A couple of Monday’s ago, I walked across the street with my basket of laundry and found the proprietor and an older gentleman having an animated conversation about the state of the world. A few minutes later, this retired farmer and I were the only people in the room and for lack of something better to do, we struck up a similar conversation. We were soon yaking about over-population causing the sacrifice of arable land to soulless bedroom communities, the lack of healthcare, and various other ills.

Turns out this man had set himself up with a retirement business, which involved transporting farm animals such as cows, pigs and sheep. So now we were on to animal stories. He went on to tell me about his first trip to a big city as a young boy. He went to New York City to perform in the evening rodeo at Madison Square Garden and found himself with nothing to do all day but watch people. Down into the subways he went and was astounded to see people trample each other when one would happen to fall down. It struck him that people were dumber than cattle. Unlike humans, when a cow falls, the others in the herd will do everything in their power to avoid stepping on the fallen animal.

“The only animal dumb enough to step on its own kind are sheep.” He said. I laughed and told him that when my husband and I see people blindly following the crowd, we like to call them “Sheeple.”

Today, this story came across the Associated Press:

“Thousands of Muslims surging to complete a stoning ritual before sunset stampeded Thursday after some pilgrims tripped over dropped luggage, causing a pileup that killed at least 345 people in the second tragedy to hit this year’s hajj.”

And I’m thinking, “Even cattle wouldn’t let this happen!” While 345 is a huge number, this kind of thing happens routinely. Most of us remember the fatal crush of fans at The Who concert of 1979, but did you hear about the recent Wal-Mart Stampede? Check out this video from the day after last Thanksgiving when shoppers stampeded into the store. And here is a similar Wal-Mart story from August of last year:

“A rush to purchase $50 used laptops turned into a violent stampede, with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair and nearly driven over. One woman went so far to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line.”

There are dozens of stories like these. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. The sobering thing is that I must still be clinging to the idea that humans are intelligent and noble beings or I would not react with surprise at any of this.

Bodies of concertgoers lie on the Coliseum plaza December 3, 1979 after 11 died in the crush before a concert by the Who.
Bodies of concertgoers lie on the Coliseum plaza December 3, 1979 after 11 died in the crush before a concert by the Who.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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