Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts


Like those of us who stray so far from the premise that we can’t see it anymore, Raymond Skiles seeks a different way, a better way, through alternative, and unconventional answers to life’s problems. His line of thinking can be intriguing and refreshing, but it can also be a little troubling. He just doesn’t think like the rest of us do. He scours alternative resources to find alternative routes through our legal system, our financial systems, and in the ways we maintain health. The discussions the two of us have often involve the two of us debating from what I consider an illogical base, while struggling to avoid thinking he has lost his way. I try to be objective, in other words, but as our debates flow in and out of the various rabbit holes he creates, that becomes more and more difficult. I strive to believe that what works for someone like Raymond may not work for me. When Raymond told me that he was going to risk it all based on some alternative information he learned I felt the need to warn him based on my understanding of the issue we were discussing. Was I right? Was he wrong? I thought I was right of course, but I wasn’t overly concerned with him bowing to my logic in this instance. My argument came from a pure place in that I care about him, and I don’t want to see him pursue an avenue I consider ill-advised. If he considered my advice uninformed or in any way worthless, I was fine with that, as long as I thought I did my part to help him see his issues from another perspective.

Raymond Skiles is a dumb guy. We both are. He did as poorly in school as I did, and we both decided to educate ourselves, after our school years, to try to catch up to those who were more engaged in their studies. Being a dumb guy was more state of mind than an absolute characteristic for us, and we spent the rest of our adult lives trying to escape the label. We shared so many characteristics at one point in our lives that some might call us similar. As such, we both fell prey to some bizarre ideas in our youth, but at some point in our respective timelines, we diverged.

The differences that emerged between the two of us can be explained in one simple scenario. If a used car salesman approached us, on separate occasions, with his persuasive sales techniques, we would both enter into the transaction believing that we were smarter, more savvy, and better than a person who chose to become a used car salesman. I don’t know if there was an incident, or an accumulation of such moments that led to some clarity on the matter, but at some point, I realized that I wasn’t half as bright as I thought I was. I realized that while I might now know more than the average person knows about James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and U.S. Presidents, that knowledge doesn’t do me any good the moment a guy in polyester leaps out of his balloons saying, “What do I have to do to get you into a car today?” I developed a technique that works best for me. I run away.

Raymond Skiles, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about the techniques used car salesmen employ on unsuspecting customers. By reading alternative websites that warn potential clients about the tactics used car salesmen employ, Raymond believes he knows them, and that he can use that knowledge to defeat them at their game. “You just have to know who they are,” is something he says. “Once you know what he eats for breakfast, who he calls his family, and if he’s stepping out on his wife, you got him where he lives.”

Whereas I recognize the limits of my intelligence the moment I set foot on a salesman’s home turf, Raymond considers it a challenge and a mark of his intelligence to outdo the man. I might over-estimate the craftiness of the average used car salesman, but if they are half as skilled in the art of persuasion as I fear most of them are, they will know who Raymond is. They will then flip the focus of their negotiations into an arena Raymond finds more pleasing. They might even compliment Raymond for the knowledge he has attained of their industry, and they might take a more honest and direct approach in their negotiations, and Raymond might end up paying more for the car than he intended.

***

In this battle between unconventional thinking and following traditional or conventional norms, unconventional thinking is far more seductive. The purveyors of unconventional information seduce us with different knowledge, with the promise that it could lead to more knowledge. When we hear conventional knowledge, we’re more apt to consider the source and frame it accordingly, and then fact check it. When we hear unconventional ideas, however, we have an instinctive, emotional attachment to them. Some part of us wants these ideas to be so true that we put our skepticism aside to embrace them, another part of us believes that unconventional knowledge is the result of skepticism and therefore thoroughly vetted. Some psychologists state that we must make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to their allure. Those who fall prey to the desire to have more knowledge should heed the warning that quantity does not always equal quality in this regard. There are only so many facts on a given issue, and they’re comparatively boring. Alternative, unconventional avenues are so intriguing and sexy because they can make us feel intelligent for coming up with a unique take on an issue that our peers haven’t considered before. In some cases we should consider those arguments, but in my experience most alternative theories provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the central argument.

Another break between Raymond’s way of thinking and mine occurred when I realized how often alternative theories based on unconventional information are wrong. Conventional information, reported by conventional outlets, is not always true either of course, but I would suggest their batting average is far superior to the alternative outlets. Those who aren’t as results-oriented, appear to put more value in avoiding the word naïve, a label they attach to those of us who believe everything we’re told.

