Open Book
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our culture of conformity

Towards the end of the 20th century films, documentaries and books assured us that the 1950s were years of conformity. An astute observer of present-day America might conclude that our own decade is more drenched with the spirit of conformism than were the 1950s.

Corporate managers and military leaders parrot nostrums about diversity, inclusion and sustainability that few of them believe. Museums and orchestras studiously avoid programming that might offend ideologues. Reporters and editors seize on stories—or ignore them—solely because that’s what everybody else is reporting.

~ adapted from an interview published in the Wall Street Journal ~

Pulitzer winning playwright
David Mamet critiques our culture of conformity in, Recessional: the Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch. Most striking is how superbly out of place its author must be in the eminent environs of his chosen industry.

What is the source of our cultural impulse to go along with the crowd? Mamet points at his smart phone, “It’s that time-wasting machine. We’re all connected. But connected for what purpose? The idea that everybody has to behave the same way is part of the breakdown of what was a cohesive society.”

David Mamet grew up in Chicago. People went to different churches, they were from different ethnic backgrounds, their parents came from different countries, but somehow they built authentic communities. Their self-worth didn’t come from belonging to some uber-group.

Mamet says the “woke agenda” (his term) is basically an act, which explains why it works so well in Hollywood and New York City. “Nobody really believes it. Nobody really believes boys turn into girls and girls turn into boys. But somehow it’s become dangerous to question it.”

Mamet points to an oversized edition of the Torah on his coffee table. “It’s all there. Everything we’ve been living through.” The habit among America’s wealthy, privileged influencers of reviling the country that gave them privilege and influence is a re-enactment of biblical events.

He’s right about the biblical pattern: Prosperity, particularly unearned prosperity, tends to generate folly. “When do violent revolutions happen?” he asks. “They happen when things get too good.” We live in the “most prosperous country in the history of the world, and so what’s our response? We don’t need God. We don’t need the Constitution. We don’t need anything.”

“Twenty years ago a guy in my synagogue, he lent me some books. I said, ‘I’ll read them. But, when my friends come over, I’ll have to hide them.’ That guy responded: ‘I don’t.’ He changed my life. Did I really think I had to hide books from my friends? How sick was I?”

Mamet, an observant Jew, says he “would be thrilled to accept the Christian tradition and Christ as my Savior” but “I am prohibited from doing so by my own religion.” So he, too, conforms.

Like others who dissent from the dominant outlook of their post-religious peers, Mamet believes modern conceptions of human nature are hopelessly naive. A rosy view of human proclivities leads easily to groupthink and its invariable accompaniment, scapegoating. Since the existence of evil is undeniable, but supposedly cannot be intrinsic in all of us, evil must come from some disfavored group.

Which led Mamet back to biblical religion. “The Bible starts with perfidy,” Mamet explains. “Perfidy is everywhere in it. What the Bible is telling us is that the human race is unalterably flawed. It’s not a matter of doing away with the ‘haters.’ We have to deal with our own mind.”

Dan Nygaard