The Dynamics of Conformity
The pressure to conform is the underlying dynamic of belonging to a group. If you don’t conform you soon become part of an out-group or shift to another in-group. In-groupness and out-groupness is a foundational study in Social Psychology ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYIh4MkcfJA ). The trade-off for in-groupness is conformity and the by-product is a loss of innovation, creativity, new ideas and discovery learning.
Generally, groups form around a charismatic leader, new ideas or for security. People are attracted to a group because of a common interest and are motivated to belong for what association benefits. The power of belonging creates it’s own invisible norms and rules for membership but these are desired because various controls of the group offer security, consistency and comfort. Similarly, the power of belonging in itself creates forms of blindness to the limitations of the group. This is the foundation of how groups develop their own culture and on occasions can become a cult.
Conformity is about going along with the group, doing what the group wants (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8902776_Social_Influence_Compliance_and_Conformity). Non-conformity is about challenging group norms, formal rules and social rules. What often happens in schisms is a new group forms around a new idea or another person and so the cycle goes. Furthermore, group identity then tends to become insecure and so strength and safety in security is rewarded by demonizing ‘the other’.
You can see this pattern in the history of institutions and periods of rapid change. Often visions, visionaries for change and new ideas come from Poetics – artists, writers, music, philosophers and aesthetics. In Poetics one is not controlled by measurement indeed, control via measurement is anathema to Poetics. The purpose of measurement is a mechanism for control and the management of deviation in a group. When your ideology is about absolutes, conformity, stasis, controls and duty you can be sure there will be no new ideas.
I am currently writing my ninth book on the nature of vision and risk and as part of the book I have been researching visionaries and the vision. One trend becomes very clear in the research when it comes to vision, seeking creative ideas, radical thinking or visionary leadership these are most found outside of the group. In the new book I have researched over 20 visionaries and how they have influenced change in Australian culture and society. One such visionary was Marion Mahony Griffin.
The following is an extract from the book
The city I live in Canberra, is a designed city, the vision of Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin. The story of that vision is often attributed to Walter but even a casual reading of their relationship will show that the design of Canberra was perhaps more her-story than his-story. Walter in his letters attributes much to Marion’s work as more significant than his own and it seems when investigating her-story much of the humility attributed to her speaks more of the patriarchy of History than the reality of her significance and influence. Unfortunately too, some materialist/behaviourist historians tend to dismiss the work of Marion because of her interests in Spirituality and her views on Transcendence.
Marion Mahony Griffin was one of the first licensed architects in the world. Both she and Walter were idealists, philosophers, writers, dramatists, artists, graphic semioticians, thinkers, architects and devoted to Poetics (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6061397/making-magic-the-marion-mahony-griffin-story-reveals-the-soul-of-the-capital/#gsc.tab=0 ). The story of Canberra is not just about two architects who won a global competition to design a city. The Griffins had a vision not just for the ‘ideal city’ but also for an ideal way of living in community. Although Marion ‘played’ the role of helper, it is clear that her vision and energy, her spirituality, philosophy and vision were the reason why Walter was both successful but also a failure. It seems most visionaries experience this dialectic between failure-success.
Where ever the Griffins went they encountered the games of petty politics, power brokers, orthodoxies and conservativism. The way both were treated from the day they arrived in Australia in 1914 to guide their vision for Canberra is simply atrocious. It is perhaps another story to tell how Public Service Mandarins sought to consciously side line and isolate Walter from the building of Canberra. There was also the nature of petty inter-party and intra-party politics that virtually guaranteed nothing Walter and Marion envisioned would be achieved. When Walter was finally terminated as the Director of Design and Construction of Canberra in December 1920, he and Marion turned their sights to other visions. Like many visionaries they realised that fighting the non-vision of conservativism, orthodoxy and certainty is a lost cause and one not worth fighting.
Marion was controversial in many ways, Walter was more conservative having been raised in a middle-class family and also with a shy retiring temperament. Marion was 5 years older and 5 inches taller than Walter but also towered over him in her radical ideas and philosophy. It is said that Marion proposed to Walter and was also instrumental in him entering the competition to design Canberra (Korporaal). They were married in 1911.
In 1895 Mahony was the first employee hired by Frank Lloyd Wright (https://www.curbed.com/2017/6/8/15755858/marion-mahony-walter-burley-griffin-wright-drawings). Her drawing skills are legendary and she would often use her initials ‘MLM’ in drawings ascribed to Wright in a subtle and squiggle in the corner perhaps, looking more like a knot in tree or spider on the bark of a tree. Such was her style of making her mark. Marion was instrumental in Wright’s success and was critical to the work of The Prairie School of Architectural innovation and Oak Park Studio. She worked for Wright for 15 years before Walter joined the studio.
It was Marion’s drawings, perseverance and insight that won the competition for the plan for Canberra. It was her view of the Celestial City, her cosmology and spirituality that created the vision for a city that would humanise persons and create a unique social community. Marion’s understanding of spirituality started at a tender age, brought up in Hubbard Woods she was always convinced she could see fairies, undines, gnomes and mystical creatures. As a young girl Marion was raised by a feminist mother (her father died young), part of the radical Chicago Woman’s Club. Marion was educated in an environment of female activists, labour reform and women’s rights. Abraham Lincoln was a friend of the family and would drop by on occasions.
Marion understood herself as a being within nature and later when she discovered Anthroposophy was able to integrate many of her spiritual ideas into her architecture, drawings and dramatic enactments. Marion’s part in the dream for Canberra is documented here: https://www.hamessharley.com.au/knowledge/marion-mahony-griffin . Korporal’s excellent study Making Magic, The Marion Mahony Story. (2015) Oranje Media. Sydney. Is an excellent retelling of her-story.
