Paul Lillebo

Constructive citizen, independent


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Is the herd instinct a boon or a bane - a help or a hindrance - in a modern society?

Humans are social animals with a lot of the herd instinct left from our ancestors.

We like to be in a group, to do things others do, to follow a charismatic leader. We like to wear the approved garb: Think of politicians in their dark suits and red ties, of street gangs with their bandannas and approved clothes, of college football fans waving their colors, or of Harley riders with their black leathers, beards and tattoos. There are hundreds of such examples. And of course, the herd instinct is what keeps the fashion industry going. We must have this season's fashion. (How many still have their bell-bottom jeans?)

The herd instinct has undoubtedly been valuable in our species' survival, because it has made it possible to engage in mass action for hunting, for construction and for defense.

In modern life we see the herd instinct in politics, where nationalism separates "us" from "them," and where parties gather together their faithful flocks, further separating the "us'es" into fractious factions. Nowhere is the herd more apparent than in religions, where millions follow beliefs and rules laid down by a long-gone guru, and as often as not, proclaim the damnation of all who don't belong to their herd.

So what's the effect, on balance, of the herd instinct? Is it mostly beneficial because it brings us together, gives us safety, and allows us to think and plan for the common good of society? Or does it separate us into warring clans, and restrain our innovation, individualism and free thought because of an inborn fear of being different? Or is it a mix, for better or for worse?

Happy debating,

  • W T

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      Aug 12 2013: Great cartoon, great point.
      Protesters against the herd form a group, then try hard to fit into the group. (Harley riders, etc)
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    Aug 20 2013: It is a question of levels, and the fact that we live in a dualistic world. Everything can be done or used both appropriately, and inappropriately. At one level the herd instinct is life-enhancing; at another it kills spirit.
    It also depends on the scope of your context. For example, as someone who has made a deliberate choice not to use either Facebook, or Twitter, in global terms I guess I am one of the herd (well, 6 out of 7 billion people on the planet don't use either of them). But as a Western European I am probably not one of the herd.
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      Aug 20 2013: I'm with you on the "social media" craze. I don't feel a need to be in everybody's face all the time. So as you say, we're in one herd, out of another.
  • Aug 20 2013: Can we also acknowledge that those who enjoy the company, interaction, interdependence and accountability that healthy human relationships require, will be more likely to conclude that the 'herd instinct' is beneficial? Those who wish to lead more independent and solitary lives are going to discount the importance of any impulse to imitate or value the behavior and ideas of others or the community at large. In short, social animals are going to value the actions and opinions of others whereas those who tend to be less socially inclined are going to reject the actions and opinions of society at large. This is to say nothing about whether the 'herd instinct' is beneficial in a broader scientific context.
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      Aug 20 2013: This is what our responses seem to suggest - that many people lean one way or the other, probably depending on their own social preferences. Although I've framed the debate as an "either-or" question (as debates often unfortunately are), we probably all understand that there always has to be a mix in the emphasis on individual and group. It should be instructive for us to consider that different societies have taken different approaches; the human world is like hundreds of experiments in social living. One might think we could learn from all these, past and present, and use what we learn to improve subsequent social experiments. But any such evaluation is necessarily tied to one's own goals and values, and agreeing on those is a pipe dream.
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    Aug 11 2013: The herd instinct seems to me to be obedience without much intelligence, and individualism to be intelligence with less conformity.

    It depends on what our society or economy wants at the time. In the job market for instance, if an employer wants obedient workers to conform to stable, standardised company procedures to prolong a "business as usual" mindset with no requirement to change, it will ask for "team players".

    In favouring team players (rejecting individual skills and autonomy) what that employer is effectively doing, is rejecting intelligence and the wherewithal to respond effectively to external influences.

    Obedience, conformity, and becoming slavishly stuck in the things that have "worked well in the past, and will therefore still work now", is not the thing that is going to change the world for the better. My opinion is that it is that the power of autonomous intelligence, allied to a strong sense of ethics, will be responsible for a much-needed change.
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      Aug 11 2013: Well said usual:>)

      I agree that the herd instinct is obedience without much thought, and perhaps that feels easier to some people, which keeps people in the herd mentality? There is often a sense of security in numbers, and sometimes it feels good to have someone make choices for us, rather than having to think about other options and make choices/decisions for ourselves.

