Friday, October 31, 2014

American Uniformity

On my way to Holbrook last night I was listening to a podcast of talk by Allan Watts, who was an Englishman living in America who brought Eastern philosophies like Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism to Western audiences and who for years had a show on the Berkeley, CA, Pacifica station, and he was pointing out that despite Americans' reputation for individuality we are quite conformist, and he demonstrated, by way of a story of an eight-year-old girl being repeatedly admonished by her mother to sit a certain way, how we are beaten into socially acceptable constraints that limit our behavior and eventually our thinking.

There are all kinds of examples of conformity in our society and there's even a fairly widely accepted belief, I think, that we've become increasingly homogenized as we've been able to move around the country more easily and as the mass media does its work.

I thought of the example of the "cowboy." Ranchers dress within a very limited range of styles. There's a uniform, an extremely limited range in cut of shirt, pants, boots, hat and coat. For Sunday go to meeting there's another uniform, and that's the limit of their wardrobe. The same goes for cowwomen.

This all occurred to me this morning as I was backing my compact Chevrolet S-10 pickup in next to one of these monster pickup trucks they sell now. A 3/4 ton or a 1-ton pickup isn't such a big one any more. I'm seeing 2 1/2 ton and 3 1/2 ton pickups, and more and more of them.

The big pickup is the standard mode of transportation for a certain segment of the Albuquerque working class male. Having one or not affects a man's entire mode of public being and psychologically defines his persona, and the same would go for any type of accessory or uniform that demarcates class, profession, or whatever identifies one to oneself. Think biker. Jock. Lawyer. Male and female. Individuals we are not.

I wear the "old hippie who wears certain items of western style clothing" uniform, which conveniently doubles for the "certain type of old truck driver who doesn't know what else to wear" uniform. My uniform lets it be known that I'm different only in that I belong to a smaller subset than some.

I once was somewhat non conformist, but the days when I would wear one kind of shoe on one foot and another kind on the other are long gone.

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