Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Following the Herd

Had three to four inches of the white stuff here in Little Rhody from Monday night into Tuesday morning, with all of the traffic mishaps which that often entails. On the way into work, there were the timid drivers, who slow down to about five miles an hour if it's snowing, and the insane drivers, who figure, as they have four wheel drive, that their brakes will work just as effectively on snow/slush/ice as they do on dry pavement.

While timid is frustrating (I cannot abide driving at five miles an hour when the conditions will allow 20 on a straightaway. sure corners are different, but really?), insane is often terrifying. Folks barreling along at 10 to 20 miles an hour over the speed limit when the roadway is messy and slippery are just crazy. But my point here is that people who are perfectly capable of getting from point A to point B in a motorized conveyance without running into anything, seem to completely lose their minds when there is wet stuff falling from the sky.

On the way to work Tuesday morn, there was a traffic slowdown just a mile short of my destination. While it is a school zone (where the law requires us to drive past the school at 20 mph or less) and going slower is a way of life during the school year (in Little Rhody the school lights flash all day as opposed to some states - like Colorado - which only flash those lights when the wee ones are actually coming to school, or going home), Tuesday morning saw traffic come to a dead stop.

Okay, I thought to myself, probably an accident or a breakdown, one (or more) lanes are closed.

Yup, it might have been a breakdown or perhaps a minor fender bender (I didn't see any visible damage or car parts littering the roadway) but the gawkers were out in full force. Slowing to a walking pace to see the tow truck guy putting a vehicle on the back of his flatbed. No bodies, no gore, no crumpled body work, nothing.

I could see that there was naught to see from fifty yards away, why stop and see nothing? Which made me think, "Our species is such a herd animal." But are we?

So I went surfing, the Interwebz of course, to see what I could see.

Psychology Today's website has a number of articles on that topic, as does Quora's website. The difference being that the articles on Psychology Today are seemingly written by highly educated types in the field of psychology, the "answers" given on Quora are suspect, at best.

Quora's purpose is stated as "Quora is a place to gain and share knowledge. It's a platform to ask questions and connect with people who contribute unique insights and quality answers." Which is not an unreasonable description of what goes on over there. IMHO, it's also a place which belies the old saw, "There is no such thing as a stupid question."

Oh dear, yes, there are stupid questions, there are thousands upon thousands of stupid questions. On the bright side, the number of stupid answers far outweigh the number of stupid questions. Just subscribe to Quora, it's often informative, often entertaining.

But after reading a couple of answers to the "Are humans herd animals? query, I had to stop. Some of the answers were odd, to say the least, like -
Humans ‘were’ herd animals and now can only be called as social animals. This is the result of evolution and addings to human knowledge and awarness. The bio-physo advancements in the human beings has made humans from heard to social animal. Yes, ‘changed’ from just a herd animal to social animal, as the human awarness increased with time, gaining new social, psycho,philo- and housing-concepts.
As should be defined; the term herd is used for certain animals which come together or are brought together by humans for their collective behaviour. This term is limited to only practical procedures related to these animals, like; food search, shelter (according to habitat, if naturally), and breeding I must add.
However, when we talk about social animals, there is a defined struture for interection and connectivity between the groups. The primitive neccessities of for survival are based upon these structures, but in a complex way than herding. One another important fact of it is that the limitations are not bounded to only practical procedures, but include the concept of reasonating and conscience (as in humans).
In herds, there is no concept of dependence, only for some basic survival neccessities if that includes. But in Social-animals, there is the concept of dependency in each and eavery action, whether done individually or in a formed group. This dependence is not, however,always direct, but most of the times indirect, and their is always the connectivity between thoughts which makes it impossible for one to stand out as an “lone survivor”. Even if one is not physically or economiaclly, or even philosophically connected to the society, he/she is always psychologically inter-connected with the society.
So yeah, Humans ‘are’ only Social-animals.
I didn't correct the English or grammar above. No, I didn't agree with that answer. The following, from Psychology Today, was much more interesting -
The philosopher Hannah Arendt famously argued that the atrocities of the Holocaust were not caused by psychopaths but by ordinary people placed under extraordinary pressure to conform. Since then we have learned that the pressure need not be extraordinary at all. In fact, it may not be experienced as pressure, but as relief. Human beings are herd animals. We survive only in highly coordinated groups. Individually, we are designed to pick up social cues, coordinate and align our behavior with those around us. Recent research has shown that social disapproval provokes the brain's danger circuits. Conformity soothes.
A far more interesting answer, not just because I agreed with the basic premise. We are, in some ways, herd animals. Not completely, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Sure there are outliers, like the guy (typically, females of our species tend to be far more sociable in my experience) living all by himself off in the mountains. He needs no human contact to survive. And those types are not all sociopaths, if that's what you're thinking.