      I think the herd mentality was easier to encourage and control prior to our advanced communication systems, which are now facilitating international communication instantaneously. It is much easier to "herd" when people think there is no other choice than what is being offered to the group. Now, we know that there are other choices, which I think/feel is facilitating change for the better.
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        Aug 11 2013: Hi Colleen,

        I must admit that I'm torn between thinking that the herd instinct in humans is a kind of robotic conformity to a collective goal set by somebody else or something else (and therefore unintelligent) - yet the herding instinct in the natural world is related to an evolutionary ancestral instinct, and therefore an advanced form of collective intelligence.

        Witnessing migratory instincts in herds of animals, flocks of birds and shoals of fish is such an incredibly beautiful thing to behold, making us think that all is well with the world - yet to see such mass conformity in humans seems to induce quite the opposite reaction - that the world has gone mad.

        Why is this seen as so dumb in humans, yet so intelligent in animals? Is it because we set ourselves so far apart on our anthropocentric ivory tower that we've become blind to comparators of what intelligence actually is?
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          Aug 11 2013: Could be Allan, that we are blind to what intelligence actually is. Do you suppose we sometimes forget about balance?

          The concept of "herding" can be used in many ways....can it not? An enthusiastic, energetic person for example, can motivate a lot of people to create better life conditions, while working together, and that is "herding"..."A group of people having a common bond".
          So, in that sense, it can be considered collective intelligence.

          The opposite scenario is for a few, thinking they alone have intelligence, leading/herding those who are uninformed and/or willing to be herded.

          To me, it is indeed beautiful when a sincere, energetic, enthusiastic person helps facilitate a bonding experience for intelligent's that for balance?
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          Aug 12 2013: Hi Allan,
          And then there's the point that many jobs are routine, yet must be done. The city bus driver must make his stops on schedule, get to the end point, wait exactly until the departure time and begin again. I spent some years in my youth as a bus/tram/subway driver, and I know routine. Certainly, even in such jobs, good ideas for improvement need to be brought out, but the job of getting people to work on time is largely routine, and we need people who can do that, perhaps even people who enjoy doing that because they're poets or inventors on the side. (Or even if they're just TV watchers on the side.)

          We surely appreciate the folks who do routine jobs, for without them society couldn't function.
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          Aug 12 2013: It is true Paul, that some jobs may seem routine. Within that routine, however, I have seen lots of bus drivers, ski area lift attendants, waiters, etc., having fun with their routine jobs....genuinely connecting with people as they do their jobs. I have been doing routine jobs for years......laundry, washing dishes, etc., and I still have fun with it:>)

          I believe we have a choice to do our everyday tasks with "robotic conformity", OR do the everyday tasks with joy and fun. For me, that changes the dynamic considerably in that I have the ability to create something fun even though performing routine tasks:>)
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        Aug 12 2013: I too appreciate folks who do routine jobs. Time/quality standards are important for consistency. However, one thing bothers me:

        As a general principle, I'm of the persuasion that routine, standardised procedures, team playing etc are suited to stability, where the likelihood of big ambient/environmental change is unlikely. If the environment becomes unstable, then the ability to adapt to that instability can only be rectified with the kind of dynamism and intelligence that exists in individual minds unhampered by restrictive procedures that may have worked in the past - but are inappropriate now.

        I'm not in any way being elitist or putting myself above others when I say that conformity in the sense of working to a routine, is synonymous with a lack of intelligence on a personal level. It's more to do with the stubborn nature of the herd - the standard procedures and behaviour that are so grindingly slow to adapt, in the face of momentous change within the environment in which that procedure exists - even through the active use of denialism to maintain a particular status quo, despite well-researched facts that have long refuted the denialist's position.

        We have the capability to adapt to momentous change, yet we are wedded almost exclusively to our recent history that got us to where we are now, delusional that it will still work to give us a good life in the future - thus the lack of intelligence and blindness to what might become of this planet as a result of our own actions.
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    Aug 9 2013: It is a bane. A healthy culture supports the individual a centralized government squashes the individual. Herds are easy to manipulate.

