ALS Topic 18 - Which way is the (human) herd running?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 29 September 2018
Venue: ∑ Adelaide
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Note: The 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?

4. 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 2018) @  [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, or What?
Was there a first? Is there a last? Is there any thing or not?
Shankaracharya said it is illusion.
The psychiatrist said it is delusion.
The conspiracy-theorist said it was a plot.

Wikipedia: "Herd Behaviour" @

Wikipedia: "Herd Mentality" @

Rick Gore "Understanding Herd Behaviour in People" @

Thor May (2001) "Individualism or the Group?" at or

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 2018) @  . 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 @

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Which way is the (human) herd running? (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion