Here we are, living in a time of enormous innovation—a time when those with free-flowing imagination have opportunities open to them that previously did not exist—a time when technology has created a nearly level playing field—a time when we have true possibilities to solve many of the great issues in the world—and here we also are having created a society in which many people are wearing their baseball hats backward.

        Maybe the first guy or girl who decided to wear his or her baseball hat backward was saying “I’m different.  I’m cool.  I have imagination.  I have something to say.”

        But every other guy (or girl) who decided to wear his or her baseball hat backward after that first guy (or girl) is really saying: “I’m a copy cat.  I’m not cool.  I’m not different.  I want to be like everyone else who is trying to be like everyone else.  I have no imagination.  I have nothing to say.  I have so little positive self-image that I am afraid to be different.”

        But then there came the innovator within the realm of non-innovation.  And so after everyone started to wear his or her hat backward, then came the first guy (or girl) to wear his or her baseball hat jauntily cocked at precisely a 37 degree angle from forward (or 143 degrees from backward…there being 180 degrees difference between front and backward—finally an application for high school geometry!).

        And then, dutifully and robotically, those seeking to proclaim their coolness began to wear their baseball hats at that same 37/143 degree angle, again proving conclusively how un-cool, how very much part of the establishment they really were.  And how little self-respect they truly had.

        And then came the seemingly infinite variations on the actions above—upside down, upside down and backward, upside down and backward but at an angle (whether 37 degrees, 143 degrees or some other acute/obtuse angle).  Each variation followed by the followers, lemming-like, seeking to be just like the originator.

        This is not a new phenomenon, however.  Men and women have been metaphorically wearing their hats in conformity with the way others were wearing their hats for what seems like an eternity.   The baseball hat phenomenon is just the latest incarnation.

        Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1841 in his essay, “Self-Reliance,” wrote:

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.   Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater.   The virtue in most request is conformity.   Self-reliance is its aversion.   It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
        That’s the paradox of the baseball hat: it seems to say one thing but in truth says just the opposite of what its wearer intends it to say.  But within that paradox the truth about the wearer and his (or her) psyche emerges: that the wearer is afraid to be unique.   That the wearer is afraid to be different.  That seeming cool is much better than actually being cool.  That seeming different is much safer than actually being different.

        In nearly every dark and foreboding book, movie or television show predicting the domination of the state over the individual, the author, screen writer or director apparently believes that in the future we will all be wearing uniforms.  Uni-forms.  One form.   Individual clothes will apparently not survive any more than will anything else individual.   That’s what a uniform is…it is a mechanism, in this instance a manner of dress, that indicates that we are not individuals but instead part of a larger unit…whether it be a team, a military or the great un-individualized mass that is coming or indeed is already upon us.   We are all destined, at least according to these futurists, to be uniform.

        But the baseball hat phenomenon tells us that the uniform future is here, now.   We are bombarded by conforming mandates every minute of our days and the baseball hat is just one example.   This lack of individuality is reflected in myriad ways throughout our society.   Clearly it is reflected in the nature of those we choose to be our political leaders.  Uniformity serves the goals of government.  That’s the reason that major party candidates end up in the center of the spectrum rather than take the opportunity that their bully pulpit affords them to introduce ideas of individualism.  Innovation in ideas?  Not a chance!  Conform the message!  Make it, well make it …uniform!

        That the primary audience for this captivity of ideas are young people, still in the formative stages of their own emotional development, still not fully capable of asserting their self-respect, their own dignity and identity, means that that uniform future, which is already here, is destined to be with us for a significant number of generations.  As the teenagers of today teach their children of tomorrow, they will teach their children what they, as parents, learned, which is to not stand out, not be unique, not express ideas that are not what others would be willing to hear or accept.

        Again, from Emerson:

It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force.   It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character.   If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers, — under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are.   And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life.

        And finally, this from Henry David Thoreau, in “Walden Pond” written in 1854:
If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies.  The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind.  No man ever followed his genius till it misled him.

        There is a saying that you cannot solve a problem by using the same thinking that got you into the problem in the first place.  Or, in the jargon of the .com era, you need to think outside the box.

        If you cannot imagine yourself as different, something over which you have complete control, then how can you imagine the world as different?   The world is different only if each of us, individually, are different.

        If you really want to stand out from the crowd, if you really want to demonstrate your uniqueness, if you really want to try and change the uniform present and likely future, wear your baseball hat with the brim forward.

        In doing so, you are saying: “I’m different.  I’m cool.  I have imagination.” 

[For similar issues within the context of law and business, read “Dignity In The Deal, “Self-Interest,” “Capitalism” and “Standard Contracts”]

Copyright © 2005, 2019 Ivan Hoffman.  All Rights Reserved. 

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Ivan Hoffman has been practicing intellectual property law for over 46 years and has written extensively about that topic. ( 


This article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice.  This article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information.  This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed.  You should not rely on this article in any manner whatsoever and you should not draw any conclusions of any sort from this article.  The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you.  This article is based on United States laws but the laws of other countries may be different.  You should consult with an attorney familiar with the issues and the laws of your country.  This article does not create any attorney client relationship and is not a solicitation.      



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