Herds of Humans
By ALICE LEMIEUX-BOURQUE
A big house, a lovely neighbourhood, two kids, a dog, two cars, a pool… Isn’t that the best way to get to happiness? The Suburbs are proof that the easiest way to live is to stick to the group… and forget yourself in it. Conformity is never as simple to observe as in Suburbia.
According to Harvard psychologist Herbert Kelman, there are three major types of conformity: compliance (public conformity), internalization (when you conform publicly and privately to something because the source is credible) and identification (when you conform to something so you feel like you fit in). It has been demonstrated that the conformity rate is not the same all around the planet: for instance, it is higher in the United States than in Europe.
As a person who has never lived there, I see Suburbia as high school. For me, choosing to live in Suburbia is like choosing to stay in high school for the rest of your life. During the difficult time that is being a teenager, a really common phenomenon called normative social influence occurs: we comply to fill in our need to be liked or to belong. The same way teenagers change their way to think and act so they can fit in the group, adults in the Suburbs conform their acts and their sayings so they can blend in. The only difference is that those big teenagers now have the power to buy, and they want to have what they think is best: the perfect mower, car and house. It seems that some people feel a need to be part of a group, or else they don’t feel like they belong, just like in high school.
Among the different types of conformity Herbert Kelman found, identification is the most accurate type when we talk about the Suburbs. If we make a clearer definition of it, we could say it is conforming to the expectations of society towards you. In Suburbia, people act like society wants them to act. They work, they consume, they don’t ask and they don’t complain: they are the perfect citizens, what every government wants. If society tells you you need a cellphone, you buy a cellphone, and that is the way it is. The Suburban population decides to live like what is expected from them, which makes life, in a certain way, a lot easier.
In Suburbia, the people do what they think is best. The same way people run because they know it is good for them, Suburbanites live in Suburbia because they think that is what is best for them. They think if you raise children, the best place to do it is probably a safe place where there are a lot of kids the same age so the children can socialize, where there is a school with a good program and where the people are in the same social class as you are. Because they rely on each other to know what is best, they all think the same, and they conform to each other.
Even though we could think conformity is all bad because, in a way, it stops people from thinking by themselves, we do need conformity, or else our society would be nothing but chaos. We all need to conform to certain social norms such as behaving in a non-violent way and obeying to the traffic laws while driving, just like they do in the Suburbs.