Do I think that we are herd animals? Yes and no. Yes, for the many who refuse to think for themselves and let themselves be stampeded off in whatever cause du jour their "betters" decide is a cool thing to have or do.

F'rinstance, the down turn in the economy back around '08-'09. The Meejah said things were going to get bad, save your money, the "experts" predicted various doom and gloom scenarios, so the herd beings didn't go out, they stayed home, didn't buy stuff they wanted, didn't go out to entertainment venues. So yeah, less money was spent, places had to shut their doors, people lost their jobs. Well, the experts said so. The bolt of lightning out on the Plains spooked the herd and the "prophecy" was self-fulfilling.

Yeah, it's more complicated than that, but basically that's what happened. An election is held, the herd stampedes on Wall Street and stock prices go down (or go up) with no more rational explanation than that the herd got spooked.

But not all humans are herd animals. Some are pack animals, some can be considered in the same vein as a pride of lions. Small proactive groups, they don't follow the mob, they actually (and the Meejah hate this) think for themselves.

After all, we are a rather complex species (I've heard us called "upright apes with fancy shoes," that might have been Shaun, I don't recollect). We're too scrawny to be predators like the tiger or the lion. We don't really have the stamina to hunt like the wolves or the African wild dogs. We're born weak and defenseless.

But we're awfully adaptable. It's that big brain combined with those opposable thumbs which make us a very formidable predator. We're also omnivores (yup, we'll eat damned near anything), like bears (cue a bear in the comments). We band together to protect our young (who take forever to develop!) and we learn fairly quickly compared to some species. We can also pass that knowledge along to our young (without the help of the Department of Education, thank you very much). Sure, an individual lion will kick our ass one on one nearly every single time, but get a bunch of us together, the lion is toast!

An interesting thought for a day which was highlighted by a bit of snow and part of the herd passing slowly by a traffic mishap, rather like a herd of wildebeest munching grass while watching the lions eat one of their late compadres. Perhaps it was one of those "there but for the Grace of God" moments.

But there were others who drove by without a glance, probably thinking that the lions might still be hungry!

Looks pretty from the kitchen door...
What sayest thee?


  1. Dig around and see if you agree with the results of "persistence hunting". I'd just read about that a few weeks ago, and it was amazing. Dad told me that a man could out work a horse. I didn't think that was possible, but it appears we can out run them... So we DO have the stamina of Africkin (or is it spelled African?) wild dog or wolf.

    When I was no but a lad, a neighbor's calf got loose. I ran after that stupid thing for 2.5 miles.... (1/2 a mile east, then south for 2 miles to the paved road.) There was some walking, and I even hitched a ride a few hundred yards, but I ran that evil thing down and caught him. After that I figured "stew and boots" would be too good for it. (h/t Ace Reid) The critter isn't the smartest animal in the world, and those that keep them around for investments may not be either!

    My favorite omnivores are pigs. They will eat anything. Read "Those Devils In Baggy Pants" when I was a youth, and there is a story in there about pigs cleaning up some corpses. That means they are magic like cows are. I hate the taste of grass, but I like meat and milk. I doubt I'd like to eat what a pig eats, but they turn it into such wonderful meat, it's amazing.... Fat back, sow belly, bacon and ham!! sounds like the start of a musical number....

    Oops, ran off after a rabbit... Halt, pivot and proceed...

