Conformity

To give you a taste of my book, here’s the section on conformity:

Conform to the norm

Conformity, as discussed earlier, is an important part of what keeps society together. Back with the caveman, it would have been vital. Way before we were human it would have been vital. Whilst it’s still good to be part of a society and feel like you belong, conforming to what is normal or what is expected is increasingly becoming a problem, creating confusion and anxiety, in a society that is becoming increasingly complex.

From an evolutionary psychology perspective, conforming with, and in, caveman society would have made sense. As the cave man, or cave person matures, they go through a rebellious ‘teenage’ stage. This is something we are all well aware of and familiar with in modern society. Back with the cave tribe, this would have been an important time for a newly matured individual. A time to test your strength, work out allegiances and find your place in the cave hierarchy. You might even decide to challenge the alpha-male, once you became strong enough. After a few years of determining your rank, as it were, things start to settle down. You’ve spent a while disturbing the social equilibrium of your group and now it’s time to work with how that equilibrium has settled out. The group still has to be stable and be able to work together. So, after a few years disturbing the balance of power, you now conform, on the whole, to the new group structure and values. This makes good evolutionary psychological sense.

Before cave boy became cave man, he would, of course, already have internalised and conformed to the tribe values. It’s likely that rebellion during the transition to maturity would involve taking these values forward but with the individual trying to assert themselves to gain as high a rank as possible within the tribal norms. So the main disturbance is not too much to do with values but rather who the key players are. Life back then was much less complicated. With death coming at around age forty, you didn’t have to worry about life for too long.

Things have changed. As the Next Level of Complexity in the Universe unfolds, life is becoming increasingly complicated and confusing.

What exactly is it that we are supposed to conform to these days? Well, Authority of course! But which authority? There are so many of them these days. Conforming to a religion or the state is a natural extension of giving in to the alpha-male back in the cave. You don’t want him to beat you up so you work with him and go along with what he says. Today, we don’t want religion to burn us at the stake or the government to throw us in jail, so we tow the line. Mostly though, conformity is more subtle, and we adhere to social values for fear of rejection by one group or another.

But surely with the Next Level of complexity, society authority is melting away? Life is increasingly varied, so which standards, ideas or groups do you conform to? Authority is not only built on strength, as in ‘might is right’, it’s also built on knowledge and information. Rival groups, as within politics in democracies, have different sets of ideas that largely come as a package, for example. Many people identify with being on either the left or right of politics. As the Next Level unfolds, the amount of information out there grows all the time to inform our species. It’s helping us to evolve, not in terms of Darwinian Natural Selection but in terms of the evolution of this whole new, Next Level of Complexity in the Universe. This Next Level will have its own laws distinct from those of the levels of complexity in biological and psychological evolution; hence evolution ‘beyond’ Natural Selection. The progress of science and ‘The Enlightenment’ these last three hundred years are all part of the accelerating pace of this great unfolding of the Next Level.

As we discover more and more about our world and ourselves, there is so much information that it starts to undermine authority, or rather, it’s part of what undermines authority. Authorities that fail to keep up will diminish in significance. More information will also create new, competing authority. As already said, as our emotional states become more informed and evolved, hierarchy becomes less significant and so traditional hierarchical authority becomes less relevant.

With more complexity, more diversity of ideas and groups, there are a larger number of ‘authorities’ to choose from.

The development of knowledge through scientific endeavour has produced a lot of information that undermines religious authority. I take the position that religion was an earlier aspect of the unfolding complexity of the Next Level. It was an attempt to explain and describe society and the wider world with the knowledge and understanding that was available at the time. This is why a lot of old religious tales of how the world was created, for example, look so ridiculous in modern society. Religious concepts also relate back to caveman society structure. They tend to incorporate an alpha-male figure as ultimate authority. Although pre-Christian pagans included more female gods. It seems likely that very early religions had more gender equality and that this equality was closer to what we had in the good old caveman days. Only later did this distort into something more patriarchal, less equal and more hierarchical.

Religious laws are an early example of the creation of legislation. They were early, crude laws. This is demonstrated by looking at how they work and were or are put into practice. The so-called ‘loving God’ would deal out punishments for crimes that are, or were, much harsher than punishments implemented by a more modern, psychologically sophisticated society. The more humanitarian among us see that the death sentence is inhumane, where a God would happily dish out death sentences left, right and centre. Can it be that modern humanity is more compassionate than God? No, it’s just that as the Next Level unfolds, we become more complex and our concepts become more sophisticated. The old concept of God gets left behind. We also become more emotionally mature and complete as the Next Level unfolds. Human created religious laws become outdated and superseded, whether God exists or not.

It is a natural evolved psychological instinct to defer to authority if you are not at the top of the hierarchy. Modern human societies are vast compared to the 100 or so humans living together in the cave. Relative to then, hardly any of us are in positions of what we might call authority. The vast majority of us follow this instinct to conform and we follow it together, en masse. With millions of us all doing the same thing together, the concepts that we are supposed to conform to are greatly strengthened. It makes it much harder to break away if everybody that you meet tells you that you are wrong to do so.

Huge, well connected, information rich, technological modern society is part of the Next Level, with which this conformity instinct obviously has its problems. To some extent, conformity will stifle individual exploration of emotion or intellectual concepts, new political ideas, new freedoms and on the list goes. You might need to break with conformity to explore these news concepts. Because of evolutionary psychology, that will feel uncomfortable to do and is likely to be met with derision. It’s difficult to disagree with the tribe and do something else as it feels that your future is at stake. A lot of the growing ‘Next Level’ edge, challenging conformity norms, comes from groups with individuals within those groups, pushing the boundaries of those groups. Changes in fashion and music are great examples. There’s obviously a lot of conformity going on with people following trends, but, new things come along; someone, somewhere is pushing the boundaries.

