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Does conformity halt progress?

November 17, 2010

Yes! In my opinion, accepting tradition and following the actions of others can be destructive to a person, and to society, for many reasons. First, it is important to focus on how it is destructive to oneself. Many people have a fear of speaking against the majority and taking a stance that seems to go against the majority’s thoughts. For example, even in a simple academic setting, withholding your opinion can have consequences. Let’s say that everyone in a classroom agrees on a specific interpretation of a theory that you do not accept; yet you refuse to voice your opinion and conform to the other interpretation. Not only will the students suffer by missing out on thorough debate, but also there is a chance that YOU will suffer because your interpretation may, in fact, be more accurate. This reasoning applies to situations on a larger scale as well.

The second aspect of harm that occurs due to the failure of expressing your opinions is the harm that it causes society. Mill makes an argument that the

“peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race.”

In one instance, it can harm the human race because if your opinion is right yet you refuse to speak up, society will remain ignorant. Furhter, even if your opinion is wrong, the argument will strengthen the current status quo and there will be a “livelier impression of truth.” I am well aware of the hesitations one may have of speaking out against a united front. But we are at the University of Michigan, where diversity exists at its finest. There will undoubtedly be someone who agrees with you, or even better, someone who learns from what you have to say. Questioning traditions is the only way to make progress, so what would our country be if all its citizens feared taking a stance. It is easy to make excuses for holding back, but why not try to take Mill’s advice, while it is fresh in our minds, and stand up for our beliefs, even if they go against tradition.


  1. Taylor Fields permalink
    November 17, 2010 12:37 PM

    I agree with your basic support of Mill’s argument: questioning tradition makes progress. But it is important to realize this is not the only way progress can manifest, and incessantly questioning tradition hinders tradition as well. Tradition is not always harmful: lessons our parents teach us, as in manners, warnings our parents give us, like ‘don’t eat yellow snow’ prevent us from mistakes, and traditions our families instill in us, like holiday and cultural practices enhance our life. Tradition is not the problem we face, but ignorance, blind faith in trusting the past combined with a failure to discover hinders us. Tradition is not the problem; our inability to differentiate between beneficial and harmful traditions and evolve from that point hinders the progression of society.

  2. Samantha Eisler permalink
    November 17, 2010 1:56 PM

    When I first read your blog post I was in complete agreement. Challenging opinions is a great way of leading to progress. However, Taylor makes a great point about how constant refutes of tradition may cause more harm than good. At a certain point, focus will have shifted to the on going battle between tradition and reform, rather than the key topic at hand: the truth.

  3. emilywiho permalink
    November 17, 2010 3:11 PM

    I also agree with Taylor. Although I agree with your post that questioning tradition is important and beneficial to our understanding, I don’t agree with the extent of your argument. I don’t think that it is wrong to ‘accept tradition’ and ‘follow the actions of others’. In many ways, traditions are fundamental to our upbringing and culture. As a Chinese person, there are a lot of Chinese traditions that are very much part of my culture and my upbringing. In many ways, it is what defines me and my family. We celebrate traditional festivals and we do many ‘traditional’ things.

    On the other hand, I definitely agree that questioning tradition is also important. By questioning, we understand better why we have those traditions and why those traditions are important. Also, by questioning, some traditions which may not be beneficial can be stopped. Traditions like foot-binding or traditions that prevent females from going to school are not necessarily traditions that are beneficial and so by questioning we can stop them.

    Total rejection and constant questioning of traditional could also be dangerous, however. The Cultural Revolution in China was the movement which totally rejected all old traditions and destroyed many traditional buildings and culture that China had. It’s tragic now that because of that, many of the traditions are lost and destroyed.

    Therefore I think that Taylor was right in pointing out that we must be wary of the distinction between ‘good’ traditions and ‘bad’ traditions, and use our freedom of inquiry to question on them with the purpose of furthering our understanding and identifying the ‘bad’ traditions.

  4. ariellagomolin permalink
    November 17, 2010 3:18 PM

    I am in agreement that one needs to be able to express his or her opinion. Suppression of one’s opinion and belief is not only detrimental to the person himself but to society as a whole. On the point that you assess freedom of expression as important in society, I agree. However, I do agree with Taylor as well on the basis that too much expression and too extreme of an opinion may in fact cause too much harm. This harm, even though it is not harm in the literal sense, can in fact cause tumult in a society. Although questioning the norms of tradition can be helpful in a society, it can also come to a point where it becomes harmful. The point that Taylor brings up can be explain two fold. Yes, it is important for tradition to be kept because it instills in individuals basic morals and viewpoints that will never be hindered. On the other hand, what if an individual TRULY does not believe in what his or her parents are instilling in them. What if an individual finds nothing wrong in eating “yellow snow”, then should he or she stop eating this snow because tradition and values have told her not to? I believe the answer is no. There are two levels are tradition that an individual can question. When it comes to basic beliefs and morals, yes I do believe that hindering one’s right to express an opinion is the correct thing to do. I do however, also believe that when it comes to certain traditional or cultural norms in a society or a family, if an individual truly does not believe in lets say, the fact that yellow snow is bad for you, expressing his or her opinion will not hinder tradition and society as a whole and will allow for him to feel as though he has a say in his life and society.

  5. Koralcf permalink
    November 18, 2010 10:50 AM

    I think that challenging tradition is critical to the society we are living in and the society that we have decided we want to live in. If we didn’t challenge tradition, racism would still be around. If we didn’t challenge tradition there would never be progress to better our society. In other societies tradition holds more importance. I think that the preference to challenge tradition or go along with traditions stems from where a person lives. In the United States today, the concept of tradition is simple; we use tradition to explain activities we do every holiday rather how we run our country.

  6. arjunindianhongkongkid permalink
    November 19, 2010 2:48 AM

    Harmful Tradition and Helpful Tradition. Who defines these things? One Tradition of our lives has been, do not smoke weed in College, just an example, so bear with me. Now, as the world seems to challenging tradition and I believe, this tradition will be challenged (some may argue it is already being challenged) and there will be legalization possibly. Laws are constantly changing, “Hey you shouldn’t Drink and Drive.” Oh wait. “You can drink and drive if your BAC is below 0.08”. People change, and so laws change to fit people’s conveniences. Is it good or is it bad? No one knows. We judge merely on who makes the best argument. Much like what the great Socrates was accused of, “Making the weaker argument stronger”, A couple of modern day Socrateses might help legalize weed, and we say Burke is stern conservative moron.

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