In praise of nutjobs

Some years ago, I participated in a vast rightwing conspiracy (there were three of us), to insinuate the word “nutjob” into American newspapers. This was to replace the words “nutbar” and “nut case,” along with any cognates. “Nutter” could be used on an abbreviated further reference, but “nuts” was discouraged as a subjective completion. If you meant insane, you should have said so. If you mean “differently opinionated,” say nutjob. And always affectionately.

Anglophiles to a man, although 67 percent of us were American citizens, we conspirators set out to subtly alter public attitudes towards jolly fanatics and the more entertainingly crazy. Rather than implicitly condemn their eccentricities, the word would present them as a source of redemptive mirth, and an (underestimated) intellectual resource. Too, there was the question of free will. Where “nutbars” were presented as if they were victims of some disease, or disorientation, externally imposed — a “nutjob” was a self-made man. He could wear buttons proclaiming, “Proud to be a nutjob,” or, “Nutjobs rule, okay?” Although, being a nutjob means never having to boast.

All of our great artists and scientists began as nutjobs; and the greatest remained so to the end. Unsatisfied with the glibness of so much human enterprise, they ignored, or defied, demands for public conformity. They would not be regimented in a shallow tradition, who would be loyal to a deeper one.

I was thinking this while watching a lecturer, immaculately besuited as a concession to his audience, but in bare feet. Why wear shoes if you despise them? Why, for that matter, wear a Batflu muzzle, when you know it is useless against the plague? Why get a haircut, when all the barbershops have been closed down by the health nazis?

I mention minor eccentricities, because they are misunderstood. As I argued at greater length (in the Idler, long ago), there is a common misconception that eccentricity is a product of absent-mindedness; of trying to do things at half-attention. But the truth is quite the opposite. I have observed that the most unusual behaviour comes from doing things with much more attention than “normal” people will devote to a task. It comes from not taking the commonplace for granted. It is radical, in the sense of returning to first principles.

As an admirable Australian lady reminds, the place to live is beyond the pale. It may be lonely out there, but at least it is not false.

Of course, the nutjob will be mocked. This seems inevitable, given the caliber of the persons who are mocking: people of narrow internal diameter. They become unsettled, in the presence of originality or genius. It is a nervous laughter. Let us widen them, if we can.

We have, throughout the West at the moment, an unprecedented clampdown on persons who think for themselves. The essence of that snoring “wokeness” is a kind of allergic reaction to intelligence in any form. It begins with the suppression of free speech and religion, but ends where such things always do, in the silence of the grave.

But as a true reactionary, I favour — dogmatically prefer — a society that can cope with reason, and faith; which does not call for the Gestapo, when someone tells a good joke; who are inclined to celebrate, rather than to imprison their nutjobs.