Stray from the Shepherd

By Georgia Wyess

Imagine you’re a twenty-year-old individual living through the beginning of the abolitionist movement. Social norms are changing right before your eyes. Now allow me to ask you a question: had you been that individual, would you have supported the abolitionist movement, or would you have opposed it? Before you answer this question, allow me to ask you another: would you have sympathized with the majority—including your family, friends, and community—or would you have turned to the miniscule group of individuals who risked their public image to go against the masses? 

In Paul Graham’s essay “The Four Quadrants of Conformism,” he quotes professor Robert George, who said, “I sometimes ask students what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly against it.” 

But what are these students really doing? They’re projecting their current beliefs onto an issue from a time with social norms and expectations completely different from those of the twenty-first century. However, had they lived in the nineteenth century, I would venture to say that many of them would have opposed the dismantling of slavery, simply because this was the will of the masses. 

As seen from a modern perspective, the abolishment of slavery was most certainly the right decision, but imagine life today had we continued to follow the masses. Disappointingly, we have. Perhaps it isn’t in the context of abolishing slavery or making some great societal change happen that would rewrite American history, however, as political sheep, we vandalize the current political system more and more. 

Well, how is this damage being done? In the United States, there are two main political parties: Democrats and Republicans. Within these two parties are two tiers of groups which consist of two different types of people: the moral leopard and the party sheep. Beginning with the moral leopard, these are individuals who, before choosing their respective political party, read about each respective party’s platform and decide if their own morals and values align with either the democratic or republican party—they are individual animals who rely on their own instinct to provide them with security. Additionally, moral leopards will not only apply this identification technique to the political parties themselves, but also apply their own views to singular political issues. These individuals choose to think freely in a single minded society and  follow their own compass in the political sphere; thus leading to informed and well researched opinions and viewpoints. 

Unfortunately, the majority of political subgroups are composed of party sheep. Essentially, party sheep allow their political party and opinions on policy to be determined by a preexisting subconscious dedication to a political party—the party is their shepherd and, as sheep do, they simply follow the herd. Hear me out: how many times have you found yourself actually thinking about a decision made by the party you support? Or do you find yourself simply accepting the party’s choice and rebutting the republicans or the democrats solely on the belief that your own affiliation is superior—the same way a sheep follows its herd? For many of us it may not be this extreme, but many party sheep already follow a political party before they have the chance to make their own decision on which party they agree with. Starting from familial influence, the opinions of your parents impact the way you think; later, the opinions of your peers shape your ideas. Since the political party essentially defines your opinions and ideas of the world, you become emotionally tethered to the political party. Later, when a politician or peer mentions something that goes against the public image or goes against the common political agenda of the party, individuals feel personally attacked and refuse for productive conversation to ensue because of an illegitimate disagreement—proving a fundamental threat to democracy in America. Similar to the way sheep identify a shepherd and refuse to stray too far from him, party sheep blindly follow the opinions and policies of their respective party. Thus, spreading propaganda and unvetted opinions to members of the community who may not know any better.

When the party sheep take over governmental positions, the two parties will become even more divided. The surge of political tension has the potential to lead to civil war, political divide, or the split of America into a separate blue and red country all together. Moral leopards have the power to stop this threat from growing. When discussing policy, reading text, or watching the news, stop and ask yourself what you truly believe and whether you candidly agree with what is being said, or are you just following the shepherd?