Are You An Eccentric?

We’ve had Ethic, we’ve had Æsthetic; now we’re back to the Eccentric, viz. Are you an eccentric? If not, why not? Are you sure?

The Mad Hatter cosplayer
To save you expending your little all on proper certification from suitably qualified psyche-specialists, allow me to proffer the following quiz, based on the work of David Weeks (author of The Gifts of Eccentrics and co-author with Jamie James of Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness). Loosely based on. Inspired by. Which is to say, extrapolated from an article which refers to his work, without actually quoting him.*

Consider the following statements, and give yourself one point for each you agree with – two if you agree strongly.

  • I refuse to let the world squeeze me into its own mould (as Paul recommended to the Romans). I don’t conform to the expectations of others, or society at large. (Sorry, no extra points for being a Nonconformist.)
  • I enjoy indulging and exercising my creativity.
  • I am insatiably curious: I just have to know. (Famous last words: I wonder what happens if I-)
  • People sometimes call me idealistic – apparently not meaning it as a compliment. As Brooke Fraser so memorably put it, “It could be fun to try / I think that I’ll save the world… as a fun afternoon activity.”
  • I love my hobbies! You call it obsession; I call it passion. And why limit myself to only one? (Weeks suggests five or six is the usual score.)

Crazy Frickin Lady
Speaking of scores, how are you doing so far? Most eccentrics have all five of these traits. But don’t worry, we haven’t finished yet. Moving on!

  • I have always known that I was different, even when I was just a little kiddy.
  • I have an above average intelligence (say, IQ over 110).
  • I hold strong opinions and I don’t have a problem expressing them. Other people disagree, but that’s their problem. Lots of people believing something doesn’t make it true.
  • I can’t be bothered competing with other people – I don’t need to compare myself with others to know where I stand.
  • It has been suggested that the way I live (or eat, or dress…) is weird. Whatever.

Mosnier - Portrait of a Lady

  • I don’t particularly care what other people think, although obviously it would be better if they all agreed with me. I don’t even need their company: I’m happy by myself.
  • My sense of humour could be described as puckish or mischievous.
  • I am not married, in law or any other way you care to look at it.
  • I am the eldest child of my parents/an only child.
  • I’m rubish at spalling.

How did you go? If you scored 30, you may well be the most eccentric person now living on the face of this planet. If you scored 20-30, you’re pretty darn eccentric. 10-20, you’re fairly eccentric; 5-10, you’re a little odd. Under 5, you’re not really an eccentric, but we’re happy to have you here anyway. If you scored 0, you scare me.

I myself scored 17: fairly eccentric. Well, that’s fine by me. I don’t need to compete 🙂

*Disclaimer: credit for the identification of the fifteen traits of a healthy eccentric** goes to Weeks; the expression thereof and the extremely unscientific scoring system are all mine.

** Contrary to popular belief, eccentrics are less prone to mental health issues than the average person. Weeks also notes that people with mental health issues actually suffer from them, whereas eccentrics are having a ball. Eccentrics: Odd, But Not Insane.

Weird is a Side Effect of Awesome

Lost Virtues

Virtue and eccentricity, I hear you asking, what’s the link? Is there one?
There is. Follow me, not into the dark forest of Stygian gloom, but into the sun-dappled meadows where virtues frolick with daisies in their hair, while eccentrics play diversion on a penny-whistle and grave-faced philosophers play hopscotch on the lawn.

John Stuart Mill asserted that eccentricity and moral courage went together. Maya Angelou said that “courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Eccentricity -> courage -> virtue. Start with a funny hat and work your way up to defying the evils of your time.

Kaiulani in San Francisco, retouched photo by J. J. Williams
In fact, virtuousness is itself becoming increasingly eccentric – as the moral centre of society moves away from virtue, virtue becomes necessarily off-centre. The modern world seems to have only one virtue: tolerance.
But tolerance is not a virtue.

Hear me out. Being tolerant can be a good and right thing to do, such as when someone insists on telling you all about this amazing new wonder-diet they’re on that will bring about world peace if people will only try it, and you tolerantly don’t attempt to smack the stupid right off them. But it can also be a wrong and evil thing to do, which naturally debars it from being a virtue. Consider: when elements of the Roman Catholic hierarchy covered up the abuse perpetrated by those in their own ranks, they were tolerating the abuse, tolerating something which should be intolerable to all, and not only to its victims.

Tolerance. Not always good. Not a virtue.

The reason I chose the example of child abuse (and my apologies to anyone who finds mentions of it traumatic) is because in this heyday of moral relativism it is one of the few things that most people are prepared to agree is a bad thing. Well, I’m going to take the courage of my convictions (happily, no sentence yet) and say that there are some things which are good, and some bad, and some better than others. And because I do not wish to be a Negative Nellie, instead of dwelling on the bad, I intend to look at the good: the virtues.

And they are good. Virtues get a bad rap (because vices have better PR). Virtuousness is seen as priggish, boring and smug – even life-denying. This is the complete opposite of the truth. As Agatha Christie pointed out in The Pale Horse, evil is “necessarily always more impressive than good. It had to make a show!” This is why things like smoking and gambling have such big advertising budgets. It’s all in the presentation. If you stuck with the plain facts of the matter, there’d be no takers. Virtue is less flashy, but then, real gold doesn’t glitter; and it certainly doesn’t flash like neon.

Going up... (7253407110)
So, during the next year or thereabouts, I want to have a look at a few of the glorious virtues which we seem to have devalued and scrapped. Humility. Modesty. Loyalty. Gentleness. Moderation. Self-control. We might even have a look at Bissonomy and Tubso. But don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to suddenly become all ethics all the time – eccentrics and aesthetics must have their share of the fun too. (The Eccentric Ethic & Æsthetic: does what it says on the tin.)

And it will be fun. Because there is right and there is wrong, and if your life of right is grey and dreary, you are doing it wrong.

The Moral Courage of Eccentricity

La princesa de Éboli
Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.
On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill