Forgive my selfish enjoyment of simple word play. However, I am returning to the theme of “The Herd” and how significant and often dangerous such “group-think” can often be.
First of all, I’d like to begin with a choice bit of text from Ayn Rand. But before I do, a short disclaimer. I am not the fan of Ayn Rand that I was in my youth, and mostly this has to do with Rand’s devotee Alan Greenspan, whom I continue to believe was mostly responsible, or irresponsible, for the banking, investment and real estate debacles that took place during the first parts of the millennium – – and still have echoes and eddies. (Sorry, Alan. You have been most successful at living well below the radar on this… with your allowing of all those “creative” investment vehicles to make the stratospherically wealthy even more stratospherically wealthy.)
From Rand’s Atlas Shrugged…
“Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And, his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think — not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of un-focusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment – on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that ‘A will not be A’ so long as you do not pronounce the verdict ‘It is’…Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.”
(hints of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” starts to filter in here)
No, not really.
But, as my good pal Rusty often begins in his statements to me, “here’s the thing”:
If one – as an individual – is lazy about discerning the real facts surrounding anything (… and in these phone-laced-media-driven-unfiltered-blue-light-special-times, it is easy to be lazy… especially when the world is spoon fed information ever waking second), then that laziness will out itself in forwarded misinformation, an incorrectly promoted view of the reality of events, and will continue to contribute to the social unrest and divisiveness that seems to go on and on in a seemingly unending manner.
I believe that one has to take the time, on any major subject, to be certain that your SOURCES are legit and, more importantly that THEIR sources are legit (and if necessary that those sources are legit). It can be a wild ride down the rabbit hole, and Google results, Bing results, Yahoo results might not be showing one the total picture.
For myself, a dear friend gave me library access to large city municipal libraries, that all have remarkable search engines at this point. One can get access to major libraries upon request. There’s nothing like some historical perspective from multiple historical sources to help shape a position or clarify one being presented.
Now, certainly, each of us has implicit bias from our upbringing, historical experience and general sense of “smell,” but all too often we are willing to let our emotional position over-ride the logical, researched, data driven position for any given topic.
This comes hard-to-port when conversations delve into all those topics your Grandmother told you not to address in polite company, namely: Politics, Religion, Money and Sex.
(Whatever happened to manners?)
However, as we stumble into the future, AND the aforementioned noise from social media, online, broadcast and word of mouth become louder and more aggressive, having the personal fortitude to refrain from snap judgement on topics can be a challenge. In addition, that snap judgement can easily make one a pariah among social groups, i.e., friends, and family.
The art of listening is an exercise more of us, especially myself, should give more attention. Listening and not knee-jerk judging is challenging for most of us, as the voices in our heads are ready and raring during a debate-laced discussion. It doesn’t have to be this way. And it’s mostly hard for it NOT to be this way. Being simply aware is a good first step, TRYING not to vocally step on your fellow conversationalist is good second step. With practice, debate can become the far more civilized “discussion.”
(My blood pressure understands this ever so succinctly.)
Discussions that produce a common ground of consideration… of topics to further investigate and fact check are worthy. The herds in 2020 are following both large and small parades. Some have their genesis in relevance, but few of size are truly walking the walk of their proclamations, and ever the echo are the spots lights of media and the rush to judgement.
By way of example, during this pandemic, I think I have experienced enough finger-wagging to create wind power for alternate energy acquisition. My typical, emotional reaction is immediate: Get off your stink-free podium and think about who made you the Lord Arbiter of Correctness, when all the facts are still unknown about this pandemic! Sure, data would indicate that distancing and mask wearing is a good thing. But wait, has anybody questioned the long term health of our immune systems if folks are simply not exposed to things like this? Herd indeed.
(Triclosan, developed in the 1960s is on my personal list for weakening society’s immunity.)
But I digress.
The reality is yours. Make of it as you will. But please consider that sometimes, the safety of the herd – ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO DETERMINING THE TRUTH – may not be as safe as you think. (Another lovely analogy of herd safety, The myth of Lemmings aside, only humans have been absolutely proven to commit mass suicide.)
I firmly believe that most discussions, and their topics, may be worth thinking about it and “going your own way”. Additionally and most importantly, we must be vigilant in allowing others to do the same… without recrimination. Democracy, real democracy, is messy. Building consensus is nearly impossible, at least until and unless there’s a major shared catastrophe. However, listening and respecting other’s opinions is an excellent foundation for building consensus. We may never agree on most things, but it may be vitally important to agree on some things.
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.
©Monty Python, PTY, Ltd