In everything Marion did she demonstrated the Love-Hope-Faith-Justice dialectic and this often brought her in direct conflict with orthodoxy, authority and the forces of Technique. (it is these that define the nature of vision).
When Marion first arrived in Sydney in less than a few months she was arrested for demonstrating against the war. The USA was not committed to the war and as a pacifist she was therefore identified as an enemy of the state. Meanwhile Walter was experiencing the petty politics of public servants and political parties and inter-city (Sydney-Melbourne) rivalry. The Capital of Australia at the Time was Melbourne and this is where the offices for the Design and Construction of Canberra were administered. Situated against this was the influencial and powerful demands of Sydney and its growing competition against Melbourne which had long since lost its power after the decline of the gold boom in 1895. The location of Canberra between both cities was intended to appease the factionous bitterness between the two cities.
Once Walter was terminated from direct supervision of the design and building of Canberra the Griffins moved to Sydney and commenced their vision and social experiment for the development of the ideal town of Castlecrag. It was here too they met with the backwardness and resistance to vision by local councils and various conservative voices. It was here they were able to create some of their vision for a unique community with their cliplock houses and flat roofs and the Haven Scenic Theatre where many plays and festivals were performed bringing the community together in a flair for the arts and imagination. It was at Castlecrag where the Griffins gathered around them an amazing collection of visionaries, artists and free spirited people with unconventional ideas. Marion was sure that ‘dark forces’ were behind those who opposed her.
At every turn the Griffins were met by the power-centric forces of Technique and Propaganda. These two forces demonstrate the ideology of efficiency over all things and the disguising of power through false messaging. Marion simply pressed on with her vision. A friend Miles Franklin, wrote in 1928 about the Griffins persecution as ‘shameful and terrible’ but typical of Australia. Marion herself wrote in a letter back to her home in the US that Australia was ‘a nation of pessimists full of fears, ideals are rarely to be found in this country. All policies are based on fear’. Fear is the enemy of vision, compliance the enemy of creativity.
It is demonstrable that Marion’s drawings and vision for Canberra were the reason for the Griffin’s success. It was the particular drawing of the proposed Canberra Elevation that clinched their success. The drawing is one of pure imagination with four drawings joined together drawn in ink and gold leaf and 6 metres long.
The Griffins believed that cities should be carefully designed to fit into the landscape, following the contours of the topography, with as little damage to the natural surroundings as possible. The site, with its wide river floodplain surrounded by hills, was a natural amphitheatre. As they began to imagine a new capital for Australia, it was not hard to see that Marion thought of the seven hills which surrounded Canberra as the ancient city of Rome.
Proudfoot’s work (The Secret Plan of Canberra https://pubhtml5.com/rukq/auqx/basic ) truly captures the mystical and semiotic fascination about Canberra and Marion’s vision. Proudfoot draws out the unique vision of the Griffins and particularly the way Marion and Walter built into the design of Canberra many spiritual and Occult-like symbols.
Today Canberra is very much like the city of Rome designed by Michelangelo. The mountains and hills of Canberra cannot be built on by regulation and so create the mood of the ‘bush capital’. What this design does, along with the seven lakes is emphasise a city that circles. Occultic shapes of the rhombus, triangles, vestias and octagons make for a city that is hard to navigate, but this is good keeping out through traffic and disrupting communities. What this design does is slow people down, it is a city that makes people think. No straight lines anywhere, if you get lost you can’t just go back around the block.
Despite the early opposition to the Griffins many critical aspects of their city design and the Griffin’s vision for a humanising city where money and power give way for people, parks and nature are a pleasure to see and live in. Motorised vehicles are not allowed on the lakes and the roads are in the valleys, it’s hard when travelling about to even see the houses or suburbia. On weekends it is a delight to experience the Griffin’s plan in the many parks, cycle paths, walking around lakes and the open spaces.
Canberra is a marvellous semiotic haven. Those who visit to learn about the Social Psychology of Risk can be treated to days after days of unique excursions into the connection between life signs and symbols and how they create a collective unconscious in a city. Because it is the capital of Australia it is a concentration of other unique architecture, symbols, places and monuments to the rich history and spirituality of our country.
What an amazing experience to live in a city that is part of Marion’s vision.
Conclusion for the Risk and Safety Industry
If you are seeking vision and new ideas in risk and safety you probably won’t find them from within the industry. It is most likely that vision and new ideas will be found from outside the group. This means that any discovery of new ideas will probably come from NOT reading risk and safety stuff and by associations with people OUTSIDE of the group. If you do find a good idea or something visionary that threatens the risk and safety group most likely this will be your slippery slope to becoming an outsider, pushed out the back door. But don’t worry, the world doesn’t end when you leave a group, you simply find a new group that seeks a new vision that is not fearful of new ideas.
Griffin, D., (ed.) (2008) The Writings of Walter. Cambridge University Press. Melbourne.
Korporaal, G., (2015) Making Magic, The Marion Mahony Story. Oranje Media. Sydney.
McGregor, A. (2009). Grand Obsessions: The Life add Work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Melbourne: Lantern.New York Times.
Proudfoot, P., (1994) The Secret Plan of Canberra. University of NSW Press. Kensington.
Roe, J., (2020) Searching for the Spirit, Theosophy in Australia 1879-1939. Wakefield Press, Kensington.