In our discussions on a wide variety of topics, Raymond and I found many differences between how we arrive at a conclusion. We both seek primary source information, corroborating evidence, and perhaps some opinion pieces to bolster our conclusions. At some point, however, I am “easily satisfied” with my findings, whereas Raymond digs deeper. Raymond knows when the subject of a topic is a piece is crud, and Raymond knows the way a piece of crud thinks, and he seeks explanations that detail the piece of crud’s motives in a way Raymond can understand. In Raymond’s search for what he considers total objectivity, he accidentally trips over a critical line between objectivity and subjectivity. He finds subjective speculation regarding the motives of the piece of crud that fit with his theories on the subject in question, and he uses them to develop theories that are mostly autobiographical.

Alien Information

Police officers, working a beat, have a modus operandi (M.O.) they bring to their job: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” This is the ideal mindset for a law enforcement official working a beat to have. Is this M.O. ideal for a consumer of news, however, an employee who learns information regarding their employer, or a friend listening to another friend tell a story?

A high profile media personality once suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but the vaunted role the press plays in our republic should require them to combat constant, intense scrutiny, skepticism, and cynicism that makes them uncomfortable. Members of the media should conduct themselves in a manner that welcomes all of that from their audience and defeats it with performance that leads to a solid record they can point to whenever anyone questions them. Wouldn’t the members of the media say the same thing of the subjects they cover?

There is a tipping point, however, when a healthy sense of skepticism creeps into a form of cynicism that believes “none of what I hear and half of what I see.” Such cynicism opens holes in the mind that allows other information to fill it.

As an individual who has an insatiable curiosity for a wide spectrum of thought in regards to human behavior, I have had a number of friends introduce me to a wide array of alternative outlets. They introduce me to various definitions of human psychology through astrology, numerology, and witchcraft. One of these friends introduced me to the idea that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

This friend provided me a collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages that these superior beings sent to earthlings. As I read through the information he found, I found that the theme of these messages was that my philosophy was wrong. I found them somewhat humorous, but before I could entirely dismiss them, I learned that my friend considered these messages proof that I was wrong. Although he didn’t say these words exactly, the import of his responses was that I could not argue against statements made by superior life forms.

The first question this skeptic would love to ask authors of human psychology, by way of alien scripture, is why do we assume that aliens from another planet are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, among certain quarters of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but they’re more intelligent than earthlings can conceive. Even though we have no proof that life exists outside our planet, at this point in our space explorations, it would be foolish to think that the only lifeforms in the universe are those that exist on Earth. If other lifeforms exist, however, we don’t know what form they take. (We assume they are humanoid in form and that they’re here for our water, but if they’re intelligent beyond our comprehension why haven’t they been able to develop a substitute for water, or an artificial way to preserve or increase their supply?) We also don’t know what concerns alien life forms have, or how they think, but we assume that all creatures have the same concerns. The one crucial nugget of information missing in these theories is that we know less than nothing about aliens. If we had some proof that they existed, we could say we know nothing about them, but we don’t even know if they exist. With that in mind, any theories of alien intellectual superiority can only be rooted in the human inferiority complex. 

What would be the point of worshiping a deity who had a level of intelligence equivalent to our own, and what would be the point of reporting on the transmissions from space if the aliens were not of a superior intellect who could teach us a lot about our way of life? My takeaway from this friend’s collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages was that most of the alien transmissions submitted for the reader’s pleasure have an agenda that suspiciously aligns with the author of the work.

The next time an alien transmits a message that suggests humans are of equal or superior intellect in some ways, “We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone, and we have not found a way to replicate that technology in our labs,” will be the first time I take an alien transmission seriously. The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with a compliment regarding human technology in agricultural techniques, “We find the techniques developed by Monsanto Co. awe-inspiring”, will be the first time I re-read an author’s interpretation of their message. One would think that a complex being would know that the best way to persuade another being is to surround criticisms with some compliments. Even if they have no emotions, in the manner most sci-fi movies depict them, it would only be logical for them to suggest that our life form managed to get some things right. What readers receive from aliens, instead, are warnings about our dystopian nature that suspiciously align with human politics.   

We Want it to be True

Unconventional information is so interesting that it’s difficult to read it and say, “That’s just wrong.” We pursue it to hear the angle, the speculative ideas regarding motive, and the idea that the purveyor of such knowledge is fighting against the man, or the status quo. Concerned parties watching such scenarios play out, might want to caution their friends from relying too much on these alternative sources of information. We might want to tell them that doing so could lead them to being vulnerable to half-truths and greater confusion.

