On Sheeple

Apologies if the title is triggering. There are a plethora of media exhorting us all to think for ourselves, and avoid following the group. But group behavior, while responsible for no small amount of chaos and destruction, can also be good. Individualism, taken to similar extremes, can be bad.

There’s a growing viral thread on Twitter about a 7th grader leading classmates in an ongoing spontaneous practical joke. Read the link for details, I won’t rehash it here. Because, of course, lazy. But some of the comments to the thread express worry that kids are engaging in dangerous groupthink and herd-following, and should be corrected, taught critical thinking, admonished. Because who knows where it could go horribly wrong in different circumstances? Getting caught up in endless permutations of alternate realities doesn’t engage what did happen. It’s just speculation and anxiety for imaginary slippery slopes. And, in fact, the incident is an example of kids rebelling against certain rigid aspects of their schooling. They are avoiding just going along with what they’re told. Irony?

On the other side of things are 9/11 Truthers, The Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, any number of lone shooters, climate change deniers, and more. “Doing one’s own research” can be as negative as mindlessly following the group. I just don’t think I see that in this instance. Spontaneous group behavior can be filled with support and fellowship and drive for change, as exhibited in the Women’s March earlier this year. Context matters. Process matters. Groups aren’t necessarily mindless, sometimes they work together to do good. Or just to be funny.

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