We, The Black Sheep
A Declaration of Individuality
“For the greater good.”
“Do your part.”
“Think of others.”
“Don’t be selfish.”
Subtle and sweet-sounding, these mantras are the tools of a conformist culture that subdues individuals who threaten the collective. We saw what hides under such sugarcoating during the pandemic, when running your small business was called selfish, and contradicting the media was called spreading misinformation. Within less than a year, suspecting the coronavirus originated from a coronavirus research lab near the outbreak center went from “misinformation” to mainstream news. Still pending: the acknowledgment of this failure, and of those who were right.
The pandemic fundamentally changed our culture; while many people conformed to every narrative pushed on them, others found their spines and drew a line in the sand.
Some of us realized we’d rather face the backlash from going our own way to pursue what’s true than follow the popular path off a cliff.
Maybe instead of the pandemic, you felt your mind twist into knots watching the “mostly peaceful” BLM movement in 2020 claim to fight for equality while it devolved into death and destruction–outcomes that fell the hardest on those the movement was claiming to uplift. Or maybe your break with conformity happened even earlier; maybe you caught society’s so-called thought leaders in one too many lies, from WMDs in Iraq, to the “justice” in Waco, or the Gulf of Tonkin.
For others yet, the sense that something was off between you and the world around you first hit closer to home. Maybe the feeling first gripped you as you stood among your family, friends, or religious community with a truth they didn’t want to hear, and you felt a gap between them and yourself that hovered like a fence—not impenetrable, but palpably separate. Maybe you felt the rift even earlier, between you and your family as a child, capable of knowing nothing more than that you wanted something different from what you saw around you.
Conflict is inseparable from life. We’re in tension with ourselves and the ideals we strive for but fall short of; we’re in tension with our need for connection and our fear of suffering; our society is in tension with the pursuit of freedom and the desire for domination. And everywhere there are people, the individual is in tension with the group. Where you land on this spectrum between individuality and group identity determines the role you play in society.
When it becomes acceptable to sacrifice the individual for the good of the group, we lose the balance that keeps our society cohesive but evolving.
The human ability to cohesively cooperate is what allows us to build massive, complex societies. But individual insight is what evolves the design for what we’re building. As our culture has become more conformist and less tolerant of individuality, we’ve begun watching long-respected institutions devolve, from universities “protecting” students from ideas to doctors disparaging their colleagues for questioning lockdowns and vaccine mandates. The balance between the group and the individual is what keeps our society functional, but this balance can’t be achieved when puppet masters dictate truth.
People have appeared throughout history, like shooting stars in the darkest skies, to stand alone and shine light on a new path. These individuals might look lost, troubled, or malicious to the groups they arose in, but they are the black sheep—the rare individuals with the insight and willingness to stand apart from the herd and offer contrast in a sea of conformity. It’s the black sheep who often brings new discoveries, ideas, and strategies to the group. When a group respects the individual as a crucial part of itself, there’s room for the black sheep to bring attention to what others often miss.
But as we’ve seen in our time, if a group doesn’t respect the individual, it hates the black sheep. These are the groups that can’t evolve and leave destruction in their wake as they fight off all criticism by attacking anyone who levies it.
The black sheep is a necessary figure. But much like a phoenix, the black sheep’s gift is also its burden. Black sheep tolerate social scorn more easily than a bitten tongue and have a sixth sense for what’s not being seen or said. They ask for something crucial that humans naturally fear: change. When you’re willing to challenge a group if it stops growing, your membership is often fragile. By their nature, black sheep tread the solitary path of herd animals with no herd.
We’ve seen the story of the black sheep play out thousands of times throughout history; John Locke; Socrates; Jesus. No matter what the culture, time, or context, there are people whose loyalty is stronger to truth than tradition and to creativity than conformity. Whether they change the smallest collective of the family or the largest of society, black sheep are necessary for a group’s survival because they prevent the stagnation of a group that only pursues self-preservation.
The group which can’t tolerate a black sheep is exactly the group that most needs one.
If we want our communities to thrive, they must recognize the role black sheep play. Yet today, the natural instinct for skepticism and contrarianism that defines black sheep is demonized more than ever. Activists for critical social justice eat their own, harassing and exiling anyone who disagrees with the efficacy of their philosophy in even minor ways. The legacy media decries and denigrates the alternative media while the political establishment overtly mocks and sabotages outsider candidates. Even basic differences of opinion have led to the dissolution of families.
But the black sheep no longer has to live as lonely a life as they once did. In the age of the internet, we can form our own tribe. When our collectives are increasingly dysfunctional and oppressive, we can no longer rely on individual black sheep to challenge the status quo—we need new collectives too.
In the new collective, black sheep can come together under their shared ideals of individuality, free speech, curiosity, and growth. In the new collective, your group membership doesn’t depend on your capacity to suppress who you are. The qualities that make you a threat to dysfunctional groups are the qualities that make you a valuable member here.
Welcome to a herd for the herd-less, a collective that thrives when its individuals do.
Welcome to The Black Sheep.
The Black Sheep is a publication for those who see the dysfunction in our society and don’t fear walking a solitary path. We will tell the stories of black sheep both past and present to inspire the pursuit of curiosity, and publish videos and essays spanning subjects from history, psychology, to art and more.
Read our about page to learn more and subscribe to join the herd for the herd-less.