The Socratic Society’s Philosophy Discussion Group meets again on Tuesday, September 2nd in Morven Brown 372 from midday until 2pm. Anyone with an interest in the topic is welcome, and you can come and go at any time; you don’t need to be there for the whole two hours. Light refreshments will be provided.
The topic is: “Conformity.”
In the 1953 film The Wild One, Marlon Brando plays Johnny Strabler, the leader of a gang called the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. There’s an iconic exchange in this film between Johnny and a local girl, Mildred:
Johnny is a real outsider, a rebel who tries to reject everything that society says he should be. The film lauds him in its presentation, drawing his character in stark contrast to a group of local vigilantes led by a businessman. This group is presented very unsympathetically, shown to use their influence to obtain lenient treatment from the local law enforcement, brutally beating up Johnny.
While the film has many messages – about authority, leadership, relationships, identity – it clearly communicates the point that conformity is bad, non-conformity is good, a view which continues to be prevalent in the West to this day.
However, while Johnny and the Rebels clearly do not conform to the social norms of their time, they all dress and behave alike, conforming within their own group. If even these fervently self-professed non-conformists fall so easily into patterns of conformity, this should make us at least suspicious of the claim that conformity is bad, non-conformity is good.
Nevertheless, many bad things have occurred through conformity. Nazism is the obvious example. Teenage drunkenness would be a second. If we’re suspicious of the claim that conformity is bad, but aware that bad things have occurred through conformity, that leads us naturally to the question: What is bad about conformity? Or perhaps: When conformity is bad, what has gone wrong? A second but equally important question to look at is: Why do people conform?