Individuality Is Illegal

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In suspended animation my childhood passed me by
If I speak without emotion, you'll know the reason why
Now i'm to begin a life that i'm assigned
A life that's been lived before a thousand times

The Who, 905

In any given society that works via a collective or Hive Mind, the introduction of individuality into a single member can have one of several consequences.

  1. The individual is destroyed or removed, either by the other members of the collective or by some internal mechanism such as an Assimilation Academy. This individual is deemed dangerous and therefore not a part of the social order.
  2. The society is destroyed, since the structure itself is so finely balanced that the introduction of a different element into it proves catastrophic. This can lead to chaos or genocide.
  3. Something crucial that the collective protects or maintains is destroyed, which can be anything from a single structure to the known multiverse.

See also Assimilation Plot, where individuality isn't just illegal, it's physically impossible. See also The Evils of Free Will, where this is also illegal, or at least someone wishes it was, but not really a problem thanks to Mind Control and Mass Hypnosis. All of the Other Reindeer is also somewhat related to this trope, and also the "Aliens as Communists" section of Scary Dogmatic Aliens.

See also Loss of Identity, the consequence of this on former individuals.

Examples of Individuality Is Illegal include:

Comics[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Infinite Crisis, the Monitor/Anti-monitor dichotomy is fractured into multiple Monitors, one per remaining alternate Earth. During much of Countdown to Final Crisis they are too busy arguing to stop the events that are destroying the remaining 52 worlds. As Linkara put it;

Monitor A: "We should do something!"
Monitor B: "Should we do something?"
Monitor A: "We should do something!"
Monitor B: "Should we do something?"
Monitor A: "We should do something!"
Monitor B: "Should we do something?"
Monitor C: "We're CHANGING!"
Monitor A: "We should do something!"
Monitor B: "Should we do something?"
(ad infinitum)

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Auditors of the Discworld are creatures of pure law and order, who loathe individuality so much that any Auditor who uses the personal pronoun "I" tends to spontaneously vanish, to be replaced by another, identical Auditor. In Thief of Time, a number of Auditors take human form, and their excursion to the Discworld ends in chaos and bloodshed, with the only survivor driven hopelessly insane and committing suicide in a vat of chocolate.
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand has a society where collectivism has become so extreme that first-person singular pronouns are banned. In fact, all the novels of Ayn Rand feature this trope as the ideal of the villains.
  • This is how the ants are portrayed in The Once and Future King by T.H. White, when Merlin takes Wart into an anthill.
  • In the sci-fi mystery short story "The Barbie Murders" by John Varley, the investigators are hard-pressed to investigate a murder in a colony of "Conformists", all of whom are surgically altered to look exactly the same (thus nicknamed "Barbies") and who all receive news simultaneously, not distinguishing between themselves ("this body") and others. Individualists within the colony are seen as outsiders at best (as with the investigators) and perverts at worst (as with the murder victim, who was a converted Barbie who still engaged in individualist practices).
  • In A Wrinkle in Time, the inhabitants of Camazotz are subjected to extreme, enforced conformity, ruled by an entity known as IT. All houses, yards, and trees are exactly the same, and deviation from the regular, psychic rhythm of IT results in harsh punishment and reconditioning. At one point, Charles Wallace, who is demonstrated to be psychically sensitive, willingly enters the mind of IT and becomes cold and sociopathic, ultimately only recoverable by his sister's love.
  • Played for laughs with the motivational posters in Captain Underpants.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche implied that the human society in general works as a hive mind and invented the concept of Ubermensch who had enough individuality not to bend backwards. This idea was immediately dubbed "villain morality".
  • Lois Lowry's The Giver comes to mind immediately.
  • One of the main characteristics of the clone society in Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.
  • D-503 in We is actually horrified to find himself developing an individual personality.
  • Not illegal, but the Dark Nest Trilogy has Hive Mind insects called the Killiks, who have several species, each with its own slightly different Hive Mind. Killiks can force people of other species to join the Hive Mind, at which point they still answer to their names and have their abilities, but are wholeheartedly in support of Kilik conquest, and are referred to as Joiners. A Jedi Joiner, serving a species that's not the same hive that conscripted her, finds her Joiner-ness fading, less information coming to her through the Hive Mind, and her individuality creeping back. As a Joiner, this horrifies her.
  • The titular character in Harrison Bergeron is one who can cast off the oppressive laws of an "egalitarian" state where the strong are forced to carry heavy weights and the smart must wear earphones that distract them every few seconds by loud noises.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four, iconically.