    1. I had never heard of persistence hunting before today, seems plausible in sparsely populated areas. I guess we are (as a species, not me personally) capable of such things, after all people run marathons. I would think it might be a problem if your hunters jog into someone else's territory, they might not come home. We are very territorial as well. But once again, I learn from my readers!

      Wait, was that a squirrel?!?!

    2. There is much truth in the persistence theory. We humans can go and go and go and go long after other animals would just up and quit, or even up and die. Anyone who's ever put in 8 to 10 hours in a real physical job and then gone and done another 2-3, gotten little sleep, and done it for 5-6 days in a row, knows this.

      And far from being defenseless, the human body is amazing in its ability to shed damage that would slow down or kill other animals, or at least adapt around the damage. Just look at your foot next time. Low ground pressure when walking, higher when running, able to wrap around terrain, and able to form a huge, thick, nigh impermeable callus if given half a chance. (Marshallese children and adults can walk on razor coral without hurting them, only those who wear shoes lose this ability.)

    3. Makes a lot of sense when you really think about it. As you obviously have.

    4. My farmer grandfather told me that you should never entirely trust pigs. If you skip and fall, in a herd of pigs, you could wind up in the menu. That is why you skip them from the OTHER side of the fence!

    5. Pigs were one of the leading causes of deaths amongst children during the medieval age. Especially children less than 3. Weird but true history.

  2. If you came up with something this deep based on a few inches of snow, Lord help us if a blizzard hits Little Rhody. Great post.

    1. Hahaha!

      Might just be sleep-deprivation, I'm coming off a week away from work and am still not used to getting up early.

    2. He wouldn't come up with anything because he'd have no power... Though I am sure we'd pick up the thought emanations of cursing...

    3. I did once blog upon a topic during a blizzard-induced power outage (09 February 2013) using the cellular device while sitting in my car, running the engine so I could charge the cellular device. Very short, no deep thoughts, cuppla pictures. No doubt my cursing melted the ice on the car's windshield.

    4. Dad told me I was getting a bit deep, and to roll up my pants so I didn't ruin them..... When I see that terminology, I think of that time in the pig pen and dad's advice....

    5. Sound wisdom from your Dad STxAR!

  3. Humans doth be weird critters. Omnivores who do far better on a meat heavy diet than a meat light diet (our guts are really too short to do plant stuff well. Seriously. One of the indicators of whether an animal is a carnivore or not is gut length. Shorter guts mean more carnivorous. Dog guts are longer in proportion to their body than cat guts are. Dogs are scavengerious semi-carnivores (yeah, I made up a word, but dogs can scavenge like vultures or eat meat and stomachs full of veggies, while cats MUST eat meat only. Which makes the concept of vegetarian diets for both rather suspect at best, criminal at worst.)

    Longer the guts, the more veggies one can digest, and the crappier the veggie one digests can be. Grazers can eat meat (a surprising number of mice, small birds, grasshoppers, larvae and such are consumed by grazing animals.) But not the other way around. Serious carnivores, like big cats, eat veggie material in order to help unblock blocks in their guts (furballs, the occasional bone fragment, etc.)

    We humans do better, live longer, think faster, on animal fats and proteins, supplemented by plant carbs. The more meat and fat, the bigger and stronger the human body gets, and the better the human body is at storing energy (as fat.) The Mongols were noted for gorging on meat and being able to fight and ride for days, while their Chinese opponents were slower due to needing to eat more often and not being able to store food-energy due to their reliance on plants supplemented by meat.

    Weird stuff, huh?

    As to Herd/Pack, well, yeah. And herd/pack mentality doesn't like it very much when an individual appears who excels. Herd/pack mentality doesn't like being challenged. It gets the individual shunned or killed.

    You need to be snowed in more often...

    1. Good stuff Beans. The second thing I learned from my readers today.

  4. All I really need to know is that I am safer in the middle of the herd ...except in the event of a WMD or serious disease.

