For many Americans, one of the greatest aspects of our country includes the overwhelming amount of “opportunity” that our country provides. In America, everyone has the chance to be different and make something out of themselves. Whether it is through a different career, political viewpoints, or even cultural differences, America gives citizens the right to “make their own name for themselves.” This may be an aspect of American life that many individuals would claim is essential to being an American — our citizen’s differences are what make this country so great. Although many American’s would view themselves as being their own individual person, unfortunately, conformity is more evident in America now, more than ever.
John Stuart Mill claimed that in order for there to be human improvement and development, there must also be “freedom, and variety of situations.” When looking from an “outside” perspective it may seem like America is one of the most “well-suited” countries for human improvement, according to Mill. America has always been seen as the “land of opportunity” and a “melting-pot” for a variety of different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. Although America does provide its citizens with a variety of opportunities and an enormous array of diversity, I would argue, that Americans (that of which includes myself) are often times leaning more toward the side of conformity, rather than individuality on such a spectrum. Yes, we believe we are our own person and we often attempt to make decisions based on our own individual preferences, but when one looks around our society, I don’t think the first thing that comes to mind is individuality.
While many Americans believe they are contributors to Mill’s idea of human improvement because they provide their fellow citizens with a variety of situations by simply making choices based off their own individual preferences, unfortunately, they unknowingly also contribute to America’s conformist society. As in many other societies, influence, plays a large role in American culture; whether it is from the media, from peers, or in politics, many factors influence our decisions. While it is arguable that influence from so many different “sources” could be an argument in favor of the individualistic culture in America, I would argue that these sources contribute to a more conformist society. For example, peer influence plays a large role in shaping the behavior of individuals, especially in American culture.
One of the most obvious examples illustrating how peer influence — not to mention the media — contributes to our society’s conformist behavior would be the unprecedented success of Apple Inc. In May of 2013, it was reported that Apple’s iPhone accounted for 25% of all smartphone users in the United States; with the recent release of the iPhone 6 it is clear that this percentage has only grown. So why is this country considered so individualistic, when one can peek inside a campus lecture hall and see an “apple orchard?” It is not like Apple is producing an ultimately superior product compared to its competitors, so why are do so many people that claim to be individuals purchase the same product as everyone else? I believe it has to be due to the fact that deep down many, although not all, are conformists. “Individuals” within American society are constantly looking for the next fad or trend that will help them gain acceptance (i.e. conform), popularity, or status among their peers. We look to our friends for their acceptance and approval in many aspects of our lives, and while we may think we are making our own choices, in reality, we are making the same choices as those we value the most.
Ultimately, individuals want to be comfortable. Unfortunately, being an individual in today’s society is a very uncomfortable thing. An individual must go “against the grain”, not simply for the sake of challenging other people’s ideals, but instead because they genuinely enjoy being different. Individuality requires a certain “characteristic” that is not common within our society — in order to truly be an individual one must absolutely have no care for the opinions of others. Many people will say they “couldn’t care less what others think about them” because it is the cool thing to say. Unfortunately, people like this are full of themselves. The constant worry over another person’s opinion is the reason why these people are sending emoji’s on their iPhone, drinking those pumpkin spice lattes, consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol, or even posting a picture on Instagram.
To conclude, I believe if Mill were to look at the current state of American society he would agree on the conformist nature of American citizens. While America may provide the basis for an individualistic culture with its array of diversity and opportunity, Mill would agree that influence from the media, peers, and political entities have created a more conformist society. If this is in fact true, then as humans and a society are we truly developing? According to Mill, it seems that we may not be improving or developing as humans, or we are at least developing at a slow rate. Although our society may offer a variety of situations, which is a crucial component to human development, there are not many individuals within our society that are willing to actually “try” these various situations. As American’s we are comfortable with our current situation, and so many are not willing to seek out a new situation. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?” Unfortunately, this has led to a society where it is acceptable to wear the same shoes as the person sitting next to you, even though there are many different brands to choose from. Ultimately, this society cannot be considered an individualistic society until we are willing to applaud the individual that is bold enough to wear Crocs, instead of shooting them down because their shoes are “ugly.” As Mill would likely attest, we not only owe it to ourselves to be “individuals” but also to society as a whole for the sake of its development.