Bertrand Russell on the opinions of others

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as Veronica Sawyer and Jason Dean in the film "Heathers" (1989)

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as Veronica Sawyer and Jason "J. D." Dean in the film "Heathers" (1989).
Image credit: New York Press

I think that in general, apart from expert opinion, there is too much respect paid to the opinions of others, both in great matters and in small ones. One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. Take, for example, the matter of expenditure. Very many people spend money in ways quite different from those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because they feel that the respect of their neighbors depends upon their possession of a good car and their ability to give good dinners. As a matter of fact, any man who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers travel or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like every one else. There is of course no point in deliberately flouting public opinion; this is still to be under its domination, though in a topsy-turvy way. But to be genuinely indifferent to it is both a strength and a source of happiness. And a society composed of men and women who do not bow too much to the conventions is a far more interesting society than one in which all behave alike. Where each person’s character is developed individually, differences of type are preserved, and it is worth while to meet new people, because they are not mere replicas of those whom one has met already. This has been one of the advantages of aristocracy, since where status depended upon birth behavior was allowed to be erratic. In the modern world we are losing this source of social freedom, and therefore a more deliberate realization of the dangers of uniformity has become desirable. I do not mean that people should be intentionally eccentric, which is just as uninteresting as being conventional. I mean only that people should be natural, and should follow their spontaneous tastes in so far as these are not definitely antisocial.
Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness, (New York: Liveright, 1996), p. 107. First published (New York: Hearst Corporation Avon Book Division, 1930).

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"I think that in general, apart from expert opinion"
Bertrand Russell Posted on behalf of on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 under Quotations.

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