Following the Herd

[from Monty Python’s Life of Brian]

FOLLOWERS: Brian! Brian! Brian!…

BRIAN: Good morning.

FOLLOWERS: A blessing! A blessing! A blessing!…

BRIAN: No. No, please! Please! Please listen. I’ve got one or two things to say.

FOLLOWERS: Tell us. Tell us both of them.

BRIAN: Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we’re all individuals!

BRIAN: You’re all different!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!

DENNIS: I’m not.

[End Excerpt]


For the past couple of years, I have been free wheeling in thoughts surrounding “Tipping Points

Why do human beings seem to flock into “group think” without significantly and individually questioning one’s own decision tree to arrive at an opinion? This has always seemed rather odd to me.

In my own experience,  it comes from a distaste for the barrage of “everybody is doing it”, or “they say that we should…” or “if you don’t join us, you are a _________ !”

Being one who prefers the outer perimeters of social situations, I have never “joined” any specific large group, save for the Cub Scouts for a year as a third grader (participated under parental duress. It is also highly probable that my discomfort with “group think” has lead to more than one sacking from employment situations over the five decades of my work career!).

The one thing that has me completely flummoxed of late is the overwhelming group think taking place as a result of clever, if not nefarious, campaigns of misinformation across multiple media platforms.  No wonder world wide mistrust of information is growing.  I mean, really, who or what can be trusted?  It is rather alarming in scope.

In one of the episodes of the British series, Black Mirror,  individual’s optic nerve can receive implants so that all events can be recorded and played back AS RECORDED.

Sure, it solves all disputes as five “cameras” recording an event, pretty much show the same event… except when the event is hidden or obstructed to an extent from all cameras. This happens regularly and most recently at a Red Sox baseball game when the “replay” wasn’t able to overturn the call because the players obstructed the views of several cameras to the player’s hand reaching for the base while the baseman tagged for the out.

Returning to how to discern absolute fact, it’s difficult and challenging. Especially as individual memory of an event is absolutely affected by individual personality. Which is why compelling people can tell complete lies and get large numbers of other people to believe those lies as truth.  As said in this blog previously, my friend Paul Appleget said to me years ago:

“A lie is not a lie; until one of those individuals WITHIN the lie, forgets that it is the TRUTH.”

Yes, it is a bit of a mind bender to get around, but it does shed a small ray of light on group think. Think of the negatives of “the herd mentality“, flip them to positives and one gets “Collective Intelligence

And here lies the likely and most prominent aspect that describes how divisive an era we currently reside within:  Herd Mentality is unyielding commitment to a line of thought… EVEN if all the best and coldly collected evidence is contrary.  Yet, Collective Intelligence relies on cooperation, communication and discussion, the very attributes that used to take place in most civilized debates… a search for meaning via opposing views, but with the searchers not making the opposing views “personal.”

I don’t agree with the opinions of several of my very close friends.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t speak to them anymore, it simply means that we disagree… and that is okay. In fact, if they all DID agree with me, it would be incredibly boring if not claustrophobic.

Returning to Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal “The Tipping Point” it is worth reviewing “The Law of the Few”… and note “Persuaders”

And finally this important excerpt from Herd Mentality from Wikipedia:

“Researchers at Leeds University performed a group experiments where volunteers were told to randomly walk around a large hall without talking to each other. A select few were then given more detailed instructions on where to walk. The scientists discovered that people end up blindly following one or two instructed people who appear to know where they’re going. The results of this experiments showed that it only takes 5% of confident looking and instructed people to influence the direction of the 95% of people in the crowd and the 200 volunteers did this without even realizing it.”

The next time there is an invitation to join into a train of thought… please consider taking just a few moments out to consider “what, when, where and why…” and what you might be giving up in the process. You might be surprised, in many instances to hear an internal voice questioning yourself. Don’t crush it. That is your conscience. Please pay attention.

About pbwilder

Over halfway to 100 years old. Finally have enough perspective on life to start pontificating, mostly for my own amusement. If folks find ideas of interest, send money. No, seriously, join in. Life without ideas is like milk without Toll House cookies. - PBW
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