People Aren't Cattle

To be sure, there is an important sense in which they are; if the Lord God Almighty sees fit to use that as a metaphor you can be assured there is a good reason.

But that metaphor refers to our tendency to follow a herd, and the herd to follow a leader, any leader, and to walk blithely right off a cliff if that’s what the leader tells them to do.

There is another sense, though. This is the semi-common descriptions of walking down the street and viewing everyone they pass in disgust as cattle mindlessly doing whatever, or seeing a crowd in a stadium and again being disgusted at all the mindless sheep doing whatever, etc.

This assessment is wrong. There is a popular concept called the Dunbar number, which is the number of people you can comfortably fit into your brain as people, individuals with which you have relationships, and not just abstractions. It is commonly cited as 150, but that number is quibbled with a lot. What matters to my point here is merely that it isn’t so high as even 500, let alone millions.

When people are sneeringly dismissing crowds of people like that, it is actually a representational bias issue. Being unable to conceive of people as full humans at this scale, you are forced to use abstractions. Being forced to use abstractions, they chose to believe that everyone else there is there for stupid reasons, because they are cattle.

Hence the steady trickle of stories of all sorts of “I was forced to spend time with those people, and I was shocked, shocked to my very core to discover that they are real people, with real concerns, real details, real hopes and dreams and aspirations and their own vices and virtues, and my gosh can I just say again how shocked I am.”

For a long time I’ve always been vaguely discomfited by the constant stream of stories about how “I went to teach the children and I thought I was going to teach them but they taught me so much”, and I thought it was just the sickening virtue signaling embedded in that statement I was reacting to. But as I write this essay I realize that another aspect of why I find that sentiment a bit disgusting is that the most likely reason they “taught” you anything is that you thought they weren’t really people, and what they taught is, yes they are. Well, I’m glad that you learned that they really are people, but don’t expect a lot of virtue points from me when you just revealed your own biases in the first place.

Likewise, the “I visited Bumpkin Hickville and ohmigosh they’re people”, “I visited SomeOtherCountry and omigosh they’re people”, “I spent time with my ideological opponents and omigosh they’re people”, etc. I hope you enjoyed your virtue signaling because what I see there is… less than virtuous.

This was prompted by someone commenting on how the elite see the masses as cattle. There is, if you can put your mind in their point of view, even some reason for that, as they believe they drive the masses along their prepared routes.

I think they overstate this; they count their victories but don’t notice their failures and the amount of pushback they get. Also, being Christian, I think they grotesquely overestimate how much of this is their own doing, because they get a lot of support from the Powers and Principalities in their goals… up to and including those goals themselves. In the end, when they stand before the Judge of All, they will be horrified to discover they were every bit as much cattle as all the ones they despise so, and if anything, they were more deeply deceived than the so-called masses.

But in the end, the reason why they see people as cattle is that it is impossible for their position to represent that many people as people in their minds, and it is a reflection of their own moral and spiritual bankruptcy, not their superior worth as humans themselves, that the abstraction they choose to use is cattle.

This point must be modulated with many other things to be fully understood; for instance I have already written about how we are not terribly unique. The belief that worth as a human being is equivalent to being unique is not part of this. Especially at this infinitely early phase of all of our lives, we can’t help but see many similarities between people. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily conformist cattle; it just means that we haven’t had much time to differentiate yet.

Admittedly, it doesn’t help that as a species we also are conformist cattle quite often. But even if we weren’t, we still would not all be “unique” yet.

Every person out there is a person. The fact that none of us are capable of internalizing that fact doesn’t make it not true. It obligates us to use a better abstraction, when we are forced to use abstractions, one that has room for people being people even if we don’t know how they are people at this very moment.

This is also one of the amazing things about God; His Dunbar number is infinity. I expect that our angelic friends and demonic enemies also have much larger such numbers, though I can not know.

Will We Have Children In Heaven? Representational Bias In The Wild