Confronting the Issue of Conformity

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Conformity, or the concept of behaving in accordance with socially accepted norms, is a phenomenon that plagues postmodern American society and is warned of in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley designs the fictional World Society as a setting for his novel, which is characterized by pervasive conditioning of all citizens to discourage individualistic expression. Conformity is not only encouraged but enforced as the only way to maintain a stable society, and the unique nature of each individual is stifled by the overwhelming culture that rigorously encourages uniformity in every aspect of life. Similar notions can be identified in modern popular culture, where social media influencers dominate mainstream culture and encourage certain views while stifling others, therefore encouraging the same conformity to a one-sided perspective. Some may argue that the one-sided drift towards the socially encouraged perspective on controversial issues has only benefited society in driving necessary social and political changes. However, it is evident that much like in Huxley’s World Society, modern American culture as influenced by popular media heavily encourages conformity, which is harmful as it diminishes the expression of individuality and inhibits the progression of society as a whole.

The uniformity of opinions and ideas manifested in modern America by popular culture is harmful as it undermines individuality and discourages freedom of expression. In the Brave New World, hypnopaedia is used to instill the same thoughts, knowledge, and mindsets in all of society. Nobody protests the all-controlling government because they are synthetically conditioned to be content with anything that occurs within their community. Parallels can be drawn between the conditioning of characters in Huxley’s novel and students in America who are all subject to the same standardized education system. In modern society, schools focus more on covering set standards of a curriculum so that every student receives the same information in the same way. Even many English and history classes follow a fixed curriculum, and many do not focus on discussion or implementation of student thoughts and ideas, discouraging critical thinking and teaching a systematic approach to learning that can inhibit the student’s creative potential. Kyung Hee Kim, Professor of Education at the College of William and Mary, conducted research with the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, and results demonstrated that “all aspects of student creativity at the K-12 level have been in significant decline for the last few decades” (Gray N.P.). Students with a high potential for success in creativity and innovation often do not realize their own talents because their creative passion is suppressed during their time in school. According to research students nowadays have the most trouble with “creative elaboration,” or the ability to expand upon an existing concept in a novel way (Levasseur N.P.). Individualized expression and innovation rests upon this foundational ability, yet most students lack this due to the absence of exposure to any situations requiring such creative thinking in schoo. In a research experiment conducted by UC Berkeley professor Allison Gopnik, it was demonstrated that when confronted with an issue requiring mental effort to solve, young children achieved improved learning outcomes with self-directed learning, not direct instruction (Astle N.P.). In other words, critical thinking and problem-solving techniques were applied in a more productive manner for the children when they were given time to come up with solutions themselves, rather than have the answers given to them. However, oftentimes in the education system, independent problem solving is no longer encouraged, and a single “right” answer is enforced as the only answer. Students are unable to express their own creative responses or formulate their own opinions because they are conditioned to all reach the same conclusion to obtain the best grade. It is not as encouraged for students to voice their own opinions or share their input because teachers have a set curriculum to finish through the year, and unfortunately cannot leave room for discussion of thoughtful questions about certain topics. As a result, a majority of students leave their educational careers having no learning experiences that are unique to them among all other students. Errors are penalized with lower grades, discouraging risk-taking and creative ventures in students for fear of lowering their grades as a result, although it is so important to be comfortable with uncertainty in order to make productive ventures towards something novel. Since education is such an integral part of growth and preparing the youth for the real world, it is concerning that creative expression is not fostered in the school environment, especially considering that modern society’s progression is driven by innovation and novel technological applications. In the World Society, every individual in the caste is taught the same knowledge, the same sense of morality, and the same complacency with their role in society through hypnopaedic conditioning. School systems harshly reject breaking the rules and trying something new; these actions are seen as a danger to stability and thus discouraged. Individuals learn to be content with their limitations in expression and many feel trapped and lonely as a result, especially when they desire unique personal growth as they grow older. The urge to conform makes individuals feel uncomfortable or out of place when they even consider going against the social norm, but true happiness and full potential are only reached with introspective contemplation and the will to apply individualistic abilities to the world, regardless of whether they contribute to the “stability” of society or not.

