It may seem a tad ironic that, as someone who advocates a society based upon voluntary peaceful coexistence, I think it’s a good thing that some people are capable of being confrontational, argumentative bastards who don’t mind insulting and offending others. No, I’m not talking about obnoxious trolls who try to shock and offend just to get attention, or because they get some demented pleasure out of bothering others. I’m talking about people willing to tell the truth even when the truth is not popular, and even when telling the truth can earn one the scorn and hatred of the general public.
It is neither brave nor useful to go around loudly telling a truth that everyone already knows. What matters—what changes the world—is people telling the truth when the rest of the world doesn’t know it, and doesn’t want to hear it. Going around today and proclaiming, “Slavery is wrong!” doesn’t require any courage or fortitude. The time to proclaim that was back when much of the world still thought that slavery was proper and legitimate, even righteous. What needs saying today is whatever truths still make people uncomfortable.
And that brings up a sort of "conflict of interests" I notice when I write for Steemit—a conflict I resolve by choosing to be a stubborn, opinionated, argumentative bastard. Allow me to explain.
How much writers get paid for what they post on Steemit depends largely upon how much other people like and appreciate their work. In that sense, it’s a sort of “popularity contest.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People who write books, make movies, record albums, etc., are rewarded, not based on how much they value their OWN stuff, or upon any objective worth of their material (if there is such a thing), but upon how much OTHER people like it. However, when it comes to philosophical opinions, that can tend to create an “echo chamber” effect, where people just say whatever their audience wants to hear.
In contrast, when I write articles or give talks, I intentionally set out to make people uncomfortable, not just for the sake of being a butthead, but because if I don’t challenge someone’s pre-existing assumptions and beliefs, then they are a lot less likely to get anything out of it. Sure, they might like me more and might feel better if I say whatever they already think, but what good does that do anyone? This is why I often go out of my way to remain a pugnacious ass (intellectually speaking), skipping over all the things we might agree on, and heading right for whatever disagreements might exist between myself and my audience.
(Incidentally, even if I’m wrong about something, it can still be better to try to find areas of disagreement. If nothing else, it gives the other person practice at explaining and arguing their position. I know that my own understanding of things has greatly benefited from having to articulate them, and logically support them, when arguing against others who had conflicting beliefs.)
Even in a free society, there will still be ways in which people are rewarded for speaking about “safe” topics that the majority will approve of, and punished for undermining people’s paradigms and going beyond their comfort zones. But if you want to see the nauseating results of what happens when someone tailors and waters down his message in the hopes of pleasing everyone—or as many people as possible—you need look no further than politics: a huge substance-free parade of empty suit puppets spewing whatever vague, meaningless, feel-good tripe might dupe the moronic majority into supporting them.
Many people have rightly pointed out that, despite having accumulated a somewhat significant audience that listens to what I say, I have been remarkably bad at monetizing my efforts and achieving financial success. I don’t pretend that this is the result of altruism or generosity on my part. Instead, it’s at least partly because I would rather tell the truth and be hated than tell a lie and be loved. (It's also because I'm just a crappy businessman.)
Having been an anarchist for twenty years now, I’ve had quite a bit of practice at saying things that make a lot of people despise me. (I still want a tee-shirt that says, “I was an anarchist before it was cool!”) Yes, I very much appreciate being appreciated. But if I have to change my message even one inch away from what I see as the truth in order to get that appreciation, then it’s not worth it.
Obviously I am not the only one who feels that way. There are a hell of a lot of people who have paid a higher price than I have for sticking by their principles, in both word and deed. I am extremely grateful such people exist. And if you, as a Steemit reader, are one of them, I would issue this invitation/challenge: think of something that you strongly believe in, but which you think most people will not want to hear… and then post an article about it—the best one you can write.
In the long run, there is an advantage to having such an outlook. Yeah, you may be broke, and possibly despised by everyone you know, but at least people will know that you are genuine, that you say what you think, and that your soul is not for sale. Now pardon me while I go try to compose a new article to make people existentially uncomfortable.