Has anyone else noticed the fall of eccentricity in the West? We used to have more eccentrics: people who were harmlessly, idiosyncratically but purposefully out of step with whatever everyone else seemed to be doing.
In fact, in many ways we cherished this tradition of eccentricity because from it many of our greatest innovations were birthed. It also lessened the struggle for social acceptance that defines the lives of most modern people.
Even in the 1970s, this tradition was healthier. There were people who were just “odd,” which is a separate word from “weird.” An eccentric is odd but there is purpose and logic to it, just slightly shifted from what others accept as the norm. It is not perverse or broken, but it strikes most people as strange until the motivation behind it can be understood.
One of our last eccentrics might be Steve Jobs, who managed to partially ruin his health with his bizarre and dogmatic eating habits. But even in Silicon Valley these days the “eccentricity” is conformist: in order to be taken seriously, entrepreneurs must wear black sweaters and a weeks’ beard and do cool youthy stuff like pull all-nighters on Tuesdays.
The more the power of social control rises above us, the more we conform, but now we can conform to niche forms of “non-conformity.” All geeks must act a certain way, all athletes another, to preserve their unique brand identity. But honest eccentrics? They have dropped off the radar.