    I might add that global warming caused by man and the meme that business is evil are all manifestations of the herd mentality and how easily it is manipulated.

    The overlords are masters at PR.
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      Aug 10 2013: So you only walk on private pavements and drive on private streets you have permission for? That would be quite a small radius you was able to move in ... :o)
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        Aug 10 2013: Things like that are paid for by the government because of convention but it could be easily be worked out to be paid for by private (and was in earlier days in the U.S.) sources at a MUCH lower cost.

        Your thinking that this has to be provided by government is an example of herd mentality.
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          Aug 10 2013: If you take a look at privatization of railways, you will find, that the private sector isn't capable to manage large infrastructure. I don't know any success story there. On the contrary. Also private businesses tend to build monopolies or to install 'price agreements' to their benefits, not to the benefit of the people.

          The mechanism of the current market is to grow, which would lead to highly concentrated control of infrastructure within just a view mega companies, which then get to dictate the price. So what seems promising in 'low costs' at the beginning, will have a fatal ending some time later. It is the nature of the system, and I don't want to pay higher and higher prices to use the pavement or the road in the future.

          I rather fix the inefficiency of government departments than to give any private company control over vital infrastructure. Many cities in Germany regret that they have privatized their fresh water supply, fortunately, there are just a view, and all of them try to get it back in to their very control and out of private hands. You can be assured that they don't do it because of high quality services and low prices ...
        • Aug 10 2013: Pat,

          Could you give examples of roads/bridges/infrastructure in the past being built at a lower cost?
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        Aug 10 2013: Roads were done by private companies so could Railways, this is a meme a product of the herd.

        There is no such thing as a monopoly in the private sector by definition the only monopolies that exist are by government decree. They are a meme and a product of herd mentality.

        The beneficiary is always the consumer unless government steps in. We have ever cheaper consumer goods because one mega "monopoly" retailer after another replaces it's predecessor with cheaper prices. The cost of a electronics is ever cheaper, my first computer had way less power than your cell phone and cost 4k. Cars last twice as long with infinitely more features for the same money, inflation adjusted. Air travel is ever cheaper and safer. Etc etc etc

        The highly concentrated control is very much subject to change if another competitor does a better job. This is a meme, a product of the herd mentality.

        The dynamics of human conduct are such that government departments can be controlled this is a meme, a product of the herd mentality. The illusion is that government is a monolith that is highly virtuous. The reality is that it is made up of individuals who all are looking out for their own self interest. The way they do this is by building their own little empires, with no accountability to the market grow willy nilly and become very onerous with NO increase in benefit to the consumer who has no choice because this is a TRUE monopoly.
        • Aug 10 2013: Pat,

          The railroads were always built by private industry. All the tracks, switches, signals and most of the land around the tracks and the land on the tracks is owned by the railroad company.

          If you are talking about Amtrak, economics drove private companies out of the passenger business (air and bus service provide speed in one instance cost in the other). Some railroad executives have argued that if the bus companies had to pay for the highways, they would still be in the passenger business.

          It was interesting that in the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, 10,000 miles of private toll roads. It was estimated that those toll roads cost more than all the super highways adjusted for inflation. One shipper hated the system, he reported that he had to pay a toll every 1/2 mile because it was a different company. The private toll roads died because of competition with water and train shipping.

          On your comment about a competitor doing better only if they are allowed to do it. The Johnson County War is an example. Another is the West Virginia Mining Wars where the mining companies held the workers as slaves and if a competitor came into the area, they were burnt out and murdered. The best was GM and Standard oil destroying cable car transit system throughout the US to sell buses, cars, and gasoline. They were charged with antitrust and lost - they fought it to the Supreme Court and lost. By that time, the rails and cables were all removed.

