Panicky Sheep

Panicky Sheep
Epiphany 26

If I asked you if the fax machine was a relatively new invention, most of you would say “Yes!” The facsimile machine got its name from itself – the “fac simile”. The two Latin words translate very simply into “make alike” and have their roots in print making and cartography. The map maker, through a variety of means not all of which were discovered personally, configured a rendering or map of a particular area or part of the world. That in and of itself is no small feat. Once made, the map unfortunately did little good unless it could be utilized by those traveling. Having a map hanging in a museum or university was of no use to the explorer halfway around the world. The mapmaker and/or printmaker needed a way to reproduce the map. Similarly, historic documents and works of arts were also reproduced for both studying and collecting.

The Abraham Ortelius map of 1598 is an example of one of the early facsimiles produced. As printmaking and lithographs grew in popularity and the exactness of their results improved, more and more items were reproduced. These pre-twentieth century reproductions are now often referred to as replicas and their value is quite high. Today we consider a fax to be a photographic reproduction sent via telephone wires or via the Internet. While many consider the fax a late twentieth century epiphany, it has its roots in medieval times.

The epiphany of the facsimile perhaps is not in the antiquity of the process but in the meaning itself. All too often mankind strives to be alike, to congregate with those deemed similar, and to follow the latest trend so as to no appear different or wrong. Ed Seykota defines a trend as “a general drift or tendency in a set of data.” Viral videos are another type of trend as are FaceBook posts and those adorable forwarded emails featuring kittens and puppies. The fashion industry relies on trends to stay in business and now even the medical community is trying to make certain things popular like getting children vaccination and adults taking influenza vaccines.

The effort to follow a trend, to be “one of the guys”, or illustrate the latest trend falls under the heading of mass psychology or herd behavior. Some refer to it as the panicky sheep behavior. By doing what others are doing, there is less chance of someone criticizing you; behavioral differences are minimized. This wanting to be alike, making yourself over as a facsimile of the current pop star relies on impulsive behavior rather than a thought-out deliberation of pros and cons.

Early man lived in tribes for survival and the only way those tribes continued living was for the group to reach a consensus on things. It was not until the nineteenth century when French psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon developed their concept of “group mind” or “mob behavior” that it began to be considered seriously, though.

The need for acceptance is a basic part of the make-up of man, all men. Conforming to the norm, those unspoken standards shared by a group, is one way of ensuring survival. Numerous studies through the past two hundred years have resulted in some interesting and often contradictory data. Conformity is neither all good nor all bad. Peer pressure is the most common form of conformity and people who resist are sometimes bullied.

We all conform when we drive on the accepted and legal side of the road. However, when someone chooses to be individualistic in their wearing of pants when others are wearing skirts or kilts and they are rejected, then the need to be alike is harmful. Anthropologically speaking, insistence on peer to peer conformity is outdated. When we insist that only those who dress like we dress or know what we know, then we inhibit the growth of man and advancement of the planet.

The uniqueness of man should not be feared. While there may be safety in numbers, there is value in recognizing the individual. Growing into one’s being is not easy and it cannot be done by anyone else except the individual him or herself. When that epiphany is realized, growth occurs. To paraphrase fashion designer Gianni Versace: “Do not make fashion [the need be alike, a facsimile] own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live.”

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