By Roland Watson

I'm going to begin this article by reviewing the challenges that people in two distinct sets of circumstances face, in resisting negative social influences. Their personal situations make this basic trial of life even more difficult.

Special case 1 - employees of institutions

The first of these comprises the employees of social institutions, including the government, corporations, media, and organized religion. The question is: How can you fight form, if you are working inside one of the institutions that are responsible for so much of it?

For yourself - for your own form, you should recognize that over time your employment is changing you. It is conditioning you. Your proximity to your peers - and insularity from others - is gradually, unconsciously, causing you to accept the institution's messages and values. Moreover, you may well be one of its tools in its attempts to achieve the subservience of others.

What can you do about this? You can begin by remembering that you do have a say in your choice of employer. You can leave your particular institution, and the entire world of institutions as well. You can go off on your own, or find a small group of like-minded individuals with whom to work.

Also, if you do decide to stay in the institutional world, you should recognize that some environments are more tolerant than others. For example, some corporations are open and easy-going, while others are dictatorships. If necessary, you can - you should - change jobs. You can find a better environment. There's lots of information available on which companies are good places to work and which are bad.

Even more, you can see for yourself which institutions are spreading bad messages, and which are not. It's worth remembering that institutions arose as a social phenomenon as a means to help us - to help individuals, in one way or another. Many still do. Moreover, by maintaining your awareness of the institution's culture, its conformity, you can quietly counteract it to maintain your independence.

You of course also can - and should - push for change, but be careful. Most institutions are intolerant of internal dissent, if not of all dissent, and you could easily find yourself fired.

More generally, you should refuse to sell yourself. Use the institution. Don't let it use you. Work long enough to get the experience that you need, and then strike out on your own.

It is absolutely guaranteed that you will find working for yourself far more rewarding than being a paid employee. Also, if you ever achieve great success on your own, try not to forget your roots - your ideals - what you were fighting for.

Finally, regarding the effects of the institution on others, you should refuse to pander its most egregious messages, and, in any case, avoid the worst of the worst: don't work in advertising!

Special case 2 - people on the edge of survival

The second special case involves individuals who are struggling to survive, include all the poor and disadvantaged people around the world. Of what concern is form to them? How can they even think of breaking free of it?

In many cases people are poor in both income and education, and the latter - their ignorance that derives from their lack of education - makes them particularly susceptible to form. Even worse, in the modern world there is no place, no matter how remote, that is untouched in the institutional quest for domination and control. The sources of form want to influence everyone.

The simple answer to this question, then, is one of utility. People who are struggling to survive, who actually constitute a majority of the world's population, must try to fight form, to the best of their ability, simply because they are among the most at risk.

Fortunately, this is where a positive consequence of the principle of equality comes into play. It is easy to look down on people who aren't doing as well as you, or who live in countries poorer than yours. But, not only is this prejudice; it is also wrong. You are not better than them.

No human being is fundamentally different from - or better than - any other. That's why we can say that there is such a thing as human nature.

Some people may be inherently smarter than others, but what I have found in life is that everyone has their own distinctive talents. Some of us can understand differential equations; others have a great affinity with the natural world; and still others have extraordinary sensitivity for when people are being insincere. The idea that there are huge innate differences between people is yet another arcane form.

Everyone needs to break free of form, and everyone can. Everyone can - and does - understand life, meaning what is happening to them in their lives, and they can fight the negative elements.

This is another reason why democracy is a viable social system. Everyone can combat the small influences in their lives, as well as the great.

At issue, then, is the form of a particular person's culture and everyday situation, including the limits that are placed on them. Most of the people around the world who live in poverty need to break free of autocratic rule, by striving for democracy. They need to break free of corruption, by creating and enforcing a national rule of law. And, they need to break free of ignorance and superstition, by advancing their, and their children's, education.

In conclusion, to be free, you must reject form. You further must recognize that the sources of form will never give up. Even when you believe they are defeated, they will rise again. You therefore can never give up, either. This struggle is a fundamental condition of life.

But, you can do it. Every one of us is able. You can break free, and there is no better time to start doing it than now.


To close this series, I want to discuss rebellion. I just covered the special case of people living in poverty, and noted that many of the world's poor live in countries that are political dictatorships. They are in fact being keep poor by the dictators, to reduce their ability to rise up.

In these situations, when you are being suppressed with the worst types of form, you have to rebel. You may even need to fight physically to gain your freedom.

But, and more generally, all of your efforts against negative social influences actually represent rebellion. You are rebelling from people's attempts to control you, in both big ways and small.

Rebellion is not a weak word. It represents a strong, and sometimes violent act. In the worst cases you - maybe not you, but many people on the planet - are being formed, and controlled, with violence. Moreover, in some of these circumstances pacifism and non-violence will work, they will be effective against the violence, but in others they will not. Rebels in conflict situations risk their lives, and their families, for their beliefs - for their determination to be free. Real rebellion requires that you take chances, and expose yourself to danger.

Rebellion in concept is simple. It means that you will not do what you are told to do. However, in practice it is always difficult. This is because, in addition to the danger, there are the risks of false, and misdirected, rebellion.

In conflict situations, false rebellion is rebellion meant only to achieve power, but which is presented as a fight for social justice. With victory, the rebels renounce their stated aims and instead become the next group of dictators.

For misdirected rebellion, this occurs when rebels undermine their ethical foundation by engaging in terrorism, or by colluding with criminals.

For example, many of the individuals who fought colonial powers around the world, particularly in the decades following World War II, were false rebels. When their nations achieved independence, they consolidated their power, often by using force against their former allies, and then established autocracies.

The same types of risks will exist in your rebellion against social conditioning. For instance, conformity is often disguised as rebellion, such as in the lyrics of "pop" music. Pop music, by definition, is conformity.

Following someone with a loud voice, even a loud "cool" voice, and being part of a mob, even a "trendy" mob, is not rebellion. As the author John Le Carré noted in his book, The Little Drummer Girl, real rebels are not just "looking for a better conformity."

What this signifies is that rebellion should serve a purpose: to achieve personal freedom, or to change the social order. Unfortunately, it can easily degenerate into anarchy, nihilism and self-destruction.

Finally, in your rebellion, you should try to keep emotion out of it. Your rebellion may be driven by hate, or rage, over what has happened to you, over what other people have done to you. But, when you do rebel, you should suppress these emotions. Guiding your rebellion with reason will make it much more likely to succeed, and much less likely to be misdirected.

The next series is about self-knowledge. I want to help you understand yourself better than you ever have before.

© Roland Watson 2013