Question Three

Where are we when we have finally conformed to non-conformity?

I know, I know...     any event that occurred, any viewpoint held, or any example of artistic expression before 1969 is tradition-bound and meaningless (except some of the music!).  We've moved on.  And I remember the TV ad from a few years ago which featured an attractive young woman at the wheel of her new SUV, sunroof cranked open, careening off the highway and putting the vehicle through its off-road paces to the upbeat ad theme of "driving outside the lines."  She was clearly a very good, if aggressive, driver, and with a big smile and the sunlight in her hair she was embracing life and was not going to be constrained by someone else's driving guidelines.  I feared though for the guy coming up over the hill, drinking his dark roast on the other side of the yellow line.  At that moment I imagine he would have appreciated a little conformity.

Why do I know best?  What if somebody else knows best?  What if someone from a long time ago knows best?  Will I even take time to consider what has come before?  Or will my life carry me quickly forward into what may be the tacit assumptions, the unexamined views, the amiable resonating frequency of the modern world?  After all, who wants trouble?  And if a wise friend is not by my side to ask me what I'm doing, will I have the presence of mind to ask myself what I'm doing?  Or have my desires and preferences become the starting point for my assessments and resolve, if they have not in fact become for me the measure of all things?

To consider further, is the matter of conformity at some level a question of reference?  What do you "refer" to as you venture through life?  What do you reference as you make small daily choices, or consider major life-changing decisions?  When and why do you say "yes"?  When and why say "no"?  If fifty-one out of a hundred people advise you to say "yes," then should you, even though a few years ago fifty-one out of a hundred people would have suggested "no" in the same situation?  Are we certain we are always advancing and not retreating?  Always progressing and not regressing?  Is an idea that is deemed "progressive" by default a representation of progress?  In that sense is all "change" good?  "Of course not!", we might respond.  And yet, is our world view largely informed by the notion that any departure from past practices is a step forward?

Do we all reference something?  If so, where would you presently locate your point or points of reference for decision-making, or simply for living your life?  Do you look to a God, a sensation, a set of writings, a collection of fears or affirmations, guidelines from your upbringing or your college years, advice from your friends and social media contacts, or perhaps the New York Times?

I'm an inexperienced carpenter, although I trained in it a bit.  (Does he remember anything, that's the question.)  Among other aspects of a project a builder is always concerned with whether the elements of construction are level and plumb (truly horizontal and vertical).  If those references are not established early and often (i.e. "reference surfaces") then the outcome will be at best an eyesore and at worst a catastrophe.  In other words, if you start wrong, and then make the error(s) your reference, you will be very wrong by the end.  What's curious to me is that no one questions reference or conformity to standards in the world of construction.  In fact, it is demanded and appreciated by all the players, especially the buyer.  A tradition of level and plumb.

Or in this day will I reference myself?  Do I really believe that my individual tastes and preferences have NOT installed themselves within me as the first and final reference surfaces?  Or is that the case only because my life remains largely unexamined, left unprobed relative to my personal conformities?

For example, are these statements representative of a new conformity, perhaps unrecognized and unchallenged?...

  • I am spiritual, but not religious.
  • I choose a church based on my preferences.
  • I refuse to cheat on my taxes because I might get caught.
  • No action is immoral that acquires the consent of all involved.
  • The central teaching of all religions is tolerance and kindness.
  • Be yourself.
  • The Vikings will never win the Super Bowl.