When we try to caution them, however, they tell us that they’ve done massive amounts of research on this subject, and most people don’t know the truth. “I know I didn’t,” is something they say before they launch into their speculative theories. The questionable outlets they research often provide them information that confirms their biases and leads them to believe they are more knowledgeable than those who ascribe to conventional truths, because they have massive amounts of different knowledge that they believe equals greater knowledge and truth.

Disciples of alternative knowledge also fail to focus on results. How many of these outlets provide straight, verifiable points that pass peer review? How many of them can point to a verifiable track record of their assertions, as opposed to providing the anecdotal evidence that they promote? How many of their messages devolve into speculation regarding motives that no one can refute? How many of us are skeptical enough of the information that seems so right it has to be true?

Those of us who ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives began to see them for what they were, and we came to the uncomfortable conclusion that just because the information we hear is unconventional, alternative, and “what your father doesn’t want you to know” does not mean that it’s correct. We enjoyed the offspring of the counterculture for what it was. We all thought they were so hip that our interest in their thoughts led some programmers to identify and capitalize on the purveyors of unconventional thinking, until those thoughts seduced us into incorporating them into our conventional thinking on some matters.

Whether it is political, social, or any other venue of thought, some people derive definition by fighting against the status quo, but we could say that the status quo is an ever-shifting focus that can lead to so many converting to such thoughts that those thoughts could eventually become status quo, conventional.

I no longer buy a book of unconventional thinking, or befriend an unconventional thinker, with the hope of having them change my mind on a subject. If their ideas persuade me to change my mind, that’s gravy, but I have learned that such thoughts, are often best used to challenge my current worldview, and/or bolster my arguments as I attempt to defeat them. I do not then write this with the intent of changing anyone else’s mind. I do enjoy, however, taking the conventional standpoint and melding it with the unconventional to arrive at what I consider a hybrid of the truth that neither party has considered before.

He Used to Have a Mohawk

The lifelong fascination I have had with these modes of thinking drove a non-fiction piece I wrote called He Used to Have a Mohawk. In this piece, I document the conventional thoughts some might have regarding an individual who decided to have his hair cut in a thin strip on his head. At one point in the main character’s life, he grew an eight inch mohawk, and at another point he dyed it blue. Conventional thinking suggests that he might deserve any ostracizing he receives. Unconventional or non-traditional modes of thought observe that there’s nothing wrong with a person who decides to shave their head in such a manner. This line of thought suggests that it’s on the observer to accept the mohawk wearer for who he or she is as a person. It also suggests that the conventional observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person who leaves a thin strip of hair on their head, grows it eight inches, and dyes it blue is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of a character who used to have such a haircut.

What kind of person asks a stylist to cut their hair into a mohawk? What happens to them when they age and go back to having what we consider a more traditional haircut? Do they miss the altered perceptions they used to experience when they had the haircut, or do they regret ever having the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques of this piece stated that the immediate components of this story could lead a reader to find impulsive, emotional offense, until they re-read the piece to carefully understand the complex subtext of the piece through deep analysis. “I like the way you take a mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers wrote.

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum of this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual who asks to have their hair cut into a mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, more than a person with a more traditional haircut might invite on any given day. Some would say that mohawk wearers generate unwanted attention for themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

Another mohawk wearer surprised me one day by wearing it to a Halloween party. I told him that I enjoyed his costume, but he told me it wasn’t a costume. It was his hairdo. When I asked him further, more prodding questions, he said, “I wear my hair flat in the office, but I wear it up when I go out.”

If a mohawk wearer detested those who judge them for such a haircut, he or she could just allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy detesting straight-laced people who will never understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a mohawk.

I met the main character, who used to have a mohawk, at his wedding. After the wedding was over, the groom’s best man and the bridesmaid both stated, in their toasts, that they wanted to get to know the groom who used to have a mohawk, when he had the mohawk, in part because he had a mohawk. As they learned more about him, to their apparent dismay, they discovered that he was a nice man. As an uninformed bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. We could view a traditional thinker’s views of a person who has a mohawk as condescending, as they might make generalizations about mohawk wearers, and they might stereotype them. Listening to these toasts, I heard sympathetic souls, who I presumed aligned with unconventional thinking, sound just as condescending as one who might generalize or stereotype. The only distinction was that they were trying to ingratiate themselves to the groom, but I still found it just as condescending.

