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Rules impersonally convey needs, but do they help resolve yours?

1,990 words

Is it better to conform to every given rule? Or better to question given rules that fall short in some way? Perhaps that’s a false dichotomy.


When answers don’t answer you anymore

Anakelogy sheds light on how our established answers sometimes slide into destabilizing problems. Or why some of us see them as reliable answers while others oppose them. Like other personal differences, anakelogy illuminates our differing convention orientation.

We’re either oriented to follow given rules without question, or oriented to question given rules we can no longer follow. We either align with given conventions, or not.

Widely agreed upon answers congeal into the conventional norms we live by. But these generalized norms rarely keep pace with ever evolving specific needs. So we get used to fully living by answers that don’t fully answer.

How painful can it be?

This correlates with easement orientation. The more you seek relief than seek to resolve needs, the more drawn to abide by the given conventions. The more drawn to resolve need than settle for relief, the more you question such conventions.

If you follow the given rules, say, for how to earn an income, and that relieves your economic needs enough, you’re likely to continue following the given economic rules without question.

But you’re likely to question the given economic rules if they fail to satisfy your painful economic needs. Maybe you break the rules and steal something from your job. More likely, you seek a better answer to resolve needs overlooked by current economic conventions.

After all, our conventions are creatures of our changing culture. They’re established more in our minds than in nature, than in how our needs actually function in nuanced reality. Nature never bends to our arbitrary conventions. But nature can provide a window into our four modes of conventionality.


Two-by-two modes

Conventional orientation presents four modes of relating to the given rules. Two conforming to established norms, two not conforming to established norms. Each side includes a quadrant correlating with wellness, and one correlating with pathology (i.e., painfully unmet needs).

  1. cisconventional: aligning with the conventional response to the need, sufficiently easing the need.

  2. dysconventional: aligning with the conventional response to the need, insufficiently easing the need.

  3. transconventional: transcending the conventional response to the need, to resolve those needs in ways not freely permitted within conventional limits.

  4. anticonventional: going against the conventional response to the need, typically to escape the pain blamed on aligning with the norm



It can be easy to confuse a transconventional orientation with an anticonventional one. And it can be difficult to distinguish between a cisconventional and dysconventional orientation without knowing actual need outcomes and impacts.

While easement orientation can be nobly changed for the better, convention orientation appears less malleable. Like sexual orientation, it appears embedded at a deeper level of being.

To move beyond abstract descriptions, let’s see how well each one applies specifically to your orientation with conventionality.

Are you cisconventional?

Most of us remain generally content to coexist under the same umbrella of laws. “We’re a nation of laws,” cisconventionality assures us, “not of strongmen.” As long as you can trust that no one will rise arbitrarily above the law, you can trust we’ll generally function well together.

At least at a minimum of peaceful coexistence. Sure, our laws don’t always serve your every interest, your every need. So we draft new ones. We remove or replace the old ones no longer working. We make it work.

We coexist under what the pioneering sociologist Max Weber called “rational-legal authority.” Laws cannot possibly cater to every specific need, or fit every evolving situation every minute of every day. So laws tend to be intentionally vague.

You hand over your official disputes to the judiciary for clarity. You continue to rely on laws to impersonally convey your more general and stable needs.

You subscribe not only the official laws, but also the unwritten rules. Your predictability earns you a seat at the table. You’re more easily accepted as a prized member. You get things done.

You may slip and make some terrible mistakes. But at least you got the job done. No equivocating. You get right to the point.

You’re quick to take sides in a fight. You subscribe easily to cultural binaries. You see in terms of us-them, man-woman, public-private, right-wrong, good-bad. Nuances don’t distract you.

It’s comforting to accept generalizing categories, as how reality is actually organized. For example:

  • You the exploited worker sits at the mercy of your greedy employer.

  • You the accused gets arbitrarily mistreated by haughty police and prosecutors.

  • You the helpless voter falls victim to corrupt politicians.

You tend to only see what has a name. Anything without a label or category remains irrelevant to you. Opposing categories offers hope for relief from all that pain.

If this description fits you, then your life is something like St. Peter’s. Self-confident, reliable, a foundation for others. Yet you tend to be impetuous, and prone to error.


Are you dysconventional?

Mindlessly following every conventional rule eventually transgresses some higher principle. The religious liberty to keep church discipline matters internal, for example, arguably enables sex abuse coverups. Blind obedience to the law can violate higher principles of fairness, of justice.

The more vague a law (to keep it flexible for diverse situations), the more likely a pain-relieving legally-privileged generalization will interfere with pain-removing need-resolving specifics. Stepping stones then harden into legal blocks.

Where enforced laws increasingly limit functioning, conventionality easily leads to dysfunction. If you passively follow a law that consequently limits the resolution of pressing needs, you could be dysconventional.

Dysconventionality feeds on popular generalizing. When vague laws keep you in limbo, you never get to fully resolve needs to remove pain. You then lean more and more on generalizing for some kind of relief. This easily slips into a vicious cycle.

When you can’t get properly paid to do what you love to do for others, you at least find some comfort in the familiarity of the employer-employee binary. You’re too busy struggling to pay bills to concern yourself with exploring fulfilling income opportunities you’re currently missing.

When you find your situation painfully insecure, you at least find some comfort in the familiarity of the police-criminal binary. You’re generally too busy to realize how people are not literally good guys or bad guys; they’re people (for whatever reason) are not getting what they need.

