Wake up, sheeple!
When we compare people to sheep, we see those people as dumb, docile, and unable to think and see for themselves. This plays into the stereotype that sheep are stupid and cannot be left to their own devices. They are mostly harmless, unless their own stupidity puts people and herding animals like dogs in danger.
This, apparently, is far from the truth. Sheep have impressive memory, recognition abilities, and intelligence. They are also surprisingly social. They can forge friendships, defend their fellow sheep, and feel sad when their friends go to slaughter.
If you think that people are intelligent, companionable, and altruistic, then by all means call them sheeple. However, if you think that people are dumb, helpless, and hopelessly docile, then you'll have to find another animal to compare people to.
Under The Fuzzy Wool Lies Considerable Intellect
Sheep can even do some things better than humans can. According to a 2001 study, sheep can recognize up to 50 different faces for as long as two years. A lot of humans don't remember as many faces for as long. More than that, sheep can also distinguish a smile from a frown. The study found that sheep prefer smiles far more than frowns. This shows that sheep may be capable of emotional responses to external stimuli.
Another study discovered that the sight of their waiting sheep friends propelled sheep to find their way out of a complex maze. Friendship seems to be quite important to sheep populations. Rams have exhibited the ability to maintain long-term friendships with other rams. They even come to the aid of their physically weaker friends in times of conflict. Sheeple don't really do that, do they?
Surprisingly, 8% of sheep are homosexual, and display lifelong preferences for the same sex.
So, sheep are intelligent, have considerable memory, and are quite to loyal to their friends. They can also feel afraid, angry, sad, happy, and even bored.
Thus, when we unfavorably compare other people to sheep, we may actually be paying those people a compliment.
Sheeple is Derogatory, Just Not in the Way We Think
Emotional intelligence aside, sheep are also quite capable of protecting themselves. They are not as helpless as we may think. If you approach their young, you can expect a swift and devastating kick to a sensitive body part. (In the face of making contact with a sheep hoof, any body part is a sensitive body part.) Sheep also don't just mosey about the plains, placidly chewing grass. They can run quite fast and traverse terrains that predators cannot.
Plus, the slit shape of their pupils allow them to see what's behind them without having to turn around.
Sheep get a bad rap from humans who should know better. After all, humans have been around sheep for thousands of years. After all this time, you'd think we'd know sheep better by now. Instead, we've projected the things we dislike about our own species to another species that doesn't deserve it.
So is the term sheeple derogatory? Yes. To sheep, that is.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!