Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year – and depending on who you talk to, the new year can be called the Year of the Sheep, the Ram, or the Goat. Personally, I’m going for goat.
Sheep and goats have played a significant part in the history of people all over the world. They come into proverbs and religion – separating the sheep from the goats is the one that springs most readily to mind, and highly relevant in these days where governments seem intent on creating division and setting some people to one side as ‘worse’ than others. David Cameron’s recent suggestion that obese people on benefits should have those benefits cut if they ‘refuse’ treatment is just one of a plethora of attempts to create and emphasise division, to cement in peoples minds the idea that some people are better than others, that some are more deserving than others, and so forth.
That, indeed, was how I always understood the idea of ‘separating the sheep from the goats’. The vicar who I first heard tell it was pretty clear: sheep are better than goats. The Lord is My Shepherd, not my Goat Herd. Sheep are cuter and better. They’re obedient and subservient, and they get their reward as a consequence. We should be like sheep, and let ourselves be herded – not like goats, who are ugly, stubborn and disobedient. We even have a word specially for it: capricious. It’s a primarily negative word – to be unpredictable, ungovernable, stubborn, unwilling to follow rules. Unwilling to be ruled. Don’t be a goat, the message seems to go. Be a sheep.
With the Chinese New Year ahead, the political statements are already making the point. Hong Kong’s CY Leung said that citizens had better ‘inherit the traits of the sheep, of being tame and friendly, in the New Year’. That’s how governments would like us to be – indeed that’s how ‘the powerful’ all over would like us to be. Tame and friendly. Obedient. Compliant. Not too much trouble. The increasing moves in the UK towards a more authoritarian approach to the internet are just one example. We’re expected to just accept surveillance – like sheep accepting sheepdogs watching us all the time. We’re expected to embrace ‘porn’ filtering – again, it’s for our own good. Being penned in, like sheep. We’re not supposed to question this. We’re supposed to believe that those set to watch us, those who build the fences that pen us in, have our best interests at heart – rather than wish to shear off our wool, roast us and eat us with mint sauce.
And the evidence that they don’t have our best interests at heart seems to be growing all the time – the tax avoidance and evasion stories are just another example of the same sort of stuff we’ve seen before. One rule for the sheep, another for the dogs, still another for the farmers.
So, in this New Year, I say we shouldn’t accept it. Don’t be a sheep. Be a goat. Be awkward. Challenge what we’re told – and disobey the rules if they’re not right. Don’t be afraid to challenge even the biggest trolls on the bridges. Goats can be more powerful than they seem. I’m not afraid of being less cute than a sheep, less valued than a sheep. I’d rather be ugly and ornery than compliant….
Be more goat.
Thanks to David Spencer (@Honxqp) for the quote from CY Leung.