The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived

Chris Mikul

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The contrarian is the individual who probably springs most often to mind when people hear the word 'eccentric'. Contrarians are the people who do not give a fig for social conventions and determinedly go their own way, whether it's in their clothing, habits, beliefs, hobbies or living arrangements. Their spiritual father is Diogenes, and they have absolutely no doubt that they are the sensible ones and it is the rest of the world that is out of step. Contrarians, especially in England, are often associated with the aristocracy (who after all, do often have the time and money to be able to live exactly as they please), yet they may come from all walks of life, and indeed, some of the most notable have literally lived on the streets, becoming in the process well-known and often well-loved individuals. It is the contrarians that John Stuart Mill was thinking of when he wrote in On Liberty, 'That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.' Mill understood that conformity in a society breeds stagnation. By rejecting conventions, eccentrics demonstrate new ways of thinking and living. Of course, what may seem outrageous or crazy to an eccentric's contemporaries may be judged as eminently reasonable and sensible by later generations (Charles Waterton's early conservation efforts and Victoria Woodhull's tilt at the White House being but two of many examples that could be given).

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