The groom appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these toasts, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed the reactions that he used to generate when he had the mohawk, but my money was on the latter.

The point, as I see it, is that we should maintain a level of skepticism for anything we see and hear, but those who put so much energy into unconventional thoughts often end up more confused on a given subject than enlightened. Forming a hybrid of sorts, is the ideal plane for one to reach as it suggests that while we should remain skeptical in nature, we should also maintain an equal amount of skepticism for enlightened, unconventional thoughts. Yet, as I write, we deem unconventional information to be the result of skepticism thereby granting it immunity from a ledger that scores the thoughts, theories, and ideas.

FOBF: The Fear of Being Foolish

Most people hate being wrong, but we’re willing to concede to the idea that some of us are going to be wrong some of the times. What we cannot abide is the idea that we’re wrong so often that somebody is going to consider us a fool. How many rhetorical devices, tactics, and persuasive techniques have we developed over the years to avoid being called a fool? One thing we do know is that people who believe in nouns (people, places, and things) are more vulnerable to the charge of being a fool, and we seek foolproof status. Due to the fact that most alternative thoughts are rarely shown to be substantially incorrect, unconventional thinkers are shielded against being called a fool. On the off chance that they are incorrect, they might make slight adjustments in their presentation to incorporate the newfound facts, or they just move on. 

“They just move on?” I asked a friend of mine who told me about her unconventional parents. Her parents latched onto just about every conspiracy theory and unconventional theory they ever heard. When the facts rolled out, and they were proven incorrect, they just moved onto the next one. “So, when the rest of us are proven wrong, we have to deal with the ramifications that come our way, but when your parents are wrong, they just move onto the next conspiracy theory? How do they do that?”

“They just do,” she said.

Her parents were prophets of doom, as the millennium neared. They were handing out pamphlets and grain pellets at their church. They believed something would happen on 9/9/99, and when it didn’t, they moved onto the millennium. When nothing happened on 1/1/2000, they suggested that we miscalculated the Aztec calendar, and that the day of doom still awaited us sometime in the near future. They listed a specific date, based on specific calculations, but I don’t remember the exact date, because I knew they would just move on after that date passed. I knew they would just move the date of doom to some date in the all too near future.

This mentality eludes me, because I know, firsthand, the feeling of being so wrong on an issue that people won’t value my assessments in the future as a result. I would’ve been mortified when these dates passed without event, but their daughter informed me that after all those dates passed without event, her parents were handing out pamphlets and grain pellets warning about the next date of doom. I’m still not sure what drives common, every day people to heed the warning of such doomsayers, but I believe it has something to do with the idea that the track record of alternative, unconventional information is somehow immune to criticism. It is foolproof, because the alternative is believing what the “they” want you to believe.

“How can you be so sure that it won’t happen this time?” is something people like my friend’s parents ask.

We can’t be sure, of course, because we are insecure beings who falter in the face of certitude. We’ve also watched too many movies where no one believed the sexy actors who knew something no one else in that production did, and we don’t want to be portrayed by the overweight, unattractive character actor who didn’t believe. They frame this question in a probing, “Who do you think you are?” manner that asks us how many times we’ve been wrong before, and if we’re willing to wager that we know more about this than the experts they list. 

Dumb guys who fell prey to believing far too many alternative, unconventional, and conspiracy theories were so relieved to read some psychologists write that we must all make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to this type of seduction, because it suggests that we’re all susceptible to their siren calls. Our grades in school haunt us to this day, and we will use any excuse we can find to declare that we’re not as dumb as we think we are. When someone comes along and basically writes that the siren call of these theories are so alluring that all of us must proactively keep our susceptibility in the “off” position, it lends credence to the “shame on you for fooling me” portion of the meme, as long as we maintain the “off” position to prevent the shame from doubling back and making us the fools in the future. Though the psychologists’ conclusion does not absolve us of the idea that we once believed a wide variety of crazy theories and loony conspiracy theories, we do find some comfort in numbers.  

Maintaining this “off” position is not easy, and it is not my intent to suggest that I woke up one day deciding that I was no longer going to believe alternative ideas loaded with unconventional information that can lead to conspiracy theories. It wasn’t any easier for me to avoid their interesting and thought-provoking theories. I simply put forth constant and diligent effort to defeat my susceptibility in this arena. Tune out, turn on, and defeat was the credo I used anytime I encountered sexy, enticing pieces that lead to emotional reactions. Current and future stories such as those are as difficult to ignore as all the previous ones were, but after mentally charting all of their hypothetical guesses, based on alternative thinking that many considered unconventional, I was finally able to break the leash.

