Toe the line or else!

I my last post I indicated that each new generation is taught to submit their behavior to the unwritten rules of society. Members of this new generation of young people will initially resist but will almost always surrender within the first few years of adulthood. Howard S. Becker in ‘Outsiders’ suggests that the assumption that only those who actually rebel against social norms have ‘deviant’ impulses is incorrect. He indicates that most people experience non-conformist impulses frequently. Instead of asking why this rebellious minority do things that are disapproved of, we might better ask why the conformist majority do not follow through with the impulses they do have.

Becker indicates that the individual learns from previous ventures into non-conformity that he must adhere to certain lines of behaviour because many other activities other than the one he is immediately engaged in will be adversely affected if he does not. The ‘conventional’ or ‘normal’ person must support the local sports team or not be invited to the social occasions that revolve around that sport. The ‘conventional’ or ‘normal’ person must not use marijuana for their physical or mental issue or else be subject to a drug test by an employer who deems this behaviour as ‘deviant’.

The development of individuals in our society can be seen as a series of progressively increasing commitments to conventional norms and institutions. The ‘normal’ person, when she discovers a non-conformist impulse in herself, is able to check that impulse by thinking of the consequences acting on it would produce for her. She has staked too much on continuing to be normal to allow herself to be swayed by unconventional impulses.

Consider the young, unmarried woman who intensely desires to be married. It really doesn’t matter to whom, just that she has a nice wedding and possesses a ring on her finger. She may not have anyone that she really wants to spend the rest of her life with, and may love her free and single life, but the consequences of not being married are too much for her to live with. Without the wedding ring, and children to follow, she risks isolating herself from friends that are all now married with children. She risks constant badgering from parents, grandparents, work colleagues and others as to why she isn’t married yet, like it should be the ultimate desire for a woman to enter a formal marriage.


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