“We do not quite say that the new is more valuable because it fits in; but its fitting in is a test of its value–a test, it is true, which can only be slowly and cautiously applied, for we are none of us infallible judges of conformity.”, the famous poet T. S. Elliot once said. Ethics and conformity go hand in hand; it is hard to talk about one subject without involving the other. The past two weeks of this humanities course has been centered around the relationship which exists between these two subjects of matter. The course allowed us to receive an in-depth look at the decision making process, including moral and ethical decision making, and to compare this to that of other students and writers. The process of decision making varies from person to person, and is normally dependent on the value system of the person who is making the decision. With peer pressure, the pressures of conformity, and the need to fit in, the present generation is making decisions based on other peoples belief systems; thus, risking their future and well being to gain the acceptance of others, and subtracting from the beauty that ones personality possesses.
Ethics are personal issues that each person must determine for themselves. For example, would you let your two-year-old niece pick your hair color? Then why would you let just anybody determine if you should drink, do drugs, or have sex? This subject of decision making is very touchy to myself because there are so many variables that come into play. I could not say what my ethics would be on any given day. If approached with a situation I would be able to determine my stand point at that moment in time based on what I felt right then. Otherwise, it would be almost impossible to tell the truth. Do not be hasty when making decisions. First, decide if the decision/outcome has any level of importance to you. If it does decide carefully, for the outcome is yours to deal with. Each individual person has their own set of ethics. This set of moral principals can vary radically, depending on the subject, circumstance, or even upbringing. On any given day an individuals morals can change depending on the happenings of that day or previous days. One tiny event may have such a large impact on an individual that they may choose to rethink their whole ethical system. The ethics you determine are yours and yours alone. You do not need a book explaining why you feel the way you do. Each individual has suffered through different hardships and has breezed through different high periods in their life. Ethics build as a person ages and experiences more. The more you have seen and witnessed, the more able you are to draw conclusions as to whether you have a point of view on that particular subject.
In addition to individual and personal codes of ethics, each person also has their own method of making decisions. Hypothetically speaking, a college freshman is at a Fraternity party with her new girlfriends. While at the party her friends decide to try the drug ecstasy; she has never done drugs before. Her friends tell her that the fraternity guys said the drug makes you feel good all over. “C’mon, don’t be a chicken *censored*, if the guys do it then we can do it. It’ll be so much fun”, one girl exclaims. Another says, “Don’t you want to fit in? The fraternity guys will love you if you party with ‘em. We’ll never have to worry about getting into another party again.” After hearing this one starts to contemplate there final decision. Personally and foremost I would definitely not want to participate in this act. After hearing the comments of my friends, I would feel more obligation towards there point of view. I might begin to weigh the pros and cons of the situation but rarely do I do this. Normally I think about tomorrow. I often ask myself the question, ” Tomorrow will this matter?”. If the answer is no then it’s probably not worth it. I make decisions based on my future. The choices that you make determine the life that you live. When it comes to decision making each person has their own method. Some make decisions without much thought while others toil for long periods of time over minuscule decisions. When making decisions a person should take into account their ideals and what they hope to receive as a result of their decision. At times, one should meticulously make decisions depending on the level of importance to that person and their current situation in life. Not all people use a decision making process; some would never dream of contemplating a decision. This type of person tends to live life on a whim and will decide quickly whether they want to do something or not. Go with your gut instincts and decide the way that feels best to you.
Some people place a higher value on status and exterior images than on self-respect. Self-respect is having confidence in yourself and your decisions. If one has self-respect for themselves they do not let others tell them what to do. Self-respect allows one to own up to their choices, no matter what the income. In George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” Orwell is confronted with a situation in which the latter statement directly applies. While in Burma, working as a police officer for the British, Orwell is called upon to contain an escaped pet elephant. While searching for the animal a villager is trampled to death. The villagers become scared and look towards Orwell to maintain control. He sends for an elephant rifle to show the people that he does have the authority; this is a perfect example of the futility of Imperialism that was occurring at this time in Burma. The villagers flocked behind him, as they wanted to see him exterminate the animal. Orwell did not plan on killing, but with the pressure of the watching villagers he felt he had to in order to show the natives he was not a fool. Afterwards Orwell walked away from the dying animal because he could not look at what he had just done. The only captive in this Burmese colony is the captor. The British inhabited the colony which means that they have control, yet they feel pressured to do what the Burmese want and expect.
