Blog 2023 11 25 Nonconform by Gergely Böszörményi-Nagy

Nonconform by Gergely Böszörményi-Nagy

When I went to university, I started to read a lot. After some time, the books we had at home didn’t satisfy my appetite and I started to buy lots of books. I kept buying books pretty much until we moved from Hungary to France. At that point, I realized how much space they take and how difficult it is to move them. Since then, I barely buy books. I don’t read less, I just simply read them on my Kindle or sometimes directly on my laptop.

Though every year when we go back to Hungary I do buy some books in Hungarian. I seriously limit their number, I only buy books that I cannot get in an electronic format. This year, I bought 2 books and one of them is called Nonconform - The reading book of the future by Gergely Böszörményi-Nagy. The author is the chairman of the board for Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design and also the founder of Brain Bar Budapest.

This book is not available in English. If you want to read it, you must learn Hungarian :)

The main idea behind the book is that we are almost always facing the same ideas in the mainstream media and any differing opinions are either ridiculed or simply not presented. This book shares 28 conformist statements and presents the non-conform answers to them. Each answer has many references, the book obviously cannot go into deep details but you have plenty of materials to follow up on.

The discussed ideas are organized around 4 topics:

  • Evolution and politics
  • Climate and war
  • Identity and innovation
  • Against conformism with intelligence and belief

Before digging into the details, there are two important things I want to mention

  • The book doesn’t discuss ideas such as the Earth is flat or the climate doesn’t change. (Though it discusses both the reasons and the effects of the climate change)
  • As the author explained in an interview, he doesn’t want to say that the nonconform answers are always completely true. Sometimes he doesn’t agree with them, sometimes one contradicts the other. Even though that’s the same case with the conform answers… Still, he finds it important that people are aware of the different opinions and in a fair way. Answers have to be taken seriously and we must be able to talk about them in a civilized way. Given how the media and many universities work nowadays, this is already a nonconformist idea.

So let’s see 3 pairs of answers from this stunning book.

“The basis of advancement is competition” vs “in nature cooperation is much more successful than competition”

Neoliberal thinkers misunderstood the works of Darwin in regard to the sole survival of the strongest. Hence our economy and our society are based on competition. Everyone wants to beat the others.

Nature shows otherwise.

It’s not only dominated by competition, there are several contrary examples. The forester Suzanne Simard found that trees are connected through a complex network of mushrooms and they communicate with each other. There is a coordinator called the mother tree and it helps, heals the others and infects the young ones with mushrooms so that they join the network.

When a tree is dying, it pumps its accumulated nutrients to the others. When it cannot save itself, when it cannot be saved, the others should benefit from its resources. Trees don’t only cooperate with the same species, but for example, birches are cooperating with pines. During summer, birches help pines, during other parts of the year resources go the other way around.

Nowadays, in Canada, these insights are used in forest management, mother trees are identified and kept otherwise the whole forest would deteriorate.

If we consider the economy, there are novel thinkers who think that race between companies is essentially bad. Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal, thinks that instead of competing with others, companies should try to enter niches that do not exist and strive for monopoly. Competition and capitalism might be good for consumers in terms of pushing down the prices, but on the other hand, the constant price and financial pressure is bad for the companies and it kills them by decreasing profitability and increasing stress.

When a company reaches a monopoly, it has more money to care about other things, such as innovation and researching completely new solutions. And if they don’t do so? Over time, someone else will come and break their monopoly.

A perfect example of doing something else than only caring about the price and money earned is the Indian company, Tata. They don’t only care about making money, but they are also building a deep hinterland. The corporation is owned by a family, it’s a - not so - little state in the state and they always reacted well to political changes. Their goals are the goals of the Indian state too. They are socially responsible and philanthropy is part of their way of daily operation. Instead of fierce competition, they believe in investing in knowledge capital and the intellectual hinterland which helps them be socially accepted and also being innovative.

We live in rapid technological development vs Silicon Valley focuses on unnecessary things, their development doesn’t enrich us, corporations simply mimic innovation

Rich and strong societies lost their intellectual and cultural dynamism at the end of the 20th century. As Ross Douthat said, instead of adventures and discoveries, we choose to create and preserve wealth. Instead of Madonna, we have Lady Gaga and instead of Mariah Carey, we have Adele. We stagnate culturally, which leads to populism, pessimism and rage on both political sides.

