some) and I am decent at communicating my opinion rationally. And I don’t feel that I am insensitive, but I do miss non-verbal cues. This is why I like the internet. Nobody gets non-verbal cues, so it levels the playing field. I still miss some things, mostly because I tend to take things literally. I have a hard time understanding why people say things they don’t really mean, and it almost always comes down to emotions. But my friends IRL, who I think are good weirdos, are comfortable being honest. They can explain their emotion to me if I’m not seeing it. And they repeatedly invite me back to hang out with them, so I must not be too bad a weirdo.

  22. says

    The stereotype is to imagine a rational person as an unemotional one, a Vulcan. Boring. Endlessly analytical. Maybe even cynical (in the bad sense). But that’s a largely bogus stereotype.

    It’s also a bogus stereotype of Vulcans.

  23. georgep says

    This resonates. I would just emphasize a characteristic of the good weirdo that has always been a defining one for me: humor, especially of the self-deprecating variety. Not a fool proof barometer, but, in my experience, pretty close.

    gp

  24. 24fps says

    Really enjoyed your blog post, Richard, and it’s singing to me in a big way – I’ve just come home from one of my favourite things, a film festival. I make documentaries, and one of the best things about this field is that you have to be a little off beat to even start down that road, so the longer you’re in it the more people who are off beat in their own ways you get to know and hang out with. We live in different places, have different roles and foci in our work, some make fiction or cool experimental films as well, have our own little fascinations.

    There are the good weirdos and the bad weirdos in this milieu, too. And fuddy-duddies, usually in the beauracracies, who show up because they have to. But I even find some of those interesting to talk to because I’m fascinated by people and the challenge of teasing out a little detail about someone, what their passion is or what’s important to them. Most people have something like that in there, it’s just not always close to the surface. I suppose that’s a good thing in a documentarian. But they’re not fun to party with.

    Finding myself at festivals and tv markets (where I go to flog my ideas to broadcasters and distributors and agents, oh my), I’ve found myself a part of a terrific community of good weirdos who are usually up for dinner or drinks and great conversation. Or, happy day, dancing. Get a bunch of good weirdos together and it’s magic time. :)

  25. says

    The word I use to describe it is “intensity”. I had my first experience with athie folks at a conference a couple weeks ago, and that whole “a bit off” phenomenon had to do largely with the capacity to let things slide. I have a post going up about it later, but the TL/DR version is that people prefer to be put at ease, and when you appear to care about something just too friggin’ much, it’s off-putting.

    I think the challenge we “good weird” folks face is identifying our own neuronormative privilege. Not every weirdo is someone with Asperger Syndrome, but there are a number of Aspies who don’t groove on human interactions because they’re fundamentally non-logical and rely on the kind of non-explicit cues that not everyone picks up easily. Picking on the “weirdoes” can be manifestly unfair, simply because there are many who can’t be not-weird. Better, I think, to identify specific behaviours to avoid rather than personality traits to avoid.

    • says

      Except that behaviors are the causal effects of personality traits. That’s why mens rea is a requirement of convicting a criminal in a court of law; actus reus is insufficient: we want to keep bad people away from us. Crazies aren’t criminals–don’t mistake my analogy as playing on that point, but on the point that what drives conduct is more important than the conduct itself. Bad behavior can be a one-off, correctable, accidental, but bad personality is going to consistently generate bad behavior until the personality is corrected (or corrected for with compensating behavior, which requires compensating personal habits, i.e. developing a compensating personality attribute). That’s why we want to avoid those people, and why those people ruin the enjoyment of social situations for so many.

      Intensity isn’t necessarily even an example. Intensity can be fine, an amusing quirk or even an enjoyable enthusiasm. But if your intensity cannot be modulated to the situation, then the problem is insensitivity to others (hence, lack of empathy). Such a person is either ignoring, disregarding, or incapable of recognizing the feelings and interests of others around them. They are also ignoring, disregarding, or incapable of recognizing the perception of themselves they are generating and thus the self-defeating nature of their behavior (hence, lack of self-reflectiveness). Asperger’s (and other disorders) are either not valid excuses (I have had good times with several Asperger’s sufferers–they can learn to be aware of, signal, and compensate for their disorder, so the disorder itself is not an excuse for failing to develop those skills) or not valid reasons to hang out with them (if you are an uncontrollable lunatic, I am even more inclined to avoid you, as everyone should).

      Of course, there is a difference between professional interaction (meet-and-greet, taking questions) and having a good time (hanging out with people for the production of happiness which is the purpose of living). I am speaking about the conditions required for the latter (we need to find the best company and avoid the worst; that is not “privileging normalcy,” it’s common sense, indeed a moral imperative). Although workers also deserve happy workplaces as much as possible and thus should also be treated with empathy and concern for whether you (as a customer or “fan” or even critic) are making their day suck (more than is necessary for their job description). Thus anyone engaging in professional interaction with us should also strive to be the better sort of people, rather than the worse (and/or protecting us from the latter and steering to us the former).

      That’s why I do not accept making excuses for anyone’s failure to be a better person. The reasons why one has failed are irrelevant to the fact that they have failed and as such must face the consequences of that. We cannot promote a world where there are no consequences for being a bad weirdo as I described. We certainly cannot promote a world in which they are rewarded. And if someone has a mental disorder that prevents them solving those problems, then they need to be in treatment, not hounding us at parties. And we certainly shouldn’t be ruining ours and everyone else’s day by towing them around with us.

      That said, I’ll remind everyone what I repeatedly indicated in my article, the fact that these qualities exist by degrees. Some “bad weirdos” are more or less tolerable, being not quite as far down the curve as the worst of them can be.

  26. says

    I really enjoyed this post. I’ve been involved with this movement for a few years now and have been thinking of it as the weird little group where I feel at home like no where else. I met you briefly last year at the Red River Freethinkers conference in Fargo. I am the woman who asked you about your thoughts on William Lane Craig. I have always gravitated toward the weird and eccentric people and now to have a community where there is always going to be an interesting conversation has been a real joy to me these last few years. Keep up the weirdness!

  27. says

    I’ve read and re-read this piece several times and gone back and forth about whether you’re my type of weirdo and whether I’m you’re type of weirdo. Then today I happened across this piece I’d written several months ago: http://thewrongmonkey.blogspot.com/2012/02/if-im-actually-good-for-something.html and remembered that I don’t pose those sorts of questions. I’m approaching the phenomenon of the human being from a very different direction. Is my approach better than yours? Worse? I don’t know. It’s different.

  28. Benjamin Preciado says

    I enjoyed reading this! If I may speak personally, I think I was a “bad weirdo” for many years in a lot of the ways that you describe.

    Their difficulty in empathizing with others, and being so caught up in their own head that they’re unable to make others feel seen and understood, are usually the effects of abuse. Even egotism and narcissism are just ways that people have adapted to very shitty circumstances. It later becomes a problem when those circumstances are no longer present, and their stories are no longer helpful and instead end up hurting them overall. It’s like dropping an Eskimo into the tropics.

    For example, I once thought extremely highly of my intelligence, deeply felt it made me superior to everyone, and it was not hard to discern this about me. This lasted from the time I was 6 years old, and didn’t begin to fade until I was about 20 years old. But when you consider that I was a gay kid, beaten by my mother’s boyfriends, always treated unfairly and teased by my family members, and had to endure a scathing tribalistic social atmosphere so typical of coerced education, it’s not hard to see why such a story about myself would have given me strength, allowing me to enjoy some semblance of self-esteem, and a sense of power. The world as presented to my impressionable young mind was incredibly combative, and so I used a trait that I received praise for in a combative (and thus empowering) way.

    As an adult (as you might imagine) I was off-putting to many people. And that’s just one of the many bad facets I had.

    I guess the point that I want to make is that I do think bad weirdos have the ability to improve their personality and get much more out of life. I’d say I’m a case in point. But most of them won’t because they’re invested in their stories about the world (almost all of it is subconscious), and so usually don’t really have much incentive to question themselves. I did have a lot of incentive: loneliness and a clear sense of what life could be like.

    Well those are my thoughts. Thanks for posting such a good read, Richard!

    • says

      That’s well worth mentioning. There are paths to self-knowledge and empathy and reasonableness. The sadness is that bad weirdos are often by their very natures hostile to those paths. Even normals might never realize the value of going down them. So it is a great thing to see someone who has found one of those paths and taken it.

  29. Benjamin Preciado says

    Oh, you also mentioned how delusional or obsessed they can be. I like the example you gave of someone going on and on about circumcision. That totally reminded me of some really heated 9/11 “truthers” I saw on YouTube a while back. I think in addition to having poor reasoning skills, a lot of these people would feel pretty empty if they didn’t think they had some sort of mind-blowing insight about the world that few others have, and they feel like they’re part of something big just by knowing it. Or their sense of self-worth is boosted by the fact. Or the world is just more interesting that way, since otherwise life is vapid and a chore because living for themselves isn’t enough. These psychological forces can make getting through to a bad weirdo via reason seem futile.

  30. Siverly says

    ‘The weird guy who is obsessed with getting every atheist organization to speak out against the evils of circumcision and won’t shut up about it’

    Is it the person or the topic itself that you find irritating, Richard, because you seem to have no time for either by your own words.
    Can you empathise with people who feel very affected by this issue and can you not understand a natural affinity some people have with atheism/scepticism/freethought on such a matter?

    • says

      I’m talking about that guy who walks up to a Q&A about the movie Agora (which has nothing whatever to do with circumcision) and gives a speech about the evils of circumcision (consuming everyone’s time) and then asks whether we will fight to end it (even though that’s completely off topic and wholly inappropriate), the sort of guy who acts like that all the time: everything is an opportunity to give little speeches about circumcision and ask people how committed they are to ending it, and there is no conversation topic conceivable that he won’t barge in on and make about that.

      That kind of weirdo.

  31. Siverly says

    You’re right. A time and place for everything. Understood. And know that many men are only recently ‘coming out’, as are many women, about the harm from this cultural surgery and its been a long time coming. Please have patience with people who want to see childhood genital cutting discussed openly and critically- it’s taboo- especially in the US. The issue is deeply connected to bad science(it never was about scientific based therapy but religious morality), freedom from religion, group rights over individual rights and gender discrimination. Many ‘Intactivists’ want involvement and support from critically-thinking people including atheists and freethinkers! Those ‘sort’ of people who go off-topic can be annoying, granted, but try and realise people’s motivations on this very personal issue. This will run for a very long time- and now has entered mainstream European law and medicine.
    Thanks PZ and Maryam!

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