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Herd Mentality – A Study in Human Nature

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Sheep in a herd
Herd Mentality – A Study in Human Nature

Herd Mentality with the Coronavirus: Helpful or Hurtful.

If you step back from all the noise surrounding the coronavirus you will find it presents a fascinating study in human nature. Normal human tendencies are magnified when unusual pressure is applied or unusual opportunities are presented. The circumstances generated by the illness itself, the reporting of the illness, and the government measures put in place to manage the illness have produced extreme pressure for some and quite unique opportunities for others.

Quite an unusual association with this coronavirus has formed in my mind in recent days. I confess to watching many good, old fashioned Western movies in my life-time. I still occasionally take the opportunity to watch a rerun of one of those classic movies. Many of those old Westerns have a story line that revolves around herding those old doggies, the cattle, across the prairie. All too often the bad guys in those movies will decide, with great evil intent, to make the cattle herd stampede. They shoot their six guns into the air and cause those poor, mindless beasts to run with all their considerable might from a threat that actually does not exist. They run out of fear, they run from an imagined threat that is far less dangerous than what lies ahead. For what is in front of them is often a yawning chasm over which they will plunge to their deaths. The cowboys in charge of the herd, the good guys, must attempt to guide them away from danger, at great peril to everyone and everything around the stampeding animals. In nearly every case some of those good cowboys are trampled in their efforts to save the herd.

How can that scenario possibly apply to all that is swirling around us in these troubled times, you may rightfully ask? Answer: It seems to me a group of people, mostly individuals in government positions, scientists, and the media, have for the last number of weeks been shooting their six guns into the air to make the poor, mindless beasts run with all their considerable might from a threat that may or may not be more dangerous to them than what lies ahead. The six shooters are not guns, of course, but unending rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus, and the beasts are not cows but people, but it has nevertheless created a human stampede of unprecedented proportions. Now the bad cowboys, the ones who created the stampede, in this case government officials and scientists, take charge of the human herd and insist they will guide us to safety. Anyone who gets in their way, the good cowboys who may actually try to save the herd, will certainly be trampled, in this case by public opinion driven by fear.

This is not the first time a group of government officials and scientists have convinced the media to help them shoot their six shooters into the air hoping to drive the human herd into a stampede. That has been exactly the tactic used for years with the issue of climate change. (I discuss the comparison between climate change and the coronavirus pandemic in more detail in another article on this site.) I contend the goal was to generate a stampede, to produce a wave of uncontrollable human fear that the world as we know it is over if drastic changes are not made, that millions will die if we do not immediately follow the demands made by this mix of government and scientific entities. Some members of the human herd responded with great fear. Alexandria Occasio Cortez and Greta Thunberg are classic examples of that response. The majority of the herd, though, looked on with varying degrees of interest but did not feel the threat and so did not pull together to form a stampede. The world as we know it continued on without substantial alterations in how we live.

The human response to the coronavirus six shooters has been exactly as intended. The level of fear has produced the greatest stampede in human history. We are running headlong from a threat that is real, but may prove to be less dangerous than what lies ahead. The six shooters are fired endlessly to make sure the stampede continues indefinitely, that the fear does not subside.

Herd mentality can be a good thing. It can cause us to move toward safety, cause us to follow a path we would not find on our own. If we are paddling a boat in the river above Niagara Falls, unaware of what lies ahead, and notice all the other boats are moving toward docks it is a very good choice to follow the herd toward safety. Herd mentality, though, can also be incredibly dangerous. It can cause us to blindly, thoughtlessly follow the lead of those who do not know what is best for us or may even intend to cause us harm. We must decide if the leadership in our country at large and in our states in particular has promoted helpful or destructive herd mentality.

Please consider that never before in human history has a single government, let alone nearly all governments of the world, mandated significant and massive changes in societal structure or operation because of an illness, communicable or otherwise. If government has done anything at all, it has been to warn the folks about the threat and how to reduce that threat. It is simply understood that illnesses are a part of the human condition, and we must find our way through the difficulty. Essentially, take care of yourself as best you can and look to the medical community for whatever help they can provide.

Think about how that compares to our current circumstances. The world has ceased to move. Life has been altered to an unimaginable extent. If the present measures continue indefinitely there will be the fewest possible cases of COVID 19 but the interruption in food supplies will eventually result in food shortages or worse. That seems to be of little concern to the “scientists” in charge of the coronavirus response, but it is probably important to us lowly citizens of the world. Is the threat of this illness so much more severe than what we normally face to warrant these extreme measures?

As I continue to observe and consider the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, I am ever more grieved. My thoughts and feelings come from the realization that it is not possible to return to a normal state of affairs. The fear from communicable illness the world now experiences cannot be brushed aside as this “threat” diminishes or disappears. The common cold, the yearly version of influenza, perhaps even COVID 19 or in years to come COVID 20, 21, or 26 will be in this world. The human herd has been conditioned to respond to any and all potentially wide-spread illness with great fear and the expectation that somehow they will be protected. The fact that an industrialized world with nearly 9 billion people to feed, cloth, and house cannot function with these restrictions becomes secondary. No one is to become ill, no one is supposed to die. That is a truly absurd perspective when you think about the natural cycle of life, but we are now conditioned to expect safety from all threats to life.

Did those who crafted the response to this coronavirus understand they were unleashing the greatest plague on this planet? That plague is not a physical illness but an emotional one. How can we ever again go to church, to a concert, or to an athletic event and sit shoulder to shoulder with who knows who carrying who knows what illness? I expect for many, many people the answer is never again in their life-times. How does that change our world? Is the reduction in coronavirus cases and deaths, if these measures do actually accomplish that, which is an open question, worth the price?

To give scientists and government officials who put this response in motion the maximum benefit of the doubt, we assume they are well-meaning but did not consider the long-term, on-going results of their actions. They concentrated on only one element in the human condition, this illness, without consideration for any other factor. That short-sighted, narrow-minded approach is a huge problem that must be addressed, but it is not evil. The second option is that those who are actually behind the response to this coronavirus were driven by a desire to attain maximum power, ultimate control over the people. That would be an even larger problem, and it would also be evil. It would mean sacrificing the well-being of everyone for the benefit of those who hold the power.

Considering the approach taken to climate change, the efforts to gain power by producing a human stampede in response to that issue, the latter option above seems most likely to me. That conclusion certainly does not apply to many who have believed the coronavirus narrative and responded to help themselves or their neighbors. That includes members of our medical community and many others in our country. If it is true for members of the ruling class, though, they must somehow be held accountable for their actions.

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