Seth Godin - We Are All Weird

Seth Godin wrote "We Are All Weird" to encourage people to celebrate weirdness rather than try to encourage normalcy.

He traces history of normalcy and weirdness. Before specialization, people couldn't be as weird because they had to spend time on surviving. Mass marketing through things like 3 TV channels made it easy to promote one way of being. Standardized industrialization made it profitable to encourage everyone to be the same – then you could sell to everyone. People internalize this, and a culture of normalcy became self perpetuating.

Today, we're seeing a massive increase in weirdness. People are richer now than before, so we can spend time and money and niche things unrelated to survival. The internet lets us find communities (and products) that validate our weird quirks, which makes us more comfortable being weird. The internet and other technologies allow everyday people to produce unique things rather than only allowing big organizations to produce things (which happen to be standard). Also, weird people are a good market because they're obsessed about their particular niche.

Now, we don't have a cultural center that unifies us. We're all weird.

I thought that most of the book accurately described our current epoch. However, there was little attempt to describe why people are weird. That is, the book assumes that people, as unique individuals, are very different from one another and that it is unnatural, external limitations (factories, mass media) that encourage normalcy. From what I have seen, people are mostly the same, and the few differences that are there are superficial. People believe in difference because we, culturally, place a large value on individualism and because certain people want to create different niche markets.

My other problem with the book is that there wasn't much attention paid to ethics. There are people who are exploited. There are injustices. Ethics is a fairly normalizing force – if people generally believe that hate crimes are wrong, then few people will commit hate crimes against others, and weirdness (committing hate crimes) is strongly discouraged with cultural outrage and with legal punishment. Certainly, that ethic should be compatible with pluralism (the ethic should accept that people are different from one another), but that is different from moral relativism (not that Godin advocates relativism).

My concern is that when people focus on what makes them unique, they lose track of what keeps us together. When I was enamored with postmodern philosophy in high school, I read philosophers who were skeptical of large, homogenizing structures. In debate in general, students grow accustomed to advocating issues from many sides, and they often don't develop a strong opinion about what they believe or what might be the real truth of the issue. I think that people need to know what they believe and stick to it, and I think that people need to believe in some of the big things that keep us together.