Reconciling Herd Thinking and Truth

I was visiting recently with a friend who was involved in an effort to defeat yet another obscurely-timed special election to raise taxes. Ultimately he was successful in this mission, but there were frustrations along the way.  “These supporters of the tax increase keep saying they are ‘conservative'” he lamented. “They think a conservative is someone who goes to church on Sunday or joins a local civics club, or likes to hunt or fish.  A conservative may typically like to do those things, but doing them does not make anyone ‘conservative.’ Worse, they use it as an excuse to avoid thinking about whether we really need a tax increase or not. They just say ‘Joe is for it so it must be the conservative thing to do.’ But ‘Joe’ is not really a conservative. He is just a folksy good-ole boy who wants to keep raising taxes and feeding government growth.”

I have already shared with you how Arkansas is dead last in the nation in return of government services for amount of taxes paid. That is, we get less out of every tax dollar we spend than the taxpayers of any other state in the nation. This indicates that the insiders in our state are more rapacious than that of other states when it comes to looting the populace, and the possibility that the ruling class is currently engaged in welfare fraud on a massive scale only adds to that evidence. Our beautiful state of Arkansas, especially relative to our prime location and tremendous natural resources, under performs economically and has for a long time.

Why? Why have our people suffered these things and still suffer them? Is it chance? Is it a hundred-year run of bad luck? No. Things happen for a reason. When a unit consistently under performs for a long time, it is because of the leadership. It’s always the leadership. But this is not another “rail at those stinking politicians and insiders column.”  It is true that the people could benefit from a new ruling class, or a moral transformation of the one we have.  But we could not have had the ruling class we have had, and the results which flow from it, if there had not been something in us which permitted it to get to this place.

If we can identify whatever component in our state character has led us to this unfortunate place, we can address it, improve it, and deliver our posterity from the negative outcomes which flow from that defect. If we instead choose to become offended at the idea that there is anything in us that can be made better, then we will continue to get more of what we have gotten. I choose to seek how to get better in the future, even if that means I must face up to the fact there are some places where I am presently not good. Given enough time, there is more hope for the most rotten person in the world who realizes they need to improve than there is for a nominally decent person who becomes offended at the idea that they have any room for improvement.

I believe my friend has stumbled upon our error- the flaw in our character which contributes to our governmental “misfortune.” Arkansans, from all over but in particular from the southern part of the state where my friend lives, have an unfortunate tendency to begin with the person, and from there construct the principle. My friend provided an example, “People say Joe Jones is a good ole’ boy who goes to church and loves to fish and sneers at them New York Liberals, so if he is for Expanding Medicaid, it must be conservative.”  They start with the man, and from the man determine if the action is good or bad. It is about following the herd, and the herd leaders, not determining truth impartially.

The herd thinker starts with the person, subordinating principle to person. There is a difference in respecting people, which the Bible encourages, and being a “respecter of persons” which it condemns. The independent thinker approaches things differently. Something is not true or false based on who says it. Something is not right or wrong based on who does it. The moral law, the principle, is greater than the person.

There is a great advantage in adopting a herd mentality if one’s leaders are wise and just. If one’s culture is noble, and one’s leaders are good, then moving with the pack saves us the trouble of independently determining the right and wrong of things. If the leader truly knows more than us, then trusting them is the best move. Just watch the herd. Realistically though, that is no longer the situation we are in, if it ever was. With leadership that is incompetent or self-serving, adopting a herd mentality can lead us to lemming-like behavior- going over the cliff because the herd is moving that way.

As I thought about it, there is nothing inherently wrong with trusting a leader. There is something in human nature that wants to have an authority figure we can trust. I believe that this aspect of our nature is a part of that God-shaped hole put in the human soul. It is properly filled by God, but people being what we are, we try to fill that hole with other things- including other authority figures.

So we humans have this tension between principle and person, between trust and truth. The resolution of this conflict is found in the person of the Messiah, the God-man. In Him, there is no conflict between person and principle. Trust of the Man never conflicts with Acceptance of Truth, for in His case alone they are One and The Same. He is a person, and He is also Truth personified. We can trust Him completely without fear that He will lead us astray. Because of that, the innate desire we have to be a part of a herd, to trust an authority figure, is safely met in Him. He is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His pasture.

Where we go wrong is when we, due to the imperfection of our own relationship with our Maker, try to fulfill this legitimate desire to place our trust in a leader rather than to determine the truth independently, via an illegitimate means. An example of an illegitimate expression of this legitimate desire would be trusting a flawed man in place of sinless Christ. It is good to trust, if the One you are trusting is good, but to make an idol of a fallible man is to fall into error. Joe is a “good Christian” to the extent his thoughts, words, and deeds, are those of Christ’s- for Christ is the measure of Christianity, not Joe. If we remember this, we will do well.

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