Press "Enter" to skip to content

A Tuesday ramble including more somewhat random thoughts on Outsiders

Since December of 1989, I’ve walked my dogs (anywhere from one to six of them) a mile or so every morning and every afternoon. Every day unless I’ve been too sick or the weather has been downright dangerous.

Yesterday we had our first frost. I bundled up, but the breeze was just stiff enough to pierce my clothes, redden my cheeks, and set my nose dripping. Ava seemed to enjoy herself, but all I could think was, “I can’t face another long winter of bone-chilling morning walks.”

Ava, even at 14, has boundless walkie energy and will stare at me guilt-trippingly for hours if I don’t meet her a.m. expectations. And of course, my sudden dread of frost (and rain and wind and snow and general can’t-get-warm-for-monthsness) is selfish nonsense.

Heck, they’re blizzarding already in Montana, and heaven knows what chills and thrills “global warming” will bring you readers in the more volatile places of the world this winter. We’re lucky here in the famously moderate NorthWET.

Besides, I’m reading a book, A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols, about the 1968 race to determine who would be the first single-hand sailor to circumnavigate the globe non-stop (via the deadly southern capes, yet; not routing though the Panama and Suez Canals). The current leader of the race in the chapter I’ve reached is rounding the Cape of Good Hope in a vessel that’s drenching his living quarters incessantly with 50-degree water while near-daily storms try to kill him.

I have my nerve whining about a little harmless frost. But I’m doing it, anyhow. I love my dog, but when she’s gone, nothing short of a 9.0 full-rip Cascadia quake is going to force me out of the house on a frigid winter (or fall or spring) morning.

—–

It feels odd to mention a book without Amazon-linking it. I wonder how long it’ll take to get used to that?

At FishOrMan’s urging, I’ve appealed my account closing. I hadn’t planned to, and I know Amazon too well to be optimistic — especially since they claim to give a 24-hour response and it’s now been five days.

In the meantime I thank the handful of people who’ve pledged monthly subscriptions, raised their existing subscriptions, sent a one-time donation, or bought me a coffee, most recently new patron DB, who made generous monthly pledges via both Patreon and SubscribeStar and became my first supporter on the latter site. Personal notes of thanks to come soon.

I’m also been offered a three-month trial with an advertising banner. It’s a nice offer, but it’s only going to work beyond that term if a lot of readers want to buy a lot of ammo. So how’s your ammo stash and your ammo budget doing, people?

—–

Now to the real meat of the post, even if it is mere hamburger.

After writing last month about both tribal elders and Outsiders and their influence on society, I’ve been thinking more about the Outsider’s perpetual problem. That problem is that, while Outsiders have outsized influence, often for good, they’re usually scorned, rejected, and abused if they stick out too much — and sometimes even if they’re only a little different from the norm, whatever the norm of the moment might be.

Which seems monumentally unjust. Except that quite often, the scorn, rejection, and abuse actually make Outsiders better people and may contribute to their accomplishments.

That’s an over-broad generalization of course. The rejection (or perceived rejection) that frees one guy up to spend his time alone writing brilliant computer code turns another into a creepy little incel who shoots up a school. Some Outsiders are born so much in their own worlds that they scarcely notice how others treat them. Others may be Outsiders because they were raised in a bubble of prosperity, encouragement, and achievement and earn nothing but praise and happiness from their set-apart status. Others enjoy great social lives as well as great accomplishments, and are Outsiders only because they achieve or think or feel something no one else does.

But generally — very generally — a core part of the Outsider experience is suffering and struggling, not only in the cause of achievement (which is enough difficulty for anyone), but at the hands of very nasty young peers and highly doubtful older ones, and with the agonizing self-doubt that comes from trying to grow up and find a way to live when you’re different.

Sometimes the same wounds that might turn a lesser person really nasty turn better people empathetic. Or simply turn them inward to create dream worlds or works of art or invention.

Then everybody wants to know them. Or wishes they’d known them before they died.

—–

Vincent Van Gogh is the classic example. A song about him got a fair bit of airplay back in the day; the song talks about how terrible it was that the world rejected the luminous genius in their midst. True. But it subtly implies that the songwriter himself, had he lived back then, would have gotten it and appreciated the heck out of poor, tortured Van Gogh and his work.

I used to hear that song and cringe. Because NO, Mr. Twentieth-Century Songwriter who saw one of world’s most earth-shattering and fatally misunderstood artists only in retrospect; you would not have appreciated, understood, or liked Vincent Van Gogh. Nobody liked Vincent Van Gogh. He was a born-and-bred crazy. A difficult personality from childhood. A drunk. Prone to hallucinations, fits of violence, and mad acts like slicing off his own ear. Paul Gauguin fled from him. Local merchants barely tolerated him. Kind neighbors gave him food as an act of charity in exchange for his paintings, which they considered so valueless that at least one painting ended up as part of the wall of a chicken coop (it’s now, of course, resurrected and worth bazillions). The only contemporary who managed to tolerate him for any time was his patient and devoted younger brother Theo — poor Theo, who seemed to function normally in society, but who died literally raving mad six months after his brother. Theo worshipped, financially supported, advocated for, and influenced Vincent — who (you will not be surprised to learn) treated him like cr*p.

