Human beings have a "herd instinct" every bit as strong as many animals.
It seems to be hard-wired into our brains.
You often feel better and more secure in conforming and not sticking your head out from the crowd. Being part of the crowd seems like it carries less risk. It seems safer to be a part of the crowd so you can avoid being called out or noticed.
However, the crowd you are following can sometimes be heading in the wrong direction.
This was demonstrated a few years ago in a research study at the University of Leeds conducted by Professor Jens Krause.
The study showed that it takes a minority of just five percent to influence a crowd's direction - and that the other 95 percent follow without even realizing what is going on.
Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments in which groups of volunteers walked randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a few received instructions regarding where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one or intentionally influence anyone.
The findings in all cases revealed that the informed individuals were followed by the others in the crowd, forming a self-organizing, snake-like structure (or flock of sheep, take your pick).
"We've all been in situations where we got swept along by a crowd," said Professor Krause. "But what's interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren't allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn't realize they were being led by others at all."
This is consistent with the observations of sales and motivation consultant, Cavett Robert, who I have quoted in these pages in the past.
“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.”
– Cavett Robert
This is the fundamental principle of the law of social proof. The fact is that most people are significantly influenced in their behavior by looking at others.
I always cautioned my children to be careful in following the herd. You might feel uncomfortable or stupid by not going with the crowd but the fact that someone else is doing it does not make it the right decision.
Of course, the fact is that leaders in these situations don't want you to go your own way because they then lose face and also risk being proven wrong if you don't follow them.
If everyone is in the herd then no one can prove you wrong.
Much of what is going on in our country today can be explained by this herd mentality.
Look no further than the decision of whether the Power 5 conferences will play college football this Fall.
Presidents of the Big Ten Conference followed the Mid American Conference and have decided to not play college athletics this season. The PAC 12 followed the Big Ten in cancelling their Fall athletic season in an announcement today.
They all say that they are concerned about the "risks" of doing so. However, the biggest risk that they are taking in cancelling their season is actually that the other Power 5 conferences will not follow suit. For that reason, I think they spent the last few days pressuring the other conferences to join them in cancelling.
No news yet on what the other conferences will do (SEC, ACC, Big 12) but the SEC has thus far indicated that it plans to play. Of course, a week ago the Big Ten was saying the same thing as it published its schedule of games.
If the SEC and others play, and all goes well with the season, those Big Ten Presidents and AD's are never going to live it down. The decision could very well end their careers.
Of course, the reverse is true. If the SEC plays, and the Big Ten sits it out and the virus has its way, you don't want to be the one who made the decision to proceed.
If everyone is together in the herd you don't risk being called out and criticized later. Outside the herd the individual decision you make will make you a hero or a goat. There is no hiding outside the herd. You are exposed and accountable for yourself.
We have seen the same thing in the attempts to silence those who might have different opinions on how to proceed in combating and treating the virus.
Consider how much condemnation the Swedish approach got compared to the lockdowns that most other countries employed.
By going their own way Sweden posed a threat to everyone else. Sweden's approach is now not looking too bad.
We see the same thing with the attacks on the large number of doctors and others who believe that hydroxychloriquine, zinc and a z-pac can be a highly effective treatment for Covid-19 if used soon after symptoms present themselves. If a $20 treatment works why did we spend billions of dollars on experimental drugs and vaccines? Do you mean that something that simple could have avoided much of what we have been through? Those are questions that the "experts" would rather not have to answer.
Why have so many white, Millennial women populated Black Lives Matter protests? Who wants to be in that social circle and say to their friends that they don't care to participate and be labeled a racist?
Do these young women even realize they are supporting a Marxist-group whose first priority is to defund the police? Many are no different than those in the experiment referenced above being led around without even know what it is all leading to.
The perceived safety of the herd is well understood. However, if you are in the herd you better have a good understanding of who is leading the herd.
This is where the herd becomes extremely dangerous. Do the leaders know what they are doing? Are they making the right decisions? What if they have their own agenda and it is not in your best interests? What if the leaders and initiators are downright evil?
We have seen this often in the last 100 years. Hitler, Stalin, Mao. Hundreds of millions of people were killed in the furtherance of power and an agenda of evil. Of course, none of it could have been done but for the followers who marched along in lock step and did not object.
