Law 14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Conformity

We like to think of ourselves as individuals, but in truth, we are all products of our social groups. We must dress, act, and speak the same. If we deviate too much, the group will unconsciously renounce us.

It offends us to think of ourselves as unoriginal copies of our group, but it is true for most people. Being accepted and validated by others is important to our sanity. We want to look hard-working and convey a sense of style, but not too different. We will speak with the same accent as the group, and mimic certain expressions, especially those of the group leader.

Group belonging is essential to our lives, it helps to think about this at a very basic level.

One man, Richard E. Byrd, who spent months in Antarctica, completely divorced from human contact for 5 months wrote about his experience. He said that he felt that his personality was disintegrating and felt disconnected from reality.

We need to see people’s eyes looking back at us, so that they can acknowledge our existence. It is something we take for granted, but if we deprive ourselves from basic human contact for too long, we will lose touch with who we are.

Our identity is almost completely shaped by our group, and whatever is not shaped by the group, is shaped by people outside of it, who themselves belong to some group. Very little of us is truly unique and original, even though we like to believe that to be the case.

But there are dangers to conforming too much to group ideas as well as benefits. The benefits are obvious. We are social animals, and there is such a thing called social force. When people work in a group, they tap into new reserves of energy. When everyone knows what to do, you find a kind of cohesion that is remarkable and unlike anything we know through your own individual experiences.

But it is less obvious to understand how group-think makes us suffer. The essence of group identity is to think in a binary pattern. That is, to classify people outside the group as enemies. Unity is much more easily created through common hatred than common love. In its extreme, we tend to see everything that is alien to our group as a threat, including ideas. And that is when group think truly becomes dangerous. We become less tolerant of other people and their ideas, and when we can no longer accept that other people see the world differently, we go to war to prove that we’re right.

Mao tried to reshape Chinese society, he wanted to purge all the ideas of the past, he wanted to start with a blank slate and paint a beautiful canvas with new, revolutionary ideas. But what he learned was that the million of years of human evolution cannot be reversed so easily. Within the Communist party, people reverted to ways of thinking that were tribal, and far from free. They were tied down by their adherence to their own groups – a very old idea. Rebellions happened all over China in the 60’s including schools and factories. And the same eerie dynamics were witnessed everywhere. The worst and most aggressive actors rose to the top, the meek became their followers. The result was chaos.

Beware the type of person who cosies up to authority too much. He will make himself indispensable to the boss, so that he can draw power towards him. This type will do lowly tasks such as organizing the leader’s schedule and desk. There is another type that will spread gossip and rumors to get close to power. They will try to find dirt on their rivals and share these stories with the leader to earn their trust. In every group, there are power dynamics that exist, and there are people who will try to exploit them.

Your task is to become aware of who the individual actors within your group are, and what the dynamic is. Does your group reward competence or political skill? Which individuals are trying to get closer to power and are they trying to use you as a tool?

You can never run away from your group, the best you can do is to understand it, and to conform as much as you can, without compromising your integrity as an individual.

Read The Laws of Human Nature

If you’re interested in exploring the darker parts of human psychology that most people ignore, consider reading this short book The Dichotomy of the Self.

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian