We define ourselves in many ways. People select titles such a “fighter”, “contrarian”, and “creator” and use these terms to define themselves. Dependent identities such as these have the concerning feature of being highly laudable, unspeakably evil, or anywhere in between depending on external factors. In many contexts to be a fighter is a good thing. To fight for other people, to fight for new knowledge, to fight against disease, are all commendable. However to fight for selfish gains, out of spite, or to marginalize a specific people group would be despicable. Using this term to describe oneself is similar to using the term “non-profit” to describe an organization; it provides incredibly little information about the person or organization themself and only provides a passing reference to a relative characteristic.
Christopher Hitchens, reknown author, speaker, intellectual, and atheist was often well known for his independent thinking and contrarian views prior to his untimely death. He wrote a book titled Letters to a Young Contrarian in which he discusses, as the title would suggest, contrarian thinking, that is holding and articulating positions that go against the prevalent tide of thoughts. The issue with identifying as contrarian is that contrarian is a relative term, it relies upon prevalent thought in order to take a position. To further clarify, it would be better, more descriptive, and more reliable to describe oneself as an independent thinking, that is someone who is willing to put in the difficult work of gathering and analyzing data for oneself and coming to their own conclusion independent of the persuasive powers of the masses. If I am contrarian and you decide that apples are tasty I am obligated to disagree and label them as unpalatable. If I am an independent thinker I am free to try the apple and decide for myself if I believe the apple to be agreeable or disagreeable. In an information and choice rich environment, one of the key underpinnings of societal improvement and uptrending will be a large population of independent thinkers who search out information and do their own analyses. A large population of contrarians will get relatively little done.
Thinking independently is difficult. Gather information, think critically, and be willing to defend your conclusions. Being either ‘yes’ men (or women) or contrarians both hand all of the power to others as our stance is relative to theirs and not an absolute based on a well reasoned articulation of our analyses.
One of the key aspects to maturing is defining oneself. This is a good and natural progression. As we are taking on labels and crafting our own definitions of ourselves, we must define ourselves as absolutes, things that are irrespective of the whims of the mob. We must define ourselves by what we are for, what we actually stand for and believe in, not a reactionary definition reliant upon what we are against.