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close up of woman holding a hamster

I’ve spent the last six weeks researching  arctic rodents, the lemmings, on a mission to try to understand why these little critters have been so maligned and slandered and what provoked our human fascination with them.

Lemmings actually live in the human consciousness today. Most of us have a fascination with an obscure arctic rodent we will likely never encounter and we have some very powerful biases against them. For example nobody is ever going to name their team, “The Lemmings.”

We’ll call it the “grand lemming conspiracy” and it is a conspiracy indeed! So lemmings in literary circles are these mindless drones, these blind and suicidal rodents that will follow anyone right off the edge of a cliff! This is a genuine  conspiracy reality because not only is it a false perception, the science behind it was totally rigged. I kid you not, somebody actually chased down, herded, and spooked a bunch of lemmings until they jumped off a cliff into a river and drowned.

And this is how you use Science, registered trademark, to confirm your own biases. Obviously we now have cross referenced, factual, observable science that clearly proves, lemmings are totally suicidal, mindless followers. Don’t be  a lemming.

I have yet to discover a motive for this deception. A crime must have a motive and a crime was clearly committed against the lemmings, a mass genocide really.  Why in the world would anyone want to kill a bunch of lemmings just to try and prove that they are suicidal? I suppose it doesn’t really matter because the damage has now been done and the facts be darned.

I mean, I could link you to multiple sources of irrefutable, observable, science, that clearly demonstrate lemmings are really radical, individualistic critters with a powerful survivalist instinct, but nobody is going to believe me. It is now settled in our minds that a lemming is an instinctively suicidal rodent, a blind follower of the herd whose sole purpose in the world is to plunge itself off a cliff and drown.

This notion doesn’t even make sense in a evolutionary or a biological context, but it doesn’t have to, we’re dealing with human beings here. Being people, we tend to put our faith  in dozens of literary references, decades of cultural analogies, and whatever crazy evo/psych theory catches our fancy. Observable reality is not anywhere in the equation, and sadly neither is rational thought. We much prefer our own rhetoric.

Lemmings will forever be known as suicidal, blind followers of the herd.


The real tragedy (or perhaps the real comedy) in all this is that WE are the lemmings. Yep, lemmings are a complete projection, a caricature of our own worst fears and nightmares about ourselves. We have totally remade a tiny little arctic rodent into our own image, into our own fears, rather than just carefully observing theirs.

I have no real investment in this issue, no deep and abiding affection for lemmings, and really no reason to defend them at all, beyond the fact that the caricature and analogy of the lemmings is often used to scare humans who sometimes act like small arctic rodents being herded off a cliff to their death.

No real moral to this story beyond, don’t believe everything you think.