The urge to conform is not, in one sense, strange or misguided. The 19th century was the peak of Western Civilization. It was an age when men strived for reason; when individual rights, including the right to speak and write freely, were sacrosanct. To hold tenaciously to those values was the mark of decency and the foundation of society – a community of shared values.
Out of that age came the perception of a need for change: women were emancipated, slaves were freed and the penal code was made more humane. Slavery had been a worldwide institution*. It was the Western world that was notable for voluntarily abolishing it.
But the urge to conform to that which was good and decent, morphed into conformity becoming a virtue in its own right. An ever-more mindless conformity led to society gradually becoming stultified and degraded. By the second half of the 20th century, the sciences had become sclerotic; hidebound by dogma and the need to conform in order to ensure a career and respectability.
Medicine, cosmology, anthropology, ethnology, archaeology and a host of other ‘sciences’ became infected by a rigid inflexibility – laid to intellectual waste by conformity.
The kiss of death was the introduction of government funding for the sciences. As Upton Sinclair noted: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
No longer was it okay to question, to probe and examine and test. The sciences became ‘settled’ and only minor tinkering around the edges was permitted.
The natural conformity of the free and decent society had morphed into the degraded conformity that surrounds and smothers us today.
* From the 15th to the early 19th century, Islamic slave traders raided the European coastline as far north as Ireland and Iceland. They sold an estimated 2.5 million white Christians into slavery. The raiding was so severe than many European coastal towns were abandoned. It is interesting to note that the descendants of these slaves did not turn their misfortune into an industry by demanding ongoing compensation from anyone who wasn’t white.