Sunday, 21 April 2013

Universal Conformist

For some reason I woke one morning with the words of Donovan's song 'Universal Solider' running through my head. The key parts of the song are:

“But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned him at Labau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put an end to war.” (Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1964).

The key issues are that the universal soldier isn't aligned with any political perspective or religious view or any nation. He fights on both sides of the battle and “without him all this killing can't go on.”

The universal soldier isn't the mercenary. He is anyone who joins the military to fight for a cause no matter how just or unjust. He accepts the orders to fight for his country. He is taught not to question orders and to conform with military life. He represents all who accept are willing to conform with a cause.

Nonconformity has its costs. Daniel 3 records a story of three Jewish men who stood firm in their faith against the demands of a Babylonian king. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other plotters against the Nazi regime where put to death. In both these situations, the ruler seeks conformity from their subjects. In the Daniel passage, Nebuchadnezzar sought all people to worship the golden image while Hitler sought people to support his racial cleansing. Like the universal soldier, they are not expected to question. They were expected to follow instructions.

Also like the universal soldier, these regimes would not survive if those closest to the ruler and lower down the ranks did not conform. You could argue that far drove their conformity or an appeal to something that they sought or devised.

Just as the universal soldier enables war to go on so the unquestioning conformist allows regimes or systems to survive. Conformity is easier than resistance. Yet it is the resistance or those who resist who have the higher impact for good.

In terms of economic systems, the large number of people who conform allow it to continue along its road to creating the elite rich and the large group of poor. Without the conforming of the people to the operation of the economic system then the system couldn't go on.

A business man assumes he can have 30 days credit from someone who does work for him because he believed that is how business works. In reality, he is forcing his supplier or provider to take on the credit risk for his business. He assumes all his suppliers will conform to his business model. When someone challenges this he is offended.

Yet we see throughout history, it is those who challenge the system at the risk of their lives who actually have an impact. Teh Daniel passage shows this with Shadrack, Meshach, and Abendigo. Bonhoffer died without seeing the change he sought but there are others like Martin Luther King, and Ghandi who through their opposition brought permanent change. This could also be said of Donovan era war protesters. However, if we don't maintain the nonconformity or the questioning then there is a tendency to fall back into past habits.

If we want the change to happen then we need to be part of the change and we need to consistently work for it. Those who seek us to conform to their way of social behaviour or economics or individual rather than collective ownership should feel the pressure.

My thoughts originally on this idea of collective conformity was to do with economics and money creation through the banking system but I can also see it applying with respect to collective ownership and taking ecological responsibility. We can set the example for change and should actively pursue the systems that we believe should exist.

My message is that we need nonconformists who are willing to stand up for what is right who challenge the very principle that encourages universal conformists to destructive systems. We are the people who usher in the new world.


Buffy Sainte-Marie (1964) Universal Soldier (recorded by Donovan in 1965).

No comments: