PAT NEAL: Herd mentality when there’s more than enough hay

IT WAS DAYLIGHT in the swamp. I was already late for a very important date. Breakfast with the ladies. They consider breakfast the most important meal of the day.

I would have called them with a list of excuses for being late, but they were smarter than most humans. They didn’t carry phones or care about yakking on them all day. They wouldn’t care if the truck had a dead battery, a leaky radiator and the low tire. They just figured a man is either as good as his word or he’s not.

The fact remained that I was late, and there was going to be trouble.

Sure enough, the herd was starring daggers at me when I backed into the barn to load hay. They started an insistent mooing to register a complaint about breakfast being delayed.

Which was entirely understandable. Some tend to get a little ornery at feeding time.

When I got the truck loaded with hay, the mooing stopped. The ominous silence meant they were maneuvering around the back of the barn to get into position to rush the gate as soon as I opened it.

We both knew the drill.

They’re not too hard to figure out because cows are just like people. Even though there was enough food for everyone to eat their fill, they were going to panic, stampede and fight over it.

I had to get the hay off the truck before that happened and I got squished. Getting caught between a cow and their hay could be painful, if not fatal.

That must be why the rancher’s parting words of advice were, “don’t let them kill you.”

I didn’t.

With breakfast served, the herd calmed down and ate for a few hours. They got a drink and lay down to chew their cud.

Watching cows fight over hay is not unlike watching humans battle over toilet paper. There’s plenty for everyone, but they like to fight over it.

This is an illustration of the herd mentality in humans.

Experts tell us our primitive brains go into panic mode in threatening situations, causing us to freak out, stampede and hoard things we don’t need, no matter what the cost.

That can give us an illusory sense of control in an out-of-control world. It can cause the rest of the herd to panic and stampede into grocery stores and gun stores and buy things they don’t need because everyone else is doing it.

Last weekend was a perfect example. After buying as many groceries as they could possibly hoard, the herd decided it was the perfect time to go on a vacation. Everyone went out to their favorite recreational area to enjoy the sunshine because everyone else was doing it.

Never mind warnings from doctors to stay home.

Instead, the herd panicked and stampeded, possibly spreading the coronavirus farther, but who knows, since tests for it are scarce.

The herd ignored disaster-preparedness experts who are telling us to have two weeks of supplies on hand.

Instead, when alarmed, the herd panicked and stampeded to hoard gloves and masks, denying them to doctors and nurses who need them. Then the herd stocked up on disinfectant wipes, which were flushed down the toilet to clog the sewers.

The herd ignores doctors, disaster-relief experts and plumbers. The herd listens to scammers and TV preachers.

Some day, the human herd needs to develop an alternative to the automatic panic and stampede response.

Until then, it seems people may not be as dumb as cows, but they sure aren’t any smarter.

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwildlife@gmail.com.

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