Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

Fifty years ago when I joined a uniformed organisation (the Scouts) my father, a WWII veteran who served on active duty in Northern Italy, gave me this advice: “Never stand out, never volunteer. Always keep your head down, never talk back. Don’t look them in the eye. Be unobtrusive. Be modest. At all times be unremarkable. Most important: be unexceptional.”

These were words of wisdom that served me well through life. I later learned that the way to manage a discreet presence within the herd is:

  1. understand how most people see you (because they unwittingly evaluate what they see, not what they know), and try to adapt your behavior to what they expect of you

  2. Recognize how most of the population, through shared perception, discriminate against those who “stand out” — any obtrusive behavior may reflect poorly on them

The trick is to adopt the same image as everyone else in any given environment — do not fight to remain unnoticed, on the contrary — recognize yourself as one of those who belong “inside” the obedient flock. Always look as if you belong. Always obey.

Camouflage works the same way, you don’t try to be unnoticed: on the contrary, you strive to be obvious but ignored. The idea is to blend in with the environment.

As you can imagine, this must be quite difficult if you typically “stand out” from others (through no fault of your own). Perhaps you have unusual hair , or you are taller than the others, or you have facial differences, or the “wrong” skin colour. Or there is some other type of mismatch. If you cannot be inconspicuous by nature, you will have to work doubly hard to mingle and stay camouflaged. You must be a genius at unnoticeableness if you want to look the same as everyone else in the hominidrove.

The main problem I have with all of this, even if it is sober advice, is that we are not unthinking quadrupeds, right? We’re not designed to be jawless, submissive, spineless, oinkers, are we? We are not cattle. If you accept the evidence for evolution, then you know we are intelligent primates. So why, when and how did we become cattle? Why did we become sheeple? Well, it’s a long story…

Livestock farming is wholly related to production and has nothing to do with exclusivity and uniqueness. Yes, some in the herd might be selected for breeding… but most of the herd will be consistent, standardised and identical. Most importantly, they must remain obedient.

The breeding, keeping and slaughter of livestock, known as animal husbandry, has been a major component of agriculture and practiced in all cultures since humans first transitioned from hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers, thousands of years ago. Along with agriculture came landlords, farmers, peasants, exploiters and slaves. From the moment a powerful man claimed land for himself, then demanded others to work on it, he created a class system.

It didn’t take long for landowners to see themselves as superior, perhaps even eminent. They saw themselves as the intelligent primates, while “everyone else” born lower in the power structure could be grouped under the same term. It’s a term they would typically use for their livestock: the herd. The ancient Greeks called the superiority of one group over another: hegemony. Whenever you see cries of “authority” “rule of law” or “leadership”, be vigilant — in the post-classical world, all these terms meant the same thing: the perpetuation of hegemony.

And so, along with kings and princes, priests and druids, landlords and free-holders, came lower ranks of dependent, uneducated, poor and illiterate workers. It is in the interests of the ruling oligarchs to keep the peasantry in their “rightful” place. The oligarchs reasoned that — only if the peasants were “tame” — would they willingly work in fields and follow difficult orders. And the peasants themselves preferred to be unobtrusive, modest and unremarkable —otherwise they might be singled out and chosen for more work, or more dangerous tasks. Their neighbors and relatives wisely encouraged them, like my father, to “keep their heads down” or risk drawing attention to the entire clan.

During the industrial revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy, when the population grew beyond bounds and the standard of living rose, the need for herdfolk continued. Landowners became industrialists, landreeves became middle-managers, and overseers became bookkeepers. But, at the bottom of the pile, those reliable beasts of burden were still required; in fact, the system required even larger quantities. Now the peasants became consumers as well as functioning livestock.

The culmination of the industrial revolution should have ended with the slaughter of over twenty million peasants (those lions led by donkeys) in the Great War of 1914 -1918. Yet even after this industrial cataclysm, the rulers and their sycophants did not weaken the reins on the enslaved flocksitizenry. And where capitalism once promised democracy, instead it brought fascist regimes, absolute monarchies, one-party states, and authoritarianism.

British Soldiers in the Trenches - Lions Led by Donkeys

And so we limp towards 2021 in the fastest-growing global capital economy ever seen. But let’s not forget that over 60 percent of Forbes’ 400 richest Americans grew up with privilege right from the start. They are descendants & heirs of those same ancient landowning families that started all this. And it is in their personal interest (perhaps performed without conscious knowledge, I’ll allow them that) that they keep the herds in their place… while, of course, they continue to enjoy the abundant benefits of a higher position.

Meanwhile, the beast of burden might consider itself free, but this will never be the case. The beast of burden will never be free. Herd members might choose where and when they eat. They might sit down. Or stand. But that is the limit of their freedom of choice. For example, a beast will /will not reproduce offspring as directed by owners. A beast of burden lives and dies at the will of a master. A beast only works/doesn’t work as the owner decides. We have seen evidence of all these things during 2020.

And, of course, the beast will never think for itself. Or ever consider breaking free. Why would it want to? Why break free? Why would a member of any herd want freedom? It has everything it needs right there. The owners provide a herd with food, water, security, and amusing distractions. Why does a beast need anything else? Moreover, membership of the herd brings a sense of comfort. And a sense of continuity.

The problem with herding humans and treating them as flocksitizenry is that the drovers who fumble their flocks will always underestimate (even hate) exclusivity, uniqueness, and any particularity they see from their livestock… because they view these attributes as inconsistent aberrations or non-compliant deviations. Aberrations must be stamped out. That’s why my father told me to “be unexceptional”. He was sincere when he gave that advice.

Remember, my father was a product of the 1920s, so saw for himself the rise of fascism and the spread of communism. He survived the Great Depression, he worked in heavy industry, then was called-up to fight in World War II. So, my father knew, from personal experience, that the cattle might smother a guy who stands out from his herd: “Keep your head down, never talk back, don’t look them in the eye…

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: