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20171207 The falsely accused contrarian and the bubble people.
20171207 The falsely accused contrarian and the bubble people.
I've been called many things over time - usually by people who wanted to make me feel inferior. Generally, it hasn't worked: either they are telling the truth, in which case it has no impact or they are lying in which case they are beneath contempt and merely trying to make themselves look important at my expense. But of late, one word has been applied to me more than once: I am, apparently, a contrarian. Actually, I'm not - but if calling me that makes you feel better, go ahead. But you are wrong.
The Cambridge English Dictionary (the Oxford version is far too American to call itself English, these days) describes "Contrarian" as "someone such as a writer or politician who likes to disagree with other people and [to] express opinions that are unpopular."(1)
It describes "populist" as "representing or relating to the ideas and opinions of ordinary people."(2) The "Left" who are trying to make "populist" sound like a dirty word might like to remember that definition.
It's strange: in a world that some claim is racing towards globalisation, many people exist in their own bubble world, where only those like them are allowed and is, therefore, exactly the opposite of global. While geographically without obvious limit, their ability to think, analyse and respond is hampered by the fact that only opinions that match their own are admitted.
We are told that the world aims to be more inclusive - but it's only inclusive in those areas that are currently trendy - race, sexuality, being prime examples.
But here's the most interesting thing. The same dictionary defines "silent majority" as "a large number of people who have not expressed an opinion about something." We don't know when the term "Silent Majority" was coined - although its first relatively recent high-profile use was by US President Nixon in 1969 it's pretty certain he didn't think it up. Some commentators say that it was in fairly common (that word is probably not correct) use in the 19th Century to refer to the total number of dead humans since man first appeared. But it's clear that the term was used in its current sense for at least 100 years before Nixon and, possibly, much longer.
It is interesting that there is some obvious correlation between "the silent majority" and "populist." Yet, the bubble-dwellers don't see that. The bubble-people see their own highly selective media, have their views formed for them by a remote algorithm of the "news agenda" of their chosen media outlets. They accept the views of supposed experts in international bodies or large countries without questioning them, because those people are bubble-adjacent, or even have overlap. They think within the bubble, they don't think outside the bubble.
One might imagine that that the bubble would become bigger, but it doesn't. The bubble just fills up and its walls become ever stronger. If a stray thought tries to enter, it's turned away. "Halt who goes there? Someone who challenges the new orthodoxy that is the only acceptable thinking in here? No, you can't come in."
It's intellectual apartheid. It's discrimination by those who follow fashion. They would have been punks - but only a year after punk had become mainstream. They drive BMWs because someone told them that's what thrusting young executives drive; the man with the Alfa Romeo is weird, they think.
The result is that, within the bubble, a single thought takes on the momentum of a cheese rolling down a hill, followed by those who don't think whether it will be edible if they do, indeed, catch it. The failure of the bubble dwellers to think outside the incestuous, circular, mindset within the bubble means that bad ideas are not challenged. It means that, within the bubble, the focus is not on whether to do it but rather how to do it. Ideas rapidly become, or even arrive as, a fait accompli and while there is often extensive debate on the best way to implement them, the hard question - (should we do this?) - is never asked.
And the reason for this is that bubble people only consider those within the bubble to be "popular." Those outside the bubble can shout and scream, but their views are ignored or, even, disparaged.
Bubble people tend to run headlong into things without looking at the wider implications of what they are doing.
So, am I a contrarian? No, if anything I'm a populist amongst the wider population that exists outside the bubble and thinks bubble people need to gain a sense of perspective.
But, there is something else. Unlike those who have called me names in the past and who will no doubt do so in the future, mostly those who now call me "contrarian" do so with a degree of approval and, in some cases, respect. They are the ones who, somewhere deep inside them, think that the bubble should be more permeable, that ideas should not be shut out just because they do not fit the current real-politik. Those who may, one day, if they feel brave enough, speak out against the group-think that defines the bubble.
They secretly hope that one day, I may pop that bubble and everyone will start to think for themselves, and ask questions not to follow sheepishly, lemming-like, over the edge of the flat earth they have defined for themselves.
And to them, I say "thank you. It's nice to be recognised. It's nice to be listened to by the very people who mostly want to pretend other views do not exist."
But I also have to say, thank you for calling me a contrarian: unfortunately, you are wrong. It's the people in the bubble, minorities making decisions that majorities, of which I am a noisy, not silent, representative, see as contrary. For we are the true populists, our views are popular. We are just not heard because you have created a membrane so thick that reason cannot permeate.
After all, the silent majority is hoi poloi, it's the great unwashed, it's the people. The common people. The people of common sense. It's that, not me, that the bubble people fear.
The popping of the bubble would be a very popular move.
So I'm not contrarian: I'm not arguing for the sake of it. I'm certainly not arguing against a populist view, although I do often argue against views that are popular within the bubble. I'm not arguing because I want to get noticed (hell, look me up on Google - I really don't need to stoop to trolling to get my name about). I'm arguing a contrary position because it's logically formed and it's right and, equally importantly, likely to be populist.
I'm actually arguing for a fully-formed, wide open, entirely non-discriminatory, fully transparent democracy in which logic, fairness and the rule of law are paramount. And that terrifies bubble people. For they see the bubble as the source of their power, a Great Wall beyond which access is granted only to those with the right credentials i.e. compatible thought. If you want to be in my gang, and all that. Bubble people are defined, identifiable by their fixed views as gang members are identified by their tattoos, and both are pretty much set for life. It takes bravery to be free of either.
But for the bubble people in the field of financial crime risk management, compliance and related topics, I pose a particular threat: I know their stuff at least as well as they do and, often, rather better and I have a far broader perspective to set it in.
But, if calling me "contrarian" makes sense to you, fine. After all, it's you that's in the bubble, not me. You're laughing on the inside, the rest of the world is crying on the outside, wondering what awful things you are going to do next. I'm with them against the restrictive, small-minded, often uninformed bubble people. Break out, join us, the world is a wondrous place outside the bubble. And yes, you'll find it scary at first, like a caged animal escaping after a long period of captivity. Yes, you can smell the roses or you can get hay fever but at the end of that day, that's life. It's better to do that than to live in a rarefied atmosphere where barely anything smells good or bad, a sanitised environment. And no-one ever farts. But we on the outside have something you don't have in your bubble: we have unfiltered light, a light that shows things as they are not as the bubble people want them to be.
Come. Join us. All you need is to recognise that you don't belong in that container, that it's really someone else's bubble and you can prick it and be free to think and say the things that the shackles of narrowly popular thinking have so far prevented.
And when someone calls you "contrarian," then you can say "thanks but actually, I'm a populist, I'm the voice of reason, I am a free-thinker. I am me."