Let’s assume we can do some time travelling. A time traveller would face much more revolutionary novelties by jumping from 1940 to 1980, then from 1980 to 2020. The existing inventions became better, smarter, smaller and cheaper though.

The bigger problem is that most of the R&D is focusing on entertainment. These technologies do not make us better, just keep us mediocre.

We live in the era of Star Wars sequels and the self-repetition of Martin Scorsese (whose movies are great by the way).

Jan Eckhout, professor of the Catalan Pompeu Fabra University went as far as claiming that mainstream tech companies that are identified with progress and advancement are actually holding back economic growth. Since 1980 the output of the world economy has been steadily growing, employees barely feel it, if at all. The technological novelties don’t lead to great economic growth. While Google and Amazon almost became global monopolies, among certain groups the average salaries even decreased over the decades.

The situation is worse in the US than in Europe. According to Eckhart, it’s because 1) Europe is lagging behind in technology and 2) we have stronger anti-trust laws.

The Silicon Valley confuses innovation with invention - a general technoreligious mistake. Invention is about a moment when we come up with something, like the combustion engine. But innovation is the long-term process of making combustion-engine-powered cars better, more available and serviceable, maintainable for everyone.

We should support small and medium-sized companies, and startups who are working in fields that are relevant and important for the local societies. We shall not forget that innovation is not only possible during inventing things, but designing, manufacturing, and repairing are also relevant. States have to make sure that not only the quick return on investment matters, but we need “patient” capital

In the era of the home office it doesn’t matter where you leave vs the personal connection to the place where you live is part of our personal identity

Now that I typed the section header, I wanted to start with my own ideas whereas this was meant to be a book review. Well, let me quickly share what I had in mind. When I think about people saying that it doesn’t matter where you live, I think about digital nomads. And I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s practical with kids, but maybe I’m just a coward. I also don’t think it’s very practical with the lifestyle I try to live by, but probably there would be a solution to that. The fact that I don’t want to do it, doesn’t mean that I think it’s bad. It’s a great opportunity, and I don’t even think it’s new. Think about the Middle Ages when in order to become craftsmen, apprentices became journeymen and they left their homes and reached distant cities, sometimes even countries to learn from different masters. Then they went back home. Or not. But usually, they settled down in one place after some time.

I think this digital nomadism is useful in that sense. You look around the world, you learn, you hone your skills and you go back home - or you find a new home, not just a new place every other day. After some travelling, we look for a place where we can belong to.

Before I moved to France, I deeply belonged to the civil life of my home town. At a certain level, I still miss it, but I think my career and family leave me little time to find it locally. And I don’t mean going to the pub with some friends, I mean being part of some organizations here and doing something important for the community.

But I don’t see life through the modern individualistic glasses, I think we are part of bigger entities. First and foremost, I’m part of a small family and we have to function together. I work and make enough so that my wife doesn’t have to work, but she can take care of the kids when it’s needed and she has the time to be part of a charity and help those in need, help the community.

We donate to local charities, not global ones because we trust them more. And that’s where we go back to the book. During the last couple of decades the size of the charity “market” has tripled, yet local civil communities suffer from the lack of funding. People, especially rich philanthropies fund organizations chasing big dreams, revolutions, etc. but few think about keeping their home tidy first. There is always this imbalance between wanting others to change and changing our environments first.

Ordinary people need human scales, we need to belong somewhere. It’s very hard to live a whole life simply being an expat or a digital nomad. We have to find some natural, healthy barriers for ourselves and belong somewhere. While a healthy nationalism is fine, it does not solve the issue. We need local identities and that’s not formed by politicians, but local patriots. Helping local organizations instead of donating to huge opaque organizations is a way of doing this.

While local communities won’t be created by politicians, decision-makers can still help by creating the right type of public spaces. According to researchers, the best way of creating such spaces is by mixing commercial, educational, religious and housing spaces. It should be possible to do almost everything in your local surroundings without a car. That helps both to keep the living space better and cleaner and also to meet more people. That would probably also help limit this extreme individualism that we live in and form real communities once again so that we belong somewhere that is part of our personal identity.


Nonconformist is a great book to read about alternative ideas that are mostly ridiculed or not presented by mainstream media. It inspires thinking, debating and reading much more due to its extensive list of references. Probably the best book I read this year.

Connect deeper

If you liked this article, please

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.