Imperial Command of the Raccoon General

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Monday, November 14, 2005


This was originally an essay I wrote to help out my little sister for one of her university assignments. As a referential opinion of course.

Conformity, derived from the root word conform, in accordance to the Cambridge International dictionary of English means ‘to behave according to a society’s or group’s usual standard of behavior or expectation’. The purpose of conformity may well vary however, ranging from simply the will to be accepted in a society or group to one simply not knowing any other form of conduct. Conformity by my definition is simply to be a follower. And as such, I am one who has a rather bleak outlook on conforming, because I do not like the idea of simply being lead like some sheep by a shepherd boy whom I might not even have faith and trust in.

The point is simply that in turns of conduct in a society there are gains, particularly material, but the cost will possibly be, at some times at least, of one’s heart, mind and maybe soul. Society rules or governs through image or one’s prestige. More often than not, society does not endeavor to see inside a person and take what he or she truly is but rather takes one at face value. Thus people with doubtful credentials but with clean suit and expensive perfumes may fare better than the honest souls who look dirtier or do not smell as nice, maybe through the sheer devotion to their occupation. The point here is not to justify unclean physical appearance on a person, but rather to illustrate how society can accept things easier at face value. Of course organizations such as the police or an investigation body would require looking at one’s past and known conduct, but on a general level, most society’s go mainly by face value. This is crucial in pointing out the first, and for me, the foremost flaw on conformity, because by knowing the guidelines of what society expects, and conforming to it, it is easy to disguise the ill content of a person, and even working to the benefit of those with malicious insides against others who are at best, simply honest. In summary to that, conformity guides people to look on the things that do not matter when judging a person.

There are of course advantages to conforming, which as stated previously has a more physical or cosmetic value. If the core of one’s intent is pure or good, then this is for the best, like a graduate conforming to the working world’s standards of dressing with a clean suit and tie and reading all about business despite his loathing for the topic. It is beneficial in that context, because he increases his chances at gaining his objective, in this case getting a job, which isn’t sinful or wrong. The shortcoming is that those with improper or less than benevolent intents may profit the same way too, as mentioned previously.

Another thing to point out about conformity is how it is based, as via definition of Cambridge, ‘society’s or group’s usual standards’. Understand the context of that, and realize that in some ways the values of what society wishes people to conform to are in fact something derived from the past or past experiences. This is less obvious in modern society or group where the values were in fact about a month, a year or half a decade old. It is to most points still relevant. But what will cause the inevitable friction between conformists or traditionalists and the free thinkers or liberalists is when the values in questions are generations old, such as cultural and traditional values of an old race or race with a deep past.

There is a theory called the Red Queen theory in the study of evolution, which much like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who told Alice that she had to run as fast as she can just to stay where she is, that applies to what evolution is to a species or living beings. Life, and its environment is ever changing and quite a furious pace it moves as well, and so for any one species to survive we have to evolve. Failure to do so leads to extinction. In relations to the theory mentioned, the process of evolution is simply to ensure any one species’ position in the cycle of life, and should they be dislodged from their position then that failure to adapt can be extremely costly. Conformity however is typically a behavioral context, not genetics but in advanced sentient species, like humans, our evolution is mostly and crucially in behavioral context. Humans adapt their behaviors to survive, thus the progress of civilization from cavemen to ancient empires, to the crusades and imperialism, and all the way to modern life, is our story of evolution.

This speaks volumes on the defect of conformity because it typically does not encourage adaptation to environment but rather adoption of strict codes and contexts. My example would simply be of for example, a small rural culture who shuns modernist advancements which leads to their stagnant development as the world around leaves them behind. Today, even in our country, there are movements that support or encourage such pacifism, with one being the championing of culture, or traditional roots. It is not the intent here to ask our fellow men and women to abandon our traditional roots and adopt modern globalize culture. There are values which we can take with us, all through the test of time, but there are those that are better of discarded in favor something more constructive for the present. In management, I believe this process is called creative destruction, or at least closely related to that concept. What is to note is that the problem is always, as in most areas, concerning moderate application of the ideology. People as a group, have the tendency to go for only extremes, extremely individualists or extremely conformists. What we need to do is measure, in proper evaluation of needs, environment and personal benefits as well as social advancements, what we should maintain and what we should discard.

Individuality is another adversary to conformity. Individuality maybe more of a capitalist trait than socialist, but nevertheless despite flaws of either system or ideology, more and more the results seem to favor the capitalist, because usually it is theirs whose economy thrives and theirs whose cities and industry are huge and theirs whose people are typically more prosperous. The modern way of life deems that even the weakest have the rights to live, whilst businesses in capitalist environments, like animals in nature, adhere to the concept of survival of the fittest. As always each comes with a flaw but we should understand that the strong is usually the most adaptable to changing environments, thus will always triumph over the weak that is less adaptive. In that retrospect, the strong is not one of physical prowess but the application is more into behavioral and capacity for change, thus given that, even the weakest in physical or other related aspects, so long as they are adaptive to change, have the rights to and will often survive.

