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Americans pride themselves on their individualism, on their belief in personal autonomy and being subject to no outside authority but the self. What has saved the country so far has been the fact that individuals do no, in fact, live their lives this way–except for self-centered (pick the bad word of your choice). What is ironic is that the more Americans pride themselves on individualism, the more conforming they become. And those who whine the most about personal autonomy are those who insist that everyone else agree with them or else.

It has always been interesting when a young woman, for example, gets a nose ring, a navel ring, and God knows what else, believing that she is asserting her individuality. However, it often turns out that everyone in her peer group has rings in the same places. What begins as a “nonconformity” becomes a fad, and then becomes semi-institutionalized in peer groups. When I lived in Athens, Georgia twenty years ago, there was a group of ladies everyone called “Townies.” They dyed their hair jet black, dressed neatly in black, and appeared Goth-like, although I do not believe they were Goth. They all looked alike. How did Americans become such conformists in the name of nonconformity?

It is at the level of ideas that American groupthink becomes dangerous. Not questioning the war party in Washington, for example, helps politicians to bring the nation into needless wars with little public opposition. Or take abortion–in academia there is some opposition to abortion, but not among the vast majority of academics. The same is true of other traditional values–academics teach students to rebel against such values, yet academia is the most conforming setting in the world, where at some schools any deviance from the politically correct (translate “left wing”) norm is severely punished. At the very least, the person who accepts traditional morality will be labeled a “hater.” However, who is the real nonconformist–the academic who follows his fellow academic lemmings into the lake of liberalism or the academic who stands against the crowd. I laugh at liberal Christian academics who talk about being “prophetic” while living in their fine houses and driving their fine cars–they are about as conforming and unprophetic as one can imagine. The true prophet may be the lone student at a liberal seminary who stands against the crowd for orthodoxy. That student can pay a steep cost for speaking up. The academic theologian merely gets congratulated by his fellow academics: “Your message is so prophetic, man.” It is a disgusting sight.

Groupthink has been taught in colleges and universities by means of “sensitivity training,” and in the past, speech codes. While the speech codes were removed under pressure from the courts, de facto, at many schools, they still exist. A conservative in academia is a true noncomformist, standing against the dominant liberal crowd, especially in the Humanities, which is the most left-wing part of academia.

Academic conformists and conformists in tacky dress or tacky rings have one thing in common: they are all lemmings, blindly following their ideological or fashion leaders over a cliff.  It will be interesting to see how many of them can swim.

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