Lemmings and what they have to teach us

August 25, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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The piece below was written for an international readership. It has been adapted for the Singaporean context.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates taught his students that the pursuit of truth can only begin once they start to question and analyze every belief that they ever held dear.

If a certain belief passes the tests of evidence, deduction, and logic, it should be kept. If it doesn’t, the belief should not only be discarded, but the thinker must also then question why he was led to believe the erroneous information in the first place.

Not surprisingly, this type of teaching didn’t sit well with the ruling elite of Greece. Many political leaders throughout history have always sought to mislead the thinking of the masses.

Socrates was tried for “subversion” and for “corrupting the youth”. He was then forced to take his own life by drinking poison. It’s never easy being an independent thinker! Today, the ruling party/media complex doesn’t kill people for pursuing the truth.

They simply label them as “liars” and “troublemakers”, destroying careers and reputations in the process. For many, that’s a fate even worse than drinking poison!

Taken individually, each story, quote and event may not amount to a full case. But when taken collectively, this mountain of facts should hammer home the truth to even the most skeptical reader.

There are of course those who have fallen under the hypnotic spell of the authorities whom they worship. Unaccustomed to thinking for themselves, no amount of truth can sway them from their preconceived prejudices. They will even deny that which they see with their own eyes.

They are victims of a psychological affliction known as “the lemming effect”. Lemmings are small rodents who have been known to follow each other as they charge to their deaths into raging rivers or off of cliffs.

Lemminghood is an innate psychological phenomenon, present in most mammals and observable in common people as well the most sophisticated and educated elites.

Lemminghood is not an intellectual phenomenon — it is psychological. As such, no socio-economic class is immune to its strangulating effect. A grant-seeking university scientist can be a lemming just as much as a fashion obsessed teen-age girl. One blindly follows the latest trendy theory while the other blindly follows the latest trendy clothing style. What’s the difference? Neither can resist the force of nature. The power to fit in with one’s social peers can be irresistible.

To a human lemming, the logic behind an opinion doesn’t count as much as the power and popularity behind an opinion. Man, like lemming, behaves collectively. And it could be no other way. Naturally, the individual must be equipped with this trait. Otherwise, the smallest steps toward civilization could never have been made.

Lemminghood is a survival trait, an inborn instinct in the majority of people. However, as with all natural phenomena, this tendency can be manipulated and used for harmful purposes.

It is this lemming effect which enables entire segments of a society to lose their sense of judgment all at the same time. This research paper will likely be wasted on many lemmings. For lemmings, denial is a basic psychological defense mechanism used to not only shield themselves from unpleasant realities, but also to reassure themselves that they will still fit within the acceptable range of opinion held by their peer group.

Lemmings are absolutely terrified at the thought of being labeled as an “liar” or a “troublemaker”.

At all costs, their beliefs must always be on the “right” side of the issue and conform within the boundaries of their lemming peers. Lemmings simply cannot bear the burden of responsibility, or the discomfort, which comes with thinking independently. They’ll resist any efforts to change their misguided beliefs with all their mental energy. We can try to open their closed minds and free them from their self-imposed blindness, but it is not easy fighting the force of human nature.

The chains of ideological conformity have too strong of a grip, and breaking them is a difficult task. With the limited resources at our disposal, it is next to impossible to compete with the media lemming-masters. Nevertheless, some of us must make the meager attempt, and thus lay the foundation upon which the truth might one day rise again.