          Uncontrolled large corporations are the gangsters, doing anything to win including illegal things. I believe in free enterprise but I also believe in free competition and at least a reasonable level playing field.
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        • Aug 10 2013: thanks read the article and I disagree with the title. Business showed the need for roads and bridges. One of my friends lives on an island and the floods have destroyed the only bridge to the island. To repair it, it will cost 500k. There are 10 families on the island and I am not sure all the families have 100k each to pay for the bridge. The state government fixed it. My friend is a conservative republican who stated this was the proper use of government funds.
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        Aug 11 2013: I will agree to disagreeI wonder how much a ferry would cost? Whatever the cost was it would be divided by 10. If the island land was unusable I should think the-land would be cheaper than if the land was usable by either a bridge or a ferry but either way , if the money was not taken by force who would be willing to pay for it? Should we all be forced to pay for the city of Detroit while we're at it and why stop at the cities what about the states that are close to being bankrupt as well certainly here in California why not force the United States to pay for California's stupidity? Your friend is not a good Republican which is the other side of the coin of a Democrat which is the government's should spend money endlessly so I will agree to disagree because your friend is not entitled to a bridge at the expense of the taxpayer why should the taxpayers have to pay for his inconvenience (why do the homeowners on this island not have insurance) in other words it's a form of crony capitalism. It is another form of bailout.
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        Aug 11 2013: " It was estimated that those toll roads cost more than all the super highways adjusted for inflation. One shipper hated the system, he reported that he had to pay a toll every 1/2 mile because it was a different company. The private toll roads died because of competition with water and train shipping."

        This comment is out of context the technology of that time was completely different than modern times. It is interesting that the toll roads were replaced by competition which is what would happen now if the government did not decree a monopoly on Amtrak, buses, and freeways.

        "On your comment about a competitor doing better only if they are allowed to do it. The Johnson County War is an example. Another is the West Virginia Mining Wars where the mining companies held the workers as slaves and if a competitor came into the area, they were burnt out and murdered."

        The key question is the activity by mutual cooperation or does the activity require force? Whether it is private or public, if the transaction requires force it is not free market (Somalia is not free market)
        I suppose in a way that is a monopoly in that it was decreed initially by the government acquiescing their responsibility to stop the activity and de facto decreeing a monopoly.

        "Uncontrolled large corporations are the gangsters, doing anything to win including illegal things. I believe in free enterprise but I also believe in free competition and at least a reasonable level playing field."

        That is a meme a product of the herd mentality. If not for government intervention a slew of your gangsters would be gone including GM, Goldman Sachs, B of A, ADM, Blackwater, Fanny and Freddie, etc etc. NOPE the companies did not do this it were us for allowing the government to do this. But your ilk have to hold onto the big evil business meme which was probably started by the businesses themselves and it keeps the real cause hidden.
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          Lejan .

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          Aug 11 2013: You are following a very popular yet just another meme and a product of herd mentality yourself. Its just another herd, Pat.

          For some reason, you decide to ignore the reality how 'free markets' function. If your beloved private companies act selfish, you either blame the government for it, or just declare this market not to be free. That a free market turns self-destructive towards itself does not exist in your imagination. This is as illusory as to believe in perfect communism ...

          Just another herd.
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        Aug 11 2013: Clyde

        Yup we are all complicit, but that does not mean that there will not be a point when it all gets reconciled. Current debt is 16 trillion and unfunded debt is over 100 trillion, if only we were Greece. Not to mention that we are as economically illiterate as clearly manifested by yourself, Wayne and your ilk. I will exclude Lejan as he is in another country that must be tired as hell of supporting the rest of the EU.

        It is not what you know you don't know that will get you it is what you don't know that don't know that will get you.
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          Aug 11 2013: Economy is not a science, so all you get are people who only claim to be literate in it. None of them knew what they were unleashing on global scale and none of them foresaw the disaster we have at present and those lining up in the near and far future.

          If only you were right in saying, that Germany was 'supporting the rest of the EU', because then I could be certain that part of my taxes were being used to help Greece families to suffer less under the current austerity programs they were forced into. That would make sense to me, because I belief in the concept of a social market economy, in which the financial strong support those who haven't been that fortunate.

          This is actually one of the first forms of humanitarian societies, in which the weak and old people are looked after and supported by the physical strong ones. Over the course of time the former 'strong ones' turn weak and old and get in return what they have once given. A pretty simple, yet effective survival strategy for the human herd...

          But my tax money isn't going to help the people in need in Greece. Not a single Euro cent of it! My tax money goes directly to the creditors of Greece, who once bought huge portions of Greece state securities on the 'free market' while hoping to have made a long term and save investment and to benefit by the returns of it. One of the biggest creditors of Greece is the Deutsche Bank, a private company, located in Frankfurt am Main here in Germany.

