Revolt Against The New Conformity
Let’s talk about how to be outliers (and who knows—maybe start the big cultural movement of the 2020s.)
Last week I wrote about The New Conformity—the alarming and depressing sameness of thought and style driven by social media giants and enabled more and more by AI. This conformity goes far beyond any idea of “conservatism” or “wokeness.” It defines what is “aesthetic” and what is not, what is acceptable self-expression and behavior and what is “cringe,” and who is worthy of basic dignity and respect. People uphold it with brute force in the form of cyberbullying. Because of social media’s influence on traditional media and other corporations, it even goes beyond the boundaries of social media.
Who benefits from the New Conformity? The billionaire owners of social media companies. Other billionaires, who make the most money when everyone behaves in predictable ways. Owners of companies that literally bank on our manufactured desires to become more acceptable and on our complacency in a system that makes the very rich ever richer. A few pretty people, but never for long.
Who benefits? Certainly not art. Certainly not literature. Definitely not us.
Anyway, the post struck a nerve. People said things like…
I would have hoped that technology…would have produced a Harlem Renaissance of variety in tastes and a depth of progress… Regrettably, expression in this world has become a Lipton instant soup instead of the rich and varied stew it should be.
How easy to pile on or even silently accept group think. Sadly, alternative ideas to the mob will get you cancelled.
It’s important here to distinguish between an outlier and a counter-conformist… outliers…are mindfully independent thinkers who celebrate their oneness without any condemnation, or even comparisons at times, of others.
I…wonder when the pendulum will swing back against it and what that will look like, and hope that it means individuality with no strings attached will be celebrated instead of pounded down like a nail sticking out.
The Definition of Outlier
I really liked the word outlier in one of those comments, so I used it for this post (though I also considered renegade.) The word outlier can mean “a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system” (Oxford Languages.) This makes a lot of sense when we talk about being detached from a conformist society.
Outlier can also mean “a person or thing that is atypical within a particular group, class, or category” (Merriam-Webster). Outliers don’t behave in the expected ways.
Avoiding the New Conformity means being able to recognize and resist, in the moment, the pressure to conform. It means cultivating a habit of independent and original thought.
These are some of my ideas on how to be an outlier. They are mostly ideas I came up with for myself, so they may or may not be interesting to you!
2. Resist Pile-Ons
If a politician has done something egregious, we can consider taking effective political action. If a not-powerful person has done something egregious and is being criticized for it, our additional opprobrium is not needed. If someone is being unfairly ridiculed or harassed, we can say something in their defense.
3. Share the Unorthodox
Share thoughts that matter to us even if we’re in the minority. Politely dissent with conformist speech, even if it’s among our “own people.” If we’re so inclined, share images that reflect our reality and/or our personal aesthetic, even if they don’t fit conformist ideas of how to look, dress, decorate, eat, travel, or be.
4. Keep an Open Mind
We can pride ourselves on knowing that issues are complicated, that media outlets often lack both the incentive and the bandwidth to be accurate and even-handed, and that it’s worth considering outlier opinions. We can remember that we’re not even required to have a settled opinion on every single issue.
6. Seek Out Face-to-Face Interactions
Social media interactions can be rewarding, but gamification of human connection, through likes and comments, affects what we say and how we say it. The algorithm may bury what we share, making us feel unloved, and the asynchronous conversations can lead to shallowness and misunderstandings. In-person or Zoom get-togethers can enable more original conversations that aren’t as controlled and analyzed.
7. Cultivate Our Personal Style
Never mind what’s “in” or “out” in home decor; what makes us happy? Ignore fashion trends; what clothes make us feel the most like ourselves? Shopping at independent shops, thrift stores, and flea markets may help us escape sameness in design, and our purchase data won’t be as useful to corporate algorithms.
8. As Much as Possible, Avoid Overwork
The feeling that we should constantly be doing something useful, which creates terrible anxiety, is integral to the New Conformity. Cultivating our own tastes and style takes time. If we’re overworked, we’re more likely to turn to low-effort mindless scrolling (which zaps our creativity and energy even further). Let’s recognize that productivity is not moral superiority.
9. DO NOT USE AI FOR WRITING OR DESIGN
and criticize companies that do.
When you use AI to write, you’re voluntarily giving up your individual voice and helping yourself forget how to express yourself. This is conformity and compliance in its most abject form.
When you use AI design, you’re using a program that stole millions of people’s original photographs and pieces of artwork without their consent, and you’re contributing to the creation of a world where artists cannot meaningfully profit from their art, which is devastating to our culture.
The Transcendentalist Connection
In the 1820s and 1830s, American transcendentalism was a philosophical movement that took exception to conformity and focused on the importance of being an individual rather than following the crowd. Back then, “the crowd” included one’s New England neighbors, one’s local church, and universities. I think that due to the more pervasive influence of social media today, thinking for oneself and knowing oneself may be even more difficult, but to me, the writing of transcendentalist writers such as Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau are more relevant than ever.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
What are your thoughts on being an outlier?
Does some of this sound right to you? Do you have a completely different point of view? Let us know in the comments! I always learn a lot this way. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading, and have a great (and original) rest of your week!