Tag Archives: Conformity

Here, There Be Dragons!

Ship Garthsnaid, ca 1920s

Centuries ago, there probably really were people who believed that there were dragons and demons at the edges of the world. Judging by the widespread anti-science sentiment today, there probably were a great many people who believed these things.

But probably none of them sailed with Columbus or with any other intrepid explorer who set off for the edge of the world. None of them ever found a new world filled with treasures.

Some of those dragon believers may have eventually learned the truth:

Demonizing something is a good way to prevent people from going there.

It’s a great way to keep people locked into place.

And that means that sometimes it marks a place that is worth looking into.

Sometimes a warning is meant to prevent people from breaking laws or from hurting someone else. A warning like that is prudent to follow. Luckily those kinds of warnings are usually obvious. A stop sign on the road means stop! A high voltage warning means stay away or be zapped!

But sometimes the warning is an unsubstantiated demonization of a place or a process or people; if it clouds the mind with fear of it, if it’s meant to keep people from looking further, there may be another truth hidden behind it.

It might just be an attempt to lock you in place.

Image: Ship Garthsnaid, ca 1920s by National Library NZ on The Commons, on Flickr

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Conformity Kills

dominos

Conformity Kills People

Bullies enforce it, suicides are driven by shame from it, hate crimes are committed for it, riots break out over it, war crimes are fueled by it.

Conformity Kills Ideas

No one ever achieved a break-through innovation by conforming or by letting a conformist kill it.

Conformity Kills Organizations

Companies cling to obsolete processes and products, keep trying to do the same things only more. Boards don’t recognize the need to change, executives fall into groupthink and make terrible decisions because no one steps out of line to point out flaws that should be obvious.

Conformity is dangerous when conditions change dramatically.

Conformity doubles down on losses again and again.

Conformity can be as comforting and as dangerous as falling asleep in the snow.

Image: dominos by greg westfall., on Flickr

The Dangerous Group

The young man squinted hard at the lines in front of him. He’d been asked to match a line to another line of the same length. He could see very clearly which it was. There shouldn’t be any doubt.

But the other young men who were seated at the table with him were unanimous. And they had, all of them, chosen the wrong line.

Pressed for an answer the young man went along with the group, knowing their answer was wrong.

To him, agreeing with the group was more important than the truth, was more right than fact.

Soloman Asch, the psychologist that led the experiment, found similar results in group after group. With nothing tangible at risk and no persuasion at all most subjects were willing to let a group of unarmed, nonthreatening strangers prevail at least once.

Questioned later, many of the subjects indicated that they’d feared the ridicule of the group. Some seemed to have even convinced themselves that the group must be right and they themselves wrong.

Conformity studies such as this one seek to observe the level of need of the individual to fit in with a group, but what about the group? What is there to fear from a group and why?

The answer is that groups do have the power to enforce their collective will on an individual, through punishment if necessary, regardless of the rationality, or lack of rationality, of the demand.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), the United States military policy formally repealed today, represents nothing so much as the power of a group to force its own version of reality upon dissenting individuals. Non-conforming service members faced the threat of losing their jobs and their homes, the companionship of their local friends, and were vulnerable to blackmail, perpetuating a threat to national security.

LGBT U.S. military personnel have now gained the right to claim their own thoughts and feelings about sexuality.

The unspoken and well supported fear of the group by individuals is another matter.