Thinking About Conformity and Nonconformity

In the realm of politics and religion, I see six different kinds of people:

  • the right-wing conformist
  • the left-wing conformist
  • the centrist conformist
  • the right-wing nonconformist
  • the left-wing nonconformist
  • the centrist nonconformist
Which one would you say represents you? And whether you swing right, left, or center, would you say that you’re a conformist or a nonconformist? The non-conformist, the contrarian, says things like the following: “What’s interesting is true; what’s not interesting is false.” In other words, what’s interesting, even if it’s basically false, is closing in on the truth—some larger and complex truth (if only by contrast). What’s not interesting, even if it’s basically true, is still false for being noncomplex, for the truth, ultimately, is complex (and interesting).


Sin for the conformist is to break the rules; for the non-conformist, to be uninteresting.

Here are some dichotomies that come to mind when I think about conformity and nonconformity:

The Conformist       The Nonconformist

adaptive                     non-adaptive

clear                            ambiguous

with form                  without form

low entropy               high entropy

cosmos                       chaos

Apollo                         Dionysus

canned                       open

respects authority   questions authority

conservative             radical

assent                        dissent

pickled                       fresh

normal                       deviant

normative                 not normative

non-ironic                 ironic

outward                    inward

centric                       eccentric

accepts identity       questions identity

cooperative              argumentative

non-alienated          alienated

collegial                     not collegial

answers                    questions

rule following           rule breaking

pleasant                    contrarian

communal                 individualistic

idolater                      iconoclast

outward                     inward

predictable                novel

nostalgic                    progressive

past is utopian          past is dystopian

future is dystopian   future is utopian

security                      freedom

practical                     impractical

sensible                      idealistic

insensitive                 sensitive

eyes shut                   eyes open

believes                     doubts

concerned with        concerned with

fitting-in                    what’s true

Where do you fit here? Personally, I would call myself a centrist nonconformist, but I suppose we all have impulses, at different times and in different circumstances, to sometimes play one side and sometimes the other. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m probably a lot more conformist than I’d like to admit.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Thinking About Conformity and Nonconformity

  1. andrewclunn says:

    Clearly I’m a left-wing conformist 😉

  2. David Yates says:

    I’m definitely a non-conformist left winger.

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