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Individuality Is Illegal

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Stand out? Stand down.

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. (Then again, it can also lead to a great awakening where other members discover their own individuality and it turns out that life is better that way. But naturally, the collectivized version of society didn't really see that in advance.)
  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. If individuality is frowned upon instead of being illegal, see Loners Are Freaks. Compare Against the Grain, which is the act of going against expected roles.

See also Loss of Identity and Identity Breakdown, which are the likely consequences of this on former individuals.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The premise of Dead Leaves is this. People who show signs of individuality and who don't conform to society are considered to be mutants and sent to a prison on the moon. Most of the prisoners are also literal mutants.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Atari Force second series, Morphea the Canopean was raised in a society where even desiring individual needs among a collective is forbidden and subject to punishment by the Hive Mother.
  • 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)
  • This is the driving force of Adam Susan's philosophy in V for Vendetta although he gets better. Then...

    Fan Fiction 
  • All Mixed Up!: Oprah runs Precinct 13579 under this mindset, as it's one that many Directors before her have carried for years. As Odd Squad's main focus and primary expertise is mathematics, agents are conditioned to have, at the very least, a basic understanding of it and basic skills in it. If they are skilled in another subject and have that as their area of expertise, then they must conform to loving mathematics like everyone else. Failure to conform may result in a few harsh scoldings, while actively fighting back may result in getting fired from Odd Squad. Mariana Mag, the story's Big Bad, is an example of this in action, and it's why she has a personal grudge against Oprah.
  • Empath: The Luckiest Smurf: In Psychelian culture, personal pronouns are forbidden, thus all Psyches must refer to themselves as "this one". Empath, being raised in Psychelia, eventually has "this smurf" as his personal Verbal Tic.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, this is played straight with the geth, then subverted. Thanks to something related to helping fix another extra-galactic malfunctioning AI some geth begin to exhibit individualism, culminating in an amicable faction split between the Consensus geth and the new "nar tasi" ("children of no one") group that operate as individuals (though still being collections of runtimes—they won't reassociate with other runtimes outside their group the way "normal" geth do).
  • In Story of the Blanks, this is enforced by the residents of Sunny Town by accident. They have mistaken cutie marks for a curse, and will kill any pony who discovers their talent and gains such a mark.
  • In The Things by Peter Watts, individuality isn't so much illegal as it is a totally inconceivable concept to the alien. To a creature such as it, the idea seems like an affront to all that it knows about biology, not to mention horrifyingly lonely.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Equilibrium: Along with the emotion suppression, one of Father's many broadcasted lectures explains that his government strives to abolish individuality, with every person living a life of perfect unity with everyone else. From what's seen, the law-abiding members of society do seem to live very similar (very drab, empty) lives. The "sense offenders" who break their law by not taking the drug Prozium to suppress emotions ultimately take the dictatorial government through their resistance, leading to an armed revolt.
  • A variation in Rollerball. Rollerball player Jonathan E refuses to retire, so is targeted for death by the megacorporations that run the game. During a meeting of executives, we discover the reason for this Disproportionate Retribution—the purpose of Rollerball is to demonstrate the futility of individual effort. Jonathan has threatened this Aesop by becoming a champion player.
  • Z-O-M-B-I-E-S (2018): The community of Seabrook is a complete offender of this trope, having an extremely "perfect" community of having the same house design, car models, and all the clothing and toiletry colors there are limited to pastel pink and blue (sometimes green); absolutely no one living there can be different. Addison is the odd one out in the community due to having natural-born white hair which she hides under a blonde wig; when she took it off to stand up for Zed and the zombies, she was resented.

