When something resonates with your soul, like a song or even the formatting of a PowerPoint presentation, it gives you a glimpse of a part of your true self that is outside of yourself. When you have a strong, positive personal reaction to something it is indicative of your soul telling you, "Hey, go in that direction; you need more of that!!"
Most times it has nothing to do with trying to be cool. It is just whatever tugs at your heartstrings... a sort of chemical reaction with the product being a personal growth or change.
If something is popular it just means that it tugs at something in the collective consciousness of humanity or of a specific culture. This could be a novel that typifies a generation or a public figure that garners a cult following. In each instance a group of individuals finds common validation and a sense of direction in an exterior concept or stimuli. It does not necessarily have anything to do with being a conformist. The conformist goes with the crowd out of vain self-interest. He thinks that if he does what everyone around him is doing then they will not see the imperfection and incongruity in their actual person and will thusly advance his position in the crowd. Most people just want to engage in community and grow through shared experiences. There can’t be a shared experience unless all parties are taking part in the same activity or taste. An individualist who criticizes the conformist is the same as the Republican who criticizes the Democrat. You play party to same hypocrisy of your enemy thus making you no better than him.
There is no worth in criticizing the desire for exterior validation. Some would state that this desire is a sign of inner weakness and thusly becomes an exercise in overcompensation of personal shortcomings. There are two major problems with this notion: one with the assumption upon which the notion is based and another with the psychology behind this assumption. First, this notion assumes that only in the case of personal weakness is the desire for exterior validation fostered. To that I say, Tabula Rasa!" As John Locke stated, everything we are comes as a result of exterior factors. Eyes cannot produce the light with which they see. Ears cannot produce sound for them to hear. It is impossible for a complex life form to produce the means though with it performs its function. Even our genetics, which informs our tendencies, is determined by a choice made by two individuals before we even exist as a thought in the physical world. In this way the soul cannot perform its function of questing for perfect harmony with God without adopting tastes and habits as means through which to mold the soul. (Our actions form our ideology.) Second, the psychology behind the notion is disgustingly prideful and ultimately self-defeating. One with this mindset assumes that he is such a force of personality that he does not need anything outside of himself to be perfect. He thinks that he is made of stronger stuff than "other people" and does not need the crutch of a favorite band or a taste for fine wine to feel confident in his superiority to the gross pulsating mass that is popular culture. This is disgusting because it foments cynicism and hatred in his heart, self-defeating because it cuts him off from potentially lovely relationships and pastimes, resulting in his destruction one way or another.
For illustrative purposes I evoke the website stuffwhitepeoplelike.com. This website, formatted as an encyclopedia of sorts, exploits the common tastes of trendy, left-leaning people for its comedic value. The satire is technically brilliant and undeniably hilarious. The problem comes in the premise. The mission statement explains, "This is a scientific approach to highlight and explain stuff white people like. They are pretty predictable." This seems to be saying that by systematically cataloging and scorning the interests of a group of people, you put yourself above the rat race of life and thusly, make yourself a superior rat. In fact, what happens is you become the brooding self-centered rat who twirls his whiskers by himself in the corner as he mutters damnations upon the infernal maze, refusing to aid any of the other rats in finding the exit to the infernal maze so they can get on with their lives. He also chooses to urinate on the rats that happen to like the maze and choose to run the race for fun. Once again, he only serves to instill animosity and subversive hatred. This is an evil that cannot be truly soothed by humor, self-depreciating or otherwise. Laughter only serves to drive the cynicism deeper into your soul.
One could say, "What about all the shallow, latte sipping, Prius-driving, abortionist braggarts, or the proselytizing, gun-toting, xenophobic, death penalty loving hypocrites? Aren't I better than them? Can't I laugh at them from upon my pedestal of superiority? The tastes and habits we adopt result from the choices we make in response to positive and negative reactions to exterior stimuli. If someone chooses to feed the worst parts of themselves, such as their vanity or their lust, they should not be disregarded as useless and used as examples to support our perceived superiority. These Brothers and Sisters of ours should be empathized with and treated with patient compassion because our souls are all attempting to serve the same function. We all want to live, to possess truths, to know love, and to feel joy. We all search for them in different ways. We should not scorn the man who strays off the path but take is arm and offer to travel with him because the same end awaits us all and we might as well hold each other up until we get there.
"With that mindset, doesn't everything become subject to perspective and devolve into a merciless bloodbath of self-righteousness?" There is one answer to this great problem of the ages however, at this point in history, the answer is unpopular. The Answer is God. For in fact, God is the energy that life feeds on, the knower of all truths, and simply is love. The way to solve the problem of bitter self-absorption is to fix your tastes on the perfect exterior stimulus that is God. That begins a relationship that is the most personal and transformative of tastes.
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