          My tax money, which is supposed to help the ones in need in Greece is now transferred from my paycheck directly to Deutsche Bank. And it stays there. It isn't just collected there to be later transferred to help Greece. No! It goes right into the books of Deutsche Bank to generate and SECURE their 'return on investment'.

          This, Pat, is the perversion of the holy capitalistic ideas of risks vs. profits, and a remarkable demonstration how 'to big to fail' companies in the private sector managed to dominate the world today.
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          Aug 11 2013: The beautiful idea to form a United Europe got distorted and perverted by the creation of the monetary union right at its beginning. Unfortunately, it has never been about the unification of 'the people', it was about the creation of 'easy accessible and free markets' for your beloved private companies.

          Now all of those economy experts pretend to be surprised, as it was for sure very 'difficult' to foresee, that the Greece economy mainly based on 'tourism and olives' couldn't keep up with the efficiency possessed German technology fetish.

          Wow, what a surprise! And who benefits the most from this monetary union? Germany! And because of it, the current financial crisis still has not arrived here. Over the years, Germany established an highly export based economy, which by its percentage isn't healthy at all and urges the need for a 'low value' currency, so that on international levels German products come with competitive prices. The former 'Deutschmark' really was a pain in the but for this strategy, so it does not surprise me, that Germamy was urging for the monetary union of the Euro.

          In combination with rigorous 'efficiency programs' throughout the industry and the political dismantling of our former social market economy, the wages stagnated since the introduction of the Euro, the unemployment numbers are on the rise, but the profit gain skyrocketed which lead to an increasing imbalance of wealth distribution in Germany since.

          It is no rocket science to me, that you can only join different countries in a monetary union, if their economies are equally strong. Anything else, will create what is in the news at the moment.

          So the reason why Germany is spinning the prayer wheel on the Euro so badly is, because 'we', meaning the private Germany industry, is benefiting so much from it, while the people in other countries are 'paying' the consequences now within the doctrine of inhuman austerity programs.
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          Aug 11 2013: Greece lost the very vital counter measure to rescue itself within the current situation, to be able to devalue their currency. They can't, because they share the Euro, so the creditors will continue to squeeze them.

          This, and because of German taxpayers money , is the reason, why private companies like the Deutsche Bank is able to pronounce profits made in 2012 ...
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        Aug 11 2013: Very good Clyde that is the point, have a nice day

        Yes Lejan you are very good at regurgitating what you believe in, have a nice day

        One more time, the deal is that the U.S. has 16 trillion dollars of current debt, it has at least 100 trillion dollars in unfunded debt. I don't care what your philosophy is. Right now the debt service is 200 billion dollars a year at 1.5% interest if the interest goes to historic norms the debt service will a trillion a year right quick. The entire tax revenue for one year is 2 trillion. Do you see any potential problems with that?

        I will give yous the last word...
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          Aug 11 2013: Wishing 'nice days' is at least a polite form to declare the unwillingness of versatile thinking. :o)

          But yes, the US is going to face a tremendous change in the near future and it will consequently loose its global influence over it. Maybe this explains some of the latest leaks regarding espionage, as the powerlessness of the ones in power blurs the sight of the evaluation what is going wrong and where. I don't mind, if the USA looses its dominating role it claims to have, but I mind the American people who have to pay for the consequences in the upcoming future and about their freedom they have been told to trade for a virtual security...

          But the USA is not alone, as Europe is following right after ...
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          Aug 11 2013: Oh, one more thing ...

          In your debt list above you forgot to mention the US student loans which are highly suspected by some 'experts' to be uncovered to devastating degrees in the future.

          Interesting though, as 'student loans' are the only exception in the US law as much as I know, which do not fall under the private bankruptcy act.

          So maybe this turns into a chance for at least the privatized 'jail industry' one day, if all of those former students have to take the consequences for it ... :o)
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      Aug 11 2013: "I might add that global warming caused by man and the meme that business is evil are all manifestations of the herd mentality and how easily it is manipulated."

