from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #35


#35A: "Self Reliant Nonconformity" is about "doing your own thing."  This latter phrase succinctly defines individualism—more formally defined as a social philosophy and belief system that places individual interests and rights above those of society, and individual freedom, self-reliance and independence above any social contract obligations.  Consider how three famous self reliant non-conformists have viewed society.  

     Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher denied that it existed claiming, "There is no such thing as society— only individuals!"  In his famous 1841 essay "Self Reliance" American Ralph Waldo Emerson critiqued it as follows. "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.  Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater.  The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion.  It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs...Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist!" Finally, consider American poet Robert Frost's line (which became his epitaph), "I had a lover's quarrel with the world!"

     Among Frost's more famous lines are "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."  Psychiatrist Scott Peck used The Road Less Traveled as the title of his 1978 best-selling book—about "love, traditional values, and spiritual growth" and offered help to those seeking psychological health.  With respect to the latter, self reliant non-conformists feel they have found it: none are "Struggling With a Basic Need: Self Esteem" (theme #41).  With respect to the former—love and growth—many such non-conformists' lives are lived following advice Peck gives: "all life itself represents a risk, and the more lovingly we live our lives the more risks we take...The only real security in life lies in relishing life's insecurity...The highest forms of love are inevitably totally free choices and not acts of conformity."       

     In doing their own thing, self reliant non-conformists seldom go along with the crowd—unlike those who follow "The Collective Cognitive Imperative" (theme #15).  As Emerson put it, "the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."  The insecure will avoid stepping out of line so as not to stand out, fearing he or she will have to explain such action. In response, in "Self Reliance" Emerson wrote, "Your genuine action will explain itself...Your conformity explains nothing."

     #35B: Those dissatisfied with things as they are—the status quo—may turn to "Working for Change."  The degree of their dissatisfaction, the amount of the perceived gap between how things should be and how they are, and the extent to which they believe in the rightness of their cause (see theme #2A), all determine the strength of  their commitment to pursuing


change.  Some work for change out of self interest since what they are seeking will dramatically improve their own lives. Others, perhaps possessing a great sense of social justice, do so more altruistically.  An especially idealistic or particularly desperate few—the latter perhaps feeling they have nothing to lose—will sacrifice everything, even their lives, in fighting  entrenched forces who want to keep things as they are. 

     Figure #20a depicts two approaches for bringing change: top down vs. bottom up.  Those working for change may be characterized as activists (of various types including civil rights, consumer, environmental, political, social, etc), giraffes, lobbyists, organizers, progressives, rebels, reformers, revolutionaries, freedom fighters, terrorists (see Figure #35a), or whistle blowers.  Many are populists (see Discussion, theme #21A) seeking to build a grassroots movement which begins with community organizing.  (See Figure #21b.)  According to Bill Moyer (Figure #35b), successful social movements go through eight stages.  Often aided by some triggering event that dramatically raises public awareness of the problem and movement, eventually it triumphs over the powers that be.

     Beyond community organizing, other tactics employed may include political campaigning, filing lawsuits (including class action suits), civil disobedience, non-violent protest, strikes, boycotts, seeking affirmative action, submitting to arbitration or mediation, public relations or propaganda campaigns, lobbying, bombings, taking hostages, etc.  If the action breaks laws or is directed against the government then the latter may respond with police action dispersing crowds, making arrests, curfews, various tactics to divide those who have united, new laws, new elections, military action, etc. The battle between those "Valuing Traditions" (theme #34) and those "Working for Change" (theme #35) need not erupt into conflict—instead conservative vs. liberal debate can constructively shape public action.

Figure #35a

Farouk Abdel-Muhti (1947-2004)

Freedom Fighter or Terrorist? 

                                                             (the following is adapted from Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! program of July 22, 2004)

Born in 1947 in Ramallah, in what was then Palestine, Farouk was one of millions uprooted by the war accompanying the founding of Israel in 1948.

Growing up a stateless refugee, traveling from one country to another, he finally settled in New York City in the 1970s.  After many years working as a political activist on behalf of Palestinian rights, in April 2002 he began hosting a radio program featuring interviews with Palestinians living in Israeli occupied areas. While doing that, NYC police and INS officers raided his apartment, entering without a warrant looking for weapons and explosives.  Detained in late April 2002, subjected to extensive interrogation and often denied food, Farouk spent two years in various jails, his health deteriorating. Even while being taken to health clinics he was kept handcuffed and shackled.  Finally released in April  2004, Farouk died three months later.  He was never charged with a crime. 


Figure #35b: Framework Describing Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements (from Bill Moyer)

1) a critical social problem exists, but despite this recognition a steady state / business as usual environment prevails                      2) the failure of official institutions to deal with the problem is established (working for change through normal channels fails)                                                                                               3) ripening conditions for change as stress continues to build in  system                                                                                         4) take off: helped by some triggering event, public awareness of the problem grows dramatically                                                   5) activists perceive failure—after high hope there is an identity crisis of powerlessness as movement goals are still unmet            6) majority of public opinion is with the need for change, as is public opposition to the power holders' policies                          7) success: the problem is resolved as prescribed by the movement or in a way satisfactory to movement                                          8) continuation / moving on


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