Unity or Conformity?

snippet from Hans Eijkelboom’s book People of the Twenty-First Century gives compelling evidence that the herd mentality is alive and well, even in this age when each of us is implored to ‘be yourself’.

True, the photographs on display are dated, but there’s little reason to doubt the trend toward conformity has changed — and plenty of fashion fads to point to in support of the idea that within our cries for individuality we opt for conformity.

The same is happening in music, our homes, and in (that grandest declaration of distinction) tattoos.

Is this surprising? Not really. Remember, Apple ironically commanded us to ‘Think Different’ so that we’d all buy the same computer. It does the same with iPhones, and is succeeding. Besides, conforming is easy, it’s the path of least resistance.

Is this dangerous? Certainly groupthink can be destructive and violent and intolerant. In times of trouble, that which is different is usually the first to be named the enemy.

But what is perhaps the most interesting is that today we go to great lengths to promote our differences and yet be inclusive. We are in pop culture increasingly implored to find our true self, to be our true self, to be true to our self.

Setting aside the case that there is no ‘self’ in self, it’s worth asking: what if those differences are much smaller, those unique traits must less unique, than we thought? What if all those exhortations haven’t driven to ‘know thyself’, as Socrates suggested, but instead gave us a cop-out to be lazy and settle for good enough: this is who I am — and prodded us down the path to self discovery just far enough that we’re all wearing the same clothes, making the same music, and living in the same houses?

Eijkelboom’s work is fascinating. Among other things, it suggest that the current state of our collective self examination/discovery needs work.