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weeveeship's avatar

Should there be a limit to nonconformism?

Asked by weeveeship (4343 points ) October 20th, 2010

Nonconformism is not conforming to societal standards. On one hand, it is good to protect individual rights and free expression in a democratic society. On the other hand, one person’s nonconformism could be another’s nuisance (real or otherwise) or could infringe upon others’ rights.

So, should there be a limit to nonconformism? If so, what should the limits be and why? If not, why not?

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18 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

I think you’ve got it – be as non-conformist as you wish as long as you don’t impinge on others. That includes your children! Non-conformity should not carry to the point it harms your children.

I may get push back on that; a lot of people say they should be able to raise their children as they wish. But children are not chattel, and society has a responsibility to protect them.

ETpro's avatar

Nah—How would you get nonconformists to conform to it?

DrasticDreamer's avatar

The laws are the limits, for the most part. Don’t murder, rape, steal, etc. I don’t care what people do, as long as they don’t hurt other people.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

Definitely. When non-conformity and Freedom of Speech start to hurt others, they not only become destructive and morally repugnant, but divisive and backward.

I think “conformity” somehow has gotten a bad rap over the last 45 years. I think conformity is a very good thing, and that non-conformity is only good when it is used to fight human injustice. When non-conformity begins to be destructive, it works against progress, and that’s what we want to avoid.

Nullo's avatar

Non-conformity is overrated.

mammal's avatar

@Nullo depends upon what you’re non-conforming to.

Nullo's avatar

@mammal A lot of non-conformity has all the sense of a knee-jerk. Or even more comically, is itself another form of conformity.

mammal's avatar

@Nullo yes that is true, the current system is particularly adept at accommodating attempts at non-conformity, to the point of even encouraging a certain bogus sense of non-conformity, you see it in advertising, but rest assured genuine non-conformity will leave you marginalised, stigmatised, impoverished, homeless or incarcerated in a prison or mental institution.

LostInParadise's avatar

Nonconformity carries certain risks. We feel uncomfortable when someone does not follow the norm. On the other hand, you do not get much recognition for doing the same old. Contributions to art and science come from those who are able to look at things differently. Our society values nonconformity in principle if not always in practice. As has been mentioned, advertisers often take advantage of this. My favorite example was the Adidas slogan, “Be different,” by which they meant you should buy their sneakers like everyone else.

augustlan's avatar

As long as it’s not infringing on someone else’s rights, why should it be limited?

weeveeship's avatar

Interesting comments so far. So, what about this hypothetical:

Let’s say that there is a person X who is just “warm-hearted” (i.e. without malice or ill intent). That person X likes to follow total strangers and leave anonymous greeting cards and trinkets (let’s say clean candy, not tainted) in their mailboxes. Some of the recipients are rather disturbed by this as they have never received anonymous notes before. Some think that a stalker might be on the loose. In fact, some have gotten emotionally distressed over this, wondering if the anonymous giver would leave something more dangerous the next time around. Assume for the sake of argument, that nobody knows who X is.

As a matter of public policy, should the person’s actions be allowed? (This is about should, not “is”) Person X had no ill intent nor did X leave behind anything that is dangerous per se. X just wanted to be “nonconformist” and “do a kind deed” for someone else. Yet, X’s actions are at least a nuisance to others.

augustlan's avatar

Well, I don’t see how we could disallow it, as long as the individual isn’t breaking any laws. However, if I knew who this person was, I would try to discourage such behavior because it is distressing others.

ETpro's avatar

@weeveeship There is a surprising answer to your hypothetical. There is an existing federal statute that makes it a federal offense for anyone other than an authorized mail carrier to place anything in a residential mailbox. So that would be one brand of non-conformity that would risk landing our well-meaning person X in serious trouble.

@Nullo I share your suspicion of nonconformity just for the sake of being different. However. there is great truth in the old saw, “If you want to lead the band, you’ve got to turn your back on the crowd.” Mankind has suffered through great ills through heedlessly following the lemmings in the lead right off the ledge. So the thought that conformity’s value must be determined by what you are conforming to makes a great deal of sense.

weeveeship's avatar

@ETpro Thanks for providing the link to the statute.

The question remains though, whether or not the statute is just? Personally, I think it is, as one person’s “good intentions” could turn out to be harmful. For instance, if the piece of candy X placed in the mailbox contained peanuts and a kid who was allergic to peanuts ate it, this would be bad for the kid. Of course, there is also the issue of letting bad people put bad things into a mailbox.

See, this question arises from this book that a friend told me to read a while back. I would not mention the book’s name, but the book’s theme seems to be “Any sort of nonconformity is ok, even if it infringes on others’ rights.”

Another example in the book is X doing something for someone who expressly told the person X not to do it. Like (this is not in the book but..) if I told X that I don’t want X to come up to me when I get a good grade on an exam and throw a huge impromptu “congratulations” party because I don’t want the gunners gunning for me, my express wish should be honored, regardless of X’s intent.

What seems to bother me though, was that the book was apparently quite popular among certain mainstream circles. The plot was rather interesting, but I think that the theme could be disastrous if used by the wrong people (e.g. what if X planted a bomb in the mailbox instead) or if used in a way that infringes on others’ rights.

ETpro's avatar

@weeveeship My idea of morality can be summed up in “Your right to swing your fist stops at my nose and vice versa.” I am completely libertarian and tolerant of all sorts of nonconformity as long as it harms nobody. When it begins to infringe on the rights of others, personal liberty has gone too far.

weeveeship's avatar

@ETpro I agree with your approach. Like, if the person wants to leave things in the mailboxes of those who consent, then it should be ok (at least morally, not so sure about legally).

mattbrowne's avatar

Peer pressure will take care of it.

WestRiverrat's avatar

I tried being a nonconformist once, but the nonconformists ended up being less tolerant of differences than the establishment they were protesting.

So I became a redneck hillbilly, as long as you don’t mind my business I won’t mind yours, unless asked.

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