That’s probably not the most groundbreaking of observations, but it’s a tough one to argue.
Despite our advanced critical-thinking skills (which unfortunately aren’t displayed in our political institutions), humans are like animals when it comes to following the herd.
Instead of engaging in self-reliance, we’ll seek out a shepherd.
Instead of employing our free will, we’ll join up with a flock.
We’ll gladly pursue the ideals of rugged individualism – but only as long as everyone else is, too.
As humans, we crave a sense of community. Community is healthy, but conformity is not. As individuals, our colors shine brightly, and if we were to let our individual lights shine, together we would make up a collage of color.
When it comes to our proclivity for conformity, at least some humans are self-aware. They know that our tendency is to follow, so they use their art to urge others to think for themselves.
George Orwell, for example, wrote an entire book likening human behavior to barnyard animals. Pink Floyd recorded a compilation of soundscapes to make the same point.
Even the Berenstain Bears got in on the action one time, with Farmer Ben advising Brother Bear that joining Too-Tall’s gang would make him just another sheep following the herd.
And if that isn’t enough evidence that humans (and apparently some bears) behave like sheep, then I’m not sure what is.
Although I do have personal experience.
A story I like to tell took place when I was about 10 or 11. My family and I were driving around Lake Tahoe, looking for a nice place to pull over and have a picnic.
Ahead, we spotted a snug little turnout shielded by trees and surrounded by thick manzanita. Not a soul was in sight.
We pulled over and carried our belongings to a cluster of nearby boulders. The rocks worked great for sitting and spreading our food.
Within 10 minutes, eight cars had joined ours in the turnout. People were wandering around with confused looks on their faces. It was like a George Romero film — except far more outrageous and terrifying.
One guy, a typical yuppie wearing brown shorts and matching loafers with no socks, approached our picnic area. (I’ve never understood the yuppie male’s aversion to socks, but apparently, their dress code prohibits them.)
The man’s face was red, and his nostrils were noticeably flared.
“There’s nothing here!” he blustered, spreading his arms wide and glaring at us.
I remember us just staring at him, blinking. I don’t think anyone could quite believe what they were witnessing, and none of us knew how to react.
This guy, like all the other open-mouthed, Romero zombies who were now invading our picnic, had seen our car pulled over and figured there has to be something worthwhile to stop and look at. It was the typical sheep mentality: Run to where the flock is without pausing to ask why.
It took a while, but most of the cars eventually sped away in disgust. Only a few other people stayed to have picnics of their own, prompting us to take our leave.
I’ll never forget that day or that particular guy. It made a big impression, and I gained some insight into human nature.
And it made me realize that, unfortunately, we still have a lot of evolving to do to become truly distinct from our bleating brethren.