There is a place that exists, between the norms and taboos of society. Some see it as a line, others a stretch that wavers in the heat of public opinion. No matter how it is viewed by the individual, it is omnipresent and integrated into their culture. Beyond it is where dark comedy, discourtesy, and sociopathy arises.
It is the call for conformity. A contract we are born into, which restricts our freedom for the sake of society. A black tape that wraps itself around the conscience.
Such ideas take root during our upbringing. We are brought up on the views of our parents, the history of our city and the teachings of our schools—not just in contents, but in methods as well—we pick up on mannerisms, as much as manners.
There is a danger here. A traditionalism that restricts voice, both internally and externally. Before a deviant act happens, there is the pull of cultural conscience—a conscience that may not align with our own, but is nonetheless integrated. Afterwards, there is the push from society, that rejects, ridicules or shields itself from the deviance.
It is so very easy to label something your opposite, and escape critical thinking. ‘Slut, jock, queer, hippie; Christian, vegan, feminist, socialist’. As if labels were an adequate case for the dismissal of opposing views.
The mass is alluring. Conformity offers a dream of philosophical escapism, where reason and feeling is unnecessary to attain spiritual or moral superiority. It is terrifying, but it pervades all culture.
Pull out further, and the repetitious fits of consumer culture come into view. The media, the markets—a stream of superficial, mass-produced ideologies. You do not form your ideals, you are sold them. You are not an individual, you are a part of the spectacle.
We must peel back the black tape that binds our thoughts. The etiquette that seeks to censor all subjects taboo. There is no inherent measure of deviance outside of human subjectivity. Our normative models are based on history, and history is biased, brutal and bare. Only through unravelling these societal constructs, can we pave the way to a better world, free of restrictive traditionalism that no longer has relevancy in the modern.
We have seen time and again how the vilification of deviance has been used to oppress others; by the Catholic Church, by the Atlantic slave trade, by the patriarchy. There is a phenomenon in psychology called the in-group bias, which explains partly how prejudice arises. It posits that humans view each other as belonging to groups. Those they are within, they identify with and favour. Those they are without, they dismiss and devalue. Pushed to the extreme, out-groups are turned inferior and dehumanised. These distinctions are exacerbated through the mantra of totalitarianism. Remove the inferior from view, disseminate propaganda, and watch society turn. Without connection, there can be no reconciliation—no empathy.
The shadow of totalitarianism has yet to leave us. It rides the cloak of public figures, institutions and corporations. It is a much subtler, more insidious form. It is modern culture, and it is omnipresent.
It exists in the act of bullying, where the perpetrator both enforces their own ideals, while debasing another’s. It exists in the act of shaming, where the mass—the physical manifestation of conformity—haunts the deviant, in a mindless fervour. These small acts of cruelty and thoughtlessness shape culture, and construct the myth of the normal.
For free thought to exist, first, we must think. There is a need to dismantle the lessons of our predecessors, if only to reassemble them in better form. Though we can never be free of our facticity—our surroundings, our upbringing—we can transcend our own self-imposed limitations by removing the ego from the ideal. Our ideology is not our identity. It takes only recognition of such to bring about change.
We must communicate. Without communication, there can be no understanding, no acceptance. There is a need to confront both our ideals, and those we do not agree with. No one acts believing they are wrong, and only through reconciliation can freedom be won, without further oppression.
We musn’t fear the mass. We musn’t hate it. Consumer culture has embedded itself so deeply, that most are not exposed to the question of why. Self-reflection has taken a backstage to romantic reveries. Schools would rather teach conformity than psychology. There is a dearth of philosophy and science reaching the masses. There is an excess of media sensationalism that reduces the world to a farce.
Crossing the black tape is not enough. It must be purged from culture altogether. Only then will we rid ourselves of an etiquette that does nothing more than haunt our every step, thought and act.