Of Agency and Sheep

I consider myself a student of history, humanity, theology, and philosophy, as well as psychology, neuroscience, and sociology. I am truly fascinated by humanity, with all its many layers and idiosyncrasies.

As a marketer by profession, I spend an incredible amount of time seeking to understand why people do what they do, and how to get them to do what my clients want them to do. In most instances, it’s quite easy to do both. When you understand why people do what they do, both individually and in groups, it’s easy to manipulate them.

Alas, after years of study and observation, I’ve come to agree wholeheartedly with Einstein: “Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

Though I’m sure nobody wants to hear it, much less admit it to themselves, the vast majority of humans are stupid. They make stupid decisions, and even more stupid excuses for those stupid decisions. And then they seem surprised when everything comes crashing down.

How very…sheep-like.

You see, were I to break down humanity into types, there would really only be 4 groups: Sheep, Wolves, Sheep Dogs, and Shepherds.

Wolves I think are self explanatory. They are predatory and independent, and no wolf would ever follow a shepherd. They are good at sneaking, at trickery and strategy. They are greedy. These are the criminals and the corrupt in society, those who prey on others, and fail to adhere to the morals that allow what we call “society” to exist and function. This group is rather larger than most people realize, though still small compared to the sheep.

Sheep Dogs are a bit more complex. They are well trained, expert in herding the sheep where they need to go, and they do what they do in part for their own enjoyment and in part for the well-being of the sheep. They are intelligent enough to act without direction when needed if they understand the end goal, and they follow the directions of the shepherd when given…mostly. This group represents the true creators, brilliant innovators and honest leaders in society. A small group indeed.

Shepherds are the rarest of all, for they spend their lives essentially in service to the sheep. They set boundaries for the well-being of the sheep, they train sheep dogs to help guide and protect the sheep, and they destroy the wolves that threaten the sheep. Though there will eventually be a reward for the service of the shepherd, for a true shepherd a shepherd is what they are, not just what they do.

And then we have the sheep.

Unfortunately, sheep make up the largest portion of humanity…by a rather large margin. Sheep are inherently lazy. They eat, sleep, procreate and wander in search of more. They pay little real attention to their surroundings, more concerned with what the other sheep are doing than anything else. They make few decisions and are almost entirely reactionary, letting things that seem to be outside their control dictate their choices and actions. Instead of acting independently, they react, usually as a group, for it’s far easier for them to just follow.

The fact that so many in this world are no more than sheep is a very sad thing, and a frustrating one as well. To put it bluntly, sheep = stupid people, and stupid people suck.

As a religious person, and a student of of both theology and humanity, I can say for certain that one of, if not the single most important thing that we possess in this life is free agency, the right to make choices, to rise above our baser instincts.

According to the tenets of Christianity, we fought a war in Heaven for that very freedom, and should be continuously fighting for that freedom each and every day of our mortal lives. Of all the creatures on this planet, only Humans truly have free agency, for all other creatures are subject to their natural inclinitations, without the higher brain function necessary to understand right and wrong and thus exercise free agency. Without right and wrong, there is no choice, and thus no agency.

Right and wrong are critical elements to agency, but right and wrong exist independently of society, and are instead tied to morality. And of course, as any educated individual knows, the roots of all morality begin with religion.

But religion is for people, not animals, and those who fail to use their agency wisely become no more than animals, subject to their natural inclinations and instincts, which are quite frankly nothing more than physiological handicaps.

What sort of handicaps?

Well, for starters, take the Nucleus Accumbens. Known as the pleasure center of the brain, it also plays a major role in addiction, aggression, and fear. One could posit that all that is bad in our world is tied to the Nucleus Accumbens. Sure, other parts of the brain are involved, from the Amygdala to the Hypothalamus, but the Nucleus Accumbens is at the heart of it.

In Christianity, there is a term in the Bible, “the natural man”, referred to in 1st Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 14. It is also referred to multiple times in The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants (books of LDS scripture). I would hypothesize that the natural man is not some abstract spiritual concept, but a literal, physical part of the human body, a part of the human brain…and one that can be completely subverted by intelligence and self control.

Consequently, there is a another part of the brain, the Posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus (PSTS), that has been identified as the part of the brain having to do with altruism (service and selfless giving). Interestingly, they’ve found that if the Nucleus Accumbens is active, the PSTS isn’t, and that if the PSTS is active, the Nucleus Accumbens isn’t. If altruism is considered serving God, and addiction, fear or aggression are considered serving Mammon, then truly it is physiologically impossible to serve both God and Mammon 🙂

As an intelligent creature, with free agency, it is within our power to rise above the natural man, to be better than our base physiology would have us be. From all that I have read and studied, the very purpose of life is to learn to use our free agency morally and wisely, to rise above both societal and physiological handicaps to become something more, something greater…something divine.

And so, with all that in mind, I am greatly saddened by what I see in our world. People pretend to cling to their right to free choice, but in truth give it away at every opportunity. They blame others for their own actions. They follow the other sheep wherever they wander, instead of using intelligence and agency to make wise decisions individually. They allow pleasure, addiction, aggression and fear to rule their lives, thus letting the natural man rule their lives, relinquishing their free agency in the process. They are sheep.

And, at the end of the day, Sheep, Wolves and Sheep Dogs have their purposes to a Shepherd. Wolves are killed, Sheep Dogs are rewarded for their good service, and Sheep are eventually sold or eaten when the time is right.

Don’t be a wolf, and for Heaven’s sake don’t be a freaking sheep.

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