We believe that we are rugged individualists, a nation defined by the idea that people should set their own course of life. Think of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.”
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Yet, the gregarious man is a somnambulist. We are all highly susceptible to social influence as we continue to tolerate despondencies and disasters counter to our anomalous beliefs with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.
So, I present to you the modern dilemma. Will you be dragged in the wake of the passive flock or will you die alone like a brave eagle on a rocky crag of a great mountain? The latter sounds petrifying, doesn’t it? The epidemic of mankind is frankly the fear and rejection of diversity: monarchy, monogamy, monotheism and presently, monomedicine. The greatest threat to a man bent on ensuring salvation, security and sanity is the belief that there is only one right way to live, one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual and medical affairs.
You and I, we are afraid to be peculiar, perhaps walking on the well-trodden path acts as our psychological shelter, or in a sense, taking the remedy for isolation. Established in individuals since creation is a stamp of our individuality, yet much of life is spent in rubbing off or defacing the impression. Sure, we have the entitlement to various aberrant opinions towards social and/or political trends, possibly dogged enough to publicly express our contradictions with the source. However, sooner or later, we are forced to curb our spontaneous desires or opinions before society deems us eccentric or uncanny. Offend this man and your funding will be slashed. Offend that woman, and you will no longer be published at certain sites. There is too much at stake, right?
The pursuit of self-reliance over communal control has long held an ambiguous role in its relationship with the hopes, needs and desires of society. Conformity and individualism are crucial to the harmony and succession of a society. However, modern life is particularly baffling such that sometimes our vision blurs, and thus our choices made amid confusion may force us in extreme directions of either submission or individuality. Indeed, it’s not pleasant. When nations have experienced slight tinges of anarchy, it has led to pure chaos as individuality in its purest form is quite dangerous. Take the controversial novel, Lord of the Flies by Golding. Conversely, extreme conformity may well lead to the protypical conformist society of Fahrenheit 451 where individualism is significantly suppressed.
Neither of these options is pleasing, so how, in principle, should people act? Such are the questions of ethics and morality.
The plethora of social media platforms worldwide has become a socially powerful force that has integrated itself quite comfortably into society. While it provides an intriguing and cultural exchange of ideas, pragmatically it has transformed into a body of social anxiety and pressure forcing societal norms, attitudes, materials goods and personalities onto us. The agent of conformity is inarguably social media and thus is held responsible for the widespread loss of individualism in users, a trait in need of revival. If individuality is ultimately the act of bucking the norm, when conformity to these restrictions is stressed through these platforms, creativity, and thus individuality suffers tremendously; awfully apparent in many cultures nationwide. You must have heard of FOMO, or put it this way, the Fear of Missing Out. The syndrome has become so prevalent that it is cleverly coined in the Urban and Oxford dictionaries. This phobia is instilled into someone when they begin to feel isolated and uninvolved in recent popular phenomena’s that ensued. I am sure you can relate. TimeRazor found that an alarming 48% teen and 58% adult millennials affirmed to feeling overwhelmed by and obliged to stay current with social media. Following on, 63% of teen and 67% of adult millennials felt that social media pressures them to convey only a certain image of themselves. Now that more information is available than ever before through the multiple means of communication, the herd continues to beckon. It is explicitly evident that Social media is one of the reasons for the widespread confusion in identity today through its endless surplus of incoming and possibly distorted events and personalities. Take the Kardashian clan, who lived with us for 10 years now, muscling their way into the upper echelons of fashion and commerce while sparking an increase in self-insecurity. They flash the “body goals” and lavish lifestyles in the faces of millions of teens worldwide, even acculturing many to plastic surgery. Many sought the nips and tucks with 64,000 plastic surgery patients between the ages 13-19 years old demonstrating the eschewed views of teens today and ultimately, the desperate desire to conform and be accepted. Who knows what the next decade will bring?
Fear not because kindly, Ray Bradbury has provided us with a model scenario. Body image isn’t directly referenced in this dystopian text, yet it does portray us and our fervent obsession with media. Milly, the mannequin of a wife, lives vicariously through the lives of “her family” on the parlor shows, mentally pacified by the TV walls that encapsulate her. It’s quite remarkable how relatable this may be.
This leads me on to the debacle of censorship. In a general sense, it is the supervision and control of information allowed to circulate among societies. International communication and globalization are such major advances in today’s world as aforementioned, so extreme censorship ought to be impossible in this “golden age of free speech”. It’s hard to avoid, censorship is implemented in every country around the world to varying degrees. Even our censorship system is often the subject of controversy such as the classification of films: Hannibal and Lolita and Romance. While censorship may serve to protect large masses of people from damaging content such as nudity and child pornography, there are many extreme superfluous cases that ultimately threaten human curiosity and individuality. Just months after, the big G aced its “Don’t be evil” motto from its code of conduct, Google has evilly planned a censored search engine in China that scrubs results about human rights and religion to avoid backlash from the community. Of course, if a person has never understood what their rights are, how can they fight against the privileges they didn’t know they have? I have to admit China, you got them good. We now read novels of the war against the written word such as Fahrenheit 451 for our entertainment, oblivious to the parallels between our world and Montag’s world. Once again, Bradbury thoughtfully provides famous evidence of what an authoritarian regime will do to quell dissent. Firefighters are tasked with starting fires rather than extinguishing them; singing marching tunes, violently tracking down violators, burning their books with flamethrowers, and erasing their online identities. Book-burning or banning in many totalitarian governments is more common than we think, including Soviet Russia, North Korea and communist China. Many people in these censored countries live isolated, sheltered lives, ignorant of alternative ways of life. Other prescient aspects of the novel, such as the wall-sized TV monitors and “Seashells” — earphones that dial in popular music, entertainment and news are constantly on, rarely giving people time to think for themselves. Particularly for the younger generations, I am awfully sorry. The classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas, so censors of literature is to an extent now that threaten the evaluative skills children develop to deal with controversial ideas in the media and at work. Now I reiterate some of us do not live in a totalitarian society where the government is conspiring against its citizens to withhold valuable information. However, the potential of this happening is more alarming than it has ever been.
Of course, no one has the energy or time to cultivate an informed opinion about everything and anything either. A small spray of specialization here and there helps everybody. However, to have the ability to stand athwart to the crowd, think for one’s self and swim against the flow, will always and forever be a virtue. It is terribly necessary when ideas go stale and the mob is marching toward a distant shale cliff. So, I challenge you to endeavor to be the nail that sticks up, not the one to be hammered down.
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