When you need something politically obstructed by others, you at least find some comfort in the familiar left-right political binary. You’re too busy taking sides to fight for what you seek, so you miss out on what you could get if only it wasn’t at another’s expense.

That’s dysconventionality in a nutshell. Conventionally opposing categories serve best as a starting point, and minimally as a way to relieve pain. When taken as literal opposites, norms spread dysfunction.

The solution stares back you: “We cannot solve our specific problems with the same level of generalizing we used to create them.” But reality is what happens when your beliefs catch you looking the other way.


Are you transconventional?

Have you ever felt an inexplicable tug to question the rules you follow? Do you intuitively sense something deeply amiss in widely accepted divisive categories?

Transconventionally appears to organically emerge to correct dysconventionality. And add some accountability to the more cisconventional.

Consider how the cisconventional focus less on resolving needs and more on relieving pain of needs. Transconventionality emerges to counter this slow slide into dysconventionality.

  • convention drift: following given norms with result of needs remaining in focal aware.

  • convention deviation: following given norms with result of needs remaining in focal alert.

  • convention dysfunction: following given norms with result of needs remaining in focal alarm.

Where the cisconventional find pain-relief when taking opposition sides, the transconventional find pain-removal when transcending oppositional sides. Certainly both sides experience intractable needs, and only by resolving needs on all sides can pain be fully removed.

Violating norms may seem irresponsible to those struggling with their own irresponsibility to their painful needs. Quite the opposite, transconventionality raises the bar on responsibility. “Injustice anywhere,” as MLK put it, “is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Transconventionality correlates with a resolve-over-relieve easement orientation. It’s less concerned with seeking pain-relief, and more focused on resolving needs to improve overall functioning. Pain removal will then take care of itself.

At least I find my own convention orientation prioritizing resolve-over-relieve as an inflexible fixture in my transconventional life. Despite all the abuse heaped upon me for being different, for not generalizing for relief as most others around me, I have always been transconventional.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot “convert” into being a straight cisconventional person. Nor should I. Others may mistake me for fence sitting, but I’m compelled to step over fences to instill greater responsibility for needs on all sides. I suspect it’s that deeper responsibility they fear.

Cisconventional and dysconventional adherents may dismiss my transconventional conciliatory approach as mere bothsidesism—treating both sides of a policy debate as having equal strong arguments. That’s mere generalizing for mere pain-relief. Transconventionality calls out the generalizing behind all such arguments.

If you are transconventional like me, then you are in good company. MLK. Gandhi. Apostle Paul. Prophet Mohammed. Socrates. And countless others beyond documented history. The many transcending dysconventional oppositions to reconnect us to deeper responsibility, to resolve painful needs—and not merely relieve the mounting pain.

Both sides can’t be right, or so I read, heard and saw.

So you generalize with little insight, so you argue with feelings raw.

But if you rush to make a legal fight, you’re bound to make a fatal flaw.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but sometimes they make a law.

You may be ostracized by the group. You probably violate cultural binaries as a matter of fact. You see nuanced points in between these arbitrary oppositional points. You yearn to resolve needs overlooked by others.

You appreciate nuance. Opposing categories don’t impress you much. You see what exists beyond given labels. You observe your needs being impacted by the nameless. You may even experience a spiritual compulsion to connect across these conventional barriers.

If so, your life is something like St. Paul’s. Moving beyond categories, laying down a new path, addressing what’s never been properly addressed before. Yet you’re likely a late comer, and challenging to really understand.


Are you anticonventional?

The cisconventional may easily conflate transconventionality with anticonventionality. Both violate established norms, but quite differently.

Where the transconventional seek to resolve needs, the anticonventional breaks rules to relieve their own pain at another’s expense.

Where the transconventional raises the bar on responsible actions, the anticonventional drops the ball on responsible action.

Where the transconventional unite conflicting sides to cultivate mutual respect, the anticonventional would just as soon blow up both sides.

Sometimes the cisconventional and dysconventional are anticonventional in disguise. They adhere to one set of norms in their public spheres, while violating norms in their more private spheres.

You can find someone form all three of these—the anticonventional, cisconventional, and dysconventional—who project their irresponsibility onto transconventional, whose transcendent responsibility they are poorly positioned to understand or appreciate.

Of all four, the anticonventional likely struggles with the most unresolved needs, and most pain. Overgeneralizations of rational choice theory ascribes more responsibility than the average anticonventional personal can muster.

The transconventional can see this, and risks being guilted by association when not joining others in their conventional denouncements of such lawbreakers. The anticonventional may even mistake this understanding as a kind of kinship. But, no, we’re not thick as thieves.

The anticonventional person’s best hope may well be the transconventional, who sees past the hateful good-evil rhetoric. Until all needs receive due respect, no one’s needs can be fully resolved. That’s the transcendent good-evil paradigm of the transconventional.

There’s more to justice than citing their misdeeds. There can be no justice without resolving their needs. Their respect for our needs—which laws exist to promote—can only be as good as our respect for theirs.

Until then, anticonventionality shall persist. But then so will opportunities for love, if you dare love the less lovable. Well, conventionally oriented of any kind, do you?


Steph Turner is the founder of Value Relating, offering a viable alternative to stigmatizing psychotherapy, by inviting clients to speak their truth to power.


Steph is a self-described transspirit, which is a kind of sacred misfit. By transcending conventional limits—gender norms, religious identities, political polarities, and more—Steph experiences a unique connection in life. And suspects others do as well. This blog shares that spirituality, and affirms others of a similar state of being.

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