    1. (Don McCollor)..somewhere I ran across an image of being in the middle of a Greek phalanx...kind of dragging your long spear and thanking God there are no aeroplanes…

    humans are able to eat almost anything,
    they use alcohol, which is lethal poison if in excess, for fun and finding sexual partners
    they can survive broken limbs (try to do it as horse) and very early in history invented surgery
    in extreme some humans have been performing surgery on themselves, no anaesthesis
    they can dive without equipment almost as good as seals
    they evolved as apex predators, almost-exterminatinbg lions, tigers and bears, including totally giant cave species
    14 year old human girl survived plane crash in Amazon jungle and emerged alive after 2 weeks of wandering
    they took wolves, their once predators and made their pets
    they made cats their mercenaries in fighting off rats and mice
    there are multiple stories of humans, mortally woundesd still surviving long enough to kill multiple other humans
    they have been in state of near constant intra-specied warfare for most of their history
    they are able to fly into space now and are looking for ways past speed of light
    they have exterminated many own cultures that happened to be either too weak or too fixed in their ways to adapt
    they are perfectly capable of destroying own planet with nukes, but managed to hold this capacity in check for 60+yers
    once they spread into galaxy it will be all over for us
    from Galactic Council report on humans

    1. OMG Paweł, that is absolutely priceless!

      We (as a species) are fire trucking terrifying!

    2. (Don McCollor)…[a note]...cats seem to have domesticated themselves by their own choice, and may be mankind's oldest companions...

  6. I started my comment earlier today, put it aside and returned a while ago.

    I read your post, started my comment, and put my comment aside for more thinking.
    Then I returned to my comment, paused and read the article in Psychology Today.
    Then I had to think a bunch more.
    Dr. Shpancer seems to write himself into a corner when he gets near the end.
    He says, “In fact, effective nonconformity is in itself a group phenomenon.”
    He further explains that by saying, "When you go against the group, you do it not on your own, but in the name--and with the backing--of another group. In other words, we can't avoid conformity.”

    I'm still digesting that, and I'm still thinking about my membership in various herds.
    Society in general is a herd, the military is a herd, and the progressives, the left, and the members of Antifa are all in herds.
    The people who have left cults, do so as Dr. Shpancer says, "When you go against the group, you do it not on your own, but in the name--and with the backing--of another group."

    And I'm still thinking about the herd concept.

    juvat's mention of this post being deep is spot on.

    Very well done.

  7. In my experience, almost all members of the human herd think of themselves as rugged individualists. Even when (perhaps especially when) they are evidencing textbook cloned-sheep behavior, such as standing in line for eight hours in deep snow to be first into wallyworld on black friday to get the latest fad thingy. I too think of myself as a rugged individualist. Unlike most people perhaps I've actually done hunting/raising food animals/butchering/large-scale gardening thing. I've made moccasins and shoes (not good ones mind) and sewed myself up some serviceable shirts and pants. I've cut timber and chopped wood and I can build a fire in just about any conditions. I've hiked the hinterlands, sleeping and traveling rough, and I've eaten stuff in hunger that most first-worlders would recoil from, and I've been dammed glad to have it. I've done all of those things almost exclusively alone. And I've done them nearly all as a personal test. I've never had to survive that way. I love the testing, it's great stuff. When the test is over I like to return home and have all the comforts of the herd awaiting my beck and call. Hmm. I wonder what I is? In truth I think I'm just a fallen ape-lizard with clever footwear.

    Great post btw. Got my thinker fired up, and you have my thanks for that. Don't worry, I won't mention this place to the authorities if my thinker leads me to violate some herd bylaw(s) later this evening.

    1. I like thinking, even if it does make my head hurt at times. 😉

  8. New tires on F-150 Friday morning @0800! Then, off to get four more 80# sand sausages for to put in the box, bringing the total to eight. Or, 740# on top of the rear axle.

  9. While not as radical thought, like-minded outcasts and nonconformists tend to gravitate towards each other and from herds of their own...
    Exaemplum 1: early christian religious hermits, eventually started to form small societies. Hence, monks and monasteries.
    Exaemplum 2: nerd/bookworm might be the archetypical loner in his/her class... wait until he/she gets to convention of her fave fandom.
    I have spoken.
    (yeah, just started Mandalorian binge...)


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