“Shooting an Elephant” gives the reader an in-depth look at the decision making process based on pressures to conform and fit in. The way in which Orwell goes about making his decision is very easy for the reader to comprehend. Orwell begins by explaining his situation then goes on to talk about the event with the elephant. Towards the end of his essay he explains his circumstances and the decision he made based on those circumstances. Orwell makes decisions based on what other people think. He does this because he wants to fit in and be well liked. Orwell is in a foreign country which puts him in a position where he doesn’t belong. He wants to belong! Orwell’s basis for decision making is geared towards Burmese approval.
Orwell’s thinking, as recorded in this essay, is very similar to that of Machiavelli. Both men believe that it is better to be respected by others than to have respect for oneself. (Machiavelli,56) Machiavelli’s main concern for governing the people is to keep their faith and thus in return, the people will stay under his rule. (59) This is how Orwell thinks when he decides to kill the elephant. He shoots it, not for himself but, for the Burmese people; “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool” ( Orwell, 68) He did it to save face, he felt that he couldn’t let the natives down and risk looking like a fool. (Orwell, 68) Orwell can also be compared to Socrates. This is because Orwell felt regret after killing the elephant; he knew that shooting it went against his morals. Socrates also felt regret. Socrates was imprisoned for speaking irrelevantly of god, and seeking truth by questioning the scholars of the village of Athens. In Socrates Crito, he explains that he cannot disobey his punishment or the morals of the state, although he has not disobeyed the state in his mind. (48-54) Socrates believes that one must follow the truth and divine commands, even at the peril of death. (Socrates, Apology, 28)
“The City of Robots”, by Umberto Eco reveals the hyper realities of Americas fantasy theme parks. Eco explains that Europeans have a different view of amusement. Whereas Americans flock to these “fake cities”, Europeans travel to the real thing. The amount of “fake cities” (Eco, 442) available to America’s public is horrendous. The united states goes as far as making model ships, when the real thing could be visited. The whole idea is to create a sense of “realism of the reconstruction” (Eco, 443). Eco states, ” the consumer finds himself participating in fantasy because of his own authenticity as a consumer?” (Eco, 443). Americans are like robots because they visit these “fake cities”, knowing they are completely fake, and passively participate while standing in never-ending lines doling out large sums of money. Eco concludes by saying that “Disneyland is its [US] Sistine Chapel”, meaning that Americans value something that is false so much that it is like a religious place of worship.
Umberto Eco’s viewpoint is also similar to that of Machiavelli. Throughout Eco’s essay examples are given which relay comparison between Machiavelli, the visitors and the makers of these “false cities”. One can also conclude that Machiavelli’s morals are similar to the author, Umberto Eco. Machiavelli asks himself how do I give the people what they want? Machiavelli’s main goal as a leader was to have the people love and respect him, but also fear him. (56) He knew exactly what to say and do to get the people on his side; it was a game to him. These ideals are very similar to the American Government and Eco’s interpretation of fantasy parks. The makers of these ” false cities” are trying to benefit themselves by making the public happy; they are showing conformity. The capitalistic government often asks the question how do we give the public what they want? Along with, how can we make more money? “If the visitor pays this [behavior like robots] , he can have not only ‘the real thing’ but the abundance of the reconstructed truth.” (Eco, 448) The visitors show conformity and relation to Machiavelli because they believe that these “false cities” are really great. The visitors show Machiavellian ideology: they choose to go to “fake cities” and spend money there. The visitors also show relation to Machiavelli in that they control the makers of the “false cities”. Americans who travel to visit these false realities are very much conformists and also products of the United States capitalistic, consumerist society. Eco states, ” Its visitors must agree to behave like robots. Access to each attraction is regulated by a maze of metal railings which discourages any individual initiative.” (Eco, 448) What a shame!