  • Anthem by Ayn Rand has a society where collectivism has become so extreme that singular pronouns have disappeared, and anyone who (re)discovers first-person singular pronouns is publicly executed. In fact, all the novels of Ayn Rand feature this trope as the ideal of the villains.
  • 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).
  • 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 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 insanenote . and committing suicide in a vat of chocolate.
    • Of note is why Auditors spontaneously vanish if they develop an individual identity: they decided that since any individual existence inevitably ends after a length of time and any length of time is minuscule compared to the age of the universe, they will immediately disappear if they develop their own identities. This being the Discworld, Auditors who realise they've developed an identity promptly do just that before they have time to figure out their logical mistake.
  • In The Giver, the Community is run by a very precise set of rules-people have been engineered so that they all look the same, experience more or less the same things, and react with the same quiet contentment and patience, and any deviance from this (see Asher's "snack"/"smack" incident) is punished. Breaking the rules thrice results in Release.
  • 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.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche implied that human society in general works as a hive mind and invented the concept of the ‹bermensch who had enough individuality not to bend backwards. This idea was immediately dubbed "villain morality".
  • 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 Magic: The Gathering novel Planeswalker, Phyrexian newts are physically identical, have temporary numerical designators instead of names, and are treated as interchangeable and expendable. Then Xantcha, the protagonist, meets another newt which thinks of itself as Xantcha. Each has become attached to that appellation, so they alter their appearances to distinguish themselves from one another. This mild act of rebellion horrifies the other newts, since only priests are permitted to modify a newt, and from that point onward Xantcha is treated like a freak and an outcast.
  • Harlan Ellison's short story "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman is about one man's struggle against a dystopian society in which everything is done on an extremely precise timetable.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire
    • It is a rule in The Guild of the Faceless Men. You have to be 'no one'. They will ask you. They will know if you lie.
    • The Unsullied are an army of slave soldiers who have been trained to obey any command and lack any personal desires. They are each given a new (generally humiliating) name every day, which is picked randomly.
  • In the Star Trek Novel Verse, the Breen are allowed to be individuals, but not too individual. They have an egalitarian multi-species society based on masking species so there is no possibility of prejudice or favoritism based on it. This inevitably means hiding other aspects of themselves as well, so as not to give cues as to what their hat is.
  • D-503 in We is actually horrified to find himself developing an individual personality.
  • One of the main characteristics of the clone society in Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) 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.
  • The Nebari from Farscape are a highly conformist culture who will gladly Mind Rape anyone who tries to deviate from their repressive norms. Series regular Chiana is a fugitive who escaped with her brother to live their own lives, which in Chiana's case mostly involves sleeping around as much as she wants.
  • Game of Thrones: The Unsullied have been trained all their lives to obey any command by their owners and to lack any personal desires. To reinforce this they are renamed after vermin (Grey Worm, Black Rat, etc.) and refer to themselves as "this one" rather than "I." The Faceless Men also entirely refer to themselves as "no one" or in the third person as "a man" or "a girl" etc. and demand initiates give up all marks of their personal identities, such as property and even names.
  • A prominent theme in the Village in The Prisoner (1967), especially in the episode "A Change of Mind". Unmutual!
  • Star Trek:
    • 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.
    • 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. Also, in Star Trek: Voyager, a small number of Borg manage to break free from the Hive Mind and retreat to their own mental space where they can be individuals; the Queen tries to cut out this tumor before it can spread, but it backfires and results in a full-scale civil war that almost destroys the Collective.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" 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.

  • 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.
  • Z2 by Devin Townsend. Ziltoidians are a subordinate race by nature, while Ziltoid himself has a very strong aptitude for individuality and is not good at hiding his disdain and unwillingness to work for the Collective. Townsend made three ZTV episodes showing Ziltoid's antics as he is under surveillance by the Collective.

  • In The Chaos Zone, Evil Otto believes all existence is based on the will of "code" (which mostly translates to him and his fellow Berzerk robots mindlessly wandering the Robot Confines), and anyone who so much as thinks there's any more purpose to life is considered a rebel who must die.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted: 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.
    • When the defeated Primordials surrendered, ending the Primordial War, She Who Lives in Her Name was willing to acknowledge, submit to, serve, and loyally take her place in a new hierarchy with the Incarnae and Exalted at the top. The victors decided to imprison her in Malfeas anyway and, in a fit of rage, she unleashed The Three Spheres Cataclysm.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Tau's Greater Good philosophy doesn't quite extend this far: the Tau recognize the usefulness of individuality, but everything they do needs to be for the good of all instead of just the individual (and it's hinted this may be enforced via pheromones or mind-control helmets).
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • In Fate/Extella Link, Karl intends to impose this on all of SE.RA.PH out of disgust for humanity's inability to unite under one banner and continual desire to kill each other over differences in doctrine. He plans to enforce this through his Assimilation Plot, in which he will control everyone through his vision of peace. But ultimately, Karl's greatest wish is to live as himself, uninhibited by the flights of fancy of his counterpart, Charlie.
  • The Halo Expanded Universe reveals that there are only two types of beings in the Yanme'e/Drone hierarchy that have much of anything in terms of individuality outside of their loyalty to their hives. The first are the queens themselves, who are the ultimate authorities in question. The other are "Unmutuals", male Drones that have personality disorders akin to psychopathy that cause them to act out and murder their fellows (including eggs) without remorse. Unmutuals are so common that it's common practice to ship them off en masse to be enslaved in penal colonies.
  • 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.
    • Legion (your geth teammate) is outright terrified by the idea of the geth becoming individualistic when you try to claim it's a good thing.
    • All this may be justified by the geth's true nature: the geth are AIs, 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. But that way, you upgrade the strength of the programs themselves. Earlier, individuality would be like each program having a different mind; since they are in one platform, it wouldn't work. But if they are all full A.I.s and work as such, individuality would most definitely work.
  • 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...
  • A recurring and common trait in the movie Labyrinths of Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is that individuals that acted differently from the other inhabitants in the movies are considered villains and will be rightfully destroyed in some way. In reality, the movies represent Hikari's mindset, since she believes that having any sort of individuality is what got her into being constantly abused emotionally in her childhood and made her into the depressed mess she was at the start of the game in the first place.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Hikawa's goal is to create a society based on this trope. And another one.
  • The Zerg of StarCraft zigzag this. The vast majority of Zerg are non-intelligent animals, acting as one and guided by higher intelligences. However, the "controllers" of the Zerg (Cerebrates, Brood Mothers, Kerrigan, etc.) all possess some amount of individuality and opinion, though most of them lack true free will and are subservient to the Overmind. This doesn't stop one of the Cerebrates from questioning the Overmind in the first game on its decision to leave Kerrigan most of her free will, thinking that was unwise. The Overmind reassures the Cerebrate that while she does retain some individuality, she cannot disobey its orders.
  • Stellaris: Hive Mind empires have "deviancy" as their equivalent of crime. Deviancy refers to drones that are growing independent of the collective and acting against the greater will of the species. The typical response to deviancy is to deploy hunter-killer squads and simply exterminate the rogues.

