My high school has a government and economics teacher who is quite fond of complaining to whoever is listening that the American system has created a bunch of lemmings. For those of you who don’t understand metaphors, he isn’t claiming that America has turned the student body, en masse, into a pack of small rodents from the superfamily of Muroidea; he’s saying that us young folk have been brainwashed into following whatever we perceive to be a leader even if it causes us to march into a river and promptly drown ourselves.
If we just ignore the fact that mass suicides of lemmings are a misconception brought about by the staged documentary White Wilderness made by Disney in 1958 where they launched lemmings off a cliff with a turntable (found it all on Wikipedia. Check it for yourself.), the poorly thought out comparison does bring to light a valid point. Too many of my contemporaries take as fact anything said by a man with a PowerPoint or anything provided for them by a higher power that has been there for a length of time.
I’ll start off with some self-deprecation so no one thinks I’m preaching from a pedestal. I spent a good sixteen years of my life just letting the world happen around me. Yes, for a portion of that time, I was young enough to speak gibberish and eat glue, but suspend your disbelief. It wasn’t until I had a teacher that forced me to think for myself that I discovered there was something wrong with the fact that the first few months of my parents’ pay went to the government that didn’t even recognize them as citizens yet. I hadn’t thought about the fact that the school system in Texas is based off of the prison system for the sake of efficiency, and that chairs in public schools are made to be stackable and not good for posture or comfortable.
With just a few moments thought or glances at your surroundings, you can find a multitude of issues that have always bothered you, but they’ve always been there so why challenge them, right? Wrong. Society stagnates if the people look up from their daytime dramas or stop listening to generic music long enough to realize one can have a conversation about something other than the anatomy of Girl A, where to buy new shoes, or how much everyone hates work and school. We can call this the Death of Ivan Ilych Complex, named for the short story by Tolstoy it came from where a small-time Russian judge slowly comes to the realization that his entire life was shaped to please those around him even though he found no true pleasure from it. I recommend the story; slow start, but good stuff.
By no means am I suggesting that one should dissent against every established practice because they can, but pay attention! “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” –MLK, Jr. The people who follow while just staring at their shoes stop and look around after too long and realize they’re utterly lost and have no idea how to get back to where they came from.
Let’s tie this to morality as I am wont to do. If the herd decides to do something that ties your guts into a pretzel, does that mean you contain some flaw in your wiring? Again, wrong. It probably means that the herd is nudging you away from the natural law which is what’s using your guts for Boy Scout knot training. Here’s a direct example: My home-away-from-home, Bellaire High, is a gathering place for some of the brightest minds in the country. It’s also probably has one of the highest concentrations of cheaters in the state. In no way am I saying that everyone with good grades gets them from the people sitting to their left and right during examinations, but the high stress environment that is created by the natural overachievers chokes those with a willing spirit but unresponsive grey matter. I would love to be in the top 5% and have private schools throwing scholarships at my feet, but to do so I’d have to tattoo the entire text Physics for Engineers and Scientists to my eyelids and hold my old Spanish teacher at gunpoint until she tweaks my grades. Those are obvious hyperboles, but those are steps which I can’t rationalize ever doing because I’d never be able to look at myself again no matter what society thought about it.