Last year during election season, there was a lot of talk about how John McCain was a maverick. But, what does that mean? What exactly is a maverick? And is it a type of troublemaker or something different altogether? According to, a maverick is “a lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates” and “one that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group.”

article-1036911-008D18B90000044C-813_468x3341For John McCain being a maverick meant refusing to vote with his party on some important issues (at least this is his claim when he referred to himself as a maverick). In the case of ‘lil Tommy Cruise and his character in Top Gun–whose pilot name was Maverick–being a maverick meant rebelling by not only refusing to follow the rules but deliberately flaunting them so as to prove that they didn’t apply to him. The original meaning of maverick refers to a farmer in Texas named Samuel Maverick who didn’t brand his cattle. In this case, a maverick is: “an unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it.” This final meaning is fascinating to me. Could it be suggesting that a maverick is someone with no community of its own–and by extension no particular perspective or stance–whose allegiance is available to the first group to take them in or the highest bidder? Hmmmm–is that the kind of maverick that McCain is/was?

While there are some serious differences between these three descriptions, one thing remains the same: the maverick is a loner who doesn’t play nicely with his party (McCain) or follow the rules (‘lil Tommy Cruise) or really belong to any community or identity group (Samuel Maverick). The maverick is someone who acts alone and without others; who either rejects their community or doesn’t belong to one. It is this lack of belonging (and connection) that distinguishes the maverick from the troublemaker (at least, the troublemaker-as-virtuous-moral-agent).

Troublemakers do not act on their own. They act on behalf of and from within (even if from the fringes) a community or communities. They are selves-in-relation who are connected to others. And, in the words of J Butler, they are selves who are vulnerable, undone by, responsible for and to others. They are not loners. And their actions are not meant to isolate them from their communities.

In contrast, mavericks distance themselves from their communities; they act alone. A major point of their mavericky (thanks, Tina Fey!) behavior is to stake a claim as an individual who is not beholden to anyone. Hmm…The American Individual writ large. Yes, it makes sense that maverick, as a term, originates in the U.S. (and especially in Texas). It fits with the American ethos of wide open spaces, freedom as being left alone to do what you want to do (negative freedom), and individuality.

Mavericks, Renegades, Troublemakers

I was doing a random google search of troublemakers and I came across this article from Rolling Stone (12/2005). It was part of a special feature on Mavericks, Renegades and Troublemakers of 2005. Michael Moore wrote the introduction for it. Here are some highlights from Moore’s reflections on making trouble [emphasis is mine]:

Thanks to a number of individuals who, in 2005, dared to step out of line and say something real, the public had begun a seismic shift away from the chokehold of uniform and uninformed thought.…As a rule, we are instructed from childhood that serious consequences shall arise if we dare to rock the boat. We learn instinctually that it is always better to go along so that we get along. To slip off the assembly line of group think means to risk ridicule, rejection, banishment. Being alone sucks, but being alone while you are attacked, smeared and scorned is about the same as picking up a hot poker and jamming it in your eye. Who in their right mind would want to do that? Especially when conformity to the community offers as its reward acceptance, support, love and the chance to be comfortably numb.

So, troublemaking (and rebelling, rabble-rousing, being a brat–which are all categories in this special issue) is: daring to step out of line; saying something real; and shifting away from uniform and uninformed thought–from being the same and being ignorant.

We don’t make trouble because: there are serious consequences for rocking the boat (troubling the waters); refusing to participate in group think is risky and leads to rejection and ridicule; challenging others is often an ostracizing and solitary endeavor which can lead to violent attacks; and conformity is comfortable and comforting.

Note: Moore’s description of being attacked because you rock the boat as the equivalent of jamming a hot poker in your eye reminds me of Theodor Adorno and this passage from Minima Moralia: “The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.” I will have to find my copy of the book (at least I think I have a copy) and reread it. That might provide for an intriguing way in which to read Moore’s comments.

Here is some more of Moore’s introduction:

This year’s mavericks and rabble-rousers stuck their necks out — and they didn’t get them chopped off. They helped the nation make a turn toward the truth, and average Americans began to speak their minds freely in the diners and the churches and the bars, little words of discontent and dissent and growing outrage. You can argue that it was five years and 2,100 dead soldiers too late. Or you can say that Americans may be slow learners, but when we finally figure something out… well, watch out. A new majority forms, and there can be no stopping it. Stands taken by this year’s troublemakers had become, by year’s end, the mainstream position of the American people. Every poll shows the same thing: The majority now oppose the war and no longer trust the president when he speaks. The time is ripe to get this country back in the hands of the majority. Will we seize the moment? Or will we need a whole new crop of rebels next year to keep us honest? Thank God we will still have artists and writers and everyday citizens willing to sign up for the call. Those who dare to be different are the closest thing we have to a national treasure.

This passage raises some interesting questions for me: Can we be a nation of troublemakers? Or, if troublemakers become the majority do they lose their ability to make trouble? What is the process that occurs when troublemakers unsettle us to the point that we listen–really listen–to what they have to say? The image I get of the troublemaker from Moore’s description here is that of someone (or a bunch of someones) who provoke us into action. These troublemakers are not part of the action, instead, they cause the action. But, is that the only role of the troublemaker? What kind of action is troublemaking itself? And, how can troublemakers participate in the action themselves?

Finally, what do we make of Moore’s final statement: “Those who dare to be different are the closest thing we have to a national treasure”? If you are part of the majority can you dare to be different? Earlier in the passage, Moore argues that the majority of American’s disagree with the direction of the country and the President (this is 2005, remember). If you are part of that majority and you share the same opinion, can you dare to be different (whatever that means) and still be part of the majority? If not, is Moore suggesting that those who are different–who stand out, who don’t conform and who are willing to challenge the mainstream–are not us (the majority) but simply treasures (objects) that we should keep around to remind us of where we are going wrong or how we should change? If so, where and how do these figures fit into the community–are they just exalted figures that are different from us OR can we learn to be our own troublemakers?