    Web Original 
  • The Diversitarians in Look to the West portray Societism as this: stripping away everything that makes a person distinct, such as their culture and language, in order to make them an identikit member of the supposed "Human Society". The Societists would say precisely the reverse; that it's only once someone is freed from nationalistic assumptions that they can discover the individual they truly are. Neither side is portrayed as entirely right, but the Societists are probably less right. (For one thing, "Human Society" has massive biases to its place of origin that they're entirely oblivious to.)

    Western Animation 
  • The Fairly OddParents!
    • The pixies are an entire race who believe this and are trying to force it on Fairy World and Earth. When they succeed in School's Out! The Musical, they chain down Binky when he tries to fly.
    • In "The Same Game", when Timmy wishes that everyone in the world looked the same, he finds himself nearly torn apart when he changes his outer appearance.
    • In the Oh Yeah! Cartoons short "The Temp", Jeff the Elf is dragged back to the North Pole by Santa, who has several elves mindlessly telling him to "Be one of us!", heavily implying this applies to elves.
  • Kim Possible: The Bad Future in the "A Sitch in Time" special features this. Everyone is forced to wear an identical copy of Shego's uniform, and dissidents are captured by drones for reconditioning.
    Kim: Isn't that the high school?
    Drone: Prepare to be drained of all individuality and spirit.
    Ron: [Deadpan] Yep. High school.
  • This is Starlight Glimmer's viewpoint in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Believing that friendship is impossible if everyone has different opinions or is more skilled in areas than others, she removes the Cutie Marks of a town's population, stripping them of both the symbols representing their talents and the talents themselves, so that they would all be equal. Whenever someone dares object to her vision, she stuffs them in a tiny room to be reconditioned via listening to hours upon hours of droning about the "evils" of individuality. Once the Mane Six expose that she still has her old Cutie Mark, her so-called utopian society crumbles.
  • The Owl House: Warden Wrath imprisons people simply because they have quirks and strange personalities, such as being a Conspiracy Theorist or writing fanfiction of anthropomorphic food falling in love.
  • In the Gem Homeworld from Steven Universe, every Gem has an exact purpose they're made for and only that exact purpose is allowed. Punishment for deviating from your "intended" purpose is typically death, and the same goes for having a defect (and woe betide anyone with a defect which prevents them from fulfilling their purpose, such as a Sapphire who can't see the future; they'd be killed on the spot). The Off Colors, a group of fugitive Gems, had to go into hiding specifically for this reason. Naturally, Rose Quartz was able to use this as a fantastic recruiting tool, as she herself believed the exact opposite and encouraged her Crystal Gems to find their own identity and desires. Counterintuitively, most of her subordinates only followed her because she was a very charismatic leader, and others only wanted to bite back at The Empire, regardless of her actual philosophies; early on in the show, it sometimes appears as if the remainder of the Crystal Gems only stayed around to protect Earth (and Steven, by extension) because that's what Rose would have wanted them to do.


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Introduction of Addison Wells, one of the two main protagonists of Zombies, who is not like the rest of Seabrook and has unusually natural white hair.

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