The other day on the way to work, I took a good look down the highway near my house. As I headed into work I saw car after car, moving at a snail’s pace, bumper to bumper. They were all probably going to work—at the same time- in the same city- on the same roads. Americans have a love affair with the auto and that only leads to putting up with morning ”rush hour traffic” and evening traffic- about the same thing. Although we all go to different jobs—most of us go to those jobs at the same time and we go home about the same time.
The cars are trapped on the road, unable to escape, unable to deviate from that ribbon of concrete that seems to stretch on forever, front and back, but no more than two lanes side to side. It reminded me of cattle pushing through those shoots on their way to the slaughter house. The cattle go from a herd of animals to animals lined up in a bottle neck to march to their deaths. There seemed something familiar about this. Do we go to a slow death on the shoots of the road each day? After all, there is conformity in having a job. I realize that people need to make things; they need to clean public toilets and other gruesome jobs. But do they have to start and end in such a rigid conformity?
One day I watched a commercial for a little TV system and this girl said: “This is not one size fits all.” What I want to know is: ‘why can’t businesses make a job that isn’t one size fits all if they can make TV sets and other luxury items that do?’ Our society if full of innovations for luxury items in a business world that really can’t think outside the box when it comes to providing us jobs.
There is all kinds of conformity in our society. I remember when the Beatles came to America and shook up the fashion world with those weird haircuts. That led to guys wearing long hair. That was not so unusual in the 1800s when Wild Bill Hickok had hair down his back, just like a rock star. By the 1950s long hair on a guy was just about non-existent. By 1970 long hair was everywhere. Then in 1979 I went to a mall in Kansas City and it hit me: every guy who I saw in the mall had short hair and what I call the “white-wall look.”—that is ears showing with hair around them very short. I have avoided the “white-wall look” nearly my entire adult life.
In 1969 movie Easy Rider, George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) points out to Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) that the red necks that constantly discriminate against them fear freedom. After Billy said; ‘What the hell’s wrong with freedom,’ Hanson said; ‘they will talk to you and talk to you and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual and it scares them.’
There are other forms of conformity. The people who moved to my town in the last few years bought homes and pushed everyone to have similar size lawns with grass that is all cut the same length. People who own homes are really into conformity. Some sign housing covenants which have all kinds of rules and restrictions on what their house can look like. Many new housing subdivisions have homeowner associations that enforce their rules of conformity—all this to protect property values by conforming to a perceived norm. Many of these housing developments have houses that look like they came from a cookie cutter. Even the house colors are designed to look the same and avoid loud colors.
We hear about freedom in this country all the time. There is freedom of choice, freedom of speech, etc. But what Americans really seem to value most is conformity. They don’t like those who don’t conform. That is especially true in the case of religion. Everyone should believe the same thing, according to many people. Freedom of religion is important to them so they can operate freely—but attack those who chose to believe something else.
Yes—conformity—that is what freedom is REALLY all about.