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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,
Paul

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  • 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.

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