Nope. For every 1,000 people who like to imagine they’d have befriended, reassured, aided, or bravely stood up to defend some suffering genius Outsider, probably not more than one actually would have.

Did Vincent Van Gogh’s suffering — including his sufferings of loneliness, rejection, poverty, and stays in mental hospitals — help make him a more dedicated, unusual, and pioneering artist? Or would he have always been what he was, and did suffering do nothing but shorten his life? Who knows. But 130 years on, people who gaze back from a safe distance admire him and imagine they would have taken his part against a hostile world.

But nobody did (except Theo). Therefore, nobody would.

Nor would many have stood up for Galileo as he trembled before the Inquisition. Or shouted that Giordano Bruno didn’t deserve his burning. Or defended Alan Turing when his brilliance was being snuffed out by contempt and color-of-law punishment for his homosexuality. Nobody held Nicola Tesla’s hand while he died alone in a barren hotel room or assured a suicidal Rudolf Diesel that his engine wasn’t a failure after all. Outsiders, even genius ones, are more likeable at a nice, safe, comfortable remove.

After they are safely removed, we pat ourselves on the back and boast (even if only to ourselves) that we would have understood them, we would have helped them, we would have perceived what all those lesser people were too blind or bigoted to recognize.

We — even those of us who are Outsiders in our own ways — are captive to the values, assumptions, and fears of our day. We’re merely human, too, and most of us avoid people we perceive as weirdos or as being dangerous to our security, even brilliant ones.

And even though real genius is often unattractively packaged or otherwise not easy to perceive, the human race is amazingly, oddly resistant to the very people who might lift us all to the next stage of evolution.

—–

Woe betide you, too, if you’re a somewhat-less-than-genius Outsider. An ordinary high school brainiac, for instance. A spectrum-dweller whose social interactions are just that far off the norm, but whose accomplishments will also be that far off the norm and no more. A person who sees the world just slightly different than her peers. One whose conscience drives him to make hard choices that others consider ridiculous or even immoral by their ingrained standards.

The first modern parents to begin homeschooling their children risked being arrested or even shot to death. It wasn’t many years ago that anyone who prepared for disaster was considered a paranoid loon.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man isn’t king; he’s burned at the stake for heresy.

—–

Those are just some random thoughts for today, a brain dump if you will. I’ll be writing more on this topic, but I don’t know where it’s likely to go, if anywhere. I make no claims that anything I’ve said today is original — or even, for that matter, coherent.

This is just the mud my brain throws off when its wheels are spinning.

—–

As a teenager, I read Colin Wilson’s pioneering book on the role of both real and fictional Outsiders in art and literature. I recall gobbling it up and identifying with every word. A decade or so later I read it again and discovered it wasn’t at all what I remembered and not terribly interesting. I recently put an interlibrary loan request on it and if it comes through we shall see what the book has evolved into as I’ve evolved.

The more important question is not about the Outsider in art or literature, where he (usually he) has become a stereotype. It’s about the role of the Outsider in saving our collective asses from the new political and social Orthodoxy of Destruction.

—–

If you liked this post, how about buying me a coffee?

Like the entire blog? You can give monthly support via SubscribeStar (which defaults to a $4.99 a month contribution) or Patreon, which enables contributions from $1 on up. Thank you!

11 Comments

  1. Pat
    Pat October 1, 2019 1:27 pm

    The one modern-day Outsider I never get enough of is George Potter. Was just re-reading some from his “Symbols Flow” this weekend, and can always pick up on something I missed before.

    And find myself wanting more from his insight. He is one I did appreciate while he lived — and appreciate him more now that he’s gone.

    I miss George.

  2. Pat
    Pat October 1, 2019 5:08 pm

    “The more important question is not about the Outsider in art or literature, where he (usually he) has become a stereotype. It’s about the role of the Outsider in saving our collective asses from the new political and social Orthodoxy of Destruction.”

    No answers here, just random thoughts:
    In today’s world, it seems the only way for the Outsider to be heard is to yell louder. Nobody is really paying attention to the true Outsider, they’re too busy fighting, each side trying to kill off the other.

    Like the Mole, maybe the Outsider could sneak into the poliyical fray and upset the balance. It would take someone who knows what he/she is doing and why, someone they don’t take seriously, someone like Jesse Ventura——I hear he’s talking of running again. While not exactly an Outsider, he’s also not an insider.