I am sure that most of you have also seen this famous quote that is attributed to Sir Edmund Burke.
"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
-Sir Edmund Burke
However, Paul Rosenberg of the Casey Daily Dispatch places all of this in a useful context by pointing out that evil, by itself, is inherently weak and does not replicate easily. It only flourishes when the good let themselves be led astray. People obey when they should be objecting.
Let’s begin with a crucial point: Evil is inherently weak.
Here’s why that’s true:
Evil does not produce. It must take advantage of healthy and effective life (AKA good men and women) if it’s to succeed. Evil, by its nature, is wasteful and destructive: It breaks and kills and disrupts, but it does not produce and invent. Evil requires the production of the good in order to do its deeds.
How much territory could Caesar have conquered on his own? How many people could Joe Stalin have killed with no one to take his orders? How many people could Mao have starved to death without obedient middlemen? With duteous followers, however, evil rulers killed some 260 million people in the 20th century. The truth is that evil survives by tricking the good into doing its will. Without thousands of basically decent people confused enough to obey, evil would fail quickly.
The great tragedy of our era is the extent to which evil has been successful in convincing people to service it. Good people having yielded their wills arm evil, accommodate evil, and acquiesce to its actions.
Hannah Arendt summarized it this way:
"The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil."
People end up supporting evil because they don’t want to make up their minds at all. They want to avoid criticism and vulnerability, so they hold to the middle of the pack and avoid all risk.
These people wouldn’t initiate murders by themselves, but in the name of duty, loyalty, unity, and/or the greater good, they cooperate with evil and give it their strength. But each plays a small part—none of them stretches so far that they’d have to contemplate the final effects of their actions.
In the 20th century, however, the actions of such people led directly to the murders of 260 million people. And they did this precisely by avoiding decisions… by merely obeying.
The decision to cancel the college football season was not made by evil people.
Those that are making the decision to close schools in your community or those telling you that you have to wear a mask aren't either. Most are merely following the herd. They want to stick to the middle of the herd and avoid criticism and blame.
"No one can blame me for anything I did as I just did what everyone else did."
However, consider the broader truth in the quote above. Where are we as a country if everyone obeys no matter what is asked of them? Where are we as a country when those who object are shouted down and shamed? What if no alternative views are ever allowed that don't conform to the herd? We are living dangerously close to that reality.
Even worse, we have too many leaders who just want to disappear into the safety of the herd themselves and not consider facts, evidence and the long-term effects of where they are leading us.
There is one leader in America who definitely is not afraid to put himself out there, stand out from the herd and take positions that others are unwilling to do.
If you think about it, that is probably a big reason why President Trump is so disliked by the Washington establishment.
Right after Donald Trump was elected there were predictions of doom and disaster by the Democrats and many in the media. If a real estate guy with no political experience can come in here and be successful what does that say about us? That would really make us look bad. We have to make sure that doesn't happen.
Who can forget this famous quote from liberal economist and commentator Paul Krugman on election night as it became clear the Trump was going to win.
It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging. When might we expect them to recover?
Frankly, I find it hard to care much, even though this is my specialty. The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear.
Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.
Let the recored show that biggest disaster to befall America during the last four years came from China in the form of a virus. Who was the person who warned us to beware of China?
People can say a lot of things about Donald Trump. However, they cannot say that he is afraid to stand out from the herd and be counted.
Trump campaigned on many things in 2016 that the Democrats said could not be done. Fixing the economy. Bringing back manufacturing jobs. Building a border wall and stopping the flow of illegal immigrants. Defeating ISIS. Renegotiating NAFTA. Bringing China to the table on a trade deal. Making the United States energy independent. Pulling the USA out of the Paris Climate Accord. Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. Making NATO countries pay more for their defense. Rebuilding our military. Trying to engage with North Korea.
I wrote shortly before Trump took office that the Democrats and the media talked a lot about all of the fears they had about Trump as President.
However, their biggest fear was not that Trump would be a failure as President. Their biggest fear was that he would be successful.
I have also written in the past that most Presidents never become great because they are typical politicians. They try to play both sides. They are afraid of offending anyone. They don't take strong stands. They are risk averse. Most just try to blend in with the herd. They don't put themselves out there to succeed...or fail. In short, they are afraid to be great.