Obedience to the Herd or Freedom [1/2]

This is an excerpt from my 2009 novel, N. Awakening.

Chapter 50: Obedience to the Herd or Freedom

Mitchell looked around the stone patio and then out into the rippled lake. He pondered the day’s possibilities and asked, “What do you want to do this afternoon?” He thought about what he wanted to do.

Nasha appeared indifferent, “What haven’t we done?” she asked. She stared at Mitchell, expressed that this was his territory and that he should know what to do and where to go. He answered, “Let’s go for a drive. Let’s go explore what’s outside of this little community. Let’s see some different little faces on our big rock.” Nasha giggled and agreed. Thirty minutes later they were traveling down a country road with the convertible top down.

“Boom!” The car swerved. Mitchell slammed and pumped his right foot down on the brake. The car came to halt on the side of the road. Mitchell’s eyes bulged as Nasha’s adrenaline spiked. “What happened?” Nasha asked as her hands gripped the dash. Mitchell shrugged and asked her if she was alright. She thought so. They exited the automobile. Mitchell walked around the car. Had he hit something?

They stared at the front right tire. It was completely flat and the rubber tire surrounded the aluminum rim. Mitchell took out his cell phone and called the number on the back of his insurance card. He was not pleased to hear that it would be about an hour before anyone could come and fix the tire. He tried to find something funny to say. He tried to thwart his maddening thoughts, “So there’s a nice flock of sheep grazing. It’s not often we get to sit and watch sheep.”

Nasha smiled.

The Herd Mentality

Mitchell thought about those sheep. He thought about their life: eating, procreating and sleeping. He thought about philosophy, “Young one, did I mention that you will study Nietzsche? Did we talk about him when we were going over the philosophers when we were out fishing last week?”

Nasha recollected, “Let’s see,” she ran her fingers through her hair, “You mentioned the great ideas regarding the subservience of women and slaves.” She eyed him to see his response. He chuckled. Nasha gave him a nudge, “You also talked about a ring I could wear that would make me invisible, what I would do with that ring and how my new private property would affect me. You mentioned some communist, but I forgot who,” she laughed, “and said something about how an evil ruler is a good ruler.” She laughed some more, “Isn’t that what you mentioned?”

He returned the laugh, “Yes, that’s about as far from the context as possible. I’m thinking that I should share some more philosophy for you to distort, since I don’t even fully understand their arguments. May I continue?” Mitchell kept staring at the flock of sheep.

“By all means,” she wet her lips, “enlighten me.” Nasha began to enjoy this stranded moment. Mitchell somewhat forgot he was in the middle of nowhere, standing on the side of a country road, next to a broken car.

He looked at Nasha, “See those sheep over there?”

“Yes. What about them?” She felt like teasing her grandfather.

“Why are they all hustled together?” he asked. Nasha explained that they were being gathered by the farmer and his shepherd dog because they were probably being transported back to the barn. Mitchell added, “Can the herd of sheep see the barn, or the farmer, or the dog?” Nasha reasoned that they could only see the sheep in front of them most of the time and that they were following the flow of traffic. She vehemently argued that the sheep could not see anything but the butt of the sheep in front of it most of the time.

Mitchell let that thought speak for itself and then said, “Nietzsche argued, ‘Inasmuch as at all times, as long as there have been human beings, there have also been herds of men (clans, communities, tribes, peoples, states, churches) and always a great many people who obeyed, compared with the small number of those commanding…” Mitchell nudged Nasha back, pointed to a sheep that was straying from the herd and then continued to speak Nietzsche, “‘considering, then, that nothing has been exercised and cultivated better and longer among men so far than obedience.’”

Nasha’s head quickly turned at Mitchell, “But what are the consequences? Does everyone make it safely to the barn?” She returned her eyes to the sheep. She again thought about American Strides:

    1.                 Have you become common?
    2.                 A tool for the real political Man?
    3.                 …
    4.                 Theirs contained vice, but we’re taught only their virtue
    5.                 And how the crowd believes what they’re told
    6.                 Will you know the truth when it touches your soul?
    7.                 Or ignore it and continue to follow Propaganda’s mold?

