Archives for posts with tag: conformity

You know who perpetually sucks? Those jerks in the out-group. They’ll never be as cool as us in our in-group. They’ll always be the Other, and as such, we will literally never care about them. At worst, we’ll go out of our way to kill every God damned one of them. Remember, it’s not because we’re jerks; it’s because they’re jerks.

Us and them have always been at odds, and that conflict has resulted in quite a lot of really tragic things, in hindsight. However, it’s a mentality that’s difficult to escape. Jonathan Haidt posits that there are five moral frameworks with which every human is imbued: harm, fairness, in-group, authority, and purity. The last three are often rejected by liberal-minded individuals, or at least not given as much weight, while all five are embraced by the conservative-minded, though the first two are generally less weighted than for liberals. Haidt suggests that while a focus on the in-group, authority, and purity can lead to terrible outcomes, they are needed for social cooperation in the long term. Cohesion requires solidarity, and solidarity requires some degree of enforceable rigidity.

We need union. We need to be a part of a group. We are social creatures. The nature of that group is important, however. Conformity within the in-group is problematic. Conformity means that abnormal behaviour, even benign abnormal behaviour, becomes stigmatized. Michael Warner describes a modern reality where gays are becoming part of a sterile “normal”, where they will be accepted so long as they blend in to the sexual status quo. Marriage is encouraged because it offers a legitimacy to a gay relationship, even if by doing so it still delegitimizes other, non-state recognized relationships such as polyamory, casual encounters, or cohabitation. Deviance is still deviant, and gays are only accepted so long as they conform to the generally puritanical sexual standards of the West. This is obviously despite the fact that homosexuality itself was once considered inherently deviant, and seeking conformity to a shaming culture belittles the underlying goals of the movement.

The shame of deviance is problematic for more than just sexual minorities. New ideas are quashed because they do not fit with the current paradigm. Information that is in conflict with the accepted group ideology is swept under the rug which means that any output generated can only be considered propaganda. Consider a political party; are they going to champion new research that disagrees with their values? Is the backbencher going to have a say if they aren’t going to toe the party line? Of course not. Social conformity on the macro level is just the expansion of partisanship to a larger ideology.

Can we have union without the perils of conformity? In truth, we cannot. There will always need to be a thread that interweaves throughout society that binds everyone together. However, the perils can be mitigated. Celebrating deviance from the norm is in fact a form of conformity. If everyone is called upon to support diversity, that is in itself a structure of conformity. Consider this quotation from Karl Popper:

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

Relativism fails because it simply becomes an argument for nihilism, but absolute relativism, where relativism is itself something that is demanded, creates an ideology that can be successfully promulgated. There are of course other factors to be taken into account (universal tolerance could potentially lead to the acceptance of child molestation, for example), and to go through a full list isn’t something that I’d like to get into just now, but the basic foundation that Warner suggests is focused on personal autonomy. We decide how we behave, and society as a whole fights for our right to do so.

However, as with the paradox of tolerance, freedom is something that cannot be universal. There are two types of freedom: freedom from oppression, and freedom to oppress. I’m sure you can come up with contemporary examples of each on your own as people aren’t very subtle when they are describing the type of freedom that they are after.  The two are mutually exclusive, and society can only fight for one. Given the nature of Popper’s tolerant society, the choice ought to be fairly straight forward.

Conform, conform you brave souls; have the courage to be normal.
The mold is warm, comfortable
Do not get up; don’t even roll over.
Celebrate your similarities, relish your indistinction
Sit on the assembly line of easy familiarity; paint over your every feature.
Imagine your popularity when your personality blurs with all others
Everyone accepting you because there is nothing to reject
No choices separating you from custom.
Forget the walls imprisoning you, forcing you into desperate adequacy
You are a hero, one among millions.