No doubt that I uphold individuality, because it defines who we are as a person, instead of some anonymous clog in the great machinations of society. Personal recognition and identity encourages advancement of any member of society better than communal, because it is our nature, the nature of any living being in fact, to strive for their own survival. The exceptions are of course to those groups who have trained their members and molded their minds to champion group progression mainly but not exclusively, though there are times of crisis when even the members of these groups would have only the thought of simply saving their own skin. But otherwise, personal advancement, and the fierce competition generating from that, is what rockets us as a whole into progress. Now, in relation to that, as mentioned conformity is usually of a social concept and typically it stunts individuality, adhering as it usually is to concepts that is usually dated, and therefore conformity actually slows progress, and in this world of fierce competition we cannot afford to slacken the pace.

The last thing that is interesting to note is that the achievements of great men whom we have known to champion today are usually those who sought to challenge the conformity of their time. Science itself is an evidence of the triumph against conformity, especially in medieval Europe where the Church rules religiously and saw forms of sciences as dark arts. While once people simply saw the workings of the world as simply God’s will, we know understand more of its workings through sciences, which enables us to manipulate the environment so as to ensure our survival. This is all not possible if our forefather and ancestors had simply chosen to fully conform to the doctrines of the past.

Looking at conformity in itself, the obvious and positive aspect of it is that it gives us a guideline to how we should conduct ourselves in a particular group or society. It helps us to understand the people better and to allow an easier integration with the people around. Conformity after all reflects on the overall mindset of the said society. The only problem is that firstly, the traits in that conformity may be dated, no longer relevant, or even misguided. There are numerous examples of people, individuals being scorned by the other members of society for not following their set pattern of behavior or even for simply questioning it. I heard at one time a comment, ‘This how I used to do it, therefore you should do it so as well’. I’m sure the object of conformity there has survived the test of time previously, and even while it seems most efficient, there are always possibilities of it being not the most optimum of courses, and at times is no longer valid for the present. This is the age of reason and therefore we need to question the reasoning behind a certain thing.

The problem comes in both directions. The first being that the individual questioning does not agree to the reason given, perhaps it making no sense to him or because it is in his belief the values are wrong. Everyone has the rights to an opinion and beliefs, and if we blame governments for brainwashing its people and giving them misinformation, then everyone has the rights to adhere to what he chooses belief, and the collective has no rights to dictate what a person should belief. Even in Islam, there can be no forcing for one to believe its teachings.

Belief is also the root of the second problem, because in some conformists the notion is that it is wrong to question, it being disrespectful to elders, tradition and culture, or even seeing the notion of questioning as betraying ones root for another, foreign culture. The conformist perhaps believe that some things are best as it is, therefore seeks not argue with the system. This is in fact the core of the concept of blind devotion. And it is wrong as well to view this as part of being religious, because even despite some clergy in Islam, who seeks such devotion to the religion, Islam is a religion that encourages its followers to question. It is foolish to hold fast to a perception which you do not understand. Understanding is importance and the question to believe or otherwise that said ideology must only come through that understanding, which by the way is the right of any and all individuals. Blind devotion is a sign of foolish ignorance as is in many cases in history the cause of greatest mistakes and tragedies.

Conformity is not evil, nor is it plain ignorance but neither is it purely good. There are a number of things we need to conform to, even on my part I admit to conforming to a number of criteria, and admittedly my flaw in failing to conform to some things which are good. But mainly the bulk of what we are should be on a personal basis and not what others enforces us to be because I believe in our rights as a person, not as a whole people but as one individual, a singular being, to choose. That right is sacred to me, and I strongly advocate in its practice and defense from those who would seek to supplant it. We should in fact protect the younger generation for them to be able to exercise this right once they reached the proper mental maturity for it, because even now and near me, I see children being perverted by those they place their trust in, teachers and elders, who sought to make them conforming to all sorts of weird or dated notion or both, like a bunch of ignorant conformists. This is wrong and is perversion of the said responsibility of education. Education is not a tool of the conformist to mold even more ignorant conformists from the youth, but rather an institution devoted to the advancement of thinking and ideas.

In conclusion, I personally, while seeing some of the benefits of conformity and to some extent see that which we need conforming to, it is those who survived against it that will survived the test of time, in ironically in a lot of cases, create new ideas and doctrines for which future generations would seek to conform to. I thus would like to say that if any part of me that is a conformist, and mind you I do not really stomach the whole concept of conforming because I like to be different in as many aspects as possible from the other drones of human society, then I am conforming to the idea of being myself and who I want to be. Ask yourself this, would you simply prefer to be remembered as the John Smith, or the James Lee or the Muhammad Hafiz, or would you simply be recalled as some analog member of a group? The day we allow conforming to rule, is the day we gave up the choice that is our right, to be ourselves.


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