At the moment I am working on an exam for Introduction to Sociology and I find myself somewhat disgusted with how much humans assimilate to social norms. One of the questions on my exam relates to socialization, which as defined by my instructor and the text, is what makes us human. While I agree that without early socialization we would not be able to develop language skills, there are other things that bother me. Do we learn to assimilate to our culture as a result of socialization, or does some inborn need to assimilate cause our socialization? I assume it is the first, as supposedly all humans are supposed to be social beings. If we assume that we assimilate because of socialization, I worry about what our socializations teach those who are fragile and just learning of the world. While I agree that as a “civilized” species we should have certain “moral” guidelines that we should follow, including a respect for others around us, I feel that the emphasis on conforming to “norms” is just a bit over the top and is severely repressing the development of our species. At some point someone proposed the notion that “everyone” in our “local society” has a cell phone and thus now, every person over the age of 7 now has a cell phone, whether they need it or not, everyone must conform. I think of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “The Game” (S5 E6), in which a harmful game spreads among the crew of the ship, turning them all to mindless zombies. It is almost analogous to every major social trend in every culture. Why does anyone play “Farmville” for example? Probably because they accepted an invitation after a friend “gave” them a bale of hay or a cow or something. These nasty social habits and conformity are contagious throughout society. One of the most common examples of the force of conformity through socialization is tendency of children who use their left hands to write to be socially sanctioned in some way until they conform to the more socially acceptable right handed behavior. Why does everyone have to be the same? Schools claim that children who choose to have green hair are a distraction. Why is this? Because the student does not conform to the acceptable natural colors, and the other students have not been taught that there is nothing wrong with green hair. The fact that teenagers go through a rebellious phase is at this point a socially expected thing, which leads to the fact that it becomes part of their socialization. I can not be certain, but it seems as though it may also be a tool of socialization, to create an opportunity for the sanctions to be tested and to re-enforce the need to adapt to social norms.
Conformity is regulated by social sanctions (dirty looks, negative comments, more direct actions of punishment), and is ultimately the tool of socialization. Socialization is the process by which an individual is forced to assimilate to “the way we do things”.