Have we fallen prey to the “curse of conformity”?

There is only meager evidence that we Americans recognize the urgent task confronting us — to shift the emphasis from “bigger” to “better,” from the quantitative to the qualitative, and to give significant form and beauty to our environment. An evolution of this kind would add moral authority to material abundance, would open up frontiers that we have been slow to explore.

The writer of the piece from which this passage is drawn criticized the conformity and “extreme specialization” in our society. He noted the “triumphal march of the practical sciences ” over the “magic of life,” and he lamented how “(t)he artist, the poet, the prophet have become stepchildren of the ‘organization man.'”

Back to the future, once again?

These are the words of Walter Gropius, renowned architect and professor, from a 1958 essay — “The Curse of Conformity” — in the Saturday Evening Post. Founder of the Bauhaus school of design, he normally critiqued the lack of diversity and variety in modern architecture, but he diverted his focus in this piece to address society and organizations generally.

Significant elements of Gropius’s conceptualization of America circa 1958 certainly manifest themselves in our nation today. In fact, the Great Recession and the ongoing mess that has followed seem like a natural consequence of what Gropius wrote about some 54 years ago.

***

I was introduced to “The Curse of Conformity” via a delightful 1960 volume of Saturday Evening Post essays titled Adventures of the Mind, edited by Richard Thruelsen and John Kobler, once distributed as a dividend-book by the Book-of-the-Month Club. Inexpensive used copies are available from booksellers.

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