Posted on February 10, 2010 by Colin

Exercises in Social Incorrectness

 

There are many invisible but very important social rules that keep the streets clean, the lights on and you and your neighbors alive day-to-day.

I’m not talking about laws, per se, but more the quiet, understood concepts of ‘how things are done’ and ‘that’s just how it is.’

It’s actually fairly easy to figure out what these laws are, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Step out into public and think of something that you will not do.

Bingo! You’ve identified one of these rules.

Everything from a man running around in women’s clothing to tap dancing in the supermarket are generally considered faux pas. These things won’t get you arrested (probably), but you likely wouldn’t just do them because you feel like it. And you know what? That’s a big part of what keeps the gears and pulleys of society oiled and maintained.

Society is a complex machine that is tuned by inhibition.

But let’s consider for a moment the opposite argument. What if the inhibitions we all feel are actually HURTING society rather than helping? What if you not singing at the top of your lungs when you feel like it and refusing to wear 6 ties to work (fanned out into a beautiful crest) instead of just 1 is holding us back, keeping us locked in a social stasis wherein our habits and methods of interaction are unable to evolve as quickly as they should?

This is a distinct possibility, and I think you’ll find that, historically, most of the major breakthroughs – social, technological, economic, etc – have come about because someone decided that a social rule simply didn’t apply to them. They risked forcefully pulling themselves out of a wonderfully complex and delightfully comfortable state-of-being in order to try something unproven, untried and, according to some, unnecessary.

And in many cases, the critics end up being right. The pie-in-the-sky idea turns out to be just that and doesn’t work well on a practical level.

On the other hand, there are a few instances where these exercises in social incorrectness don’t just break machines, but build new ones! Machinations of such beauty and usefulness that most of the cogs from the old machine jump ship and swim their way over to the recently-doubted innovation, eager to be integrated into its novel set of components.

Society can operate perfectly well without these parallax shifts, but should it? I say no. There are some who operate under the assumption that the world would be a better place if we had never harnessed the power of electricity or created the automobile or split the atom. I seriously doubt those same people would express the same distaste for the creation of the polio vaccination, humanity’s increased lifespan or the invention of the tater tot (I mean, who could hate tater tots?!).

There will always be dissenters and nay-sayers and antagonists fighting against your every move when you try to innovate. Don’t let it get you down, because if all goes according to plan, those same kinds of people will be fighting for you the next time around.

PS: take a look at Instigationology if you want a good example of someone taking these kinds of exercises and making them into a habit. The blog’s author, Kristin Norris, has just challenged Ashley Ambirge from The Middle Finger Project to not drink for a month in order to expand their social horizons (sans social-lubricant) and save money for a trip to who-knows-where. Check out the formal challenge, read the acceptance post, and drop them a comment or email if you want to take part!