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Bill Bergeman


The Dangers of Conformity

I've been watching "The Man in the High Castle" on Amazon Prime, a fantastic series based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick.

This alternate history story is about life in the United States in 1962, 15 years after the Allies lost World War II to Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.

The Nazis control the eastern half of the U.S. (the "American Reich") and the Japanese control the western seaboard (the "Japanese Pacific States"). There's also a neutral zone that roughly consists of the Rocky Mountain states.

To suggest the story is dystopian would be an insult to dystopian societies - it's downright frightening. In my view, what is most frightening about the story is just how realistic it seems. In other words, it does not require stretching the imagination to envision these events taking place.

Above all else, the most terrifying characteristic of life in any part of the U.S. is the level of conformity Americans sink to just to survive. It's understandable to a point - both governments rule with a dogmatically iron hand, and to resist means either living a miserable life underground as part of a feckless rag-tag resistance or being tortured and killed.

All of this has me thinking about the dangers of conformity. The reason the Nazis and the Japanese successfully rule over the majority of an enormous U.S. population is not just because of their oppression but is more so because Americans rolled over and conformed to their new reality.

So often in life, we sit quietly and passively accepting our current realities, no matter how uncomfortable and unsatisfying they are. Why? Really, why?

    1. We prize personal security over personal expression.

    2. From an early age, we have been trained to stand in line and wait, sit down and listen, raise our hands to speak, and only receive a reward when we do what we are told.

    3. When life seems uncertain, conforming to the present situation provides a sense of comfort and certainty - regardless of how much we dislike it.

    4. Conforming in order to feel certain is less painful than experiencing the unknown.

    5. We're happy to cling to our individualistic values until life punches us in the face. It takes enormous personal resolve to live the life we envision.

    6. If the rest of the tribe is doing it, we have to do it too lest we be left alone with few resources.

    7. Conformity = stagnation: Individual growth stems from being comfortable with discomfort.

    8. Conformity = stagnation: Individual growth stems from being confident amid uncertainty.

    9. When we stay quiet and do not speak our minds, our ideas are lost to history.

    10. When we conform we admit we would rather avoid looking foolish than summon the courage to live the life of our dreams.

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