Conformity is also harmful because it discourages individualistic critical thinking that could potentially allow for societal progression. In Brave New World, people of the World Society are conditioned to believe they should be happy as identical components of a functioning society in which they all serve a set purpose. There is nothing that differentiates each individual from the other, and they are conditioned to remain in their allotted caste, never to seek more or less of themselves. While this eliminates the possibility of feeling disadvantaged in any way, it also eliminates the possibility of enjoying thoughts and talents that are unique to each individual. Although the limitation of diversity is not enforced to this extent in modern society, a similar concept of silencing certain opinions is seen demonstrated by popular consensus instead of by the government. For example, in May 2017, Charles Murray, the author of a controversial book The Bell Curve endorsing socioeconomic prejudice in gauging intellectual capabilities, was kept from giving a speech at Middlebury College due to violent protests by students, leaving an interviewer injured as a result. Similar protests have occurred in other renown higher education institutions like UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan, where leftist students harshly object to allowing conservative speakers to give talks at their schools (Mallinson N.P.). No matter how prejudiced or morally wrong any one opinion is, it is crucial for it to be allowed expression, so that proper, mutual discussion and formal argumentation can occur between two sides, and perhaps change one side’s opinion for the better. While many liberal incentives have positive intentions, it has become increasingly common for leftist ideals to be enforced onto people without providing much awareness for the issues at hand. As seen at the universities mentioned, it has also grown increasingly common and acceptable to stifle undesirable opinions when they are perceived as “hurtful” by the majority. In a 2005 experiment by neurologist Gregory Berns, it was found that in a group faced by a simple problem, the individuals who felt a social pressure to answer with the majority’s answer had less activity in the conscious decision-making portions of their brains, while those who answered differently had increased levels of such activity but also elevated levels of anxiety and fear due to their lack of adherence to the majority’s opinion. Ironically, it turned out that the majority’s answer was wrong in this experiment, yet most individuals lacked the ability to think for themselves or even realize that they were not doing so due to peer pressure influences (Marcus N.P.).

Similarly, many feel socially pressured to have certain political views without assessing relevant issues and questions themselves, encouraging a blind compliance to the majority’s opinion. People who raise opinions that oppose the social norm are perceived as prejudiced and bigoted, when there may be some truth to their words or a way to open peaceful discussion and logically prove them right or wrong. Unfortunately, discussion is made impossible due to their fear of speaking out and being met with overwhelming dissent or because the majority actively seek to keep them from speaking out, labelling their opinions as “hate speech” without a logical analysis of why these opinions may exist in the first place. A universal ability to acknowledge other’s opinions is crucial as is being able to hold thoughtful discussions and encourage a consensus that allows for societal progression as a whole. Many political issues are at a stalemate because neither side can agree to disagree and work to meet a compromise. People have come to focus on discrediting the other side’s opinion and no longer work to reach conducive agreements, which has kept most pertinent issues from being resolved. In the World Society, conformity is used by the government not only to maintain order and stability, but also to keep the people from even considering individualistic expression. Although it may not be intentional, a similar movement can be identified in modern society except enforced by social pressures rather than a manipulative government system. This encourages maintenance of a uniformity of viewpoints and ideas, which may be intended for the common good, but in reality, breeds an ignorant generation of people who are unable to think for themselves. Discouragement of individualized critical thinking undermines the ability of each succeeding generation’s ability to propose potential out-of-the-box solutions to persisting societal problems, leading to slowed advancement in a positive direction, and perhaps even regression.

In conclusion, there are distinct parallels between the adherence to conformity in Huxley’s dystopian society and that of the American society today. Although complying to social norms is a phenomenon encouraged by the society itself through social pressures heightened by media influence rather than one enforced by a totalitarian government, its effects on individualism are very similar in both scenarios; conformity stunts creative individualistic expression and inhibits growth as a whole society, which thus undermines the ability to reach a state of true happiness and achieve beneficial changes for the community. It is necessary for proposed changes to the status quo to be tolerated and considered to create and environment where many in American society’s current state do not have to feel limited in their ability to express their opinions and expose their unique capabilities. Doing so would not only open opportunities for the people on an individual level but could also encourage collective improvement as a society.

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Confronting the Issue of Conformity. (2019, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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