In an increasingly complex society, those in political authority are increasingly less likely to have the answers. They are more likely to be wrong. Of course, challenging this can be difficult. In a democracy, or so-called democracy, there are usually two dominant parties to choose from, both of whom claim that their philosophies and concepts are correct. Can we really believe that there are only two choices? There are also many small parties, but these get sidelined as eccentric, wrong or pointless. It’s much more likely that through the conformity instinct, we’ll choose one of the two big political parties. We’ll choose between right and left. Both are big groups to belong to, big tribes with big strength. I wonder if, in terms of evolutionary psychology, we’re predisposed to choose between ‘one of two’ sides or opponents. Typical fights for dominance between chickens, deer, elephant seals or anything else tend to be between two individuals and maybe we’re inclined to recognise this and ‘support’ one or the other. Your upbringing will also help to determine your political allegiances. You tend to follow whichever was the most common of the ‘two sides’ as you grew up. This is not always true as it’s not too difficult to switch camps to the other large grouping.

There are also other beliefs and structures in society that are neither political nor religious. You could argue that most beliefs have a political or religious element to them, I suppose. One of my pet hates in society is football. It’s a wonderful piece of tribalism and something I want nothing to do with. It’s a good old fashioned patriarchal hierarchical clash. Of course to make such a statement, a controversial statement apparently, immediately draws the wrath from those who think that you should conform; you should support football! I remember being at school, at a very young age, with children very keen to pigeon-hole each other according to which football team they supported. A very strong instinct – to create social groupings and bond groups together by all ‘being on the same team.’

Then we have TV, the ultimate authority. Surely everything we see on TV must be true if it’s in a factual programme, or reflect our values if we’re watching a work of fiction. TV advertising is a horribly insidious process. Various celebrities telling us that we should be buying this or that product to make us happy, adverts about cleaning products that make us neurotic about dirt and bacteria, thin and attractive women scoffing chocolate bars implying that that’s what you’d look like if you ate the product, endless tips on how to live a better lifestyle. Who could resist? This links very easily back to cave emotions and evolutionary psychology. Alpha-male/female celebrity X uses product Y and I want to be like alpha-celebrity X. I want other people to think that I am like them. I also will use product Y in order to be popular and accepted by people who I think have a higher status in our tribe… or golf club. What’s important here, of course, is the emotional content. We all just want to be loved and accepted and just acknowledging that can bypass falling for all the celebrity-endorsed-product nonsense. It’s so hard not to conform to what you see on TV. Even seemingly harmless things like comedy catchphrases can permeate your mind to the point where you find yourself using them in conversation.

We all know what happens when someone dares to speak their mind and say something that is not a common belief of the majority of the population. They get ridiculed, even if what they actually say makes sense. A great example of this is society’s attempts to deal with climate change and global warming. We all know what needs to be done and what we need to do, namely – reducing carbon emissions, yet we carry on with life pretty much as before, charging head-long into catastrophe. We’re heading for a mass extinction on Earth and no-one is doing anything about it, more or less. What is required is for global society to do a massive U-turn, a massive change of direction against many of the things and concepts that are taken for granted; concepts that we conform to. Some of these are concepts with massive capitalist clout such as the global economy being driven by fossil fuels. You just try speaking out against that and see what happens. The old fossil-fuel alpha-male authority lies to itself about the problem. It lives in denial of the problem. It is rich and powerful and with its reach and resources, easily communicates the message to us, which we all happily absorb, that climate change isn’t a problem. Conformity isn’t the only problem in this regard, but it really isn’t helping. There’s a tendency for psychopaths to rise to powerful positions. And I’m sure that also doesn’t help with our global problems.

An occasional by-product of modern-day conformity is apathy. The huge weight of all that information, all those people, all those TV comedy catchphrases, can eventually wear down your rebelliousness and your individuality. There was a time when you might have been idealistic, but you tell yourself that you’ve grown up since then. You used to have principles, but what’s the point anymore, nothing you do seems to make any difference to society. You’re not popular enough to be different, or so you feel. Once apathy has set in, it’s a long slow decline into bitterness.

Recognising conformity when we’re doing it is the first step to reducing its power and influence over us. It’s a bit like admitting to being an alcoholic. “Hi, my name is Jeff and I’m a ‘go-with-the-flow’ conformist.” Admitting the problem helps to reduce conformity’s emotional power and helps us to make better, more independent decisions. Opportunities to conform happen to us every day and therefore opportunities to recognise it and deal with it also occur every day. For example, someone might ask “When are you getting married?” Such a question is loaded with assumptions and pressures. My usual answer goes along the lines of “I don’t believe in marriage.” With a little practice, we can spot conformity as it happens and feel a little more emotionally comfortable in dealing with it in a more objective and constructive way. This might also reduce apathy. We can even recognise that we’re deliberately conforming to a situation in order to fit in and enjoy it. We do need to be watchful, as it might be the case that we gain more approval from others when we conform during these experiments, and we need to spot our feelings of ‘being approved of’ and ask ourselves if we really need it and is it worth it.

So as the Next Level unfolds and as our minds become more complex, we become increasingly aware and increasingly free from our evolved psychology; emotions, hierarchy, and conformity. We can make more free-will decisions about emotions, hierarchy, and conformity. We still have those things but we can choose to do more with them. We become more autonomous, self-contained individuals. We are more aware, consciously aware, of who we are and of the planet that we live on.

Link to my book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-not-monkey-21st-Century-ebook/dp/B072PSL2XN/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1495724086&sr=1-1&keywords=How+not+to+be+a+monkey+in+the+21st+Century

We need to get our heads around this.

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