This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

Conformity as a Solution

The second solution Fromm mentions is very different from the orgiastic state: it is conformity—the attempt to adopt values, habits, and appearances of other people. The conformist seeks to avoid anxiety and aloneness by being like everybody else.

How does the conformist seek to avoid anxiety?

Pressures of attending a new school can lead to feelings of insecurity and a sudden need for conformity:

Last year I had a friend who went off to college to live. When she was a senior in high school and throughout the summer, we talked about how different things would be when she was gone. She swore she wouldn't join a sorority. But then I got letters from her saying that she was doing really well and that she had joined a sorority.

One weekend I went to visit her. When I saw and talked to her, her attitudes had changed about a lot of things. I was really confused by all of this. Finally I got up the courage to ask her why she had changed. She told me that when she first got there she didn't have any girlfriends and that it was hard to make friends. She also said that she needed an outlet from the stress of schoolwork. That outlet was socializing in a sorority. She wanted to "fit in" so she changed. [Author's files]

Why does Fromm say conformity is also a poor solution?

What is so awful about wanting to fit in? Nothing, but Fromm says conformity is a poor solution to the problem of achieving union with something outside the ego. It mistakes imitation of others for union with others. Conformity is justified mainly as a means to an end—a way of achieving entry to a group that provides genuine social support. But conformity in itself is not satisfying. It gives one a feeling of being inauthentic, of sacrificing one's individuality in order to embrace a group norm. Suppose one achieves total conformity. Then what has one really gained? And what has one lost?

What advantage to conformity does Fromm wryly point out?

Fromm wryly points out that conformity has one advantage: you can practice it from birth to death. Your birth can take place in the currently stylish way, you can grow up liking the same things as all the other kids, you can keep up with the Joneses as an adult. You can even have standardized, approved funeral rites when you die.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey