Tag Archives: Conformity

Conformity Excuses

From a distance it seems hard to explain a lot of human behavior without presuming that we humans have strong desires to conform to the behaviors of others. But when we look at our conscious thoughts and motivations regarding our specific behaviors, we find almost no conformity pressures. We are only rarely aware that we do anything, or avoid doing other things, because we want to conform.

The obvious explanation is that we make many excuses for our conformity – we make up other mostly-false explanations for why we like the same things that others like, and dislike other things. And since we do a lot of conforming, there must be a lot of bias here. So we can uncover and understand a lot of our biases if we can identify and understand these excuses. Here are a few possibilities that come to mind. I expect there are many others.

I picked my likes first, my group second. We like to point out that we are okay with liking many things that many others in the world don’t like. Yes, the people around us tend to like those same things, but that isn’t us conforming to those social neighbors, because we picked the things we like first, and then picked those people around us as a consequence. Or so we say. But we conform far more to our neighbors than can plausibly be explained by our limited selection power.

I just couldn’t be happy elsewhere. We tend to tell ourselves that we couldn’t be happy in a different profession, city, or culture, in part to excuse our reluctance to deviate from the standard practices of such things. We’d actually adjust fine to much larger moves than we are willing to consider.

I actually like small differences. We notice that we don’t like to come to a party in the exact same dress as someone else. We also want different home decorations and garden layouts, and we don’t want to be reading the exact same book as everyone else at the moment. We then extrapolate and think we don’t mind being arbitrarily different.

In future, this will be more popular. We are often okay with doing something different today because we imagine that it will become much more popular later. Then we can be celebrated for being one of the first to like it. If we were sure that few would ever like it, we’d be much less willing to like it now.

Second tier folks aren’t remotely as good. While we personally can tell the difference between someone who is very bad and someone who is very good, we usually just don’t have the discernment to tell the difference in quality between the most popular folks and second tier folks who are much less popular. But we tell ourselves that we can tell the difference, to justify our strong emphasis on those most popular folks.

Unpopular things are objectively defective. We probably make many specific excuses about unpopular things, to justify our neglect of them.

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Working Class Futures

Two years ago I posted on an article saying most psych data comes from a weird source, US college students:

Americans are, on average, the most individualistic people in the world. … American parents, for example, were the only ones in a survey of 100 societies who created a separate room for their baby to sleep. … Compared with other Western industrialized societies, Americans were found to be the most patriotic, litigious, philanthropic, and populist. They were also among the most optimistic, and the least class-conscious.

The article authors expect US college attitudes to spread to be the usual ones worldwide, because they are just better:

Our evolved tendencies to imitate successful and prestigious individuals will favor the spread of child-rearing traits that speed up and enhance the development of those particular cognitive and social skills that eventually translate into social and economic success.

Unsurprisingly, US non-college-grads are culturally more like the rest of the world. They more value conforming to norms and to others, and less value choice, control, and being different. (Many quotes below.)

Many futurists seem to also expect US college values to dominate the future. They imagine wealthy future folk as super-individualists — gaining even more “transhumanist” options to expand or change themselves, diverging according to differing personal inclinations, and often violating familiar norms in the process. My guess, however, is that increasing individualism results from a mix of increasing per-person wealth giving more personal options and less need for strong social ties, and the world copying the random weirdness of the most successful nation.

Thus when US success is eclipsed by other nations, and when per-person wealth again declines, both of which seem very likely in the long run, I expect more-farmer-like future folk to be much less individualistic than today’s US college grads. If as a US person you have trouble imagining them as like foreigners, since you don’t know foreigners well, then imagine them with traditional US working class values. Don’t so much imagine the low religion, marriage, and work effort typical of today’s US working class; instead imagine their grandparents.

Yes future folk may change in many ways compared to humans today, but less because of differing personal inclinations, and more to increase productivity and to be compatible and cooperative with associates.

Those promised quotes on US working class culture: Continue reading "Working Class Futures" »

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Dear Young Eccentric

We humans are conformist — we typically prefer folks who fall in the middle of distributions, and avoid those from the tails. Yes, we prefer the high tail of health, beauty, intelligence, etc. But for most other traits, we prefer the ordinary.

This situation can seem pretty discouraging to those who find that they are naturally weird. Weird folks are often tempted to give up on grand ambitions, thinking there is little chance the world will let them succeed. Turns out, however, it isn’t as bad as all that. Especially if your main weirdness is in the realm of ideas.

First, being unusual can be an advantage. Unusual tastes can often be satisfied for cheaper than common tastes. If everyone wants to go to the beach, but you just want to hike in the woods, it won’t cost you as much for a nearby hotel. Unusual abilities can also be in more demand than usual abilities. And weird folks can be especially creative, a trait valued in certain occupations like marketing or research.

Second, people who are weird about ideas tend to care more about ideas, and so over-estimate how much others care. You can actually get away with a lot of weirdness in abstract ideas, if you are ordinary enough in manners and style.

I’ve known some very successful people with quite weird ideas. But these folks mostly keep regular schedules of sleep and bathing. Their dress and hairstyles are modest, they show up on time for meetings, and they finish assignments by deadline. They are willing to pay dues and work on what others think are important for a while, and they have many odd ideas they’d pursue if given a chance, instead of just one overwhelming obsession. They are willing to keep changing fields, careers, and jobs until they find one that works for them.

Their conversational styles are also modest and polite. While they are quite willing to talk about their weird ideas, they do not push such topics on uninterested others. They do not insult people around them, nor directly challenge local powers that be. They don’t lash out randomly and scare people.

Of course being modest isn’t enough for great success. You’ll also need some extraordinary abilities. Like being extra smart, articulate, hard-working, insightful, etc. But having weird ideas isn’t nearly as much of a liability as it may seem.

Think of it this way. When some folks go out of their way to show off their defiance and rebellion, others go out of their way to publicly squash such rebellion, to assert their dominance. But if you are not overtly rebellious, you can get away with a lot of abstract idea rebellion — few folks will even notice such deviations, and fewer still will care. So, ask yourself, do you want to look like a rebel, or do you want to be a rebel?

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