Is Social Confirmation Unhealthy For Society? (Using Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, And The Holocaust As Examples) Essay, Research Paper
Is Conforming Necessary for Establishing a Successful Society?
It is not difficult to observe the conformation of society. Every day advertisements jump out at us, promising the value of their product by subtly telling us “everyone else has it, you should too.” For example, look at the cars many people are driving. Although gas prices are very high, more sport utility vehicles are being bought now than they ever were. Television advertisements portray sporty young couples setting off for the mountains in their new Explorers and Land Rovers and we, as consumers — the beneficiaries of these advertisements — agree that driving through the rugged outback in our vehicle must be the perfect way of life. So everyone buys these vehicles, despite their impracticality, and those who have not yet submitted to the force of the advertisements, will soon submit to the pressures of society. Although this “peer pressure” type of conforming may not seem harmful in advertising, it has certainly put a dampening on other facets of our society. Issues of homosexuality and gender or culture differences can hardly be spoken of because they are not “politically correct.” However, many of the problems our society has are due to these issues. How are we to resolve anything if it is uncouth to even bring then up? Unfortunately, due to the nature of these issues, and the fear of being labeled “racist” or “right winged” many problems are left unresolved — although they are still left on the minds of the individuals.
Societal views influence almost everything done by an individual. If societal pressure always has negative affects on the individual, why do we allow ourselves to succumb to it? Is there any possible good that can be derived from following society?
In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad describes the internal life of a man in the absence of society. His character, Marlow, agrees to work on a steamship that will venture through the Congo. Through his stay, he socializes mainly with the natives working on the ship, to whom he is superior. The goal of these steamships is to bring back as much ivory as possible, and this objective is fearfully being kept by a man known as Kurtz. Although Kurtz is nothing but a myth to Marlow, he is known to be “a prodigy . . . an emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and devil knows what else.” (Heart of Darkness, 87) Marlow I intrigued by this man, and the more he hears of Kurtz, the more anxious he is to one day meet this god-like figure.
From the first time Marlow descends from the steamship and steps into the Congo, his heart becomes desensitized. The first sight he sees is rows upon rows of black natives, chained together, dressed in only a cloth around their waists. They are toiling beyond the limits of their physical strength and look in horrible condition. His conclusion is justified when he observes a small section of woodland that appears to be moving. As he moves closer he realizes that the dark figures were not trees and stumps, they were natives — preparing to die. In Marlow’s world in Europe, life was preserved above all else, and just watching these poor souls quiver in the darkness affects him in strange ways. These natives, although still people, no longer seem human to him. Their existence becomes merely a means to an end.
The more time Marlow spends in the Congo, away from the laws and taboos of society, the more primitive and bestial his instincts become. Without anything holding him back, he learns that in the jungle only the fittest survive. In order to assure the preservation of yourself, you must become greedy, unemotional, and hard. When Marlow finally does meet Kurtz, he is at the peak of his darkness — only one more step and he would be consumed. However, Marlow is not so far gone that he does not recognize the evil in Kurtz, “The wilderness had patted him on the head . . . it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation.” This man had spent so long a time away from society that nothing seemed wrong to him. He had only two instincts — survival, and greed.
Heart of Darkness purely demonstrated that society is necessary for the preservation of life. Without society the wilderness would affect us as it affected Kurtz,
” . . .the wilderness — that seemed to draw him into its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions.” (Heart of Darkness, 135) Although societal pressure may lead us to do wrong things, it also keeps our natural instincts in tact. In cannot be argued that we are all governed by the instinct to survive, but without laws and general rules most of the human race would be eliminated by itself!
It seems that the most profitable way for us all to survive is in the presence of other people. However, sometimes a society may be so corrupt that it actually hurts much more than it helps. During the holocaust, nearly a third of all Jews in Europe were eliminated — and this was with the consent of an entire society! How could this have happened?
The only explanation for this hideous event lies in one man — Adolf Hitler. Hitler was eager to rise to power and what better way to do so then to give your people something they’ve always wanted: a scapegoat. Hitler quickly earned popularity when Nazi propaganda proclaimed the Jewish as the “problem of society.” He accused them of being the filth that infiltrated the streets of Europe, as taking away money from more worthy families, and more importantly, for causing the death of Jesus Christ. Although he had nothing personal against the Jewish population, they were the perfect scapegoat. The German population, as well as some of Europe, was very quick to blame someone for their economic shortages, and if Hitler was accusing the Jews, then he must be right. Hitler gained increasing popularity.
When Hitler began developing the plans for his Final Solution, his original intent was not to kill all the Jews, he merely wanted to punish them by hurting them, taking away their money and property, and maybe killing a few to get his point across. However, slowly, a darkness consumed Hitler and the plan for his Final Solution became to eliminate all the Jews. It seemed that the more and more ruthless Hitler and the Nazis became with the Jews, the more they tried to outdo their last horrifying act. They began by kicking them out of their homes and placing them in ghettos. Then they took away the older generation and the younger generations in all the Jewish families. Finally, they took everyone else to labor camps where they would be worked to death, however, these deaths were not quick enough for the Nazi’s and they built gas chambers instead. “It was between three and thirty minutes — it depended on how much gas they put, but soon was nobody alive anymore.” (Maus II, 71)
The holocaust seems to prove the fact that not even society can stop our murderous and loathsome instincts from coming out. However, it is not the presence of other people that controls our will, it is the laws that are created to govern us and the general feeling society has toward those laws. For example, in America, child pornography is strictly looked down upon, but unfortunately, there are sick people that enjoy this type of entertainment. Compared to hearing about the raping of adults, the raping of children is not very common, and when it does happen a huge commotion is made of it. Americans believe that the exploitation of children is more serious than the exploitation of adults, so fewer sexual crimes are committed toward children than adults.
Although the holocaust took place in the presence of a society, the ideas of that society were changed. Before Hitler, the thought of exterminating so many people would have been unheard of and morally disgusting, but as Hitler carried out his act more and more people began agreeing with his scapegoat idea. Hitler and the whole Nazi party received the support of the German society. Even if their ideas weren’t supported by every individual, most people just went along with it because it seemed to support the German nationalism of which they were so proud. Unfortunately, going along with his ideas brought out the primitive instinct in the hearts of all that were involved. Following society lead to six million deaths.
In Heart of Darkness, the absence of society and rules are what led the men left in the jungle to become murderous and selfish. Without anyone to frown upon them or punish them, they were free to do what they pleased — and that consisted of following their basic instincts.
Both the holocaust and Heart of Darkness prove that society is necessary to preserve human life on this planet. However, if the views of a society change negatively, so as to harm life, the lives of many people could be needlessly destroyed. In order for a society to protect its people, it must have laws, moral codes, rules, and taboos. Not all pressure from others is bad, it keep us from becoming selfish and reminds us that the only way we will all be able to live, is if we live together.
Just the book “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad