Death by Herd Mentality

Death by Herd Mentality

We are basically just pretending to like things because the crowd likes it too.

I like to taste bourbon. I also like expensive stuff, especially if it’s bourbon. If it’s hard to find, I like it even more.

Bourbon is best enjoyed with company. When you have the added benefit of being the curator of the selection, you can win countless points with your friends by influencing the tasting experience. For example, when you tell your friends how rare something is, they are more likely to tell you how good it tastes. Scarcity has a striking impact on the flavor. In fact, my recommendation is that before you pour your latest select bottle for a guest, you follow a couple procedures to enhance the experience.

The steps are as follows.

  1. First, explain that you bought this bottle through one of your “sources”. If it’s from a store, it's important to say the first name of the person you deal with who owns or works at that establishment. For example, if you are buying something from a major chain retailer, get the name of someone, even if they are simply stocking shelves and say you got it from “<name> over at <place>”. This gives the appearance that you have an inside track for the best selections.
  2. Next, be sure to say the bottle is normally more expensive but you were able to get it for a deal (you don’t have to say the price, but it helps as long as it is more than the cost of a tank of gas). Be sure to say it was “one of” the last ones they had. The higher the cost, the more important it is that you talk about it.
  3. Now, talk about how hard these particular bottles are to come by. It's good to say “these are very hard to find” or “you just can’t get these anywhere unless you know someone.” Be sure to note something unique like a slightly different label or something suggesting this bottle is especially unique any time you can.
  4. After talking about the bottle's scarcity, now start associating it with some kind of celebrity that was behind its production. If your bottle is “<Famous football player>’s bourbon” it will reflect favorably on the tasters perceptions of the quality, especially if it is a newer brand. It helps if it’s a winning athlete, rather than not. If there were no celebrities to associate with the product, knowing the long history behind it works too as long as you know the first name of the person the product was named after.
  5. Finally after your guest is served the bourbon, set the bottle in front of them so they can look at it. Tell them “it’s okay, you can hold it for a couple minutes if you want.” This makes your guest feel special, so don’t forget this part.
  6. Bonus points is you can tell something about how the bourbon is made, especially if you refer to the original product as “the juice”.

When your guests taste your bourbon, they will most certainly find it to be one of the most delicious things they’ve tasted. In most cases they will say something like “Wow! That’s really smooth!” which doesn’t actually mean a whole lot when it comes to bourbon, but people say it all the time.

By the way, this works for more than just bourbon. While the protocol might be slightly different, you can use this approach for other beverages as well, especially wine.

But what about tasting blind?

I usually don’t recommend people do this, because it tends to result in people being honest. Usually people are afraid they will reveal that they don’t know anything about tasting bourbon (which is embarrassing). As a result, they might make tasting “faces” that are indistinguishable from one reaction to the next to signal that they are really noticing something about the product. Some people will just mirror your reactions, occasionally dropping tasting notes like “vanilla” and “caramel” to sound like a more sophisticated taster.

But if a taste is truly blind, the truth tends to come out. You want to be careful to put sufficient social pressure on your guests in advance because if not, someone might just say “The bourbon has no flavor!”

The Emperor's New Bourbon

Certain products have earned themselves the cache of being “rare” and “hard to find” and that’s why people love them. They buy them at a premium price and sometimes resell them for an even higher price on the secondary market. Some pricy products are just smoke and mirrors and really aren't that good, but people won't stop talking about them nonetheless. This response is because people are tribal and follow their peers in order to be accepted.

This happens to all people in all age groups but we see this behavior more clearly in our children when they try to fit in with their peers. When I was a kid, my parents said to me in frustration for my crowd following bad behavior “If your friends were drinking Eagle Rare on a bridge, would you do that too?”

Of course the answer is yes, and I’ll pay extra for it. People like rare bourbon because someone said it was rare or tasty and now as a result, it’s both. This is called Herd Mentality, and it reminds me of the fable of The Emperor's New Clothes.

Here’s the plot:

Two swindlers arrive at the capital city of an emperor who spends lavishly on clothing at the expense of state matters. Posing as weavers, they offer to supply him with magnificent clothes that are invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. The emperor hires them, and they set up looms and go to work.

The Emperor basically walked around naked, fooled by the swindlers who sold him imaginary clothing. At first, no one would admit they couldn’t see them for fear it would expose their social deficiencies so everyone went along with the ruse to protect themselves. It took a completely naive child to blurt out that the Emperor was wearing no clothes. We all have a tendency to do that which results in social acceptance, and we get a little nervous about doing something that will get us shamed or kicked out of the cool kids club.

It’s kind of like a militant attack on the United States Capitol.

On January 6th, droves of people walked from a Trump speech where he said “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building…” and “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”

After a substantial frothing of the crowd, they charge toward and into the Capitol. It ended up being a violent event and resulted in many injuries and a handful of deaths. But that “insurrection” characterization might be a little unfair. Some of them carried weapons, spread feces or screamed “hang Mike Pence” as a peaceful demonstration.

While I doubt that most of those folks were drinking Eagle Rare, I don’t doubt that some of them were drinking some sort of strong drink, with the obvious exception of the vegan straight edge shaman with a moosehorn headcovering. It’s no doubt that the horde of patriots were under the influence, but the influence may have been more nefarious while also more nebulous than inebriation.

Consider the story of Robert Reeder, who is facing charges for entering the Capitol on January 6th along with scores of others. He describes himself as a single dad, a registered Democrat and not a Trump supporter. He’s involved in his church and not particularly politically active. He explained that he came to the event out of curiosity more than anything. Moments later, he finds himself in hand to hand combat with a Capitol Police officer, entering the Capitol building with a crowd of others and later sentenced to 3 months in prison for his actions. If all of your friends stormed the Capitol, would you do that too?

Well. They did.

How Did We Get Here?

To understand how we got here, we have to look at how we got there. And by “there” I mean the place where we find a significant consortium of people believing that a Presidential election was stolen, and our Union is at risk of disintegration because of left wing corruption. People tend to favor the flavor of the month that is presented to them by the leader that they feel aligns with their tribe. It’s called Herd Mentality.

Listen, I like a good Roswell UFO Crash story as much as the next guy. In the 90s, I was a faithful viewer of the X-Files since it’s first episode, and I viewed the reboot in 2016 faster than you can say streaming. The difference is that I don’t take up arms based on something Agent Fox Mulder says when he’s strung out from a long stake out trying to chase down some coverup Deep Throat presided over. I suppose if 75 million of my friends said I was either “with them or against them”, Mulder’s conspiracy theories might get the best of me and get me to take some unwarranted actions against a government appointed official. But Mulder is a fictional character talking about fictional evidence of fictional conspiracies.

In the case of the January 6th attack on the Capitol, the fictional character was also the President. Several of his party compatriots and Fox News allies were critical of the occurrences and Trump's actions before and after it, but it only took a news cycle to shift to a new narrative, minimizing the event and Trump’s role in it, if any.

Liz Cheney Declines To Jump Off a Bridge

So now the January 6th Commission is faced with investigating an historic attack on our Capitol without cooperation from the former President’s tribe.

Democracy is on trial as states pass or introduce laws to rein in access to voting. Instead of defending democracy, they adopt the shock jock antics of their former and likely current leader to get news, and rile up their audiences. Countless elected officials are jumping off a bridge to protect their place in the party.

Liz Cheney on the other hand has declined.

I imagine Dick and Lynne probably said to Liz as a teenager “Liz, If all your friends jumped off a fiscal cliff would you?” It looks like the Cheney family has raised their Congresswoman daughter well. Liz, who serves on the January 6th Commission, says “We can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we cannot be both." She explains that if Trump is not held accountable for his role in January 6th, “that could be the end of our democracy.”

All this while holding to conservative policy values of fiscal policy, gun rights, abortion and so on.

She’s being ostracized for it, removed from her role as Conference Chair and she has been publicly criticized by her party for her criticism of Trump.

It’s not easy to be the first one that points out that the expensive bourbon has no flavor, but it sure makes a difference. Maybe we can stop wasting our time buying something that is no better than a clever label, in exchange for more reasonable options.

I don’t know if Liz Cheney drinks bourbon, or anything at all, but I suspect she is the type of person that just calls it like it is. I expect her to point it out when a bourbon tastes like green peppers and probably isn’t worth drinking unless it’s mixed with something to dilute its power. I don’t think she’d try to sell me a cheap whiskey with an inflated price point. I’d have a blind tasting with her anytime, because I know she’d be honest, respectful and conduct herself with integrity.

For the sake of our Democracy, I sure hope she gets reelected.


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