 

The Creativity


Bill Cosby had a show called Kids say the Darndest Things, and they did say the darndest things on the show. We all did at that age, but we all knew that we would have to grow out of that if it was our goal to be taken serious. Those of us who wouldn’t, had to be institutionalized into the ways of human operations (i.e. school), if we ever hoped to mature properly. Some of us matured into good business assets, fathers, and occasional games men. For the most part, however, those fantastical ideas were required to be laid by the roadside in the pursuit of a quality, adult life.

Some of us remain trapped in a fantastical mindset, and while we led a good life, and had a good wife, we haven’t matured to the point that we can meld a serious life with a fantastical mindset. We all know people who cling a little too much to fantasy, and while we try not to think less of them, it can prove difficult to take them serious. These people are apt to have an unhealthy addiction to gaming, science fiction, vampires, and now zombies. These people, depending on the progression of their fantastical mind, often have little to nothing to offer corporate America.

sct star trek.jpgOthers have all the foolishness of unconventional thinking, and fantasy, behind them early on. They are often children of ultra-serious parents who want their children devoid of foolish thinking. These people eventually get so locked in on serious, or conventional, ways of thinking that they end up neglecting that part of their brain that indulges in fantasy, art, and creativity for so long that they ignore a huge ingredient of what it means to be human. They eventually veer so far into the serious side of life that they become disgusted by creative thinkers. They “don’t have time” for such silliness. They have developed the tunnel vision necessary to compete in the corporate world, and they can’t understand people that don’t have a master plan. These people usually have a mathematical equation for life.

They prefer the absolutes inherent in the Superman story over the cloudy interpretations offered to the Batman character. They prefer the concrete absolutes of standard music over any creative music that messes with the formula, and they prefer the more standard comedy of Everybody Loves Raymond over the comedic study of intangibles on Seinfeld. These are bottom line people who will tell you all you need to know in life to succeed are two words: “Yes sir!”

At some point, this type usually crashes and burn under the weight of all that seriousness. The purchases they’ve made to substantiate their status begins to lose their luster, the family no longer interests them in a substantial manner, and the career they’ve worked their whole lives for has suddenly become meaningless to them. When they reach that point, they either seek the fantasy of an adulterous affair, a job change, or a move to another state. At some point, the master plan loses value, and they become perpetually unsatisfied with their direction. These people can be just as unhappy as the fantastically minded, and neurologists say that the only thing keeping them from utter insanity is the fantasy they experience in the dream world while sleeping. Everyone tells artists to have something to fall back on, in case their creative pursuits never come to fruition, but you rarely hear anything like this directed at conventional thinkers that succeed in conventional ways with nothing fulfilling the side of their brain that contains healthy ingredients of play and fantasy.

KidThe healthiest mindset, and the one probably most difficult to achieve is the matured, creative mind. The matured, creative mind is one that has progressed beyond the fantastical thoughts of youth to a more practical hybrid of conventionally unconventional thinking. The problem they generally have is how to make their unconventional thoughts productive, practical and profitable, for as anyone who has worked in a corporation knows it’s not exactly a conducive climate for unconventional thinkers. In this equation, of course, the onus is on the creative mind to make their talents know to their bosses.

Some, like CEO Steve Jobs suggests that anyone unable to reach their creative peak, should try hallucinogenics. This statement made some creative types think that Steve Jobs wasn’t as creative as we had all been led to believe. It made some of us think that he views creative types from the same, jealous distance conventional thinkers view creative types. How many times have we heard non-creative types assign drug usage to creative types? “They had to be on something to achieve that,” they say. “No normal human could create something like that, sober.” Those of us who have flirted with creative thought encounter epiphanies on a much lower scale, know that the mind can be mined with constant work, and it can produce incredibly creative thoughts without artificial aid. Jobs’ comment was such a shock from such a creative mind that we wondered how creative he is. If he were that creative, why would he feed into that cliché?

Those who know the story of Apple, know that Steve Wozniak was the creative genius behind the Apple I and II, and he had a major influence on the Apple Macintosh. We didn’t know the instrumental role Jonathon Ive played as the chief architects of the iPod, and that he was a part of a team that included: Jon Rubenstein, Scott Forstall, Michael Dhuey, and Tony Fadell. We learned that while Jobs may have overseen the project, these names were the creative types behind the final product we know today.