      I know this isn't your main point, Pat, but it's an unfortunate example. The evidence that human activity and gas emissions have impacted the global climate is overwhelming. As an interested biologist who has taught courses in historical climate development I have reviewed a good deal of it. Unless you've reviewed the data and have made a personal scientific determination of why the data or its interpretation are wrong, one might almost think you were just following the herd of know-nothings who are egged on for political reasons by our American right-wing brand of raucous radio hosts. But you wouldn't do that. That would just be "a meme and a product of herd mentality."
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        Aug 11 2013: Then present the facts, you would be the first on this thread besides myself to do so.
        There are experts that disagree with your conjecture.
        I don't know anything about it but I'm not going to get a degree in biology to find out. I do know that just because the herd agrees to something doesn't make it so certainly not when it comes to economics.
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          Aug 11 2013: Well, Pat, I'm not going to turn this conversation into a debate on global warming. It's a whole other issue. The only issue here about that subject is whether you made an individual and informed choice of your point of view, or whether you're repeating what you've heard others say - following the herd.

          There's no herd of scientists colluding together to make people believe in global warming. The scientists who wrote the IPCC report on climate change come from about 120 different countries. Their conclusions are scientifically sound. Do you seriously believe that these countries, who have no common interests, have colluded together to deceive the people of the world? That's fantastic.
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        Aug 11 2013: I agree with Pat that if you are in a position to share the facts in an understandable way in conversations on the subject, it would be wonderful, as there is so much confusion on the subject.
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          Aug 11 2013: As I said to Pat, I don't intend to change the topic of this conversation to "climate change.". I probably should have left his comment alone, when he claimed that believing in human-influenced climate change is an example of herd mentality. I said to him that such a claim should be supported, and that since he evidently has not made an actual assessment of the subject, but is just following what he has heard others say, that might be an example of herd mentality.
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        Aug 11 2013: Some guy

        Where are the facts that correlate this to man?

        The FACT about the US debt is easily verified...
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        Aug 11 2013: I understand. I did not mean it would be appropriate here.
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        Aug 12 2013: Paul

        I have yet to see anything that scientifically demonstrates cause and effect?

        What about this inconvenient truth?

        Yes I consider it to be a manifestation of the herd mentality similar to the "big evil business" meme.
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      Aug 11 2013: Dear Pat,
      I totally agree with you that "herds are easy to manipulate".

      The idea you present of global warming being a good example of the herd mentality and how easily it is manipulated is excellent, because it appears that there are an equal number trying to manipulate the herd on both sides of the issue:>)
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    Aug 23 2013: Thank you all for your contributions.

    I know the term "herd instinct" is somewhat brutal, but I used it to emphasize our connection to our non-human ancestors in the not-so-distant past. We are, after all, one of the Earth's newer species. I think everyone more or less agreed that the instinct is there, in us, though some weren't happy with the notion that we had any "animal instincts" at all. I think it's clear that we do.

    An instinct is felt as a desire to do something, usually driven by hormones. What better example than puberty? In humans, our topic instinct is felt as a desire to be together, to be regarded as a valid member of the group. Depending on the group, we may feel a need to be valued by the group, and we try to contribute to the group in line with that need.

    The groups that we all have connections to include our nation, religion, city or village, and family - close and extended, as well as chosen groups such as clubs and associations. I think most have agreed that for modern humans at this stage of our development, the expression of individualism has emerged as a real need, and for many the pressure to conform to society's strictures causes conflict.

    I think we agree that our societies, for better or worse, are needed for our protection and to provide us with the necessities of life. So society deserves a degree of support and loyalty to its aims and laws. Of course, society can go astray, often without the majority of citizens being aware of it. In the end, we must work toward societal conditions that allow, to the greatest extent consistent with the society's basic aims, individual freedom of expression and action. This appears to be one of the great challenges that we are groping toward together. There is no final utopia, but society must always be adaptable and sensitive to the changing needs of both individuals and the group.
    Thanks again.
    Paul Lillebo
  • Aug 22 2013: It's not a matter of whether it is good or bad, it's a matter of having the intelligence to use it as a tool.

    In many areas group-think (i.e. having the same morals, set of good behaviors) is a positive force. How much suffering exists because there are not enough model citizens in the world? A heck of a lot. This is where having a large group have a shared reality is great.

