Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bathroom Monologues: The Product of Three Trips to the Bathroom

One of many clichés in need of obliteration is that of the sheep. The sheep is the person who follows something without question, which is rather unkind to shepherds, whose jobs can be a lot harder than this analogy gives them credit. Politicians are rarely fired when a couple of their voters stray away from the ideology and are mauled by mountain lions.

While people are unlikely to stray away from an idea and into the path of wild animals, they do assume many things as part of the herd-mentality of society. All human culture is made up of individuals following patterns that they perceive others are following, sometimes adding variations that may seem radical up close, but are miniscule in the grand scheme. The man who refuses to do anything that everyone else does will have to babble in nonsense, as words no longer mean what we tell him they do. He’ll die of the first harsh ailment that strikes him. Modern medicine and the scientific method are, after all, well-dressed sheep mentality.

Are you a “sheep” for not questioning why 2 + 2 will always equal 4? Are you a “sheep” for thinking that there are seven days in a week? No. True, the week is an arbitrary invention of humans, but all ignoring the existence of Monday will get you is fired.

The sheep label developed in part to avoid having to deal with individuals. Everyone comes to his or her conclusions based on experiences, reasons and intuitions, and even their seemingly most arbitrary decisions can have quite complex origins. However, dealing with everyone who comes to one view as a general crowd avoids the responsibility of dealing with individuals. You don’t have to actually know anything but a few statistics about the person, don’t have to form any kind of relationship or truly care beyond a blind anger directed at strangers - a group, a mass, a glob of people who, you can convince yourself, don't even think. They're barely even people. If dehumanization is possible, this seems like one of the places from which it springs.

Sheephood has little to do with not thinking for yourself and almost everything to do with not coming to the conclusions the speaker desires. If you were smarter, you see, you wouldn’t follow whoever you’re following (even if you’re following your own conscience), and instead would follow the speaker. One political pundit calls the millions of people who hold the opposing view “sheep.” Those who hold her views aren’t sheep. They’re bright chaps. They thought for themselves, even if their thoughts sound spuriously similar to the way the pundit put them. Such smart, unsheeply people, who will never realize they are being sheered because, of course, they aren’t sheep. They are independent, freethinking human beings who are proudly superior to those sheep over there.

(I don’t mean to become such a shepherd-pundit, but I must point out that thinking there are only two sides to anything is highly sheepish)

The loss of the sheep cliché, as a word and as a concept, would be scary for those who rely on it. They couldn’t dismiss blocks of people anymore. It’s very comforting to homogenize those who disagree with you, especially as it allows you to disregard them. It seems almost essential when running things like social sciences or federal politics, at which points you couldn’t possibly have deep personal interactions with all your subjects, least of all with the ones you dislike. But that’s a flaw in their systems, not a virtue.

Every leader follows myriads of other people. Every great original thinker is barely different from his peers, as bold and brave as that slim distance may be. Everyone in society is a sheep, but we’re also other forms of mammals that you might find more interesting. How human beings are like the pachyderm, for instance, I find downright charming.


  1. So...If I agree with you, does that make me a sheep?

  2. Depends who you ask and how angry they are. :)


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