Jobs’ role in the insurgence, and resurgence, of Apple is unquestioned, but the undue credit he received (see took) for the iPod outraged those on the creative team that sweat blood over it. Jobs was the leader of the company at the time, and he changed the company’s culture to “think different”, and he eliminated distractions to provide more focus. He may have been overly demanding with the aesthetics, the processes and the machinations, and he may have remained stubbornly unsatisfied with what he termed “unfinished” products. He may have gotten more out of his creatives than anyone in his market, and in the end he was the “guy in charge” of the company that created something that was unmatched in its field, but Steve Jobs did not deserve the amount of creative credit he took for the products it produced. And some creative types were partial to the complaints his creative teams made, after Steve Jobs said all creative types should take drugs to increase their creativity.

The primary reason it bothered us is that it’s the typical charge that all conventional thinkers make about creative types that create something conventional thinkers consider inhumanly creative. I don’t know if this “They had to have been on some wild drugs” cliché began with The Beatles, but it does appear to be one of the origins of the charge. The other reason that it bothered creative types is that it allowed non-creative types to feel more comfortable in their serious, mathematical world: “Well, I could create something like that too, if I decided to take all those drugs.”

When it first came out that Led Zeppelin sold their souls to the devil, this made sense to a number of my friends, because, “No one could come up with that many great songs on their own.” When these friends grew out of such fantastical notions, they changed their minds on the subject saying that “corporate guys, or unaccredited songwriters, must have stepped in there and changed, mixed, altered, or finessed the final product, because there’s no way Page and Plant wrote all those songs alone.” Or, they say, “They must’ve been stoned out of their minds to think up things like these.” It bothers creative minds, because we know it’s possible to reach unbelievably creative planes without artificial substances, and those who have tried some artificial substances don’t see how an altered state of consciousness can lend itself to productive creativity. It’s been our experience that that artificial creativity is mostly nonsensical.

pynchonIt could be that continued use of hallucinogenic drugs teaches one to finesse creativity in an altered state, but most truly creative minds only experiment with altered states, and most of them found that it didn’t enhance their creativity. Unfortunately, in the case of The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin, it appears as if they either created, or fed into, this misconception.

That cliché was born, in my opinion, based on the frustration that non-creative types have for those that are excessively creative. These people can accept that a bunch of fellas could sit around and write Back in Black, or Eliminator, but “You’re trying to tell me that three guys (John Paul Jones) came up with Led Zeppelin IIZosoand Physical Graffiti? Sober? With their souls still intact? Come on!? There’s just no way.”

Some non-creative types make the same charge with Albert Einstein. They state that the autopsy performed on Einstein’s body showed traces of LSD, as well as Dimethyl-triptimene in his system. They also state that his heart exploding could’ve easily have been caused by years of cocaine use. This led all non-creative types to almost leap with joy, as it confirmed for them the fact that no one man could think all that stuff up, not sober, with his soul intact. As we all know, these opiates were common, at the turn of the century in medicines and painkillers, so the fact that they were in his body, at the time of his death, doesn’t necessarily indicate that Einstein used them recreationally, or to enhance his creativity. “It was still in his system,” non-creative types would argue, “and whether he took these opiates for medicine or recreationally, it’s possible that it affected him.” It’s also possible that it didn’t.

EinsteinHow many people looked up to the stars and tried to figure out the ways of the universe prior to Einstein? How many of them ingested the same opiates, whether or not it was deemed medicinal? How many of those same people had all of the same information on the abstract concepts, and couldn’t make meaning of them in the categorical manner Einstein did by picturing himself riding a light ray bareback? “By picturing himself riding a light ray bareback, you say? Yeah, he had to be on some serious stuff to think like that. That ain’t normal.”

Einstein also said that playing the violin helped him make sense of the universe by helping him make a connection with sense-experiences. Is that something a drug-user would say? Perhaps, but here’s something that could blow your mind, so if you’re not prepared for it read no further, but it’s possible, possible that a person could indulge in different thoughts so often, that they produced creative ideas that are unimaginable to those who have never indulged in creative thinking.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Einstein once said to define insanity. 

Einstein thought differently, and he thought so differently, so often, that he was able to approach the problems from so many different angles that he ended up approaching these problems in ways conventional thinkers couldn’t fathom. They still can’t fathom it, so they suggest that it had to be drugs.

