The Art of Nonconformity

You are never above a system you participate in.

Boycott what is disagreeable and engage fully with the rest.

The cog must escape the machine, or sacrifice himself for the sake of its destruction. To scoff and snarl at the machine is of no use. It is forgivable only to young men, at the time of their first realizations.

The sooner they understand what bravery is, the better. Bravery is striving to destroy what you despise, fostering and cultivating what you love, and never operating under principles that are not your own.

Beyond that, opinions are vanities. Sympathies unacted upon are vanities. Regrets are vanities outside their capacity to instruct us to better actions in the future. Cowardice is slicks words and a fine identity founded upon flexible principles.

Constitute yourself in accordance with observable instances of success in the natural world. Past failures are the signs of a mind out of sync with nature’s rules. Understand that punishments for mistakes often take years or generations to come, but they come.

The modern man has nothing so much to fear as his own tendency towards sloth and distraction.

If he wills himself capable of the commitment to toil half in measure with his peasant ancestors, he will find joy, for it will not be work in the field he does, but work in the mind, done not in order to take a single step on the treadmill of subsistence, but to improve the world at least somewhat in his own image, according to his own ideals of what is good and right and beautiful–

That is, if he does not sell his spine or let it erode unnoticed under the pressure of a social heard thousands of times more powerful than that of his ancestors. They exert force upon him through almost every aspect of his upbringing, if his parents be unexceptional. They educate him on books written in summary of their common consensus and confine him to some small corner of the globe where he may remain small and uninvolved with larger affairs.

Whether he is the greatest metropolis or the smallest cul de sac, this is the feeling, this is the message; you are not smart enough, you are not great enough. Stay where you are and don’t get caught climbing towards truth. Climb towards money if you wish, or status, or fame, even power so long as you fill a position that was already filled, and maintain the hulking culture as it steers towards the uncertain future.

They do not tell him the truth, the all too obvious truth; that he will be loved if he strives, loved so completely it cannot be imagined, perhaps by the world, but at the very least by himself. They do not tell him his only option is to climb up the very rungs they said were forbidden.

It is either fall into a poison well, into a life fabricated with the discarded pieces of norms no one ever liked or consciously agreed upon, or to climb as high as he can, as long as he can, with the thought in mind that even that strain will be better than the slow death of a life lived in defeat, in response to the powers that very deep down wanted him to climb, when all was said and done.

Faith in Creativity

Prioritizing creativity makes very little rational sense until your output can earn you an income, and significantly affect the lives of others. Yet artists toil in obscurity and poverty nevertheless, sometimes finding an eventual redemption, and sometimes not.

Above all else, creativity is an act of faith. A faith in one’s own ability and worth, in the face of years of past mediocrity, and a future containing even more. Artists go to their canvases like prospectors to a potential mining site. They try not to get their hopes up. They try not to despair when things begin to go wrong. They try not to give

They try not to get their hopes up as they search for gold. They try not to despair when things begin to go wrong. They try not to give up until they absolutely have to. But both artists and prospectors conceal a deep hope that the next attempt will be the supreme success that changes everything.

But if success is your only impetus to creative action, a prolific artistic life will be impossible. Your own imagination will seem a dark forest, full of wrong turns and predators waiting to arrest your movement towards a completed work.

Be prepared to wander, and excited to get lost. Understand though you possess a compass, it does not always point true north. Aimless circles are a necessary part of creative navigation, and we all must trace thousands before the correct path can be found.

Obsession and Success

Our minds are capable of obsession so potent that it can result in self-effacement, and even self-destruction of both the body and the mind.

Why is that the case?

Why are we not a moderate, even keeled, and emotionally mild species?

It would take contact with intelligent life to know if consciousness necessitates the existence of powerful and often self-defeating emotions. But if we take a look at the world in which we exist, the apparent utility in obsession and its accompanying emotion comes into view.

Obsession, more than any other mental state, bestows upon its object meaning and value so that all possible avenues of attaining that object can be explored. When something must be obtained, our minds strain and calculate ingenious strategies that anything less than obsession would not have brought about.

But for every scenario where obsession breeds innovation, there are more that result in destruction and pain of both the obsessed and the object.

Equally pernicious is the plight of those who have succeeded in their aims, and find an emotional and motivational void upon reaching the other side of obsession.