Live Action Television[edit | hide]

  • The Borg seem susceptible to such monkey wrenches. One such individual named "Hugh" (from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "I, Borg") comes to mind...
  • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Return of the Archons" had a civilization mentally controlled by a mad computer. Anyone who escaped control was brainwashed into rejoining "The Body". Anyone unaffected by the brainwashing was killed. The uncontrolled members helped the Enterprise crew destroy the control computer.
  • A prominent theme in the Village in The Prisoner, especially in the episode "A Change of Mind". Unmutual!
  • The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica Reimagined has an interesting take on this. All humanoid Cylon models have personalities attached to their models. They also have a limited form of memory sharing/collective consciousness. Despite these, however, every single humanoid Cylon is an individual. The catch? They don't realise they are individuals. Word of God says it is the slow realisation of individuality that puts Cylons into an increasingly fractured state until it finally blows.
    • In addition, different models have different opinions on how "individual" a Cylon should be from his/her model. Ones (Cavils) believe in complete uniformity, Sixes believe in individuality but draw the line at opposing their model and Eights seem almost eager to break it and find their own identity at the cost of everything else.
  • An episode of The Twilight Zone centered on a world where once every person comes of age, they are forcibly given plastic surgery and a personality change to make them beautiful and identical to everyone else. The protagonist is a slightly plain faced girl who desperately wants to be herself.

Music[edit | hide]

  • On the album The Adversary by Ihsahn, several if not all songs seem to deal with the idea that the "genius" is unappreciated and rejected in human society.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In the game Zero, the PC's are former members of the Equanimity, an underground hive mind revolving around Queen Zero. They must escape from their now-hostile former comrades.
  • She Who Lives in Her Name, otherwise known as the Principle of Hierarchy, believes that free will and individuality are horrible mistakes that ought to be corrected, and has Charms that help to make this trope a reality. Ironically, she herself has free will, something she abhors with her entire being and tries to stamp out through absolute and loyal service to her King, Malfeas.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne Hikawa's goal is to create a society based on this trope. And another one.
  • Unusually, a positive example of this trope appears in Mass Effect 2. The geth, the main enemy from the first game turn out to be a mostly peace-loving species with a 5% minority who are hostile to the organic races; they represent the most individualistic, "rebellious" part of their highly collectivist culture (justified by the fact that as individuals the geth aren't even sentient), and effectively brainwashing them to return to the collective is the good decision to make (as opposed to blowing them up). Of course they were Hoisted By Their Own Petard, since they were planning to do exactly the same thing to the main collective.
    • Hell, Legion (your geth Team mate) is out right terrified by the ideal of the geth becoming individualistic, when you try to claim its a good thing.
    • All this may be justified by the geth's true nature: the geth are AI's, and become more intelligent when linked together. This is why there are always many geth in one platform (robot). To the geth, individuality means mental regression, so they despise it.
    • And yet, in Mass Effect 3, one of the options regarding the geth is to upgrade them to full-AI status, which would mean that they are now individual programs instead of conglomerations of semi-sentient programs.
  • In Penumbra: Black Plague a failed attempt to assimilate you into the Hive Mind results in one of the members being stuck in your head. "Clarence" hates it so much that will try to lead you to your death in order to die with you or reintegrate. When you finally manage to transfer him into another body, he is quickly destroyed by other members of the Hive Mind as he's become too unique during the time he spent inside you.

There cannot be one. There can only be us all. There cannot be one. There can only be us all...

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • This was one of the core tenets of the losing side of the Great War that took place 80 years before the opening of RWBY, which inspired their opposition to institute a tradition of Colorful Theme Naming in protest and defiance.

Real life[edit | hide]

  • North Korea
  • Soviet Russia
  • Nazi Germany
  • Fascist Italy
  • Ba'athist Iraq
  • Any totalitarian or authoritarian regime will have this to at least some degree, although in real life Dystopia Is Hard and thus practical difficulties on enforcement may make individuality nominally illegal but permitted (to at least some degree) in practice.

We are the tropers of Borg. You Will Be Assimilated. Resistance Is Futile.