Mark Twains article Corn-Pone Opinions presents a highly significant issue, which sounds rather acute nowadays. The authors main point is that a person who wants to be different from the group he or she belongs to is rejected by the society. It follows that if people have their own views on some matters, they should not express them freely. Instead, they should compare their opinions with those of the majority, and only in case they coincide, people are allowed to share them. In other words, if an individual does not conform to the society, they risk becoming outcasts.
On the one hand, this severe rule of survival in modern society may seem perfectly clear and reasonable. Humans are innately social beings, which implies that they cannot fully realize themselves outside human surrounding and become who they are meant to be. Thus, if society has a great influence on ones destiny he or she should take its unwritten laws for granted and obey them blindly. On the other hand, how can a person fully realize his or her potential, become a personality, and contribute to the well-being of society if no difference is allowed? In this connection, one should always bear in mind the fact that a human is not a permanent but constantly developing being that is not satisfied with a present state of affairs.
People are always looking for something new and creative, what gives them more possibilities of inner growth. Undoubtedly, the latter has nothing to do with conformity. If one conforms to general opinion or interest, it proves that one does not have a will of their own or is afraid to manifest it. People who lack willpower never withstand outer influence and, as a result, will never have new achievements they can be proud of. It goes without saying that it is easier to conform rather than resist outside pressure, but it is also true that conformity gives birth to prejudice. Prejudice against different racial groups, a burning desire to be like other rich influential people, eternal lust after power and fabulous wealth all these factors have caused and continue causing numerous wars and enormous human losses. Therefore, I completely agree with Twains argument that man is highly dependent on other society members since we all are social beings and have to stick to existing rules if we want to survive and be members of a definite group.
As for the structure of Twains argument, his first claim is that man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter. His second assertion runs as follows: people are dependent on others because of their nature to conform, which, in turn, is predetermined by their eternal desire of self-approval. The latter, however, is nothing but other peoples approval of a definite person. I believe that Twains claims are quite reasonable. In the first place, if someone has a brilliant, original idea, sets up a business, for instance, and gets successful, he or she should share with others; otherwise, this business would not survive, and social status may be lost.
Secondly, a persons self-image really depends on other peoples opinions. One can hardly be satisfied with his or her outlook, behavior, social status, etc. if people keep telling them that they look awfully, behave terribly, and are losers or something like that. People who always hear words of disapproval become cruel criminals while those who live in the atmosphere of love, trust, and care become caring and prosperous personalities. Not every person can withstand permanent negative influence. Non-conformists can do it because they hardly care about others, but society has always greatly feared people who are different from the majority and have original ideas. We tend to perceive non-conformists as potentially threatening to our stable way of life, are afraid of them, and, finally, end up hating and labelling them as the worst people ever.
The author gives the following reason for his first claim: If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors, or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities (1). Thus, somebody who does not conform or take into consideration the opinions of the majority is likely to get expelled from society. As for the second assertion, people have corn-pone opinions only because of innate conformity that stems from their desire for other peoples approval.
Mark Twain supports his first claim with numerous examples. A definite type of clothes becomes popular when an influential famous person introduces it. In the same way, fashion runs its course and disappears if somebody stops wearing a piece of clothing and others imitate this behavior. Twenty-five years ago there stood six or eight wine glasses by each persons plate, and they were used. Nowadays, there stand three or four glasses, and an average person hardly uses even two of them. We do not think why it is so; we simply accept and follow it. The same happens with morals, religions, and politics: they get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking (2).
The second assertion is supported by the fact that conformity is born of the human beings natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise a yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted, and must have its way (2). The authors warrant for the first claim is that dependence on other people is bad since it may lead to a complete loss of individuality and critical thinking. For the second claim, the warrant is that human nature to conform is innate and, consequently, unconscious.
In terms of Aristotelian view of the argument, one can analyze Mark Twains article in connection with ethos, logos, and pathos. First of all, it is possible to say that his ethos is rather weak. The point is that people cannot perceive Jerry, who was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man a slave who daily preached sermons from the top of his masters woodpile, with me [Twain] for sole audience, (1) as a credible persuader. Despite the fact that Twain as a little boy believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would someday be heard from, (1) it did not happen. It is no wonder because nobody will take into consideration little boys opinions, and we can hardly find childish dreams trustworthy.
Unlike ethos, authors logos is rather strong. Having shown us what kind of person Jerry was, he confesses that his friend was mainly right but could not make really deep conclusions. Now it is Twains turn to refute some Jerrys ideas. Firstly, the author disagrees with the statement that human conformity is always intentional and calculated. Secondly, he claims that an original opinion, which is not affected by outer influence, may have sometimes existed, but it does not exist anymore. Public opinion or the Voice of God defines resentment or approval of different objects; it functions this way in all spheres of human life such as clothes, manners, religion, politics, and literature. Nobody reasons out why something is fashionable, good, or bad. People follow others because it is simpler, safer, and sometimes even more beneficial than proving ones own opinion. Conformity is in human nature; if we conform, we are like others, and they accept us. If society accepts us and approves of us, we also like and accept ourselves.
Twains appeal to emotion is rather strong, too. As the author puts it, when something new appears, people are shocked and may even laugh; some time later they are reconciled and start to admire that innovation. It happens so since we have the natural instinct to passively yield to that vague something recognized as the authority, and in the second place by the human instinct to train with the multitude and have its approval (2). Humans tend not to think but imitate only because they cannot withstand outside influence. If people invent standards, they hope they will last, but it does not happen so. The reason is that we confuse standards with fashions which are perishable and have nothing to do with reasoning them out.
To sum up, I completely agree with both Mark Twains arguments. A person really depends on others because an individual is surrounded by people of the society they live in. Human life is impossible without interaction, communication, and cooperation. Thus, regardless of our desires or preferences, we have to take into consideration needs, opinions, and behavior of people surrounding us. If we do not do it and try to be better, cleverer, and more prosperous, others are likely to start hating us and hindering our development. In this connection, conformity is the only natural way to get our fellows approval and feel as a part of a whole. What makes the matters worse is that this enormous dependence on others for the sake of becoming a member of a herd makes the majority betray their life principles, as well as consciousness. Unfortunately, this is the way the world has always functioned.
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