How much do you want to belong? How much do you want to be listened to? How much do you want to be acknowledged? How much do you want to be followed? How afraid are you of being ostracized? Are you fearful of being alone? All these aspects contribute to your susceptibility toward Identity Socializing or having the need to align yourself with a particular group’s values and “rules.”
First, let’s look at where Identity Socializing comes from. In these times our current mindset is one of believing that our lives should be prescribed by our laws, religious precepts, and social etiquette and its expectations. We can easily understand and accept following the laws. If we are in any way religious, we can also understand and accept following religious doctrinal requirements. But when it comes to social etiquette and expected social behavior, it’s a bit more difficult to determine where our inner autonomy ends and outer authority begins. This depends primarily on who and what we have been taught to believe have authority over us. Over the last few generations this point of reference has been shifting.
For the most part, laws and religious doctrines for our behavior have remained relatively consistent. And depending on our culture, family manners have also remained essentially the same. But our responses to each other in public have been undergoing a subtle metamorphosis. This is not so much a reflection of individuals intentionally changing but more from a perspective of indoctrinated change produced and promoted by our changing media and political system. The initiator was and still is the media. The political pattern for change slowly followed suit when it was seen that the methods for media indoctrination could be used as a manipulative ploy for political agendas and the directive potential for its constituency.
When I say media, I am not referring to the news media but to the commercial advertising industry in the initial stages of its clientele’s psychological and authoritative “conditioning.” This was the beginning of their restructuring of advertising style when it first became apparent that TV and radio could be used to sell products to consumers. These first twinges of subversive advertising policies began to occur when the industry first realized that they could make someone believe that they would “need” their product in order to become acceptable, if not desirable, to their peers. This was our first “conditioning” into believing that we are personally not good enough as we are, aka, a real man or a real woman, unless we were using their product. This was the first intentional use of the media in the diminishing of our worthiness suggesting that the authority we should submit to comes from outside ourselves, namely, them.
While we are being raised as young children, we accept the fact that our parents are the authority in whatever we are permitted to do or how we are taught to behave. This is obviously done for safety measures in light of the fact that we have no worldly experience to draw on in handling our lives or the dangers it may present. This is also done to instill in us the rules and expectations of the society we live in. This generally keeps us safe and makes life with others mostly smooth and agreeable. As puberty arrives, a choice comes to the forefront. In us begins the stirrings of the need for autonomy. Peer pressure and competition become apparent. At this point many of us make a choice as to whether we will follow our own drummer or that of others. How much our inner nature we have been allowed to express in our previous upbringing is the major factor determining which choice we will make. If we’ve been over protected, we will most likely opt for following others. If we’ve been encouraged to think for ourselves and make our own choices, or even neglected, we may will likely take our own lead.
There are many other contributing factors facilitating our choices. We may also lead partially and follow partially. The human mind is complicated and responds differently depending on the people and their influence that surround us in our early years. The point I’d like to emphasize here is that, generally, it is at this point after puberty, or slightly before, when our parents begin to allow us to make some independent choices or even encourage us to do so. But in recent years, and with the advent of technology, another surrogate “parent” has begun to step in and take over our family’s parental duties and influences - the media. Technology has inescapably brought itself right into our living space through television, internet, and now telephones. The deprecating advertising has followed right along with them. And the media has not encouraged us to make our own choices. As a result, many of us move out of the parental “supposed to’s” directly into the media’s “supposed to’s” never even coming to the realization that we might be able to think for ourselves or that we’re even allowed to. Consequently, the opportunity to think for ourselves has been voraciously annexed by the media.
Now, a strange thing has happened. The psychological dependency we had on our parents has been extended to the media and external authorities. As a result, many of us, especially the younger “indoctrinated “generations, cannot decide what we want to do or who we should be without seeking the endorsement and “approval” of the media and its espoused requirements for social desirability and acceptance. Additionally, after the political bureaucracy has gotten involved in media in recent years, the need for that approval has been extended to our social behavior. That has allowed political correctness to move into an acceptable and authoritative position. This became the icing on the cake for our social control by the media. This brings us finally to Identity Socializing. What is it?
Since the media has essentially convinced us of our lack of personal authority and has taken over the last word on what it is appropriate to be, do and say in public, our “surrogate parent” now has gained the control over the personal values of those who have unsuccessfully graduated toward thinking for themselves. If you have learned to think for yourself, this will a perspective that you will likely be unable to relate to. If you haven’t, you may even go as far as to deny this in yourself.
For those of us who have failed to learn how to think for ourselves, it has now become common practice for us to align with specific groups and the principles of socially identified sections of our culture. This way we can know what to do and how to behave. In order for us to feel unthreatened, we must label everyone else according to socially identifiable groups. They must either be a vegetarian, an omnivore, a yuppie, middle class, affluent, oppressed, a leftist, a conservative, a minority, an elitist, a racist, a homophobe, a feminist, and many other classifications that pigeonhole them into a group that can be “standardized” in our dealing with them according to the prescribed and profiled rules of the group we “belong” to. Now we can feel safe and “in control.” Even gender now has a selection of groups.
On first blush this may seem a little excessive or even paranoid. But ask yourself this question. These days, when we first meet someone, what do we ask them? What do you do (where do you work)? Are you married (are you available)? Where do you live (are you affluent or are you struggling)? Do you have kids (can we talk about family)? How about those Gators (do you watch sports)? Almost every question we ask is a gentle, slightly tacit probe to find out what group they classify with, if we should associate with them, on what grounds, what beliefs are promoted, and will we have to defend our beliefs and perceived inadequacies?
In our current culture fear has become much more of a dominating factor. But fear of what? From one perspective, it involves our perception of our safety and privacy. But from a second perspective, and on a more subconscious level, our sense of group belonging has become a much larger part of how we identify ourselves. Why?
With the encroaching of the media annexing our power to think for ourselves, the outside world has become our authority in making decisions. This funnels us into becoming much more conscious of what other people think of us. Additionally, with the breakdown of our family structure over the past four decades, our sense of inclusion in the family has been lost where an assumed unconditional acceptance might be expected to come from. Now, we must look for that inclusion and belonging in the social sphere. With everyone conscious of what groups we do or don’t belong to, our sense of identity has become much more tangled up in the characteristics of the group we wish to belong to rather than our own inner values. To misbehave according to group rules might result in our becoming ostracized or “excommunicated” from our preferred group. This would be disastrous not only for our self-image but for the love and support we might expect to receive from them.
Through slow changes in the family and the media, we now have arrived at a place where we primarily identify ourselves based on external group rules and expectations. Our individualism has been obliterated in favor of the rules of the group we belong to. Our self-image now squarely rests in our social identity. We can only gain a reflection of ourselves from how we fit into the narrow edicts of the group we have chosen to belong to. Any individualism separates us from the group identity and “classifies” us elsewhere. We’ve been homogenized. We now are the masses described in George Orwell’s 1984.
We’ve unwittingly sacrificed our individualism and our ability to think for ourselves for belonging through identity socializing and we don’t even know it. Safety in numbers always results in the death of creativity. Every genuinely great figure in history has seen this and moved past it in forging their own individualism while risking rejection and excommunication from their superficially defined social groups. Can you? Do you even know that this has happened to you?