Those of us that have read extensively of the creative process know that the creative process doesn’t usually involve highlight reels, similar to those of athletes, and they usually don’t have fans in the stands that “were there” when the star was born. Most creative people came about their matured creativity naturally, for creativity cannot be taught. It can be workshopped, and it can be finessed day by day and interaction by interaction, but no one can teach another person how to be brilliantly creative. For that reason, and for all the reasons listed above, creativity remains a largely unexplained phenomenon, but it sits better in conventional minds to think that the only thing that separates them from thinking creatively is the use of drugs.

 

Let Your Freak Flag Fly!


“Some of the times you just gotta let your freak flag fly,” my aunt said to her brother. I didn’t know the context of their conversation, but I didn’t think any definition of this otherwise elusory idiom could remedy any of my dad’s issues. He was a man whose primary goal in life was to fit in, and he did anything and everything he could in life to make that happen. My aunt was the opposite. She did everything she could to stand out as someone hipper and younger. She knew the Billboard Top 40 singles far better than I did at a young age, she wore clothing better suited to younger girls, and she said things better suited to women thirty years younger. This was the first time I heard that particular phrase, however, and even though it involved my aunt’s embarrassing attempt to appear hip, the line stuck with me. I never used it, but when I later heard someone on a hip, top-rated television show say it, I knew something was afoot. Then, one of my friends said it in school, and a week later I began hearing it everywhere.

“Where did you hear that phrase?” I asked my friend from school.

“Dude, I don’t know. I’ve been saying it for decades,” he said. Unbeknownst to me, this response was the key to keeping it cool in the phraseology universe, for no one ever seems to know where they hear them first. To be fair, it can be difficult to remember where we first heard a phrase we’ve been saying for a time, but purveyors of this particular phrase appeared to conveniently forget where they heard it to leave the impression that they started it. There’s apparently a lot of prestige wrapped up in starting a phrase, and if someone gets a taste of it, they don’t give it up willingly. Whatever the case is, when obsessively curious types pursue such matters, we often receive everything from blank faces to evasive and defensive responses. Even if the phrase user just started using the phrase last February, those who are evasive and defensive want us to think they’ve been saying it for decades so they can think that, and they dismiss further intrigue on this issue as uncool.

If we found a truly reflective individual who could remember the first time they heard the phrase, it might result in a response to our question as humdrum as, “I think my Cousin Ralphie is da shiznit, and when I heard him say it I wanted his awesome sauce all over me.” If this individual were that honest, they might run the risk of being so over as to be drummed out of the in-crowd, for the clique might deem that confession a violation of the binary, unspoken agreement those in the in-crowd have designed for the world of phraseology. In this world, all users want their audience to consider them the originator of the phrase, and anyone who insists on pursuing this line of interrogation runs the risk of being drummed out on an “If you have to ask …” basis.

Another unspoken rule regarding catch phrases is that we better hurry up and use them as often as possible, before a cool cat steps in to declare that the days of using the phrase are now over. “Stop saying that. I’m trying to get the word out that that phrase is over. Tell your friends.” We might be disappointed to learn that we are no longer able to use words, phrases, or idioms that we enjoy using, but we know that when cool people step in to warn us that it’s over, it’s a serious blow in the world of phraseology. We also know that by continuing to use such a phrase, we run the risk of being so over. This begs a question to the arbiters of language who declare they’ve been saying this for decades, how is it that you haven’t encountered someone who declared it so over in that time span? Did you ignore them, and if you did, why should I listen to you?

A work associate of mine attempted to play the role of the foil in this manner by correcting me in front of a group of people. “Dude, stop saying that,” he said mimicking the phrase to end phrases. “I’m trying to get the word out that that phrase is over. Tell your friends.” Anytime we hear someone issue such a condemnation, it is human nature to assume that it’s rooted in something the speaker learned from a person with some authority on the matter. In my experience, however, most of these self-professed arbiters of language consider starting a hip phrase fine but ending one divine. Those with no standing in the hierarchy of cool often take it upon themselves to issue such a condemnation without knowing anything more on the matter than anyone else, but they hope that by pushing us down a notch they might improve their standing in the hierarchy.

Like most of those in the lowest stratum of this hierarchy, I knew nothing about this confusing world of using hip, insider, cool cat language, so I was in no position to question my work associate, but by my calculations this feller was a doofus. He was such a complete doofus that I would no sooner consider advice from him on language than I would his dating advice. I still don’t know if this fella assumed a level of authority on this matter based on the idea that he considered me inferior, of if he heard this news from a more authoritative figure, but I decided he did nothing to earn a seat on my personal arbitration board. That situation led me to wonder how we determine our arbiters of words and phrases. My guess is that most people will not heed such advice from just anyone, as that might reveal their status in this hierarchy. My guess is that we make discerning choices based on superficial, bullet point requirements we have for those issuing them? Put another way, if my work associate was more attractive and less chubby, and he wasn’t such a doofus, I may have been more amenable to his guidance on this issue.

