The contrarian cognitive strategy: whatever you think I think the opposite

Over the years I have found that in my relationship with certain sorts of people I’m either (a) in agreement with them but constantly losing out as a result, or (b) in a constant disagreement with them. I’d go along these people, accept what they’re saying, but find myself worse off as a result of this. I might not understand why I’m suffering certain negative consequences initially, but eventually I come to the conclusion that it’s the beliefs that they espouse that I accepted that are the root of the problem. A good example is the food pyramid and the whole idea that if you eat a lot of meat and animal fats you will die from heart disease and you need to eat a lot of grains and vegetables. I followed what was according to these “authorities” the perfect diet yet I suffered all sorts of allergies and digestive issues, and was constantly tired and underweight. I eventually went in the opposite direction, eating the upside-down food pyramid of a lot of meat and butter, and few carbs or vegetables. My health exploded, I feel great, have no allergies or digestive issues, I put on a lot of muscle relatively easily and am full of energy.

What happened however is that when I started to doubt the mainstream views of things like the food pyramid I was in constant disagreement with people who continue to follow the accepted narratives. Because I started to doubt all of these truisms, eg., about exercise, music, education, or dancing. In fact, what I’ve found is that if these people say or believe something I’m usually better off to think or do the opposite of that. This was actually a strategy that I first heard from Sir Roger Scruton in an interview on Uncommon Knowledge (if I remember correctly). When asked about how he evolved to become a conservative he said that he started out as a leftist. But when he was in Paris during the 1960s protests he saw that these privileged students who were protesting didn’t care about working class people, that it was really all about them and their feelings as they were burning working people’s cars. It was all an emotional outburst. Then, when reading the socialist intellectuals who were behind the indoctrination of these protesters, he adopted the strategy of believing the opposite of that. If these intellectuals said that bourgeois culture is evil and must be destroyed, it was probably because this culture is really good and needs to be preserved.

I’ve been having conversations with some musicians about jazz, pop and dancing music. I tried to argue with them for my point of view, but I realised that once they express certain mainstream attitudes, the best strategy is to believe the opposite of what they believe. If they say things like “people prefer pop” and “classical music is dead”, then instead of getting dispirited and giving up on trying to play jazz you instead can cheerfully assume that the opposite of that is true. It’s the same with the tango crowd. What I’ve consistently found is that by far the best strategy is to take what they do or say and assume that the opposite is true or the best way of doing things. Following that assumption I’ve found that I come across most of the good ideas that you find on my blog. If they say that a flexible “in-out” embrace is a good idea, I found that the opposite is the case. If they say that music selection is more important than sound quality you can bet, right there and then, that it’s probably the opposite.

This relates to my previous discussion of John Schumann’s idea of “stimulus appraisal” which is quite central to learning. We evaluate the “stimulus” for its cost/benefit aspects. At some point, you decide that a certain stimulus or signal, such as a source of “information”, is actually what in finance markets is called a “contrary indicator”. In that case, as the dumb money is buying the smart money is selling.

A contrary indicator is one that tells you it may be a good time to invest in the opposite way from the herd.

Wall Street Journal

The reason this sort of thing exists is that there is a lot of what in bodybuilding is referred to as “bro science”. The muscled bros freely dispense advice on how to get ripped. Somehow, the bro’s advice rarely generates the results among their mass of followers or else we’d be seeing ripped dudes everywhere. In fact, the bros tell you what they think you want to hear, or tell you what they themselves do but forget to mention such factors as genetics and their regular steroid injections. Same with making money in the markets, or learning to dance and organise tango. The reason certain truisms take hold is not that they are actually true, but that they satisfy the interests of those who promote them.

In general, the best policy is to simply stop consuming that sort of content. There’s really no point arguing or interacting with them unless, like me, you want to see what it is that they believe so that you can try the opposite of what they think you should be doing. Like me, you can try it as a sort of intellectual exercise, talking to them, seeing what they say, and then assuming that the opposite is true. You’re much more likely to come up with a better way of doing things, solving problems, etc. In the end, however, there is a cost attached to this sort of thing, and in the long run you want to cut these people out of your life, because they’re a waste time.

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