Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Group conformity to absurd beliefs

And you wonder why religion has such a hold on people?

Now don't get upset. Obviously, I'm not talking about your religion. I'm talking about all those other people who believe absurd things because that's what their family and friends believe, that's what their society believes, and - usually - that's what they were brought up to believe.

You, of course, are independently-minded. You would never go along with the crowd - not when it comes to sports teams or music or movies, and certainly not when it comes to religion. It's just coincidence that you happened to be brought up in the right belief, unlike all those billions of people elsewhere, who are so credulous that they continue to believe the ridiculous things they were taught.

We are social animals. We want to get along. We desperately want to fit in with "our" people. That might mean a different group at work, in your church, and in your neighborhood, but in each of those settings, we generally want to fit in. We want to be part of the group, rather than the outsider, the outcast, the weirdo.

It doesn't have to be a big group, and it doesn't have to be a mainstream group (though it usually is, pretty much by definition). Indeed, being part of a group that everyone else thinks is weird often makes you more determined than ever to conform to your own "non-conforming" group.

If you're a Moonie or a Hare Krishna, for example, a big part of your group solidarity is that most people think you're nuts. That tends to wed you to your group even tighter. After all, it's your group of true-believers against the world. You have a mission. You are one of the favored few who know the "Truth." And, most importantly, you belong. You are an integral part of a group that believes the exact same thing.

It's natural. We evolved this way, because we're social animals. We're not lone wolves (and a "lone wolf" is an aberrant individual in wolf society, too, since wolves are very much pack animals). We live in groups, we depend on the group, we survive and thrive as the group survives and thrives.

And religion is one of the ways groups have maintained their solidarity. Different groups have different beliefs, but everyone within each group tends to believe the same thing. It's comforting, for us human beings, to belong. Today, that's why absurd beliefs persist, because we want to conform to our society.

When everyone else is facing backwards, it takes both an independent mind and a strong will to face forward.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

"The Matrix is a system, Neo"...