I’m of two minds about conformity. It is a social good to cooperate with certain rules that help us stay alive such as health standards, highway traffic regulations, and laws aimed at curbing violent crime and fraud. However, there are some other rules that direct us to forgo our individuality and behave like a flock of sheep. In other words, there are pragmatic reasons to conform to traffic flow patterns on a freeway; but there are rules invented by subcultures to keep us in line with their particular social norms.
“The race of man, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity.”–biographer and critic Carl Clinton Van Doren
Arguably, humans are social creatures. To varying degrees we crave to belong to herds. Yet, to varying degrees we crave independence and uniqueness. For instance, the advertising agency hired to promote the sales of Lincoln Continental automobiles presents a commercial video that highlights the benefits of purchasing that particular brand of car. We are told that one of the best reasons to purchase such a vehicle is that we will enjoy a unique ownership experience.
If we pause to analyze such a claim, we realize that such ownership is far from unique. After all, some 8,700+ new Lincoln Continentals were sold in the United States last year. In addition, there were probably thousands of pre-owned Continentals sold privately or through dealerships. These numbers do not make me think of uniqueness. So, although the idea of unique individuality may be a selling point, there is the accompanying notion that to own a new version of that model of car gives the owner the cachet of belonging to an elite social subculture of Lincoln owners.
This dichotomy is common in many other everyday aspects of our lives. For instance, blue denim jeans were once thought of as statements of rebellion and radical individuality. However, I cannot think of a more ubiquitous article of clothing than blue jeans. If any one type of trouser qualifies as a global uniform, it’s the blue jean. I am safe in claiming that probably the vast majority of people reading this sentence owns at least one pair of blue jeans.
“If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.”–writer H. P. Lovecraft
There are serious social taboos surrounding the subject of religion around the world. Not only are we strongly encouraged to belong to a religion, there are sometimes fatal consequences for people who choose not to conform. It’s difficult to think of a more controversial topic than conforming to religions. This field is polarizing and beset with land-mines. I only mention it in passing because it is a global issue.
The purpose of this short article was to seed thought about the subject of conformity because it is so easy to go about our day to day activities conforming to routine and comfortable pre-conceived notions about life. We conform our thoughts and actions to our own boxes. It’s good to examine how and why we conform.