    The downside is when that group lacks intelligence, compassion and has no passion for scientific truth. Societies most dangerous members are those with views unhinged from science and advancement of human nature past the current predatory capitalist phase of human social existence.
  • Aug 22 2013: Yes, yes it is.
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    Aug 22 2013: It has its advantages and disadvantages; I don't like "Group-think" mentality, where an Alpha asserts themselves and dictates a collective to their agenda, it is dangerous, especially because so many people are not rational enough to appropriately use that power.

    On the other hand, when you do have a rational thinking leader, they can accomplish so much positive work in the world. Everyone has their own strengths and weakness, to find a way to have everyone subsidise and compliment each other can do amazing things.

    Personally I like the idea of people developing a rational freethinking independency and creativity, introspecting and observing to understand what they can, helping and accepting help where needed, to become and help others to become more rounded and productive people.

    I think a big way to do that is by starting with the simplest logic and using that reference point to guide in understanding greater and more complex issues as that logic develops. The basic logic comes in discipline of fear and desire; Children, before they have any real understanding or conditioning, display the qualities of compassion and selfishness, these are natural and with a logical application, both compulsions can arrive at the common conclusion of "considerate behaviour".

    Because a selfish person can see how they can gain from considerate behaviour, it makes their life easier with more friends and less enemies, but also in that cooperative social structure of subsidy and compliment we can have with the strength and weakness we all have.

    But when fear and desire interfere with that compassion and selfishness, both can be twisted, a compassionate person can become judgemental and try to control others, believing they are helping, when really they are just robbing others of their rights.

    But fear and desire mess with our rational thinking, we cannot reasonably assess the cause and effect nature of our reality and we fail to find real answers as a result.
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    Aug 22 2013: Hi Paul,

    Nice topic, the herd instinct. We can look at the animal kingdom, and herds are able to survive, in that within the herd there is security. But the herd mentality may rob you of your freedom to be an authentic individual, because one must do as the herd dictates, to belong to the herd. Isn't that what social norms are? Herd mentality? And the Silverbacks are in charge, they are obviously backed up by the police within and the military defensively, and have a flag as a herd symbol, a history due to the need for myth and legend - that adds sentimentality to the flag and there you are. And if you try and be an individual, you may be "disinherited" of your herd rights, the right to vote for the Silverback, the right to participate in the herd activities, to gain employment, etc. You become a pariah, and get excluded from the herd. So what is the choice, when we feel the need for security, then to join the herd and say goodbye to our authentic individuality.
  • Aug 21 2013: It the instance of the decline of regionalism I would have to say that the loss of diversity is a shame and the effects of a global village should be curtailed in respect to regional character.
  • Aug 20 2013: It is clearly a benefit to our species that we recognize and value the actions of others. This powerful self defense mechanism accepts the principle that others generally act in their self-interest. If this is true and it seems logical that it is, then we benefit from imitating the actions of others, generally speaking. Clearly there are hundreds of examples where imitation should be avoided. Nonetheless, I would wager that the arc on the graph of human behavior bends toward self preservation and other actions that are beneficial both long and short term. I do not think that luck has permitted us to reach the 5.5 billion population mark.
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      Aug 20 2013: Yes, I think the survival instinct, which is natural in all animals, can be problematic in human societies, where we often see it in the forms of self defense, self interest, and egotism. We all have it, of course, and the problem is to find a workable integration of this focus on ourselves with an equally natural concern for the group: it's simply true that if the group doesn't survive, we ourselves as individuals don't survive. So it appears to me that a total focus on oneself, or on the individual with no concern for the group, is pathological, as is the opposite total emphasis on the group with suppression of individualism, as was the ideal in the communist experiments of the last century.
  • Aug 19 2013: It all depends on who is putting up the propaganda forming the collective thought...