    (Of course Trump was an Outsider, too, so maybe the insiders will be more alert to ALL variety of Outsiders now.)

    The most constructive Outsiders——those who in the end gave the world a new way of looking at a problem, and was able to at least direct others to a solution, if not finding the solution themselves——have always been the radical individuals who went their own way. Working with others rarely produces progress. Which is why the Outsider will always remain outside.

    And the world needs him there.

  3. John Wilder
    John Wilder October 1, 2019 7:00 pm

    Outsiders – odd until they’re inevitable. The courage it takes to keep doing those endless metaphorical morning walks through the frost when the world is against you . . . . See that? I tied it all up!

  4. Comrade X
    Comrade X October 1, 2019 8:28 pm

    If I read “On the road” or “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” again today I believe I would have quite a different opinion of it than when I read them the first few times.

    The NorthWet cold may not be as cold as the Idaho/Montana cold is but it’s a wet cold & with a breeze will cut right through you. The most important part of my attire is what is underneath it all, man do I love merino wool, if only if didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Polypropylene ain’t bad either. I have a fetish for gloves too, if only I didn’t lose them!! Sometimes when I’m taking da Bones out for a walk I feel like I could be also doing a downhill at Whistler too.

  5. Joel
    Joel October 2, 2019 11:39 am

    You’re concentrating on the positive artistic, technological and social influences of Outsiders, and that’s fit and proper but I (speaking strictly for my maladjusted self) suspect that most who don’t turn out to be *negative* influences spend all their efforts trying to find ways to live in peace with themselves. Or, failing that, just ways not to have every social interaction turn inside-out in ways the outsider didn’t seek and can’t even understand. As you said about Van Gogh: He may have been seen in hindsight as a great talent but at the time he was just an unpleasant drunk.

    Whether normal or not, most of us aren’t geniuses with great contributions to make. Non-genius outsiders are doing good if they get through their lives without a string of incomprehensible failed marriages, lawsuits or liver damage.

  6. E. Garrett Perry
    E. Garrett Perry October 6, 2019 1:32 am

    Part of the problem is that many Outsiders, for various reasons connected in numerous ways to their outsider-dom, are -extremely- unpleasant people, or at least very wearing to be around. Some of them get this way because of the experience of their Outsider status, some become Outsiders because of it, and in many the two coexist in parallel. Van Gough was one such case, but there are -many- more.

    Hans Christian Anderson was a weepy, indecisive drunken mooch who once crashed at Charles Dickens’s house- uninvited and unwanted- for over a month. Ate all of Dickens’s food, drank all his drink, and threw a week-long fit when he discovered that Dickens had not engaged him a valet and barber for his stay.

    Dickens, for his part, was an emotionally brutal man who used his family for metaphorical target-practice when he got angry, which was pretty much always.

    Nikola Tesla was a brilliant mind and extremely charitable. However he had zero business sense, no respect for the needs of his partners, and no detectable sense of humor at all. He (and his partners) lost out on radio because he thought it was more important to feed the birds at City Hall than to beat Marconi to the patent office.

    Alan Turing helped win the war and develop the first workable computers. But his arrest, trial, and punishment were not for homosexuality- that had its own criminal code section. He was punished for gross indecency, specifically because due to a records foul-up and his boyfriend’s extremely slight build, the Police and prosecutor believed his lover to be 17yrs old. Turing was known for an affection for underage boys which had been tolerated during the war years, but which the Attlee government was disinclined to allow. He had been warned off the rent-boys several times by the Home Office because they worried about him being “honey trapped” by the NKVD, and his arrest was the final straw. Then the Crown Court refused to accept the boyfriend’s testimony of his true age, and Turing was cooked, in large part because his predilictions had been an open secret since his days as a Cambridge wunderkind.

    Ayn Rand was simply a vicious, mean-spirited, rancid-souled narccissistic bitch. Full stop.

    Sylvia Plath could make Bob Ross stick his head in an oven after talking for 5mins. Isaac Newton was a witch-burning, tax-farming alchemist. Galileo was a screaming shithead, a raving intellectual bully and lawsuit-flinger who got in trouble not for supporting the heliocentric theory (which was being actively debated within the Church at the time), but for calling the Pope (and all who supported him) an idiot (and worse things) in print. That gave his enemies rope to hang him, but it had only been a matter of time before Galileo tried to bully someone who could punch back. Kit Marlowe got himself killed because he never saw a fight he didn’t want part of. Tomas More was an anti-Protestant bigot.

    Part of the big problem with getting people to pay attention to outsiders is that outsiders are frequently assholes on a personal level, and most people are not good at separating argument from arguer, art from artist. I’m no great shakes myself- I refuse to watch anything by Roman Polanski or Woody Allen, and Charlie Chaplain is ruined for me forever. Chapman? Yeah, Chapman. The guy who coerced 13-year-old girls into marriage more resembling Purdah, and whom Marlon Brando described as the most sadistic man he’d ever met. Turns out, The Little Tramp was actually Ken McElroy with better hair and better lawyers. Getting people to pay attention to somebody like that is -hard-.