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For fact checkers, a search return suggests that the phrase “Let your freak flag fly” first appeared in a Jimi Hendrix song If 6 was 9 in 1967. It was later popularized in a David Crosby song Almost Cut my Hair that he wrote for the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album Déjà vu. We can guess that that phrase made its way through the “in-crowd” circuit long before Hendrix or Crosby used it in the song.  

The Urban Dictionary defines “Letting Your Freak Flag Fly” as: “A characteristic, mannerism, or appearance of a person, either subtle or overt, which implies unique, eccentric, creative, adventurous or unconventional thinking.” 2) “Letting loose, being down with one’s cool self, preferred usage to occur in front of a group of strangers. Your inner freak that wants to come out, but often is suppressed by social anxiety.” 3) Unrestrained, unorthodox or unconventional in thinking, behavior, manners, etc. One who espouses radical, nonconformist or dissenting views and opinions that are outside the mainstream. When traveling through the bible belt of the U.S., it’s best not to let your freak flag fly high. Otherwise, you’ll be harassed and attacked by these backwater, backward thinking theocrats.

Typical Freak Flag Flyers make very specific decisions to avoid titles. They tend to be abstract thinkers who believe they fly high over those of us who believe in nouns (i.e. people, places, and things). Freak Flag Flyers tend to know more about those nouns than the average person, because those people haven’t done their homework. Some Freak Flag Flyers base their outlier status on anecdotal information of these nouns to whom others swear allegiance, on the idea that if we knew what Freak Flag Flyers know, we would be just as sophisticated in our skepticism about allegiances as they are.

Most people fly under a flag: Americans fly under the Stars and Stripes; the Irish fly under the Irish tricolor; and the British fly under the Union Jack. There are some people, however, who fly under no flag, and they provide this information to anyone who asks, and some who don’t. Don’t expect them to admit to flying under a freak flag either, for the very essence of flying under a freak flag is designed to give its flyer an open-ended, free lifestyle persona that doesn’t conform to societal definitions such as definition or allegiance … Even if such a definition extends itself to a freak flag. They aren’t proud members of a country, political party, or a coalition of freaks. They’re just Tony, and any attempt we make to define them as anything but –based upon the things they do and say– will say more about us and our need for definition, than it does them. Freak Flag Flyers tend to be moral relativists who ascribe to some libertarian principles when those political policies adhere to principles they find pleasing –those that suggest as Dave Mason did, “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me and we just disagree”- but they tend to distance themselves from the economic libertarian ideals, for that might result in too much libertarianism.

Some Freak Flag Flyers raise their flags in political milieus, but most freak flags involve simple eccentricities and peculiarities. An individual who prefers to listen to complicated and obscure music could be said to fly a freak flag in that regard, but they usually keep close information to their vest when their more normal family members and friends are around. An individual who enjoys various concoctions of food, philosophies, and other assorted, entertainment mediums could be said to have a freak flag, but most of these people live otherwise normal lives. Every person can have a freak flag without being a freak, in other words, but the general term freak flag is reserved for those activities we engage in and those preferences we have that could be embarrassing if they found their way back to our normal friends and family members.

Even if we don’t have what others might call a Freak Flag, we can identify with the mindset of those who dared to let theirs fly. Now that we’re all normal and stable, we might not remember the days when we strove for some sort of definition, or we may be embarrassed by it, but most of us can recall a day when we dared to be different.

A friend of mine worked in a corporation, and he was a corporate joe from head to ankle. To maintain some level of freak flag status, however, he wore a wide variety of loud socks and skater shoes that were so out of place with the rest of his attire that it was impossible not to notice. If he was going to take a corporate gig, and become everything his boss needed him to be, he wanted to have something he could point to, to suggest he wasn’t a corporate sellout. We all have some sort of freak flag that we stand behind to separate us from the rest of the pack. Some of us are just a little more diligent in our efforts.

Thus, the ultimate definition of a freak flag flyer is a relative concept defined by the individual. It’s almost the opposite of my aunt’s attempts to be younger and hipper than her peers, as the true freak flag flyer does not engage in freak flag flying, they just are in a manner that is more organic than anything someone like my aunt might dream up.