Active Thinking Topic 06 -  Best Ways to Herd the Human Herd?

Monday 24 May 2021, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide (You must buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the space for 2 hours)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. Which of the following (and under what conditions) would be your choice to get a population of humans more or less cooperating with each other? - a) start a war; b) promote a new ideology; c) convert everyone to a new religion; d) proclaim a set of laws; e) invent money (assuming it was still a bartering economy)

2. At what point does being individualistic start to get you into trouble? Examples?

3. Which professions exploit the human herd instinct? Examples - politicians, media influencers, fashion designers .... others?

4. In my Australian (state) primary school in the 1950s, The Lord's Prayer was played and sung every day - "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want ... " (Bible, Psalm 23-28). . Why is this so appealing to so many? [I used stand there fidgeting, and thinking "I'm not a bloody sheep" :) ]

5. Which of the following is the most effective way to control public behaviour? - a) offer a reward; b) threaten a punishment; c) advertise persuasively that everyone else is already following the desired behaviour pattern.

6. Some people are obviously more easily influenced by tides of popular opinion than others. Is your choice of friends affected by whether someone is individualistic or popular opinion oriented? Why?

7. What is the best way to unite a country like Australia? Historically, nation states have always promoted some set of 'shared values' to unite (and herd) large numbers of people. The most common method in the past was to harness religion in the service of politics. Ideologies like communism attempt something similar. In some places that is still popular. After the invention of actual countries (Treaty of Westphalia, 1648), nationalism/patriotism became a favourite herding tool. That often needed a war to rev it up. In Australia, the impartial rule of law is supposed to create a social contract of rights & obligations to hold the society together. Compulsory voting really asks people to accept that social contract.

8. How much individuality is tolerated Australian culture? Has this changed? What is the limit of tolerance in some other cultures? Although most humans prefer to find safety in the herd, most also adopt small markers of individuality - a hair style, a holiday destination, a brand of toothpaste ... Much advertising is directed at influencing these personal markers. Law and custom constrain personal preferences while usually favouring the herd.

9. How effective is mass education in harnessing human herd behaviour? Think, for example, of 1st phase industrialization with assembly lines, where it is necessary to train masses into low level skills (e.g. basic literacy, arithmetic) while discouraging independent thought.

10. Can cultures be 'redesigned' over time to engage herd behaviour for the greater good? In India for example, herd behaviour is largely filtered through religion. However the vast population has little sense of a civic social contract of shared rights and responsibilities. Investment & care goes into family home interiors only. In Chennai - a city of 7 million I visited 3 years ago - public spaces were filthy, there were few footpaths (pedestrians shared with traffic) or parks, public services were rudimentary. Governance is corrupt, arbitrary and ineffectual (witness the Covid catastrophe). India is by no means alone in these problems. How do you turn this kind of thing around?

Extra Reading

Jonathan Gornall (April 29, 2021) "UAE experiments with ‘more carrots, less stick’ - The Gulf state's Ministry of Possibilities is trying out a rewards scheme designed to motivate positive social behavior". Asian Times @  [Quote: "a study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in 2018, .. showed that most people will copy the choices of the majority even if they know those choices are completely arbitrary or not freely made – a finding that has complex ramifications for any attempt to herd entire populations.]

Allan Richarz (November 2020) "The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations - The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks". Getpocket website @ 

hmushtaq (2018) "This shocking social experiment video shows the herd mentality of humans!". Steemit website @ 

Thor May (2001) "Individualism or The Group?" Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "... a typical naive set of assumptions about "group oriented" cultures it that the participants within them are basically altruistic, self-effacing, self-sacrificing and sociable. A society of such individuals should exhibit the very best of human civilization working in equitable, democratic communities. By contrast, those from individualistic cultures should be cold, grasping, selfish, egotistical and almost incapable of the cooperation demanded by a civil society. Indeed, a society of individualists, by this stereotype would be a dog eat dog affair, dedicated to conflict, riven with disloyalty and betrayal, forever failing to build a stable and humanistic community. Now let´s take a plane trip and look at the real world. Better, like me, let´s work for a while in a fair sampling of both supposed archetypes of culture. What do we find? We find that the real social content behind those supposedly individualistic and group-oriented labels is drastically at variance with the stereotypes..."]


Best Ways to Herd the Human Herd? (c) Thor May 2021 

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