The Campaign Against Conformity
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Politics and Activism

The Campaign Against Conformity

I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees.

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The Campaign Against Conformity
Wikipedia Commons

In 1951, psychologist Solomon Asch began a series of experiments on the psychology of conformity, confirming the effect that peer pressure has on judgment distortion. His experiments featured a group of individuals who were asked to answer a perception-based question. Among the group were a number of confederates instructed to answer the otherwise obvious question, incorrectly and out loud, before the one true participant was given their opportunity to answer. 1/3 of the participants yielded to the erroneous majority and answered incorrectly.

Why? Minorities are ostracized. Common sense individuals will be dissuaded from asserting their beliefs unless they can guarantee acceptance from the larger majority. When forced to externalize their beliefs, conforming to the majority is a perfect way to avoid condemnation. This phenomenon could explain Trump's 2016 presidential triumph, despite the numerous polls that predicted a decisive Clinton win. Hordes of closeted Trump voters flooded the polls on election day, seemingly out of nowhere, although public sentiment was overwhelmingly pro-Clinton up until then.

These patterns of conformity are the reason why we warn the more formidable youth of peer pressure, fearing the day they are convinced to do things they typically wouldn't. The consequences and threats of minority status are so powerful as to deter individuals of seeking the truth, following their dreams, or standing up for what they believe in.

The moral dilemma that is presented when we conform against our own beliefs is uncomfortable, but not unbearable. For many, the pressures to conform are a price worth paying for social affirmation. Social affirmation offers us an immediate gratification that often makes it too easy for us to surrender our own beliefs in the moment.

However, large historical tragedies, such as genocide, are proof that conformity can have much larger and negative long-term effects on our society. The consequences that come from conforming to a large majority includes not only sacrificing your personal agency and voice but promoting inappropriate behaviors as well.

Just as the three branches of our government acts as a system to limit another's power, it is important that we use our personal agency and voice to check the power and influence that our family, friends, and neighbors have. When hegemonic ideas or discourse goes unchallenged, it is given too much power over the people.

While challenging the majority may give us feelings of severe discomfort, it is absolutely necessary in bettering our nations politics, the economy, education, and all other macro-level institutions. Challenging a majority comes with the threat of negative feedback. While responses to your beliefs can be incredibly intimidating, the feedback you get is also incredibly useful.

Even if your argument is unsuccessful in impacting the larger majority, there are ways in which we can be positively impacted by feedback. When we are challenged, we are able to strengthen our argument further by addressing issues unthought of before, or, we are able to see the issue from another perspective, and are forced into seeking the truth.

Every subjective topic of moral or ethical concern necessitates dialogue. Productive or unproductive, conversation is enlightening in that it gives us insight into the thought processes and perspective of our opposers and offers us new ways to approach and solve problems. We must not allow the intimidating nature of opposition to dissuade us from speaking up. We must stand for our beliefs with conviction. The future of our nation and our nation's people depend on it.

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