By Maria Popova
Groupthink is one of the most troublesome downfalls of organized society. Today, it manifests itself on a sliding scale of severity, ranging from genocide to bullying to superstition to fashion fads to the “Digg mentality” of news reporting. Still, most of us refuse to believe that our opinions, perception and worldview are being in any way shaped by those of others. And yet they are. Even subcultures, the very essence of which is to stand out, are founded on group conformity — or, as James Thurber famously puts it, “why do you have to be a nonconformist like everyone else?”
Conformity explores the issue at the root of groupthink by distilling over 7 decades of seminal studies into the psychology of group mentality.
What’s perhaps most interesting about conformity is how our own relationship to it changes throughout the course of our lives. We spend our teenage years trying, desperately, to fit in, only to mature into trying, just as desperately, to stand out — a point eloquently echoed by one Etsy employee in his recent contribution to the tremendously important It Gets Better Project.
As much as conformity is the currency of teenage years, an incredible thing happens afterwards and, all of a sudden, individuality is the currency.
For more on the subject, we highly recommend Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology — an anthology of 37 articles that examine the role of conformity in complex societies, a timely read the insights from which help glean a deeper understanding of everything from the recent Wikileaks scandal to Bieber Fever.
Published December 29, 2010