There is nothing so dangerous as failing to assess the worth of your aims, and the realistic outcomes of both failure and success upon achieving them.

Giving Up and Getting Out

How do you know when to quit?

Simple answer:

You don’t.

Every success story has years of toil, struggle, and failure before the redemptive ascendancy to the desired state of being.

Every failure has the same beginning, but with no redemptive end.

Strange to notice that failures are either those who quit too early and those who gave up far too late.

Perhaps no one factor determines our future success than our ability to select promising endeavors and abandon them before we fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy, without giving up just when a breakthrough is about to occur.

How high do you want to go?

How low are you willing to fall?

There is a point at which the pain of continuing is worse than that of giving up.

But is that at the point at which we should quit?


Of Effort and Magic

Great writers will often type out great works, just to feel what well-structured language feels like as it comes out onto the page.

Painters learn by copying the great works with an exactness that forces them to the same solutions and techniques that the masters used.

In school, we learn science by repeating experiments that were once groundbreaking and demonstrative of the Universe’s foundational laws.

Great athletes review film, generals study battles from the past, and musicians must learn the songs of others before they can compose their own.

In learning and perfecting any skill, there is a constant balance between the fresh energy of the beginner and the studied discipline of the master. It is the interplay between these poles that generates true excellence. Neither the undisciplined talent nor the technically skilled but stagnant veteran creates works that resonate and endure over large spans of time.

It is the serendipitous convergence of tremendous effort and spontaneous inspiration that fixates and mirrors the vicissitudes of the human spirit. Western culture tends to revere the spontaneous more than the cultivated, while in the East this value is flipped.

In spending our novice years in a long apprenticeship, prostrating ourselves before and imitating the great masters, we create the substrate in which our own coherent style and the accompanying techniques may arise.

Piccaso, both a great master in his middle and old age, as well as a prodigy in his youth, articulated this notion eloquently.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Not everyone is destined to paint like a child. But every great artist and craftsman have some novel contribution for the greater culture, and the pursuit, as well as the honing of that gift, is of great importance no matter how meager its impact may appear to be.



Escaping Failure

Why do people tolerate conditions that to an outside observer appear torturous and unbearable?

Because it usually takes a long time for things to go from good to average to terrible. The loosening of standards, the growing rarity of success, all stack up so slowly that we often find ourselves in a living hell with no idea as to how we got there, and no clear memory of when it all changed.

Perhaps this is why quicksand exists in our minds as an archetypal fear. Quicksand is that which kills you so slowly that you don’t notice until your head is nearly below ground.

No wonder standards, principles, and consistent strategies are the weapons by which failure and stagnation can be fought off.

Motivation, inspiration, and passion are too weak and unreliable a resource to be used in continuous personal growth. They are nowhere to be found when you need them most, and often lead us into self-aggrandizements and prideful displays of self-perceived talent.

Inspiration is what may propel us to create principles sufficient to change the course of our life. But it in itself is not enough. Motivation may be enough to get us up off the couch the first time, but it likely won’t be there the second or the third, or the other inestimable times we might need motivation if we are to take consistent proper action.

Emotion is the water that turns the solid ground to quicksand. Principles and strategies are the rope which we have either spun ourselves, or has been offered by a mentor. But with no rope, we are doomed to sink.



Life on Autopilot

Every organism aims at achieving maximum results with minimum energy expenditure.

Humans alone are presented with a conscious choice regarding how much energy they use in a day. Any individual can decide to spend many hours a day in vigorous exercise of the mind or body, or else in sloth and complacency with external forces. Few choose the former, but the ones who do often spend several years in a state of discomfort before achieving an exponential growth in available resources.

Many have marveled at the achievements of such “non-conformists” and attributed their success to a cultivated defiance of what is often called “autopilot” as if the high achieving outliers in our society live in a state of constant resistance to the overwhelming social pressures all around them.

What an exhausting existence that would be.

Rather, our capacity for “autopilot” is as useful to the art of living as it is to landing an aircraft. Every commercial airliner today still uses highly trained human pilots because rigid, structured systems of control are best used in tangent with a highly responsive, creative element. Such it is with our unconscious patterns of behavior, which we in large part control through the decisions of our conscious minds.

The key is not in discarding unconscious patterns altogether, but rather in selecting those patterns after conscious, disciplined consideration of your own goals and predilections.