The case for the rat race

Last Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The benefits of conformity

After spending years running my life with a 2016 iPhone SE and a 2011 Lenovo Thinkpad X220 (running Arch Linux, i3wm, dvorak keyboard, you get the picture), I decided in 2022 that I was going to try to be more of a conformist for a change. It started with a pair of On running shoes, the first piece of the uniform. I followed by upgrading to a 2021 MacBook Pro, which I have made effort not to customize in any way beyond the absolute essentials. Apart from the keyboard, it is in every way a generic computer, no personality at all. I followed up with a new iPhone SE, and white New Balance fresh foam shoes.

The word “conformity” gets a bad rap, but as a concept or practice, conformity is by definition constructed out of the sustained choices of millions. People are mimetic, yes, but people are also rational, and it is always worth examining the rationality inherent in seemingly mimetic choices.

The advantages of conformity of appearence are straightforward:

Most people are willing to explicitly approve of conformity of appearance, at least a little bit. Only one friend has expressed active disappointment in me — in most areas of life, he is an avid non-conformist, but perhaps by some law of conservation of conformity he works for Meta. However, less often discussed are the advantages of conformity of mind:

The world is designed for conformists, almost circularly. By going with the flow, many decisions have already been made for you, and life becomes relatively easy. If you do not follow the standard script, you must write your own. Writing your own script sounds like the cool and brave thing to do, but at what level are you willing to challenge the status quo? There are many temptations to cheat by simply swapping out one standardized script for another, and congratulating yourself for your bravery when in reality you were simply following the easiest path. Another way to put this: the standard script has many branching–points which seem like true alternatives when in fact you are still at the same ice cream stand, deciding between chocolate and strawberry.

By conforming to expectations, you more easily win approval, status (at least status of a limited and moderate kind), and modest financial rewards (which in America can be quite good).

Concrete examples