During long automobile trips our family sometimes sang songs to pass the time. Often they were silly, repetitive ballads that seemed to go on forever. One such song went like this:
Thirteen men in a boarding house bed.
Roll over, roll over.
They all rolled over when anyone said,
Roll over, roll over.
One of them thought it would be a great joke
Not to roll over when anyone spoke,
And in the confusion he got his neck broke.
Roll over, roll over.
Twelve men in a boarding house bed, etc. etc. etc.
It is a stupid song, but it does contain one important gem of truth. If you go against the grain it will be at your own peril. On that boarding house bed, conformity impelled you to roll over with all the others.
We have witnessed many instances of the power of conformity. During the late Renaissance, for example, astronomical observations began to produce data that seemed to contradict the classical, ecclesiastically approved model of the universe. For many years thereafter astronomers were compelled to force-fit their scientific reports and observations into the orthodox version of reality.
Over the past century and more, we have seen another example of the power of scientific conformity. Within a few decades following the printing of Darwin’s Origin of Species, his theories concerning man’s naturalistic origins became scientific dogma. Woe be to any scientist who challenges Darwinian orthodoxy. Any new find in the field of paleontology must fit into the accepted evolutionary model.
In Christian churches one also sees pressure to conform. Each major denomination has its own statement of faith and theological heroes. The normal pew-sitter quails before the intellectual power of the spiritual giants who founded his or her church. Nevertheless, an independent study of the Bible might lead one to different interpretations of holy scripture. The truth seeker hesitates to challenge orthodoxy, however, knowing that non-conformity often leads to division and heartache. Faithful church-goers often think their own non-conformist thoughts, remain silent, and enjoy the fellowship. Others may turn against the institutional church and attempt to go it alone.
In totalitarian states like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, political non-conformity was often fatal. In the United States we have traditionally enjoyed freedom to express widely varying political opinions without fear of harmful consequences. This principle of free speech, along with the free press, are twin pillars of our democracy. We eschew conformity. Recently, however, political extremists have begun to change all that. Conservative speakers are consistently shouted down or barred from speaking in many liberal colleges. The pressure is on in academia to conform to leftist ideology.
This changing climate has the feel of fascism. Supporters of the present administration have been harassed in restaurants and other public places, and sometimes they do not feel it safe to express their political opinions. This is a technique used to establish thought control. Some of the more extreme activists on the left seem to be saying. “If we can’t win political arguments with words and reason, then let’s shut those on the other side up by whatever means necessary.” Unfortunately, some Democratic Party leaders are going along with the left-wing agitators, and the mainstream press sits firmly in the same ideological camp. Members of the show-business elite join in the pile-on. This enhances the power of the thought controllers, and conservative thinkers are increasingly marginalized.
The political right also has its extremists, but they are comparatively few in number, universally condemned, and politically powerless. Fortunately, there is at least one well-known conservative television network, and radio talk programs are often anti-liberal in tone and content. There is also social media and the internet. A person can get another point of view if he searches for it.
Some on the left point to President Trump as a would-be right-wing dictator, but even if that is true (which I doubt), his power is circumscribed by a free press, an independent legislature and judiciary, and the will of the American people. Far from wanting to be dictator, I am convinced that our President truly supports representative democracy and wishes the very best for our country. His cruel words and ad hominem attacks on political opponents should be condemned, but his actions usually appear rational and supportable. I believe that he actually enjoys rude verbal exchanges with hostile commentators. We hate to see crude behavior by the President. It makes many of us, even supporters, cringe, but that is Trump’s style; and how else could he receive so much free journalistic and television coverage, even if it is mostly hostile?
It will be a sad day for America if extremists win out and honest debate is stifled. The free exchange of ideas is necessary if we are move forward in unity and solve the complex problems that face us.
Citizens of this country often become political conformists without much thought. Many vote the Democratic or Republican ticket by habit. They are often unaware or uninformed on the deeper issues, and they are much like the churchgoer who sits in the pew and leaves theology to the savants.
Think for yourself. Inform yourself about the issues, and avoid thoughtless conformity. Vote wisely!
One thought on “Conformity”
As always, your thoughts contain much wisdom and are greatly appreciated.