    On a lighter note- The varying cultures of the world could be construed as the spice of life. To dissolve such inclinations and to become all the same would make for pretty damn boring vacations one could say.
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      Aug 20 2013: I agree. At some level "the herd" is our collective culture, which implies that there's a set of values and practices that are generally followed in a given area. In the US, the great (or irritating) regionalisms of a few generations ago are being erased, as we're all becoming homogenized. To some that's a boon, to some a bane.
  • Aug 11 2013: Let me raise one single point about the very serious effect for the achievemnt of world peace and prosperity. Because of the herd instinct, whenever an incident arises between different nations or even between regions or ethinic groups, the conflict immedialtely becomes "us against them" and likely involves war, or at least "war of words". In a world with more and more separation of groups and forming of new "nations", nothing can be done toward peace or even common goals of improvement on earth environment, education or economic cooperation, without the cooperation among majority of the nations on earth. Look at the paralysis in the United Nations function, many of the UN issued commands, suggestions or mediations were simply ignored for the "patrioticism" or the "alliance (herd)instinct" of certain member nations.
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      Aug 13 2013: I think you're exactly right, Bart, that the instinct (or desire, at least) to stick with one's own cultural group is a very strong one, and that it has been one of the most serious obstacles to peace. The Balkan peninsula is a sad example, and in Europe generally about 20 countries have been formed or reformed in the past 25 years, each one with the same goal: to align the borders with their cultural group, and exclude those who don't belong. In addition, many more European countries are experiencing separatist movements for the same reason, such as Ireland, Belgium, the Basques, Corsica, Cyprus, Trans-Dniestr, Georgia and probably more.

      This desire to belong to one's own herd is at the core of the troubles in Palestine/Israel and underlies every religious conflict, since religion is a cultural feature, very often - together with language - the most sensitive cultural feature.
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      Aug 11 2013: Kudos to you Some Guy, for not answering to any boss for 20 years! I have been self employed most of my life, so I understand and appreciate the feeling of independence and freedom this creates:>)

      There have been lots of people throughout history who have stepped out of the box, to experience our own thing.....sometimes more successful than other times, and all an opportunity to learn:>)

      The herd instinct can feel safe at times because we may feel that we are not alone, and that safety net can also serve as a self imposed prison.
  • Aug 10 2013: a herd pushed to the limit becomes a mob and violence usually follow. Think it is boon at lower levels and a bane at the higher levels.
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      Aug 11 2013: Bless you, Deepak.
      Belief can be valuable, but it's important to keep in mind the difference between what we know and what we believe. If we think we have found truth about God, let it be one truth, allowing for other truths to be revealed to other seekers.
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    Aug 10 2013: .

    It is a boon: --- in the valid scope of symbiosis.
    It is a bane: --- out of the valid scope of symbiosis.
  • Aug 10 2013: Again list pluses and minuses and you'll find both for both.
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    Aug 10 2013: Bringing ourselves together gives us safety? No. Higher population density produces higher crime rates.Allows us to think for the common good of society? No. Higher population density produces higher stress levels. Herd instict resides in all humans as an evolutionary remnant? No. Some fear being apart from the crowd, others long to avoid the crowd. Seeking a place in the herd is a learned behavior resulting from upbringing and environment.
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      Aug 11 2013: Hi Ed,
      You're of course right that too dense a population leads to all sorts of social ills. Nevertheless humanity would not have survived as a species as a collection of disconnected individuals. It took the organized tribe to get through the hazards of earlier times, and we have remained social organisms, just as our ancestors - the ancient anthropoids - were. One of the features we have developed along with our increased mental capacities is greater variation in personalities, and these lead to more variation in behavior than we see in a troop of apes.
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        Aug 11 2013: So, you say boon?
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          Aug 11 2013: Nope. I say there's at times comfort to be found in the right group, and help too. But much of the good, and most of the innovation in the world has come from individuals let loose to find solutions to issues. It looks like most commenters here agree that there's a place for common effort and a place for individualism. It may be that there's no bigger issue for modern societies than finding a balance that makes room for both of those.
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        Aug 11 2013: I wholeheartedly agree Paul!

        As I wrote in another comment on this thread, part of the definition of herding, is "A group of people having a common bond".

        So, in my perception, to be "herded" is not a bad thing IF/WHEN we can find the balance. As multi sensory, multi dimensional, intelligent human beings, we can choose how informed we would like to be, and make conscious decisions/choices regarding who, why, when, where, and for what reason we choose to be in a "herd".....or not.

        I agree that being together often offers comfort, or a feeling of security, and it seems like a very natural feeling. There are also times when individualism is wanted, needed and practiced, as you insightfully say. I agree that it is helpful for us as a global society to recognize both possibilities as opportunities:>)