In all societies people complied to some behavioral expectation. In the middle age for instance people felt that they were assigned by God their position in society, and they would comply to the behavior required from a peasant, a knight, a handworker etc with very little social mobility and room for singularity.

Today we might have the feeling that we live in an unprecedented era where people are behaving or expected to behave more and more like a machine. An unprecedented conformism seems to rule behaviors, and singularity seems to be banned and rejected as all behavior trend toward the norm and seems to be programmed to trend towards the norm.

Everyone seems to be called to fit into a job category (software developer, business developer, entrepreneur, science scholar) and comply to the expected speech and behavior expected in this category, with close to no space for identity or singularity.

Is it an impression, that our times see an unprecented conformism and social programming of behaviors ? Are people just more aware than before of the social determinism and social forces which have them comply to some behavior ?

Can we say that people are behaving more and more like machines, and that personnality is deprecated, depreciated and being eradicated ?

  • 2
    Maybe, also because machines are behaving more and more like human beings. Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 10:32
  • 2
    Perhaps because deep results in theory of machines (logic, computation) have indicated that humans, in principle, may not be very different from machines...
    – Ajax
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 10:52
  • 2
    I don't get the question, doesn't your first paragraph invalidate all the rest? If strong conformism was always there in society, why do you see "unprecedented conformism"? I'd say individualism is a lot stronger in our times than in the middle ages that you use as an example for "the past".
    – kutschkem
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 13:42
  • 1
    I am definitely behind the "we are just as conformed as in the past", which is completely at odds with the notion that we are any more machinelike. But we are more aware of it, and somehow ashamed. What is modern is to question it, and expect it to make sense, then, when it won't, to see it as somehow anomalous and amplify its significance. I won't give an answer here because it would be exactly like one I have already given -- philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/70164/43092 Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 16:56
  • 2
    Luckily, most people are not like that but the world suffers the consequences of a small technocratic, capitalistic (there are people with a capital of a small state!), elite.
    – user52804
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 19:37

1 Answer 1



The pre-Black Death feudal era was incredibly regimented, with extremely limited social or physical mobility for most, & being largely born in to whatever job, & mobility only intergenerationally. We find something similar in many places, serfdom, restrictions on movement. Guild or family control of industries. It lasted longer in Japan. It's still present in Indian culture. And it was resurgent on the fascist corporatist model. This makes humans cogs in a machine, or cells in organs.

Lack of job autonomy is linked to range of negative outcomes. But increasing autonomy has been consistently prioritised - even at the cost of uncertainty and precariousness of employment, and need for retraining across most work lives. But people have consistently chosen that side of the balance, from leaving agricultural labouring jobs & domestic servitude for the mills, to the Gold Rush, to a consistent cultural focus on education once a society has rule-of-law & demographic transition to low birth rates. Coding is giving people unprecedented flexibility of where & when to work, & it's a very creative industry - because if a task can be automated, it will be. Automation has mainly taken working class jobs, but will increasingly take middle class jobs, but, mainly ones of rote drudgery. It doesn’t lead to less jobs, but does require new skills & retraining.

Durkheim the foundational sociologist, identified the key characteristic of religion as binding together, through shared attitudes to what is held sacred - both taboos and what is valued or set beyond beyond questioning. Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations theory links conservative views to a broader moral palette, that includes sanctity/purity, and respect, which left wing people don’t value or prioritise much at all. There is a positive place for some types of valuing tradition, of enforcing boundaries and norms like respect for others, and even some kinds of pressures to conform.

But, conservative views have been linked to threat perception and intolerance of ambiguity, propagating a culture of seeking and hyping up threats, and using that to justify violent oppression of difference, or out-groups. Racism and treating groups or individuals as ‘not human’ is the way to make humans have to be more like machines, and return to the fascist atavism of corporatism where some humans are treated as having no dignity or concerns, only there to serve others. Discussed in more detail here: How would you apply John Rawls "Theory of justice" to everyday decisions?

  • "return to the fascist atavism of corporatism where some humans are treated as having no dignity or concerns"
    – kiriloff
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 11:16
  • I could rephrase my question : are we seeing a clear return of fascist corporatism, where some - many - humans are treated as having no dignity or concerns, insofar as they are approched as machines to be programmed, repaired etc. ? Isn't any citizen, any employee, or any user of internet treated with no dignity when he is to comply with expectations of programmatic, rigid behaviors such as when filling online forms or going through standardized processes (recruitment process etc.)?
    – kiriloff
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 11:22
  • 1
    @kiriloff: I think my answer is already there - it's a risk, but generally the semblance of that (eg mill work) masks the opposite. I see us as directed towards a more hive-like or gestalt mind, and the tension as between emergence of that, facing the risk of a free-rider problem associated with group selection (group identity oppressing individuals, rather than serving them). See the discussion here for more philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/78788/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 14:02
  • Humans will definitely have to get smarter. If we wait for evolution to do that, it might not have enough material to work with. 99% of all species that ever existed have gone extinct. 96% perished in one period about 500 million years ago, if i recall correctly. Anything can happen.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 14:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .