Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Whither the "Sheeple?"

There is an idea going around - particularly in predominantly left-wing or progressive/liberal circles - that some portion of the American population are not "fully actuallized" people, but are instead basically "sheeple," i.e. brainless peons who are too stupid or too apathetic to do much more than be lead around by the dominant herd mentality.

While I understand the frustration many of us feel with regards to apathetic or non-voting citizens - to say nothing about folks who vote against their own economic interests, or vote to empower corporate and/or pseudo-fascist elites whose main goal is to curb their civil liberties, rape their lands, and then empty their wallets - I strongly disagree with characterizing your fellow citizens as "sheeple," "zombies," etc. There are several reasons for this:

1) I simply don't find it to be a true picture of the great mass of the American center. Where I'm from, I don't see the mass-mentality as one the creates "sheeple." Instead, I see an awful lot of perfectly decent, thoughtful human beings, who are desperately frustrated with our political economy; who are overworked, underpaid, and under-nourished in a spiritual or psychic sense; and whose backs are essentially against the wall due to a whole number of corporate and socio-cultural factors that are making them furiously swim upstream just to do the "usual things" like have a family and a half-way decent place to live. In spite of all that, I still see hundreds of people who are living their lives to the fullest, living creatively, and doing fabulous things with their lives. (Granted, I tend to walk in artistic/creative class circles.)

2) I don't think it's empowering in any way, shape or form, to suggest that your fellow citizens - in many cases, the very people we as progressives want to protect from economic, ecologic, and pseudo-fascist degradation - are merely "sheeple," "brainwashed zombies," or what have you. On the one hand it's condescending and utterly insulting to talk down to people that way. On the other hand, you're simply not going to convert many to your side when you couch their very existences in such terms. Calling your fellow citizens "sheeple" doesn't empower them to do anything.

3) Finally, as a progressive, I consider myself a pretty compassionate guy. BUT, I don't understand why progressives should want to protect the rights, lands, or pocketbooks of mere "sheeple." If there truly is a class of mindless morons out there who are too stupid to see what's good for them and get involved, then honestly, I feel that my efforts for justice and sustainability are best spent elsewhere. Why should we be concerned with helping those who refuse to help themselves?


John Stoner said...

Right with you, Dave... I think this kind of thinking is a symptom of social inbreeding. When you speak of a class of other people in non-human terms, you give evidence that you haven't interacted with them directly on any kind of deep human level recently.

As for 'folks who vote against their own economic interests,' there are coalitions, accidents of history, that conflate legitimate value disagreements with economic power-structures. There isn't really a good reason for Wall-street tax-slashers to conspire with anti-abortion people, I think, and there's evidence that the bolts are coming loose on that alliance.

And would it really be better to turn rich against poor than to turn cultural conservatives against folks like you and me, or for that matter the status quo? Would a more pure political polarity be better? I dunno. I need to think more about that question.

Downtown Dave said...

Thanks for commenting John. Very interesting thoughts. You're definitely right about "social inbreeding," and I also believe there is a strong need for defining an "Other/Enemy" for any political movement - a need that needs to be resisted to whatever degree possible.

I also think you're right about the "historical accidents" that create political coalitions, although I'm not sure they're always so accidental.

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