She expected these thoughts to continue. Mitchell slowly turned his head. He wanted to ask Nasha if making it back to the barn was exactly what was intended for civilized sheep. He wanted to ask his granddaughter how long they were supposed to have their heads in another sheep’s butt. He wanted to ask her about what the straying sheep could see, hear and smell.

“Nietzsche said, ‘…it (the herd) seizes upon things as a rude appetite, rather indiscriminately and accepts whatever is shouted into its ears by someone who issues commands—parents, teachers, laws, class prejudices, public opinions.” Mitchell again pointed to the straying sheep while he continued, “Nietzsche added, ‘The strange limits of human development, the way it hesitates, takes so long, often turns back and moves in circles, is due to the fact that the herd instinct of obedience is inherent best and at the expense of the art of commanding.’[1] Just look at the shepherd hustle that sheep back into the herd.” Nasha did not to know what to think since before she took this as a natural phenomenon and had not thought of people as part of herds.

“We can be sheep too, huh?” Nasha thought metaphorically.

Mitchell took the comment too seriously, “No. Humans are humans.” He gazed at her, “But we can become a part of a herd.” He gazed at her face, “My favorite book of fifty or so years is one of Nietzsche’s.”

She questioned herself as his spirit ascended, “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life.” He lowered his chin as he rhetorically asked, “Do you know why it’s been my favorite book for fifty years?”

“No,” she answered, “Is it because it discusses Columbus’s awful history?” She sarcastically eyed the old man.

He bounced his head, “It’s because he says things like,” his head stopped, lowered and held firm, “‘The stronger the roots of the inmost nature of man are, the more of the past will he appropriate or master; and were one to conceive the most powerful and colossal nature, it would be known by this, that for it there would be no limit at which the historical sense could overgrow or harm it; such a nature,’” he bit into his words as if a vampire, “‘would draw its own as well as every alien past wholly into itself and transform it into blood, as it were. What such a nature cannot master it knows how to forget; it no longer exists, the horizon is closed as a whole and nothing can serve as a reminder that beyond this horizon there remain men, passions, doctrines and purposes.’” He looked at Nasha and finished Nietzsche’s thought, “‘And this is a general law: every living thing can become healthy, strong and fruitful only within a horizon…’ And I love him because he attempts to explain how to live well. This particular 64 page book examines why so many people live badly.” He breathed.

“Is Marx a close second then?” She asked.

“You’re terrible,” was Mitchell’s only response. He enjoyed her sarcasm. He never found her remarks cantankerous. They watched the sheep move in an awkward unity. They heard the trampling of footsteps. Nasha listened as Mitchell quietly added, “We can also choose to keep ourselves from blindly believing our leaders and to think as ‘free spirits,’ as Nietzsche counseled.” Nasha watched the straying sheep finally become another member of the herd. He writes, “‘And so my proposition may be taken and understood: only strong personalities can endure history; the weak are completely extinguished by it.” The footsteps became louder, “‘The man who no longer dares to trust himself, but, seeking council from history about his feelings, asks ‘how am I to feel here’, will, from timidity, gradually become an actor and play a role, mostly even many roles and therefore each so badly and superficially.’ What do you think?”

She felt compassion for that sheep. She found a new feeling within her spirit. She stared at her grandfather, “The herds of men, such as clans, communities, tribes, peoples, states, churches,” she added with emphasis, “political parties and others I imagine are still drugged by nationalism and propaganda?”

Mitchell affirmed, “How many people are members of the Democrat or Republican Party? How many Americans believe Iraq had something to do with 9/11?” He looked seriously into her hazel eyes, “How many of us are truly free spirits? Or figure out the other side? How many people play a role—poorly play a role, superficially play a role, sadly play a role?”

“Almost everyone that I know.” The virgin mind could not proceed and reverted to the field, sheep and shepherd. She replayed Nietzsche’s words in her mind, “Nothing has been exercised and cultivated better and longer among men so far than obedience… The strange limits of human development, the way it hesitates, takes so long, often turns back and moves in circles, is due to the fact that the herd instinct of obedience is inherent best and at the expense of the art of commanding.” She could not imagine a world filled with leaders—people straying from all herds. Or would they really just be lost sheep?


[1] Italics on obedience added.


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