It’s an oddity of the human condition that we seek to be both unique and like everyone else. We have distinctions that set us apart but we crave the commonalities that link us together. Lately, however, it seems like we’ve lost sight of the fact that we’re of a type. That differences are okay and unanimity is not a requirement of the human condition.
We are requiring more and more that people agree with us in all things. We are allowed to be unique but only to the extent that it doesn’t impact the cohesion of the whole. We’re also less tolerant of groups that are different than our own. After all, shouldn’t they want to do things the right way? Shouldn’t they want to be unique just like us. Others are seen as fundamentally wrong with increasing frequency. We used to seek unanimity on the big issues – politics, economics, religion. Now we seek it with respect to our food choices. We hold other groups to be wrong but dissention within our own spheres is also becoming less tolerated.
So much for the evolution of the species.
We are reverting to tribalism and the tribes we are breaking down into are increasingly intolerant. We reject the idea that people outside of our circle are like us in any way. We reject the idea that the groups of others who are not us are also full of unique people who we might have much in common with. We reject the idea that we are mistaken in any of our principles or beliefs or that there is any other way besides ours. Being right is very important to our unique little collectives. We guard our beliefs and we do it with increasing venom, thanks in great part to social media.
Our opinions have become simpler as they’ve become more dogmatic. We’ve given up complexity in order to have opinions that are social media worthy. Nothing is worth anything if it can’t be condensed into a sound bite. People are less and less about the critical consumption of ideas. Opinions have become less nuanced. Everything is all or nothing; my all, your nothing.
It’s problematic behaviour.
I live in a country in which a federal election is looming. It is by far the most uncivil run-up to an election I’ve witnessed. Thanks in great part to social media, we’re all able to engage in attacks and challenge conflicting beliefs as members of our tribes. These are very un-nuanced interactions. Many of them are downright unpleasant. We are seeking to cow not convert.
When did uniformity become an imperative? Are diversity and difference really so dire and terrifying? We seemed like we were striving to venerate them for a while there. Is complexity really that hard to deal with? Are tribalism and dogmatism in part a function of laziness? Because holding onto uniqueness and difference in the face of collective pressure can be challenging.
We are all people. We are all global citizens. We have commonalities aplenty. Why isn’t a little in common enough to help us get along? Because it patently isn’t.
Everyone aspires to be part of a group some of the time. We want commonalities. We want to belong even while we want to be special. It’s comforting when we find people like us. It makes us feel more secure about our choices when someone else makes them too. But we’ve moved from “it’s nice to have things in common” to “it’s necessary”. Too often of late it seems like the rules have become, “be like us or be wrong”. Be unique, but only within the rules of acceptability established by the group.
I’ve discovered that I’m not a fan of conformity. It’s interesting because I sought external validation and to belong to the group I perceived as external to me for my whole life. But now, as I work on recovery, I find that I don’t want it as much. I’m reasonably content being an outlier. I’m reasonably content not belonging. I wish that was something we taught more emphatically to our children. Be yourself and hold the line on your beliefs. Don’t acquiesce for convenience. I don’t think the shift toward it will serve us well. In every apocalyptic, end of days, end of civilization book I’ve ever read, conformity was the key to bring human society to an ugly end.