How I became a Uniformist
At Philosophocle, there are many paths. There are stairs angling proudly up the hills and sinusoids winding leisurely through the garden. There are zigzags of wheelchair-accessible alternatives, basement tunnels lined with hot-water pipes, ladders hung from trees designated good for climbing, forbidden rooftops (to be traversed only during power outages, when the electricity to the alarmed door cuts off). People have chosen their paths, like Jacob who always chooses the zigzagging path rather than the stairs even when he’s late for class, to remind himself “there are no shortcuts to life”, or Albert, who dreams of being a squirrel, and is still practicing his tree-climbing so he can make it across campus without touching ground.
As I entered the Ideologies Fair, I wondered: what would be my path?
A huge crowd had gathered around the Creativist booth.
“Be Diferent! Be Divient!” their sign advertised.
On the left of the table were piles of plain white shirts. On the right was a box containing many tiny little wooden boxes. In the middle was a buffet table of decorations, including glitter, glitter glue, metal hooks, plastic eyes, pipe cleaners, bubble-letter tracers, a Random Quote Box, beads, thread, yarn, buttons, paint, spray paint, felt, sew-on-pockets, cardboard, cotton balls, flower petals, acorn caps, last autumn’s leaves, feathers dropped from birds in flight, and coconut shells.
“A lot of people tell you that you can benefit society most by following the standard path,” said a girl behind the table whose nametag read “Trevisia.”
“But we believe that a life with a single unique attribute is more well-lived than an unoriginal but helpful life. Of course, the more unique attributes the better. Creativism is simply creating, ad infinitum.”
“How can we join?” an enthusiastic freshman asked.
“As a warm-up you can design your own T-shirt,” Trevisia gestured to the buffet table. “Please make sure it is sufficiently different from everyone around you! Once you are ready, you will need to go through the Initiation…”
Trevisia was certainly unique. She wore a hat made of bread, two earrings upon which dangled wire letters A through Z, and a tie-dyed shirt filled with hundreds of eyes, from cyclopean to arachnid to plastic. She sported candy-cane striped hair.
I shifted uncomfortably under the stares of all those eyes. I pointed at her shirt and interjected, “What is the meaning of all those eyes?”
“No meaning,” Trevisia said, “But they do have names. This one is Cycloon, this one is Goliuth, this one is Arakaye, this one is eye4eye…”
I soon tuned out, as the fervent creating all around me led me to the question of, how would I decorate my shirt? My first thought was geometric shapes—but I looked at the boy next to me, and he had already drawn out a hyperbolic tessellation, with the animals of the zodiac embedded inside. I thought to make an acronym of my name, but Kakup had already done that (Kapricious and Kool under pressure). I thought to draw a coat of arms representing various aspects of myself, but the girl besides me had drawn not one but ten, arrayed in some genealogical tree of her identity.
Then I had a brilliant idea. The others had creative shirts, but the shirts were narrow in meaning and scope, like one of the many possible paths on campus. I would make a shirt that encompassed all the possible paths at once. I would use every single ingredient. Already I was mentally appropriating them: the glitter glue would be the stars; the coconut shell would be the Earth; the eyes signified all the life forms, terrestrial and extraterrestrial; last autumn’s leaves represented the inevitable decay of all things beautiful. Finding an empty bit of floor, I sat down and got to work.
It was not until thirty minutes later that I stretched out the shirt in front of me to examine my handiwork—with mounting horror. The shirt was not simply ugly, for it was worse than diseased reptile skin, which although ugly, is at least natural. I cannot describe the object I had created, except to say that even now, as I am thinking about it, I find myself scrunching up my face, breaking out in sweat, and grasping my knees to keep my body from shaking, until I remind myself of the existence of luminescent jellyfish.
“That’s beautiful!” Trevisia turned her multitude of eyes on me. “You would make a great Creativist. Why don’t you show the rest of the people here your creation—?”
Could it be? The Creativists were so starstruck with the act of creation that they would sing praises even when one of their kind created a monstrosity?
“Come back, Froggulon—Frobobbon? What was your name again?”
I hurried away, hiding my face. This was the final straw. The Creativists were not content at decorating shirts with all manner of unnatural appendages, they also had to decorate my name with all manner of unnatural consonants!
So eager was I to exit the Ideologies Fair that I would have barreled right through the exit had not I heard a voice, “Looks like we lost another one to the Creets!”
Eager though I was to escape the ignominy of unsuccessful creation, I would not have it be said that I was a “Creet”! The source of the voice was a girl behind a plain wooden table, in a gray shirt with a large black U in the middle. She had on a name tag with “My name is Not Important.” A boy sitting beside her had the same shirt, but with no name tag.
Noticing my attention, Not Important said, “Welcome, fellow student! May I see your shirt?”
I turned so I was facing the table. “What, this?” It was a shirt that said, PHILOSOPHOCLE: A PINNACLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION in lofty letters, amidst a background of clouds and pinnacles.
“No, the shirt you just made.”
Not Important winced and shielded her eyes. Unnamed stared at the shirt, looking but not seeing.
“My feeling is the same,” I assured Not Important.
Unnamed spoke up, “Such are the fruits of unbridled Creativism.”
After he spoke, I heard a beep. In front of the Creativist booth, someone stared intently at a slip of paper, before throwing it aside, and started warbling opera in a language that no human could understand. Not Important winced again. Unnamed handed me a pair of earplugs, which I gratefully plugged in. Not Important and Unnamed followed suit.
Unnamed offered me a T-shirt and a brochure.
Every day the world around us pressures us to be unique—to talk in a different style of poetry in order to mark ourselves as having high artistic taste, wear clothing with designs no one has ever seen in order to win people’s praise for our fashionability, or to earn a grade that no one else has (like 100%) in order to be included in a “historical figure” box in the next edition of The Squirrel’s Guide to Philosophocle.
We are the Uniformists. We believe it is neither necessary nor virtuous to be unique. Uniqueness leads to egotism, triviality, frivolity, artistic confusion, a belief that the world is conspiring against you, and hallucinations.
Instead, we celebrate our common humanity. In a world where everyone is asking you to be different, we find solace in being the same.
Q: How can I join?
A: Wear a U-shirt and join our daily lunch table!
“You should have been before the Creativists!” I told them after the opera finished. “Then I wouldn’t have wasted so much time making this shirt!”
Not Important and Unnamed looked at each other. “Unfortunately, the Activities and Ideologies Fair has two entrances. What’s ‘before’ to you is ‘after’ to someone else.”
“It would make more sense for one to be the Entrance and another to be the Exit, so everyone is moving the same direction,” I pointed out.
“But it wouldn’t be fair to impose Uniformity on everyone. Uniformity is a choice,” Not Important said.
“But the only reasonable one,” Unnamed added.
“Excusez moi,” Trevisia called from the adjacent table, “We’re running out of shirts. Will you give us some of yours? We’d pay for them, of course.”
“Absolutely not,” Unnamed said, “we can’t allow you to deface our pure shirts!”
Not Important cut in. “Un, Uniformists are supposed to be uniformly kind! I empathize with your lack of shirts, Trevisia, but I am afraid I cannot conscientiously sell our T-shirts if they will be decorated upon. What will students think, if they see U-shirts that have been painted with markers and plastic eyes? It will send a conflicting message about the meaning of ‘U’, and lead to fragmentation of our society.”
I started laughing. The scene was absurd. The Creativists still had glitter, glitter glue, metal hooks, plastic eyes, pipe cleaners, bubble-letter tracers, a Random Quote Box, beads, thread, yarn, buttons, paint, spray paint, felt, sew-on-pockets, cardboard, cotton balls, flower petals, acorn caps, last autumn’s leaves, feathers dropped from birds in flight, and coconut shells, but no shirts!
“It’s like making a bread with sugar and no flour. Or writing a thesis with pen but no paper!”
Unnamed held up a hand. “Do not use unsanctioned metaphors,” she said, “for what if they make it into the next edition of The Squirrel’s Guide to Philosophocle, and become a mark of distinction between the ingroup and outgroup?”
I was immediately chastised. Trevisia was still looking around frantically for shirts; her skills apparently did not involve Creating shirts out of thin air.
“You can have my shirt back!” I said, throwing my Creativist shirt at her.
“But Frokkoli—Frungular? Don’t you want to show your creative side sometime?”
I ignored her protests and walked smoothly out the door of the Ideologies fair. I had found what I had came for.