Everyone participates in social conformity. If they did not, people would drive on the wrong side of the road, face every possible direction on elevators, and forget to politely clap after the show. If not for some minimal level of social conformity, people would be uncomfortable not knowing the “norm” of how to behave while at a concert, in a store, in traffic or at school.
But, they also may never start destructive habits such as smoking, overeating, gossiping, shopping, gambling and much more, which are also influenced by peer pressure. Most conformity, although it reduces social awkwardness, has major disadvantages as well. Here are some examples of conformity that are not always rewarding to the species, or the individual.
Name-calling for young people is the norm, but when done in school, or directed at certain individual traits, such as a person’s color, weight, gender role, social class or differing appearance it causes disruption and suffering. Cyber bullying, for example only came with the prevalence of anonymity of the Internet, but the basis for picking on those who differ, has always existed.
With teens and children, advertising has proven to be remarkably effective to use their sense of needing to conform to be just as “cool, Emo, goth, with it, hip, etc.” and even, “unique” Thus, young people often dress alike, talk alike, and listen to similar music, eat similar food and more. Young women will strive to be thin, sexy, sophisticated and chic, while young men will still endeavor to be cool and quiet, strong, masculine, athletic and stud-ly.
Still, it is not only the young who conform. In neighborhoods of more homogenized population, diversity is not as well tolerated. Gated, affluent or neighborhoods with strict covenants, may not allow people to paint their homes bright colors, keep yard art, allow vehicles that need work, or many more restrictions intended to keep the very beige and bland flavor of an area for the greater majority.
Gender bias is still quite prevalent in most social groups. Few people would bring a blue outfit, or a fire truck, for a new baby girl, or a pink shirt and doll for a baby boy. This is so even though there are female fire fighters, and single dads. Although women now vote and rule nations, many people favor males for car questions, business advice, team scores or technical questions. Women are favored for fashion advice, cooking tips, household topics and relationship issues. There are of course, more sinister role expectations as well, such as women far more frequently being the target of rape, and/or sexual harassment, and minorities and gays being targeted for hate crimes.
In a politically charged environment, as the current election year, people are further polarized as conforming to one extreme or another, as drooling, uneducated, gun toting and god fearing rednecks, and/or aloof and wealthy, intolerant rich republicans. Or on the other side; people are stereotyped as conforming to being socialists, hippies, sexual degenerates, Eco-terrorists, Femin-Nazis and or law breaking illegal immigrants and pot smokers. Never mind, that there is too much overlap to even document.
Conformity in society has real dangers but also real rewards. Perhaps the largest social danger is when everyone follows a mad man, or his ideology. This is historically what brings someone like Hitler to power. What corrupts is not his evil, but his reverent following for his vision of “the good.” The Moonies, leader, Sun Myung Moon, had many who worshiped him. Even very decent Americans fall prey to conformity. That few question policy, such as those enacted immediately after 9-11, is often only examined in hindsight.
Most dangerous of all is the quiet acceptance of a lifestyle that is ultimately soul crushing, physically deforming, socially corrupt and toxic to individuals, communities, and the whole world. The world as envisioned by George Orwell in 1984, or as in Kafka’s work, or the best of all Dystopian visions that portray worlds gone mad with conformity, always depict man’s alienation from nature’s laws, as that which will destroy him, his works and his planet. This is because it is diversity, and not conformity, (and in nature bio-diversity,) which allows all life to flourish, and creation to move forward both in nature and in culture.
People who only conform, or do not question any “rule”, are often closed to any differing viewpoint. At present, a great social concern is the amount of waste, trash, pollution and consumer mentality that accepts trashy values and cheap lives without question. This is socially accepted by most, whether or not they believe or disbelieve in consequences of climate change or economic unraveling slowly creeping up everywhere.
Although warnings abound over such issues as hate crime, toxin over-use, overpopulation, violence and up-risings, few people change their daily routine except in very tiny incremental changes – that also conform – just enough to meet the status-quo. Conformity is not something to always vilify then, but to definitely critically examine.