Older people, who actually went to an office to work, may remember a scenario similar to the following. An executive was presenting his plan. Engineers were nodding in agreement and saying what a great idea it was. One engineer walked in late, and, after seeing a few slides, interrupted with a question, “Why not use tungsten?” The room went quiet, except for two engineers who snickered audibly. The executive’s face turned red; and he left the room. He’d worked on his plan for months and solicited feedback from most of his staff. And with one word, “tungsten”, several hundred man-hours were voided of utility.
But for the contrarian who spoke freely, uncovering a fatal flaw in a bad plan, the progeny of those hundreds of man-hours wasted would have been tens of thousands of man-hours wasted, a one-year production delay, millions of dollars in sunk cost and scrap, loss of first mover advantage, and possibly the demise of the corporation. The executive strategically waited years before vengefully sacking the contrarian, who saved the company.
Vocal contrarians are valuable assets in any group, though they are often shunned and censored for opposing the popular paradigm.
SETTING THE TABLE
Before exploring the thesis, note that contrarianism in people and mass psychoses in societies are not binary variables. A person is not a “contrarian” or “not a contrarian”. A society is not “in mass psychosis” or “not in mass psychosis”. The variables for each are analog. Triggers, or tipping points, along spectra effect action or change in people or society.
A person strong in contrarianism will likely be the first to speak up, and may also be the first to be arrested, sacked, or beaten because of it. The one who jumps to engage without strategy and tact does not help the group or himself. Take time to discern the scape. Seek others with contrarian views and aggregate them into a coalition. Then timely challenge the epidemic paradigm with enough allies and aggregate contrarianism to withstand the defensive counterstrike from the paradigm cult followers. Fortiores cum sociis.
Contrarians are considered untrusting. However, the degree of trust anyone has depends on his knowledge of subject matter and life experiences balanced against the charisma, credentials, and personality of the paradigm-hawking leader.
Contrarianism is vital to avoid hazards, especially moral hazards. Things go badly when contrarianism is stifled due to coercion or threat. This is especially injurious to society where an issue of public interest is concerned.
1692 SALEM MASSACHUSETTS
In the analog view of mass psychosis, increasing signals toward societal instability can be discovered and thwarted before atrocity occurs. Unfortunately, in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, due to coercion and threat, aggregate contrarianism grew too slowly to save the casualties from mass psychosis. If there was enough aggregate contrarianism, three women and two infants would not have died in prison, nineteen would not have been hanged, and one who would not admit guilt would not have been pressed to death. These are the atrocities resulting from fear of witchery that gripped 1692 Salem. An advanced Christian society turned on and killed their neighbors at the behest of teenage girls, who called defendants “witches” as the girls screamed in pain as if burning in the presence of the accused.
The trials did end when aggregate contrarianism reached the trigger that had been pushed out further in time due to coercion and threat against contrarians.
Atrocities happen in societies when contrarians are censored, coerced, and threatened into silence.
The true causes of the Salem atrocities were not teen girls. No society listens to teen girls in decisions of life or death. Psychologists rather point to factors common among mass psychosis atrocities: politically divided society, economic hardship, prolonged cold winters, fear of impending war, famine, and charismatic or pathological leaders.
Politically divided societies – Most of the accusers were farmers who lived in Salem Village and most of the defendants were in the merchant class and lived along Ipswich Road at the edge of Salem Town. One can envision a class war in which one class accused the other of witchery in retribution against those who had oppressed them with taxes.
Fear of impending war – King Philip’s War (his Wampanoag name was Metacomet) ended only 14 years earlier about 50 miles south of Salem. Many colonists throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were killed on their farms in that war. King William’s War (also known as Father Baudoin’s War, named after a priest, Father Jean Baudoin) began in 1688 and lasted about nine years. The French in the north fought alongside the Wabanaki against the English colonists. Refugees passed through Salem. Farms were raided. Some were killed. Imagine the collective fear that anyone’s family may be killed at any time in a raid on a remote farm. Fear is a strong emotion in one person. In a collective, it can resonate to instability and form mass psychosis. If a person’s fear ebbs toward a rational steady state, another in the collective tells of horrible events, thus bringing that person back to an unstable state of fear.
Charismatic or pathological leaders – Samuel Parris went to Salem to be a minister. Ministers were leaders of the communities in those times. They had political power. Historians mention that Parris was authoritarian and not well-liked. Some say that he was so unpopular that the people were going to vote him out in favor of other candidates who wanted the job. Others say that the people reneged on his salary contract. The details do not matter as much as the fact that Parris’s daughter was the first accuser. From there, it spread to others. It is easily envisaged that Parris was a pathological leader who took advantage of a situation of fear and political division in a society in order to keep his job or boost his value to get paid. His sermons focused on the evil among them, fused witchery to the thesis, and ginned up the mob.
Interestingly, many of the conditions historians claim were present and causal in 1692 Salem, are present in today’s society. Contrarians shine light on them. Presently there exist a politically divided society, fear of an unseen disease purported to be virulent and deadly, and pathological leaders who stoke fear based on lies. Politicians and media tell us that only government can save us.
The difference between 1692 Salem and USA today is that USA has a healthy level of contrarianism. As a republic of fifty sovereigns, the central federal government was not lawfully able to censor, threaten, and stifle contrarianism as much as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada did to their peoples. Each US State enacted different levels of lockdown and executive orders. Contrarianism existed in analog among the fifty governors. South Dakota led the way with no orders ever throughout covid. Governor Noem stood on a foundation of individual liberties. After only about six months of government orders, in November 2020, Florida’s Governor DeSantis followed South Dakota’s example in quashing most of the measures at the state level and fought against counties that enacted measures on their own. Texas’ Governor Abbott followed Florida a few months later. Every state chose their own path.
USA is constituted as a republic of sovereigns because the founders recognized the value of contrarianism in times of witchery, mass psychosis, or tyranny of the majority. Individual Constitutional and natural rights are held at the highest level in USA. After the express law of the Constitution, States hold the authority to make law, not the central federal government. Contrarianism is the saving grace that thwarts popular errant paradigms (aka, tyranny of the majority).
Even as you read this, millions of good folk from USA and other nations are voicing their contrarian views. In March 2020, those strong in contrarianism started the covid era as individuals, lonely and singular, speaking against the government sponsored paradigm. They laid the foundation for others to feel safe in speaking out. Aggregate contrarianism grew and is still growing. Contrarians will continue to challenge governments and media until truth displaces propaganda and prevarication in the mainstream. And we all know what truth will set you.
I wonder what Father Jean Baudoin would have said regarding contrarianism. Perhaps, “Vive la liberté!”