Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Herd Mentality



Memories of farm life are many; some are intensely pleasurable and others are simply unpleasant.  Making applebutter in a caldron outside on a brisk fall day: that qualifies as pleasurable.  Anything to do with hog management qualifies as unpleasant.

One such unpleasant event was “driving hogs”, or herding the hogs into a confined area where they would be sorted by weight.  The hogs weighing 200+ lbs. were sent to market; the others were reprieved for a while. 

To herd the hogs meant that all seven of our family would start at the far end of the feed lot where the hogs grazed.  We were spaced evenly across in a line and waved our arms (usually holding long sticks) while calling “sooooooWEEE”.**

Hogs were fairly docile at the beginning, but as they reached the other end of the feed lot where they had to move to the only opening left to them, some of the hogs got suspicious.

It was usually a big burly hog with a nasty disposition.  He was the leader, and the other hogs followed him.  Blindly so.

This was the dicey part of herding.  Push too much, and the hogs bolt.  Stand back too far, and they bolt.  But, regardless, whatever that lead hog did, the others did as well.**

Please forgive the way my brain works, but this segues into my thoughts for this Monday:  The Herd Mentality.

In the February 2012 Smithsonian magazine, writer Ron Rosenbaum penned a thought-provoking article adapted from his introduction for the new edition of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer.  Published initially in 1960, Shirer’s book “…recalls an important point in historical consciousness…”
Shirer examined how Hitler and the ‘perfect storm’ of many factors managed to seduce an intelligent nation of Germans and lead them to do and behave in abhorrent crimes.
There is no way to summarize Rosenbaum’s article.  Here is a closing quote from his article:

“…There is danger in giving up our sense of self-hood for the illusory unity of a frenzied mass movement, of devolving from human to herd for some homicidal abstraction.  It is a problem we can never be reminded of enough, and this this we will always owe William Shirer a debt of gratitude…”

 Have you ever sensed being part of a herd?  Do we retain our “self-hood” in this age of digital awareness? With the bombardment of advertisements, do you find yourself being prepped to purchase something, or behave a certain way?  Man.  These are really profound thoughts for a Monday.

Note:  This post in no way advertises this book or advocates these writers.  The impressions and conclusions gained from reading this Smithsonian article struck me as timely and important.


**There will be a future post or two about the herding hogs experiences, as some of them were traumatizing and others amusing.  SooooWeee is a recognized hog call in the Midwest.  

If the connections seem insensitive or rude, please forgive me.  Sometimes, especially when standing in a long long line that winds across and back with posts and black straps, I feel that I am being "herded".  This perspective comes from farm life and going to DisneyLand. 

16 comments:

  1. As I read your description of the hogs being herded into the pens to be chosen to live or die, I did relate it to the horrors of The Third Reich. The could be though that I have a program on PBS about that very same subject.

    Right now, I feel that this necessary, but horrible, election process we are now enduring in the US is about the powers that be behind these two men leading us down a path that best suits them. Not to say we are all hogs, but maybe that is how they all think of us. sooooooooWEEE

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    1. You hit the nail precisely. In all elections, we the people are reduced to numbers, a mass of numbers.

      SoooooWEEE, indeed!

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  2. Being Jewish by heritage (Christian by upbringing) I made the easy connection from your hog herding illustration to that of what Hitlers did to the Jews. I have a niggling feeling all the time these days that we are being lulled into numbness and dumbness by living in this narcissistic, entertainment-driven, debt-laden, and anti-American propoganda coming from within American schools and government! We only THINK we are an informed nation; if you look at our young people, i am not so sure they know how to think, let alone WHAT to think.

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    1. The young are too trusting. They cannot believe the news channels would LIE to them. They cannot believe that thinking and researching about politics is necessary. After all, aren't these politicians looking out for the people?

      Thanks for such an incisive comment!

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  3. Herd mentality...I've 'herd' of that!! Seriously.....I think I have always been aware of a certain direction everyone else was heading while I was doggedly beating my way against the wave. It's an uneasy but rewarding way to go.

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    1. After spending time in the capital of Switzerland, I discovered how difficult it is to turn around and head the opposite direction in a crowd heading another direction. Fight your way through, Delores!

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  4. My father was a German Jew, I was interested but certainly not offended by the links you showed between herding (pigs and pork is anathema to the Jews) and the Third Reich. And yes, I do often feel herded. My (possibly contrary) instinct is to behave like the hog with the nasty disposition and to dig in my toes and refuse to go in the direction the rest of the herd seems to be following. Which can be a lonely move.

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    1. Having only hogs and three cows on the farm, my experiences were limited. Dad hated sheep (something to do with WW2)so we had hogs. I realized that the hog-reference might offend Jewish people, so I tried to make amends at the end.

      I hope I am like the alpha hog with a nasty disposition. It is a lonely spot.

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  5. Those hogs do not sound like fun. Helped out with cows once, that was not fun either haha But yeah heard of the herd thing, people are so much like sheep it isn't funny. They need a cause or something to follow no matter how stupid. Me, pfft it can all take a hike.

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    1. The easiest path to take is often the most traveled.

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  6. In the Smithsonian article, Rosenbaum and Shirer both proposed that Hitler transformed the German people from intelligent people into mindless herds who were easily led. Hitler's endless rhetoric and relentless propaganda stripped the citizens of their unique self-will, molding them into a herd that could be manipulated.

    I realize that the herd reference could also apply to how the Jewish people were rounded up and murdered.

    Whatever interpretation is drawn, becoming part of the herd mentality results in being controlled. I refuse to be part of that herd.

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  7. Susan,
    No worries about being rude. I appreciate your perspective and I completely agree with your take on "herd mentality". Yes, I HAVE sensed that I was being assimilated (pardon the Star Trek reference) and I've thankfully, sometimes, known it enough to get off the merry-go-round and go my own way.

    It's hard, especially when those around you are going with the flow. It takes guts to step out of a herd and be your own person.

    Or hog :D.

    Great post!
    Jen

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  8. Dear Susan, I found this posting provocative and I'm sitting here now thinking back over my past life. Often I marched to the tune of a different drummer. But sometimes, I just wanted to fit in and so I let myself be herded.

    Today's election also comes to mind. I so wish we had a third, viable, party. Peace.

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  9. In the digital age, I feel I'm less part of a herd due to the freedom of anonymity. That said, I'm also probably put less thought into my words because they're not to anyone's face.

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  10. After reading your thought-provoking post, this popped into my mind: You can't soar with eagles if you are content to walk with chickens!

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  11. How can I possibly follow what Michelle said?! Sadly, the herd mentality is still prevalent today. There is still so much to be learned from the Holocaust, and new stories from people who were too devasted to talk about it are still coming out. This makes it even more frightening that similar situations are still going on all over the world. This was a very well-written and timely post Susan. On a lighter note, the lines in Disneyland are like herding hogs! Julie

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Go ahead...it won' t hurt...I'd love to hear what you think!