Conform and Conformity

Couple of days ago I decided that the right time has come to write an article reflecting upon Nietzsche’s philosophy in general and his concept ‘God is Dead’, in particular. Coincidently, yesterday I went to see Anna Karenina, a film based on one of world’s most famous literary works written by Leo Tolstoy- a piece sharing many similarities with Nietzschian philosophy such as the ever so present struggle between individual and vs. socially constructed moral values. Like many other geniuses of the time, Leo Tolstoy was undoubtedly inspired by Nietzschian logic.

The key question that we should be asking ourselves is how much, if at all should we base individual values on social values? Indeed a timeless question, Nietzsche’s attention at the end of the 19th century was focused towards the Christianity’s soundness as a moral platform. In other words, he questioned whether Christian values are positive for human existence on this world. The answer is undeniably no, due to the inherent conceptual gap between Christianity represented as a theory and Christianity as an institution. Nietzsche argued that institutionalized Christianity promoted ‘dual’ values that in turn diminished a person’s quality of life. In particular, Christianity promised a ‘perfect’ life in heaven if one is to follow Christian values while alive, causing one to neglect the joys of life to follow highly conditioned Christian rules of society. This of course can be debilitating for the growth of any individual because, a person follows Christian values simply because it is ‘moral’ to do so rather than relaxing and following their natural values.

Leo Tolstoy clearly depicts this in his novel Anna Karenina, where in short, a woman abandons a husband because she falls in love with another man is coincidently faces ‘social death’, that in turn causes her own death. The main plot contrasts with events occurring simultaneously in the story, such the socially accepted infidelity of Anna’s brother and the evident battle between the main character’s battle and those of society, which in turn are ultimately based on Christianity. At the end of the 19th century the social glue representing Russia’s aristocratic interests is evident- pre-arranged marriage backed by religious belief, distinct socially constructed protocols such as controlling emotions in public and maintaining private discretion; individuals refusing to follow these distinct rules were condemned to ‘social death’, living life as outcasts. Ultimately, the less socially accepted value ‘love’ is tested against the universally accepted value ‘marriage’ and ends up failing miserably.

Nietzsche questions Christianity validity as a social platform because Christianity still played a prominent role in Europe by the end of the 19th century. Although religion is less powerful today surely there must be a social platform that glues individual interests together. I can not think of one platform in particular because today’s social landscape is fragmented into thousands of different pieces compared to that of the 20th century as importance has shifted from the group to the individual, one cannot deny that individuals, no matter how independent they are, operate in a social context. Perhaps the movement is one towards the creation of micro-platforms where everyone competes for greater social acceptance. Hence what religion used to be in the past is now replaced by a careful balancing game between cooperation and competition. While in the Nietzschian sense, the individual is indeed liberated at least partially because he can pursue his values more freely, it is in his interest to balance his personal values against socially constructed values dictated by the group he seeks to fit in.  In conclusion, we behave in a certain way with people whose interests are both similar with ours and with people that potentially open opportunities that advance us closer to our personal goals.

One response to “Conform and Conformity

  1. Superb – especially the juxtaposition between Nietzsche and Anna outline the analysis. Wonderful read. Truly. And..while not labelling, it is interesting to see that ye again Macedonia is the source of interesting philosophical thought and expression. I can think of a few cinematographers/directors, writers and others.

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