How many of us live the way we want? How many of us are just conforming in order to fit in? Could it be that many elements of our culture only exist because they already exist, not because a majority prefer them?
Spoilers: The most obvious example where this seems to be the case is in voting. Most people are not informed enough to really know what they’re voting for, but to the degree that people have set opinions, my impression is that the majority of those voting for Democrats only do so to keep Republicans from getting elected and the majority of those voting for Republicans only do so to keep Democrats from getting elected. There exist other viewpoints that better fit the true preferences of the majority, but voting for candidates espousing these viewpoints risks allowing the other party to win. If we all voted the way we really wanted, we would have a better government, but because we all worry how other people will vote and they worry how the rest of us will vote, nothing changes.
Communal Living: People all have different tastes in art and functionality when it comes to where they live, but a major component of what goes into buying a home is whether they will be able to sell it in the future. Instead of buying what best fits us we try to please the majority of the market – but the majority of the market only prefers these things because they are trying to please others! Homeowner associations even prevent certain types of remodeling because they will bring down housing prices in the area for everyone. Nobody ever lives in their true dream house and they prevent anyone else from living in their dream house too. Everyone is a busybody that tells others how to live and we are expected to hold the interests of the group over our own. This is communism!
A Heavy Cost: How much should be charged for a new product or service? How much should we pay our employees? Rather than test the market and repeatedly raising or lowering prices until we find the right spot, a shortcut business owners use is to see what similar products are already selling for. They rely on others who rely on still others who rely on still others. Because prices are much the same, consumers have no choice but to go along with it. Knowing there is an endless supply of people looking for a job, companies have less incentive to raise wages to draw employees from other companies. There is no true competition. This is collusion without actually colluding!
The Ties That Bind Us: Making friends is hard. Strangers take a long time to open up to me, and when the rare stranger does open up quickly, it stands out as so unusual that I think something isn’t right and then I’m the uncomfortable one. Adults generally say hello and introduce themselves. Children skip the rituals and just start playing. Is this the way we would all behave if we weren’t taught the “right” way to do things? We initiate handshakes because we are taught that way and we go along with it when others initiate handshakes so we don’t seem rude. We dress up to make a good impression in job interviews even when the job we are applying for has no dress code. The hiring manager doesn’t care except that it shows our ability to conform and our attention to detail. The hiring manager only dresses up himself to set a good example. Could it be that nobody likes suits or ties? Could it be that most of us would rather work in our pajamas or perhaps even wear nothing at all?
The Measure Of Things: The metric system is inherently simpler to use than the imperial one, but Americans are already used to using the imperial system and there is no point in any individual using metric if nobody else is. The inferior system is frozen in only because we are not coordinated enough to switch over all at once. There is no point in even learning metric under those circumstances. How did metric ever catch on in other countries, then? Generally, it was imposed by dictatorship. The cure is worse than the disease.
The Meaning Of Life: Changing the language is equally difficult. Which pronoun should be used when the sex of the one it refers to is unknown? Instead of the awkward “his/her/its” or the grammatically incorrect (because it is plural) “theirs,” most people use “he.” This is confusing, but it would be far more confusing to unilaterally begin using new pronouns never heard of, such as ver and vis. Instead of using the awkward term “American Indian,” most people simply use “Indian.” This is confusing because Asian Indians are also called “Indian,” but it would be far more confusing to unilaterally begin using the virtually unknown demographic term Amerindian. Sometimes language does evolve, as when homosexual unions started to be referred to as marriages. This confused a lot of people at the time, but worked anyways because those holding to the old definitions were ridiculed, bullied, threatened, boycotted, and even persecuted by the government – so there are ways to change things.
Hope And Change: Sometimes culture can change without bullies or dictators. It used to be difficult for those with tattoos to get a job. Parents told children never to get tattoos because they would ruin their future. Because so many people went and got tattoos anyways, companies now have little choice but to hire tattooed employees, and public perception has changed. It no longer matters. This gives me hope that the culture can change in other ways as well.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.