Which way is the
(human) herd running?
Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime
Seminar, 29 September 2018
Venue: ∑ Adelaide
questions below are not supposed to suggest biased answers. You
really can adopt any point of view your can suggest evidence for. Do
be prepared for others suggesting counter-evidence! Note: clearly
not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but
they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while
making the background context clearer. It is up to the people who
come on the day to choose what aspects they would like to deal with.
Focus questions -
1. The crowd effect: what really draws
people to mass sport events, or concerts, or viewing the Mona Lisa,
... and what leads them to avoid (for example) meetups until some
critical number of other people have already said they are going?
Are they really interested in the football, or the music, or the
art, or whatever - interested enough to participate or contribute
without a crowd to swim in?
2. 'Sheeple' has become an
Australian word for what Communist countries used to call 'the
masses'. 'Group-think', or just 'mob' are similar words for people
who give up critical thinking. Must human behaviour be driven by
group-think? What are its good features? Why are some people able to
escape it, but most people not?
3. #Me too anyone? Going
beyond the feminist reference, why does the '#Me too' phenomenon
have such power to draw people into a public movement?
When does the praise, or the condemnation, of a person or an idea or
a situation generate both supporters and opposers? When do you wind
up with a single minded lynch mob?
5. How true is it that a
main preconditions of success for both the very successful and the
mere survivors is an acute sense of where the herd is running? They
will ride that stampede, some of them with guile, some with faux
commitment. Like agents provocateurs the ambitious among them may
fight to lead the charge after it has momentum. Think of some
examples of this stuff in action.
6. Genuine creativity is
often a rather lonely process, and it takes time, but it tends to
yield lasting satisfaction. It has no guarantee of success, if
success is approval from the crowd, or money (or both). Why do you
think that original thinking will never be popular? Could it be that
most people are destined to be spectators in a crowd, and being
spectators don't contribute except for some instant sugar hit such
as petulant comments on social media? Is it too pessimistic to guess
that eventually the over-stimulated mass of spectators will become
incapable of independent action and like some jaded rake or party
girl who has aged and lost their sexual capital, will no longer feel
a real reason to continue living? What is a good age to die at?
7. The human world is mostly designed for average people
(whatever you want to measure as average). This sort of makes sense,
but makes it hard for those who diverge. Some cultures are more
tolerant of eccentricity, or being outside the norm than others.
Some governments also. What is a good cultural balance between
tolerating idiosyncrasy and seeking cooperative norms which make
life easier for everyone?
8. Every nationality has a
self-image of 'what we are like'. It is supposed to describe an
Australian, or a PRC Chinese, or a French person ...etc. It also
comes with terms of criticism such as "un-Australian", "un-American"
etc. and the scolding "we are not like that..". How real is any of
this? Are governments justified in trying to shape citizens to fit
some national self-image?
9. The mating game gives rise to
some strange contradictions in herd behaviour. Teenagers are often
desperate to fit in with their peers - the ultimate herd behaviour.
At the same time they try to strike sexually heroic poses, which
typically involve imitating celebrities, fashion leaders, 'rebels'
and so on. By about 30 most of them give that up, retreating to
cardigans, spreading waistlines and a more conservative outlook.
Marketing companies and politicians exploit the whole process.
Traditional societies often formalized this transition of the
teenage herd through coming-of-age tests & rituals. What is the best
way to deal with it in 2018? Where can it go wrong? [for example,
China's Cultural Revolution].
10. The selection process for
employment, especially in large organizations, imposes enormous
pressure for conformity and herd behaviour. There is extensive
public coaching for 'what you should do in job interviews'. A common
reason for rejecting candidates is that they 'did not fit the
company culture'. At the same time, the rhetoric of company vision
statements is full of words like 'innovation', 'creativity',
'independent thinking' ... and so on. What outcomes would you expect
from the disjunction of the actual behaviour enforced by
organizations and the double-talk of their publicity statements?
Comments & Extra Reading
ian beutler - ...HMmmm... that is a
deceptively, but typically, mild question, THor. AND YOU know it! !
There exists a brilliant cartoon. I'll try to send you a copy.
There's a gigantic herd of sheep all rushing headlong over into a
bottomless abyss (-as it were).. There's this lone black one trying
to push back against the rest, saying, "..excuse me... excuse me..."
>> Thor May - Thanks Ian. I had a birthday card
like that once, sent by a thoughtful person. There's a meeting of
cows, and the cow chair-animal is saying "Everyone who agrees say
'moo'". Standing with his head above the herd is one very baffled
looking horse..". [I've never been able to find the card since.
Pity. Maybe the herd ruled it out of order].
ian beutler - omg... i'd already begun to think of something else
after reading ab. yr birthday-card witticism... and my spookily
reliable "sub " -conscious " gave me a jolt šbout the deeper
significance.. i must be gittin' slow... yeah.. i feel like the
horse these daze, damned if i do &damned if i don't.. no language! !
! 'cept filthy! ! !
"Myers-Briggs personality tests: what
kind of person are you? - The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is used by
firms worldwide to test their employees. In her new book, Merve Emre
looks at the systemís curious origins" . The Guardian (16 September
[Thor - hmm, I see things like this to be as useless as star signs
or tarot cards - but that's just my, um, personality type, and no
doubt the reason I was never welcome in the illustrious
organisations which set their prayer mats according to such stuff
ian beutler - Is there one eternal question? Is it Why,
Was there a first? Is there a last? Is there any thing
Shankaracharya said it is illusion.
said it is delusion.
The conspiracy-theorist said it was a plot.
Wikipedia: "Herd Behaviour" @
"Herd Mentality" @
"Understanding Herd Behaviour in People" @
(2001) "Individualism or the Group?" at
Thor May - Most people are not very good or very bad, but there
is a very large group who can easily be tilted into evil without
giving a lot of thought to the havoc they are wreaking. This is
probably a good example of brainless imitation: "Copycats hampering
strawberry contamination investigation" Brisbane Times (25 September
. Of course, the bastards behind the original crime of putting
needles in strawberries seem to be mafia playing out a gang war.
They would know exactly what they are doing.
Thor May - "The
Banality of Evil" was a phrase made famous by Hannah Arendt, in
1963. She wrote a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi
SS officer with major responsibility for the extermination of Jews
in the Holocaust. Her argument was that Eichmann was a very
ordinary, unimaginative officer influenced by the herd mentality,
just following orders (this has been challenged). Her point was that
there are Eichmanns all around us in every society, running with the
herd. Any of them, thrust into power by some accident of history can
become monsters followed by enthusiastic, unthinking crowds.
>> ian beutler ... and right here THor, you arrive at the heart
(-less) heart of the matter... just like Hannah did... have just
checked the etymology of the term.. very interesting.. &long
history..the term very much applies to arstraya right now ! ! ! i cn
even hear the apologists for the ordinary now... .. even M.U> has
pre=empted me ! ! !... i do believe there is such a thing as
mis.placed-sympathy-in-action ... OMG ! ! !
Thor May - The
very word, 'fashion' suggests following the herd, and to be in
fashion seems to be desperately desired by people everywhere.
Guiding fashion taste is a delicate business which resembles the old
Australian expression, "fishing for garfish" (these fish have soft
mouths and easily pull off the hook). Here is a current account of
this type of fishing or, uh, fashion leadership: Jess Cartner-Morley
(Wed 26 Sep 2018) ""The end of cleavage: how sexy clothes lost their
allure - Milan fashion week is known for seduction and glamour, but
even the home of molto sexy dressing is dialling things down. Whatís
behind the big cover up?" The Guardian @
1. articles at
legacy site: http://thormay.net