What is the reason that human beings can be "sheeple"?


Following something is not bad in all cases. But it seems that a good number of people will follow religions, parenting styles, social norms, life attitudes, gender identities, etc that the majority of people follow without questioning why they are doing this even when it can be destructive to themselves or cause others harm.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. That guy in a group who is a nice person to you alone but when in a group taunts you or someone else even if they don’t believe it. Or some women who wear the most uncomfortable high heels and do it “just because”.

How come it’s not very common to find a person who goes against the flow not for the sake of it but because they can think for themselves and want to express their true self? Without concern of being called a; loser, loner, weirdo etc. Is it a result of evolution. Hardwired into our brains? Or is it just easier and most people couldn’t be bothered?

Because anything that is “going against the flow” is, by definition, not very common. If what you do is common, they you’re going with the flow, not against it.

Well, it is true that we have an instinctive desire to identify with the tribe, and part of that involves accepting the tribal values and customs. We do this because, basically, we need the tribe to survive, so we like the tribe to like us.

Well, there’s the logical problem, already pointed out to you, that by definition most people are going with the flow because it’s a circular argument.

But secondly, why are you questioning how other people live their lives? Have you walked a mile in their moccasins? Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately and noticed YOU go with the flow in most areas of your life (and you do.)

Whoa… that was a bit accusatory. Allow me to expand a bit on that. A person only has so much mental and physical energy, and so many physical resources (e.g. money) to expend. Life is very challenging, especially once you grow up and have a real career, a family, personal interests and such. It’s not easy. There are few extra hours in a day.

The preservation of sufficient energy to allow you to attend to the things that matter in life must include, in some matters, taking the easy road. Customarily one will do so in areas of life that are of limited importance or marginal utility. To use myself as an example, I affect a manner of dress that is absolutely conformist. If it’s a workday I wear whatever business clothes are appropriate to the situation, and if not I’ll be in whatever combination of shirt/jeans or t-shirt/shorts are appropriate to the weather and did not cost much. I express no individualism in my clothing because it just isn’t something I have the time or money to bother with. It’s not that I feel like I have to conform; it’s that conforming is cheap and easy, and it saves me time and money I can spend on other things.

In other respects the cost to benefit consideration can be even more extreme. Going along with your family’s religion, even if you are not personally all that into it, provides an easy source of social interaction, family support, friends, and community belonging. Not doing so can in some circumstances be extremely problematic, causing rifts in relationships and difficulty in one’s community (in some places it can get you killed.)

Your implication that people who go with the flow cannot “think for themselves and want to express their true self” is preposterous, since most people do, in fact, think for themselves and express their true self; they may choose to do so, however, in ways you do not see or avenues which do not interest you. The person who listens to whatever Top 40 music is popular could be a devoted model rocket hobbyist. The person who goes to church every Sunday just because they always have might be passionate about Incan history and architecture and is saving up for their next trip to Peru. The person who dresses like everyone else might have decided in middle age to pursue a dream of being a standup comedian. You don’t know, do you?

That’s just what people do.

Because people are social animals and the vast majority would prefer to not actually be loners. And 90% of the time it is simply not worth it to go against the grain.

It’s because from a very early age we are taught to blindly obey the rules and not to question authority. On top of that, nowhere in most peoples development are they taught critical thinking skills. Religion plays a major role in this, because they don’t want people thinking for themselves and questioning their doctrines. When your independence and free will have been compromised, there’s nothing left but passive herd behavior.

And yes, it’s possible to coexist within the tribe, without marching lockstep with everyone else.

Because waking up Sheeple is not without consequences.

As soon as someone seriously uses the term “Sheeple” I assume he’s a drooling moron, and stop listening. Like “Amerika”.

Stanley Milgram did experiments on people back in the mid-20th century on authority and social pressure. Humans feel the need to belong and will go along with things. There’s not much else than that.

I think the op is asking why are there social norms that people have created and follow. What makes people follow the heard? What makes people want to fit in or to conform? Why is there a grain to go against? Why is there an expected norm at all? If guy A just met guy B, what makes guy A have any preconceived expectations of guy B at all?

It’s an interesting question because the main stream “grain” is and has almost always been proven wrong or otherwise just plain different throughout history. Time and place dictate “grain” and it constantly changes with no one really having any control of it. Fashion in general is very much a social “grain” we follow, from monkey suits and ties (nooses?) to high heels (high heels were originally for men). Rudolph the red nosed reindeer was a marketing mascot of penny’s or maybe it was Montgomery wards. Now it’s a mainstream Christmas icon. That’s really effing weird! Why was segregation an expected norm for all races? Or slavery? Did they have no decency? Why do we follow any of this? I know I get that feeling sometimes that I know I’m only doing something because it’s the social norm. My lawn wouldn’t dominate my neighbor’s nearly as hard if it wasn’t for the social aspect of it. In that sense I’m not only going with the grain, I’m setting the bar.

There’s usually no cost to going along with the prevailing trends (except perhaps related to clothing fashions), and often a considerable costs to bucking them.

Ok with respect that’s ridiculous. You are presuming that religious belief and authority is absolute and uncompromising when in real life that’s far from the case. Degree of belief varies in vigour by individual, indeed within an individual at different times. Authorities will also vary in their interpretation and enforcement in time and space.

Just as a counter example to your claims the sheer amount of scientific and philosophical works undertaken and written by priests/clerics/ religious persons. From basically the time of Imhoteph, the real guy, not the Arnold Vosloo character. None of them could be described as having independence and free will compromised.

Leading is hard …

Following easy …

There have been times and places where not marching lockstep with the tribe would get you dead.

By the nature of my interests, I end up in a lot of non-mainstream ideas or groups or whatever. Despite that fact that I’ve heard this term a number of times, I have to say, it might be useful sometimes, but it’s so overused that it’s essentially lost it’s intended meaning and it’s just used to deride people without different views and I’ve come to loathe it. As in, someone has a mainstream opinion? Nevermind that they might have come to that opinion with good logic, they MUST just be following the crowd. Hell, some people take non-mainstream opinions with exactly the same sort of though process they accuse others of. They just don’t want to be mainstream so they latch onto some non-mainstream idea and run with it, but they can’t really articulate why.

There’s a few reasons here. First, humans are social creatures, as a general rule, we want to fit in. Even in non-mainstream ideas, there tend to be groups that form around these various ideas and people tend to conform to the norms of those non-mainstream groups. A big part of our moral construct comes from judging the norms of whatever group we’re a part of and seeing those as generally good and differences as generally bad.

Second, sometimes (not always) ideas become mainstream because there’s value to that idea. For instance, to pick something minimally controversial, heliocentrism is a mainstream idea. Sure, people can disagree, and there are groups out there of people that do, and I imagine some people do it just because they don’t want to be mainstream rather than because they necessarily disagree. But I think it’s fair to say that the reason it’s a mainstream idea is because it’s just a far more effective idea than geocentrism.

Third, not everyone has the time and energy, or just plain doesn’t care enough, to put a lot of thorough thought into ALL of their opinions. As an example, I’m extremely passionate about music and I can explain, in detail, so many aspects of why I like the genres, bands, songs, aesthetics, whatever I do. It’s odd in some ways to me that there are people out there where music just doesn’t mean very much to them, only because it means so much to me and people close to me, but they’re clearly out there. I’ve heard many people who are content to put on pop music called “sheeple” in that respect. But then, for many of these same people who really don’t have a strong opinion on music, they perhaps have really well defined opinions on literature, film, fine arts, dance, or food. Or maybe they’re passionate about travel, science, religion, politics, technology, history, or philosophy. It seems unreasonable, to me, that we should expect everyone to invest a ton of energy into having strong, articulated opinions or views on everything.

Aside from the situations above, I think it CAN be a bad thing if one really DOES care about it and puts in all of that effort and comes down into an idea, mainstream or not, for bad reasons. In that way, even a non-mainstream idea can make one a “sheep”. For example, using my interest in music since I see it often that people dislike some mainstream act. I’ll see bandwagoning on hating some act and then come to find out that a bunch of those people haven’t even heard that artist’s songs, or maybe heard just part of one. At that point, they’re just following the crowd, even if it’s the non-mainstream crowd, but yet, it’s in an area that they very well may have put in a lot of time and energy into determining their tastes and opinions in becoming part of that particular non-mainstream identity.

Human beings have mental heuristics, and this can lead to the behaviors you describe. Critical thinking is difficult, time-and-effort intensive, slow, and somewhat error-prone, so we’ve evolved mental shortcuts that allow us to make decisions more quickly and with less effort. “Herd instinct” is one such heuristic, as in group-identity and conformity. And even in modern society, these heuristics serve us reasonably well a good percentage of the time.

Youtube link to a psychological experiment on conformity.

I think the OP is vastly overestimating the amount of critical thinking people do. An average person might make hundreds of decisions each day and lacks the resources to find out the facts needed in order to make those decisions based on objective facts. So we follow patterns of behavior. Some people go along with the crowd and some people rebel against the crowd - but neither is using critical thinking. They’re both just reacting to the social consensus except in opposite directions.

I’m still confused as to what OP expects us to rebel against.

I have never heard the word “sheeple” used outside the context of an insult, in which case it means “person who disagrees with me.” I immediately lose interest in whatever point the person is trying to make. ie, “If you don’t believe the lizard men murdered Kennedy with their mind bullets, you are just an ignorant sheeple who can’t handle the truth!”

I’m not sure how this applies to my daily life. I usually wear modest t-shirts and blue jeans because they are cheap, comfortable, easy to wear, and they protect me from the elements. I’m not sure what else I would want a garment to accomplish. Is OP saying that if I do not walk around naked with a dog collar and a pink Mohawk, I am not expressing my “true self?” Because as far as I can tell, t-shirts and blue jeans are my “true self” and any other costume would be “fake.” I’m not sure why OP feels someone can judge my authenticity as a human being by what clothing I wear, or what car I drive, or what party I vote for.

If sociocultural “grain” is dictated by time and place then it’s often not so much that it was “proven wrong” but that it simply changed and some people were early adopters. Often in hindsight it may seem how much better was a particular change or divergence was bloody moron-proof obvious, but it’s not always the case.

Humans as far as we can tell always were social animals; that being the rule due to the survival advantage, then “lone wolf” or outcast life was a high-risk exception, thus our behavior patterns are ingrained with going along and getting along with the group unless we can justify it with a really good reason.

… thank God there’s a third way.