Lemming Effect Redux

OK, so I’ve already gone on about ‘The Lemming Effect’ in my earlier and incomprehensible blog about spirals, but I’m not done yet. The lemming effect refers to lemmings throwing themselves off cliffs to commit mass Be alert - the world needs more lerts. But don't be a lemming!suicide in times of food shortage or overpopulation – the idea, apparently, is that if you’re a really good little lemming, by which I mean a good soldier, cult member, union worker, corporate empoyee, or political conservative, when your mommy lemming says, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” the right answer is Yes!

Actually, to be honest, it turned up in today’s research while I was looking for a picture of lemmings jumping off a cliff that it’s just a myth anyway. On the other hand, it also turns out that Disney™ did a film in which they forced a few lemmings off a cliff and reinforced this idea in the minds of the masses, and it’s still a perfectly suitable metaphor for what I’m about to say.

What’s got me thinking so much about lemmings you ask? Harry Potter for one. J.K. Rowling and her henchmen at Scholastic say, “Tell ya what. We’ll go ahead and take a couple few million pre-orders so we’ll have some idea how many of these darn things to print, and the rest of you all line up outside around midnight and if you’re real good, we might let you buy a copy of this book, but we might not have enough, so you’d better dress in costume just to be safe” and the lemmings say, “Hmm. Sounds good… I gotta get me some of that!”

Another example? Just sticking to the American book market, how about this: After a long hiatus from picking Oprah’s Book Club Selections™, that homegirl has started picking classic fiction titles. So today, East of Eden (Oprah’s Book Club), by John Steinbeck, is #2 on Amazon, second only to, yes, that’s right, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Now, granted, I think it’s wonderful that the big O’s promoting reading, but Steinbeck’s got the #2 book? Lemmings.

OK, one last example, and I think I can wrap this up. Every day, my favorite radio station (and that’s a tough call, since they’re really all the same station, just at different frequencies) has an ‘All-Request Lunch Hour,’ and all that happens is that people call in and request the #1 song, and fill up the whole hour with the same shit they just played the hour before and they’re gonna play the hour after.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, what’s the alternative, Chris old bean? Is simple nonconformity to cultural norms really the answer? Well, yes and no. If you react to everything by trying not to conform, just to be contrary, then you’re what one might as well call a lemming-nonconformist. The trick is to figure out what you really like and why you really like it, and to make your own little life decisions based on rational self-discovery, and realize all the while that as you go along, you have to be flexible to the changing situations you find yourself in.

It’s OK to decide that some position is generally foreign to your way of thinking, but one of the surest signs of lemming-nonconformity is a knee-jerk opposite reaction to everything they say. You can be a liberal democrat without needing to be an anti-republican who disagrees with every plank in the platform or bill in the senate. It also works in the affirmative – you can be a pretty good Catholic without necessarily believing that the pope is infallible, or joining the other lemmings outside that hospital in Milton, MA that’s practically been shut down by pilgrims standing around the parking lot trying to get a glimpse of the condensation in the dual-pane windows that happens to look a little like the Virgin.

So maybe you decide that no, beef is not What’s for Dinner™, and it really does make more sense for your health and the environment, and prevent cruelty to animals if you go vegan. But if I ever make that decision, and I’m a contestant on Survivor, and we win a chicken or two in the reward challenge, those little cluckers had better start shooting eggs out their butts before I figure out how to spell fricassee.

And no, I’m not promoting situational ethics, per se. Some things are clearly right or clearly wrong. Like killing another human being is just plain wrong. I understand about self-defense and all that, but if some axe-wielding maniac ever comes at me with a glint of steel and a gleam in his eye, and I have a concealed weapon, I don’t think I’ll kill him in self-defense. I’ll just shoot him in the thigh to stop him from coming at me. Of course, if his axe is nice and sharp, I might take off a foot, just to keep him from running away before the cops arrive.

Or what about traffic laws? Well, I’m generally pretty cool with most of them, like I think it’s a pretty clever idea to wear a seat belt, and I’m usually grateful for stop signs and traffic lights for keeping other drivers out of my way, but where I draw the line is that stupid law of gravity that says I have to keep the vehicle on the ground at all times. That’s just wrong.

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