We the Sheeple

“Sheeple” = sheep + people

This term, as Merriam-Webster defines it is, ” people who are compliant or easily influenced; people likened to sheep.” It describes those who acquiesce to suggestions and ideas without critical thinking or research.

I have always been intrigued with group think and herd mentalities, and been often criticized for not “going with the flow”. So what’s happening in these days is of tremendous interest to me. People as sheep, governed by a group mentality…

Not wanting to be too heavy or a Debbie Downer, what I share with you, will be about collective animal behaviors. As I share about these animal group behaviors, glean from them facts that could also apply to us. (All of this research is solely about animal group behavior.) I believe you will see stunning similarities.

To begin with here are some groups of animals that demonstrate “herd mentality”.

  • flocking birds
  • herding hooved animals
  • shoaling and schooling fishes
  • pods of dolphins
  • marching locusts
  • nest building ants

We will look at three of these: Let’s start with HERDING – like SHEEP and WILDEBEEST.

These guys form a social group based on being the same species. Their collective behavior is called “herding”.

This group acts together without planning or coordination. Each individual chooses their behavior that best corresponds with that of the majority of the other members. They tend to imitate others in similar circumstances.

Their leadership is unstructured but tends to be one or two whose actions are imitated more than others. This one or two is called “the control animal” because his behavior will predict that of the herd. The control animal is not always the most dominant in conflict situations, though.

Each individual member of the herd reduces it’s own danger by moving toward the center of a threatened group. This makes the herd appear to be a unit moving together, but really, it is self-serving individuals‘ uncoordinated behavior that prompts the herd’s movement.

FLOCKING – like BIRDS

We all recognize a flock of birds when we see them, and I’m sure we have noted their abilities to fly in close proximity and even symmetry with such gracefulness and accuracy. It is truly amazing.

Birds flock when they are in flight or foraging. “Flocking – a collective motion by a group of self propelled entities.”

Did you know that they have 3 rules when flocking? They are:

  1. separation
  2. alignment
  3. cohesion

Each one of those rules has a ton more details to go with it, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. But it is interesting to note that a SWARM also has three rules: 1. travel in the same direction 2. stay close 3. avoid collisions.

Lastly, SHOALING and SCHOOLING – like FISH

I was unfamiliar with shoaling, but it is when a group of fish start out together for social reasons, but as that group swims together in a coordinated manner manner, they are schooling. One quarter of fish species shoal ALL THEIR LIVES. One half of those that shoal, do so for only PART of their lives.

The benefits are obvious – defense, improved foraging and even better mate selection.

However there is this interesting effect in shoaling fish. It is called “The Oddity Effect“. Any shoal member that stands out in appearance will be preferentially targeted by predators! Yikes, watch out odd ones.

Another thought-provoking point to make about these fish is when a fish is removed from a school, it will have higher respiration rate that is attributed to stress. One example would be the herring that becomes extremely agitated if it is isolated.

We know that there are other groups of animals that have a group mentality as well. Such as a lions pride, a swarm of bees, and the wolf pack.

It is worth noting too certain species with their own distinct mob characteristics.

The meerkat mob of 20-40 have a guard keeping watch for hour long shifts (called the sentry); the rat group is appropriately called a “mischief” and the clam and oysters group is of course a “bed“.

Stop. Think it through. In what way(s) do these animal group characteristics apply to me in my world?

As far back as Freud, there has been analysis of “the crowds”, “herd mentality” and the “herd instinct” in human society. Today, research has identified herd behavior in humans to explain the phenomenon of large numbers of people acting in the same way at the same time.

For example, “when panicked individuals are confined to a room with two equal and equidistant exits, a majority will favor one exit while the minority will favor the other.” (Symmetry-breaking, Wikipedia) In these cases, individuals display a tendency towards mass or copied behavior and they even overlook using less used exits.

In all these cases, in other words, they stop thinking for themselves!

That is the main characteristic of group, herd mentality, or whatever you choose to call it. People become passive and easily controlled. They act collectively free of independent thought and reason. They have yielded to the idea of a “group mind” for greater defense. They have found safety in the center of the herd and have exchanged their will for the will of the herd.

They have become sheeple.

I will not live this way! Not from the bed, not from the head. Not from the mob, not from the blob. Not from the herd, not like a bird. Not from the school or any pool. I do not like green herds and man, I do not like it, Sam, I am!

Break free sheeple.

Cheers to you.

For hints on personal applications, see the italicized phrases.

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