Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Everyone Is a Contrarian

It seems odd to make this pronouncement. After all, if everyone is a contrarian, then how can there be a majority viewpoint on anything? But here’s the qualifier: not everyone is a contrarian on all issues.

We are only contrarians at certain times. For example, I know people who believe that genetically modified foods are disastrous for humanity. They think such products are Frankenfoods, unhealthy and destined to destroy us. Never mind that science has determined nothing of the sort.

There are also people who have convinced themselves that immunizations are harmful, that if we inoculate our children, we’ll be giving them terrible diseases like autism. Again, science has shown that vaccinations aren’t the cause, but you can’t get such believers to change their minds by arguing the science with them.

Flat earthers still exist, long after we’ve known the world is a globe. Moon landing conspiracists continue to be convinced that NASA’s feat was a hoax. Climate change deniers refuse to accept that humans are warming the planet.

It doesn’t matter if 99 percent of the population believes something. There will always be a group that rejects their beliefs. And at least 99 percent of us believe something we oughtn’t believe, something that science tells us isn’t true, but that we choose to believe anyway, because it fits into our narrative of the world.

Most of the time, being a contrarian on a given issue isn’t problematic. But it becomes more so when the president is not only a contrarian on many issues, but also encourages people to be contrarians, to accept “alternate” facts as truth.

When that happens, when people begin to believe strongly that they’re the few who are absolutely right and everyone else is absolutely wrong, and when their leader implicitly encourages the use of violence by using violent rhetoric, then it’s a short step to dangerous action.

It’s easy to deflect blame and say that even though he uses hyperbolic words to make a point, he isn’t actually advocating violence, but the truth is that some blame must attach to those who incite violence, because we all know there are people out there who will believe even the most outlandish claims – like that Hillary Clinton was trafficking in girls at a pizza parlor in Washington DC.

I choose to be a contrarian with respect to movies. When people tell me I should see a great movie like Pretty Woman or E.T. or Schindler’s List, I generally stay away from it for years, sometimes intending to watch it later, sometimes deciding never to see it.

That’s a pretty harmless contrarian view. It doesn’t hurt anyone that I choose not to see one or more of them. But if I choose to believe that a politician is trafficking in young girls, I might – particularly if I’m a bit unstable – choose to take actions that could harm someone else.

So try to be a contrarian only when doing so won’t cause pain to others. You’ll be doing the rest of us a favor.


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