Non-conformity

Non-conformity is generally understood as a deviation from a default, standard or expectation and is a feature of the individualist mindset which has many facets. It gained popularity in the 1950s, although it appeared for a while in the 1920s, probably supported by the feminist movement that emerged from the suffragettes. However, most artists are non-conformist in some way, which is why they are noticed, and have been for millennia. Anyone who is noticed is usually non-conform in some way, and this applies to all walks of life. In the past, non-conformism was said to be a failure or refusal to conform to an established church, and there were groups who called themselves “dissenters”, although revered religious figures were very often originally non-conformists, and it is extremely necessary for some people to stand out so that society gets different perspectives. Some examples of non-conformists are Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, members of the Occupy Wall Street movement and high school subcultures such as punk or goth.

So, non-conform behaviour includes social behaviour that is somehow different, and for a long time the West had a collectivist attitude towards social behaviour and did not allow nonconformity. As far as interactions between people are concerned, there are of course aspects that require our attention. In particular, we need to pay attention to whether nonconformity is dangerous, either for the individual or for society as a whole, but also whether people who cannot defend themselves are exploited, forced into non-consensual activities or abused by stronger people. Conformity is a socio-psychological process whereby a person ideally follows group norms and social conventions to avoid this. This person adopts the accepted values, beliefs, laws, and norms to gain security in the group.

Having said that, nonconformity is a freedom that brings many benefits: people can think outside the box, discover new ways of expression, and even have new experiences that enhance our understanding of existence. The compulsion to conform can also be a constraint that is detrimental to mental health, especially when it limits ideas, visions, and constructive thinking. However, nonconformity is only something because the opposite is a prevailing position and describes how most people behave. Indeed, it is important to know the basics, whether in social behaviour or in developing a skill, before deciding on nonconformity. It may be a choice that is often an inner need, calling or conviction, but some choose nonconformity just to be different, or the will to resist a norm that is somehow repulsive. The ways and means of being non-conform are so varied that I could not even list them, but they range from habitual behaviour to sexual preferences, from lifestyle to cosplay.

Even collectivist societies have accepted nonconformity in certain areas of life, especially in entertainment and areas of expression where the West is a competitor, because, again, there is a need to be seen or stand out. However, we can see that the desire to be non-conform can also be banal, unreflective, or very dangerous in very young or immature people. Without understanding the basics of sensible interaction, these people simply feel the need to be special or to be seen, and many fear sinking into insignificance. The media provides a dichotomy of flashy celebrities on the one side and young people who feel they are not being noticed by anyone on the other. To reinforce the desire to be seen, some do things that cause controversy, which in turn confirms their bias. Controversy makes them feel alive, while the humdrum existence they observe around them looks like a precursor to death.

This may be because, unlike the experiences of older generations, their physiological and security needs are met to some extent, and they do not need to ensure that they are secured. Their search for a sense of belonging and esteem outside the family, which may be dysfunctional, becomes so much more important that nonconformity is the place to be. This is especially true for people who do not conform to exaggerated media standards of beauty, who are appalled by the expectations of potential partners, or who are not naturally conspicuous. Young girls and women in particular are often pressured by young men, incited by widespread pornography, to do things that would supposedly give them prestige in their eyes. The truth is often quite different, and once they commit themselves, young girls are often condemned for their boldness.

There is also the non-conformity of quiet people who do everything they can to be inconspicuous, who reject traditional sexual orientation, whether in appearance or attraction, and there are a variety of thoughts that motivate such behaviour. Again, it may be an inner need, a distrust, a non-conforming attraction, or a repulsion that drives people to be this way. With reserved people, it is better for their nonconformity to be discreet, and they feel better for it.

The problem arises, of course, when a generation loses its orientation. Non-conformity, too, needs the norm to identify itself, even if some do not notice this, and it becomes precarious when the norm fades to grey, which seems to be the effect of postmodernism. An attitude of scepticism towards what it characterises as the “grand narratives” of modernity, opposing notions of epistemic certainty or the stability of meaning, and emphasising the role of ideology in maintaining socio-political systems of power is understandable. There is reason to be unconvinced about modernism, which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries reflected the then emerging industrial world, including features such as urbanisation, architecture, new technologies and, above all, war. It was very restrictive, and people increasingly felt like cogs in a big machine. The solution, however, is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but to integrate the stages of development like necessary steps towards a goal.

At the moment, it seems like the majority of people who decide the norm are moving towards more restrictive and authoritarian norms to combat the feeling of insecurity that the wave of non-conformity that seems to run through libertarian movements awakens in them. Right-wing political parties are becoming more popular because they oppose this non-conformity, and more nuanced reactionaries are being lumped in with them, despite their fundamental differences. The shift comes at a time when armed conflict is once again being waged between West and East, an energy war is being fought, and political signals, such as Trump’s presidency, Brexit, and a shift to the right in Britain, Sweden’s new right-wing government, as well as developments in Poland and Hungary, have warned us of what may be coming. This should, for an attentive non-conformist person, be a warning signal that their activism could cause a quicker shift and endanger everything.

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