ConformityHow does the launching of the Sputnik connect to conformity?
I am old enough to remember the launching of Sputnik I and the aftermath. The initial reaction was that the Soviets were winning not only the space race but also the philosophical debate for the hearts and minds of the world characterized by the Cold War: Communism vs. Capitalism. The resulting fear caused a new emphasis on scientific education in this country, but also renewed nationalism on the part of Americans. Sputnik did contribute to American conformity but mainly in a new emphasis on nationalism and opposition to 'Godless communism." Americans began attending church in large numbers, and non-conformity was equated with communism. Those who questioned or dared criticize the government often found their loyalty questioned, not to the extent of the McCarthy era; but still more than one school teacher was fired because of comments considered less than mainstream. Typical of the time was a book written by J.Edgar Hoover, then director of the FBI entitled None Dare Call it Treason which equated non-conformity with disloyalty.
I would argue that Sputnik really did not have that much to do with conformity. Sputnik's main impact was to make Americans worried that the USSR was catching up to or surpassing the US in terms of technology. However, one can argue for a connection between this and conformity.
The argument can be made that the fear caused by Sputnik helped lead to the conformity that typified the '50s (though we must remember that Sputnik was not even launched until late 1957). One can argue that Americans were so afraid of the Soviets getting ahead that they became more conformist and work-oriented. One can argue that they tried harder to be like everyone else so as not to be suspected of sympathizing with the communists. In this argument, the fear of communism that came with Sputnik made Americans more likely to try to conform so as to push America back into the lead in its competition with the Soviet Union.
I agree that the Sputnik played an important role in the space race and the way in which it was used by the USA to promote more of a conformist opposition to communism, focusing on the danger that was represented. I guess it is pretty difficult for us who are so far away from this time period to understand the Red Scare and the fears that surrounded Communist dominance in the world, but the Sputnik was perceived as a triumph for the then USSR and, as the post above comments, the much larger ideological battle that was occurring. Thus it could be argued that it helped conformity in uniting the USA more against its perceived enemy.
I agree that the connection to conformity is a little thin, but in the larger picture of the Cold War, the threat, in this case, the very visible threat, from a common enemy did rally Americans to the cause of education and space exploration, and encourage a kind of hyper-patriotism that was by far the mainstream opinion of the time period. Americans already feared a nuclear attack, and some even viewed it as inevitable. The launch of Sputnik simply heightened that fear across our society, and in that way, Americans somewhat involuntarily conformed to that fear.
In the post-McCarthy era, when people were afraid of blacklists and McCarthiesque exposures destroying their livelihoods and positions in their communities and neighborhoods; when people were already figuratively huddling away from real and potential threats seemingly just next door, the impetus that Sputnik gave Americans to ban together and stand up to the Soviets did inspire some of the conformist mentality that accented the middle decades of the 1900s.
To turn it around, I think Sputnik is a mark of conformity for the USSR in their efforts to conform to a world view where they were as powerful or equal to the US. The US was regarded as THE superpower of the world after WWII and the USSR, while on the winning side, certainly wasn't regarded as equal in any way except, perhaps, militarily, so this is where they tried to conform or excel.