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THE FINISHING LINE AN ODE TO THE NON- CONFORMIST DOES IT PAY TO GO AGAINST CONVENTION? NOT FITTING IN MIGHT, IN FACT, BE WHAT MAKES US THRIVE, POSITS DALLAS CAMPBELL When I was 15, I entered my school music competition with a piano piece that suited my musical abilities: 4’33’’ by the mid-century American avant-garde composer John Cage. As I opened the sheet music and adjusted my posture, I began, knowing full well my fate. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s four minutes thirty-three seconds of total silence. Technically easy to play, but difficult to pull off in public – you have to really commit. About a minute in, I was interrupted by the teacher who threw me out of the theatre to the laughter of my friends. I shouldn’t have expected anything less. It was a risky move, calculated to enhance my school reputation as a rebel and class clown. Looking back, it was a risk worth taking. It would have been a travesty if the teacher had let me finish. Like you, my journey through life has been a constant tug between the safety of conformity, and the urge to want to push against the status quo. No matter how much we like to think of ourselves as free thinkers, the reality is different. Like all animal behaviour, ours is shaped by millions of years of evolution. We are pack animals. Conformity isn’t a choice, it’s our hardwired default factory setting. The benefits of group cooperation, altruism, and respecting our elders have contributed to our species’ extraordinary success. When it comes to important decision making, for example, the collected wisdom of the group is generally better than that of the individual. The mechanics of this have been unpicked by decades of inquiry by psychologists and neuroscientists who have seen directly how the brain responds when confronted with social cues: when your actions or opinions deviate from the group, your brain’s medial prefrontal cortex will tell you that something’s wrong and snap you back into line. You live on a spectrum of conformity versus non-conformity, set against a constantly shifting cultural backdrop that is forever in motion. But imagine a world where everyone did what was expected? If conformity is the fabric that holds our institutions together, then non-conformity is the colour, pattern and texture. Where would we be as a species without those great imaginative leaps that further our understanding of nature? Progress in science starts with the ability to be able to imagine something else. Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin, despite being subjected to rigid social and religious paradigms of their age, freed us from our intellectual prison, allowing us to see nature as it is, not how we wished it to be. Rebellion has always been the primary driver of human culture: imagine if the audience had sat quietly at Stravinsky’s premiere of The Rite of Spring, or if The Sex Pistols (pictured above) hadn’t gone on their infamous Thames boat cruise because they couldn’t get permission. What about The Breakfast Club without Ally Sheedy shaking out her dandruff? Imagine if John Kennedy chose not to go to the moon because it was just too hard. Or if suffragette Millicent Fawcett hadn’t had the courage to call, “Courage calls to courage everywhere”. It takes courage to think and act differently. Fear of looking foolish, fear of authority, and particularly fear of failure are powerful forces battling to keep us in line. In our increasingly risk-averse, feedback form obsessed, hyperconnected world, it might seem safer to follow the herd. But as the author JK Rowling told a class of Harvard graduates so eloquently, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you fail by default.” Sometimes it’s worth throwing your caution to the wind. For the benefit of us all. Dallas Campbell presents ambitious factual television programmes, such as Supersized Earth, City in the Sky, Bang Goes the Theory and Egypt’s Lost Cities for the BBC, and National Geographic’s Science of Stupid. His book Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet is available now. PICTURE PRESS/CAMERA PRESS/DENNIS MORRIS 78 THEJAGUAR
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Jaguar Magazine celebrates creativity in all its forms, with exclusive features that inspire sensory excitement, from beautiful design to cutting-edge technology.
In this issue, we explore the art of creativity from the Brazilian masters who devised the graceful art of Capoeira, to the Irish artists mixing new culture with old. You will also discover the creative line that links Victorian wallpaper to the iPhone. While the multi-talented actor and performer, Riz Ahmed, explains why it is the right time to reveal his true self to the world.
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