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Are You An Iconoclast?

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If you refuse to echo conventional wisdom, if you delight in criticizing and undermining cherished beliefs, if you revel in taking down the puritanical, the sentimental, and the sanctimonious, then you are an iconoclast.

An iconoclast is not a reactionary; he does not dislike all progress. Nor is he simply against what the majority is for. The defining characteristic of the iconoclast is a steely and steadfast objection to sham. He hates cliché, pretension, platitudinous thought and expression. It is not progressive ideas but stupidity and irrationality that trigger his contempt.

It is hard to be an iconoclast nowadays. Most people are made uncomfortable by strong views. When in a group of people, you are expected to say nothing that indicates conviction of any kind. The modern social ethos tells us to stay on the surface; it demands that we smile and make others feel included, and their views, no matter how ignorant, ill-informed, and silly, welcome.

Nothing can be more alien to the nature of an iconoclast. If you are man of this type, you have no doubt already gained a reputation for being a “difficult” or “intense” person. You may also notice that people avoid you or feel awkward when they come into contact with you. This is a sign of their weakness and your strength—strength of character, that is.

There may be times when you doubt yourself, when you believe it is necessary to re-consider your way of dealing with people. But why should you? There is no absolute code of behavior to which everyone must conform. Indeed, such an idea goes against the grain of modern feeling. Are we not all constantly told of the distinctiveness and value of each individual? Are we not encouraged to be authentic, to be completely ourselves?

The feeling and sentiment of the iconoclast fills your mind and body. You should not feel pressured to change. You cannot do so even if you want to. Your personality has come into being naturally. Your natural instincts and interests as well as various life experiences and encounters have all combined to make you an iconoclast. While all your peers merely inherited their fundamental beliefs, you took the time to think deeply about the world and came to your own conclusions about it.

Of course, you ought to be sociable. As an iconoclast, you need not make a point of offending and insulting people. Whenever I am in group of people, I do my best to avoid serious topics. Nine-tenths of the population cannot understand the abstract. Four-fifths lack the most basic power of discernment. Three-fourths have never and will never challenge beliefs they’ve held since childhood. I have learned to expect little critical capacity from strangers. I therefore stay off all subjects that require any propulsion of thought.

But when others bring up politics, art, religion, and society and ask me my opinion I give it—honestly, directly, and forcefully. This, I think, is the right way to be an iconoclast: advance arguments that others start.

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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.

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