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In this age, the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee

to custom, is itself a service.


- John Stuart Mill, philosopher and economist (1806-1873)

This is an extremely complicated issue.

We need to have a certain amount of conformity in order to have a cohesive society


with rules and laws that are followed by most people. Yet total conformity creates
the situation where people can be led into tragic circumstances, such as happened
in Germany in the 1930s or Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s.

Social pressure (aka peer pressure) is what holds together a culture, a people, a
tribe or a nation. Yet social pressure in the form of peer influence can be taken
to excess, leading to prejudice and extreme political idealism.

Not enough will cause a group to fall apart. Too much will result in oppression.

A balance is needed. But who decides what the balance should be? There must be
nonformists in order for the boundaries of what is acceptable to the group to take
form and substance. Too many nonconformists and you have anarchy.

Or at least that is what we have been led to believe by those who want to increase
conformity by tightening rules and laws to make people more "the same," often
supposedly for their own protection. What if a cultural group had too many
nonconformists? Would it fly apart and disappear?

Social groups have predictable "laws" of nature, just like other kinds of natural
laws. People need to be together in groups for their own protection and mutual
benefit. We established that 12,000 years ago when agriculture first began in the
Middle East. Being together means requiring a certain amount fo conformity. People
will create their own structures of conformity, no matter what the circumstances.

Conformity requires consensus, though not necessarily unanimity. A majority must


agree on how its members will act and what behaviours are wrong.

What if there were total unanimity? First of all, every society has total
unanimity in the form of laws that its members may not kill each other, as well as
other laws without which the numbers of the group would reduce markedly.

Outside of those cases, total unanimity never happens. If it did, social and
economic stagnation would occur. The group would become, in effect, inbred and
eventually be overcome by another group.

We need nonconformists, as Mill said. However, he also suggested that being a


nonconformist in a society where personal freedoms are severely restricted is a
service to the group. One may even venture to say that a nonconformist is a hero,
of sorts. The group could not exist in a healthy manner without those who oppose
total conformity.

We need the "others." We don't have to put them in prison for treason. However, we
do need to listen to what they have to say in order for us to strike a balance in
the way we conduct our social lives.

Without the "others," we would have no clear way to define ourselves.

Bill Allin
'Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,'
striving to shine a light in the dark corners of life so we can all see what
should be there.
Learn more at http://billallin.com