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Monday, July 25, 2011


A friend once told me that the human world is composed of sheep and shepherds; 99% of the former and 1% of the second.Though he is perhaps exaggerating, his point is well taken. The concept can easily be applied to religion, of course, and even more to politics, although both may fuse into one area in some cases. Thomas Jefferson famously said that he preferred to make up his own mind in all matters, and in particular in politics. Luckily for us, he and his colleagues became the shepherds of a new nation.

In today's society, some modern technologies contribute heavily to the "sheep" factor. Think advertising through television and through the web. Selling merchandise and ideas has suddenly become a lot easier since one can reach hundreds of millions of viewers, read "sheep", in a few seconds. Rare is the human being who can resist the "free gift", the "last opportunity", the "unique item", the "incredible offer", the "absolutely free" pitch, or the "become rich like me" method. The incredibly vast world of publicity and propaganda relies on most people's natural tendency to believe what they see and hear, because it is much easier to go along with other people than to forge one's own path.

In politics the same "do what they do" attitude prevails. Few congressmen (women) take the initiative to present new bills that may improve our lives as citizens. They are severely manacled by their leaders, thus limiting their field of activities. They go along or, as a fellow teacher once told me, they don't stick their heads above the water for fear of losing it. We could easily reduce the number of representatives by 50% and the country would not only save a bundle in benefits, but also in the time it takes to get intelligent ideas through the maze. Perpetual reelection is also a taboo subject, sometimes known as "term limits". Politicians prefer to follow the herd, knowing that they will be rewarded eventually by "special favors" from the all-powerful lobbies. Only the occasional sexual misbehavior can put an end to their hallowed careers in Washington.

Science does not escape the "sheep" factor. As a scientist friend once confided, 90% of people working in some scientific field or other are content to go through the motions. Any new idea that does not meet with the approval of the respective community is derided and shot down. "The Earth is not flat" assertion cost some good people their lives during the Dark Ages. Einstein met with ridicule when he first posited his revolutionary theory. Psychic and reincarnation books were an important part of Edison's personal library and, of course, he was mocked for stating that atoms possessed some kind of intelligence. The "sheep" tend to make fun of anything they don't understand, trying to bring down to their limited level any mind that dares present novel ideas.

Now that the feverish back-and-forth negotiations take place at the last minute to raise the debt ceiling, we again witness the "follow the others" behavior. Do not speak against your party members, as Newt Gingrich did recently, or forgo the opportunity to get reelected. The result is one party against the other, Republicans against Democrats, a possible stalemate that will gravely damage the ability of the United States to pay its debt. Limiting representatives to two years means that the minute they step into the Capitol they already plotting how to get reelected. Why not increase the time they serve (?) our nation to four years and limit reelection to three consecutive terms? Same for the Senate; we sometimes witness doddering members well past the age of reason still sitting in their chairs while enjoying a much needed nap. Establish the maximum age at 75 and thus avoid important votes from going astray. Isn't our nation's future more important than the ego of a few senior citizens?

Let's face reality: Modern society needs "sheep", just as the most prestigious universities need the help of the most ordinary people. Nature is reluctant to create geniuses, one in a million may be too much, just as it is reluctant to create very low functioning humans. The Gaussian distribution places 90% of people in the middle within one standard deviation. Balance is the key in all natural fields until Man messes everything up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with Jacques latest post; all people are able to be shepherds. All they need is a wake up call to become conscious of their uniqueness.