    The less remarkable ones, the ones you mention towards the end? We find a way to survive in a world where we’re strange enough to be hated, but not extraordinary enough to be forgiven. Most of us, the ones who have the most success integrating, become severely conflict-averse: partly from being bullied as kids and young teenagers, and party from (as older teenagers) learning to fight like cornered rats because somebody somewhere got the idea that our weirdness needed beating or raping out of us, and decided to bring their friends. We don’t fight “fair,” because we never learned how. He who fights fair in a locker room full of guys who want their piece of The Nerd, gets beat into brain-damage or gets his asshole reamed. We know this. So we avoid conflict, partly because we hate the adrenaline rush and the feeling that we’re about to be attacked again, and partly because we don’t think it’s worth it to gouge out a man’s eyes over a seat in the bar.

    As for Trump being an outsider? Don’t make me laugh. He’s the utimate insider. Outsiders don’t inherit hundreds of millions of dollars, they get disowned. Outsiders can’t get away with divorcing Wife1 to marry Mistress1, then divorcing Wife2 to marry Mistress3, who also happens to be an illegal immigrant pornstar supermodel, and then become the darling of a section of politics which “hates” cheaters, divorcers, fornicators, immigrants, and women (especially “hypergamous sloots”) who have sex with actual human men. Outsiders aren’t friends with the Clintons for decades. Outsiders don’t have a central-casting wiseguy mob lawyer like Rudy Guiliani. Outsiders don’t get elected President. Puh-lease.

  7. Pat
    Pat October 6, 2019 6:27 am

    E. Garrett Perry – Welcome to Bad Hair Day!

    Since you mention Trump, as did I, I’ll start with him. I know he’s an insider for all the reasons you mention, but he is an outsider philosophically to the insider bureaucrats who want something more devilish for America.

    And I give everyone brownie points for trying, until they prove otherwise. (No, I didn’t vote for him.)

    As for the others — we are all individuals. There were (and still are) oodles of “ordinary people” throughout history who never made the Good Guy list. They certainly will never make the “libertarians, we are perfect” list. Most of them we will never know, nor do we want to; and this is equally true of the famous.

    But I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Do we take them off the Outsider list because they were A$$holes? Do we insist their vices be proclaimed throughout the world to counter-balance the good we received from them? Or ignore the good from which the world has benefited because they — like many people — are anti-heroes?

    How do you separate the essence of a man from himself, when “himself” is composed of both virtue and vice? How do we know which compels the other? And if “virtue” is his accomplishments, and “vice” his personality (or character) — a Jekyll and Hyde, as it were — perhaps it’s that very dichotomy that makes him an Outsider.

  8. E. Garrett Perry
    E. Garrett Perry October 6, 2019 9:52 am

    I may have ill-made my point.

    My issue with Outsider-worship is that many people- many libertarians included- will damn-near-deify any Outsider they can find, and ignore their vices and failings. They make these people into gods to be worshipped, not fellow humans to learn from. Galileo, just to pick one example, could have moved science a lot farther than he did if he hadn’t bully-boyed himself out of a job. Newton could have advanced mathematics by centuries, but he spent most of his energy trying to transmutate metals- and almost certainly poisoned himself with lead and mercury vapour in the process. Ayn Rand’s hypocritical bitchiness, in my observation, has driven more people away from libertarianism than any three other factors combined. All Humans have failings, but in certain subcultures (Hollywood, Tech, libertarianism) are willing to overlook offenses in an Outsider that they themselves would never tolerate from a more typical individual. That opens those subcultures up to well-earned criticism, and drives away those otherwise-sympathetic people who cannot stomach (for instance) being bossed around by a sad old woman on Social Security who nevertheless lectures and moralizes and self-aggrandizes to the entire world about how -they- should never accept Gov’t or else they’re nothing but a no-good mooching “taker.” I’m not worried about anybody passing a Good Guy Test, I a’int St. Peter. But I do object to the deification of humans, especially when their failings crash into their deification and prevent people from seeing the good works they -did- do.

  9. Pat
    Pat October 6, 2019 1:53 pm

    I understand your viewpoint now — and I agree.

    I’m sure that deification of Outsiders was not intended in this blog, but it (and your first comment) does remind us that Outsiders come in all shapes and sizes, and we should be on guard to distinguish the virtues and vices of an Outsider, and keep him in human perspective.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  10. E. Garrett Perry
    E. Garrett Perry October 6, 2019 2:10 pm

    Oh no! This is one of the last places I’d expect to find that sort of thing on a large scale. Mostly I was attempting my own fumbling elaboration on Claire’s original piece.

Leave a Reply