“The City of Robots” is another excellent essay pertaining to moral decision making. The essay is geared towards the American Society as a whole. After reading Eco’s work one must take a step back and look at the situation through their own eyes. The essay does an excellent job of revealing America’s horrors and gives the reader a clear picture of the atrocious morals possessed by the society as a whole. Eco’s essay outlines Americans and their dependency upon fantasy worlds, such as Disney or Epcott. The essay shows how capitalistic the United States is. It’s not that one does not see these traits, but reading about them through another person’s perspective helps to reveal the issue in a whole new light. Eco’s message is that Americans are being fooled into helping make our society more capitalistic and materialistic. He says that by participating in these fantasy worlds, which we know are completely fake, we are conforming to society. We leave these theme parks with a false reality and we lose our desires to experience real events. (Eco, 445) In this day and age, an individual has all the resources to get out into the world and experience it, but so may people are completely worn out and will settle for theme parks as opposed to the real thing. Theme parks take much of the hassle out of going on vacation. They are a mindless place for a family to go on vacation and act like a drone, or ‘robot’.
An interview conducted of a fellow student here at Drexel proves that conformity is not always one’s main reason for making decision. The student interview helped me to gain a better understanding of my interviewee’s decision making process. She is not a conformist. Julia makes decisions based on her needs and wants. She does not care what everyone else is doing. She feels that if everyone is doing it then it’s probably not worth it. She is very much an individual and wants to stay that way. There is no influencing her in her process; she weighs all the pros and cons and decides the final outcome. In relation to myself and my decision making process she is very similar. Basically, our only difference involves spontaneity. She has it, I don’t. Both of our process’s show relation to the works of Orwell and Eco and the decisions made within the essays.
In correlation to my student interview, based upon ethical decision making, one topic pertains to “Shooting an Elephant”. That topic is one in which a student was asked to go to a party and once there, was somewhat pressured into trying drugs. The person interviewed answered the question in a similar way to that of Machiavelli and Orwell. My interviewee stated that if she went to a party and was asked to do drugs she might not do them if she had never tried them before, but if she had then she would have no problem doing them. She shows a bit of conformity by saying that she really wouldn’t want to be the only one not doing the drug. She does want to fit in but she does not want to take personal risks. Conformity is a large concern for many people in the world today. Everyone wants to be normal. Most people feel that normal is doing what everyone else is doing, which is wrong. Individuals need to determine their morals and values. Then they must make their decisions based upon these viewpoints. No one should let anyone tell them what to do.
There is no direct relationship between my ethical interview and Eco’s stance. If I had to come up with a question/answer that did, I would have to say?You’re in the sixth grade and you are out in the hall before class. You’re locker is next to one of the most popular boys in school. You overhear him talking to one of his good friends and telling him that he has got to wear Guess clothes from now on. He goes on to say that all of the cool kids wear them and that he will just look poor if he doesn’t. Finally he says “you won’t be cool if you don’t, and I won’t talk to you cause I don’t want to look like a scum bag.” What would you do in this situation? For me, at the age of 12, in the sixth grade I probably would have gone out that night and bought tons of Guess clothes. The younger you are the more concerned you are with conformity. This question relates to Eco and Machiavelli in the following ways: The child was given a mandate saying that he would no longer fit in if he did not dress a certain way, therefore he decided to dress in the way needed to fit in. This is similar to Eco’s conclusion: by participating we conform. Secondly, the child is told he has to wear Guess brand clothing. This is a perfect example of how materialistic and capitalistic our society is. The direct relationship between Machiavelli and the question is that Machiavelli feels that all who reside under him should be complacent, this boy is just that. Ethical decision making has a lot to do with our society and how individuals have been raised.
Overall my reasoning about conformity and making decisions has not been swayed or refined as a result of my analysis. Although, the analysis has helped me to grasp a better understanding of personal morals and their relation to self-respect and the decision making process. I have always been a person who chooses their own path. No one tells me what to decide or how to act. I am not a follower; I can’t stand people who let others make their decisions for them. Each individual knows what they stand for and has developed, over time, their own personal set of morals. Individuals may not be aware of their morals but when it comes down to making a decision it is easy to determine what type of morals and individual has. At one point in my life I was very concerned with how others interpreted me. I didn’t want to not belong. I would do anything to fit in with the popular crowd. As I get older I am able to step back from this situation and realize that it’s not always better to do what everyone does. If I make my own decisions then it is easier to live with my mistakes. Why should I let someone else place me in a sticky situation that I could regret for the rest of my life?
Mueller, Gilbert and Alan Crooks, eds. Major Modern Essayists. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994
Eco, Umberto “The City of Robots.” Mueller 442-448
Orwell, George “Shooting an Elephant.” Mueller 62-68