What’s the word for people who act mindlessly, accepting and following the routine they have been told to follow by either society or government or something?
Though such specimens are actually members of the genus Homo and the species domesticus, this ubiquitous biped is often referred to, figuratively and derogatively, as a sheep (to the consternation of many even-toed ungulates). Note: political activists, ironically, refer to such as citizens. ;-)
The race of man, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity.–--Carl Clinton Van Doren
sheep noun, often attributive:
1: any of various hollow-horned typically gregarious ruminant mammals (genus Ovis) related to the goats but stockier and lacking a beard in the male; specifically: one (O. aries) long domesticated especially for its flesh and wool**
2a: a timid defenseless creature
2b: a timid docile person; especially: one easily influenced or led (Merriam-Webster online)
sheep (noun) ruminant mammal, Old English sceap, scep, from West Germanic skæpan (cognates: Old Saxon scap, Old Frisian skep, Middle Low German schap, Middle Dutch scaep, Dutch schaap, Old High German scaf, German Schaf), of unknown origin. Not found in Scandinavian (Danish has faar for "sheep") or Gothic (which uses lamb), and with no known cognates outside Germanic. The more usual Indo-European word for the animal is represented in English by ewe.
The plural form was leveled with the singular in Old English, but Old Northumbrian had a plural scipo. Used since Old English as a type of timidity and figuratively of those under the guidance of God. The meaning "stupid, timid person" is attested from 1540s. The image of the wolf in sheep's clothing was in Old English (from Matt. vii:15); that of separating the sheep from the goats is from Matt. xxv:33. To count sheep in a bid to induce sleep is recorded from 1854 but seems not to have been commonly written about until 1870s. It might simply be a type of a tedious activity, but an account of shepherd life from Australia from 1849 ["Sidney's Emigrant's Journal"] describes the night-shepherd ("hut-keeper") taking a count of the sheep regularly at the end of his shift to protect against being answerable for any animals later lost or killed.
Sheep's eyes "loving looks" is attested from 1520s (compare West Frisian skiepseach, Dutch schaapsoog, German Schafsauge). A sheep-biter was "a dog that worries sheep" (1540s); "a mutton-monger" (1590s); and "a whore-monger" (1610s, i.e. one who "chases mutton"); hence Shakespeare's sheep-biting "thieving, sneaky."
1: a mechanism that is relatively self-operating
2: a machine or control mechanism designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations or respond to encoded instructions
3: an individual who acts in a mechanical fashion (Merriam-Webster online)
a mindless worker/sales person at stores. Generally refers to an employee of a large company, ideally a grocery store.
I'm sure there are many words that apply but the first one that springs to my mind is this one:
Conformist , n. One who conforms or complies; appropriately, one who complies with the worship of the church of England or of the established church, as distinguished from a dissenter, or nonconformist.
Do not mind the religious association, since many English words have those and Webster's dictionary simply tends to just make them more obvious. For reference, in this particular context conform means:
To comply with or yield to; to live or act according to; as, to conform to the fashion or to custom.
To comply with; to obey; as, to conform to the laws of the state.
I am hesitant to suggest it since, in its proper form, calling a person a "conformist" does not tell us much more than that a person is conformant (dictionary.com) and in Webster's words, appropriate is virtually the opposite signification of mindless. In a purely lexical sense, somebody may have good reasons for their conformity, which can make the orders, customs, creeds, traditions or laws very conformable, in the specific sense of their agreeableness. Conform can also mean to make alike generally but especially in terms shape.
However, considering most members of any society or group are conformist to at least some degree and the mere mention of a word implies a reason for it. In more recent and critical times, the most usual one is that the conformity referred to is in lack of a good reason or even despite deleterious effects. Indeed, according to The Free Dictionary by Farlex, the fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language describes conformists as being "habitual" or "uncritical" (as well as dropping the religious connotation). On the same page, the 2010 edition of the Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary adds "unquestioningly" to the list of categorically thoughtless traits a conformist may exhibit. You will sometimes hear a phrase like "Don't be such a conformist!", when somebody wants you to do something unusual, especially if it is troublesome.
With varying degrees of accuracy, might also call such a person a slave:
- A person who is wholly subject to the will of another; one who has no will of his own, but whose person and services are wholly under the control of another.
a. Of or pertaining to slaves; such as becomes or befits a slave; servile; excessively laborious; as, a slavish life; a slavish dependance on the great. -- Slav"ishly, adv. -- Slav"ishness, n.
Usually the emphasis upon this word regards the degree of control and obligation, most often under duress, to perform services. Still, it is used this way in a more figurative sense. George Washington famously used this word in his General Orders of July 2 1776 to describe how he wanted the American army to differ from the British one, like this:
“Let us, therefore, animate and encourage each other, and shew the whole world that a free man, contending for liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth."
If there is anybody who ever lived that knows quite what a slave is like, except maybe a slave, it would likely be George Washington. He had over 300 of them at his estate on Mount Vernon, mostly inherited, which he freed in his last will and testament. It should be noted that he was no hypocrite in this this matter, since he allegedly argued against the use of African-American slaves in the war effort in his General Orders of Dec. 30th 1775, publicly because he knew their performance would have been lacking but also privately because of the pangs of his guilty conscious, which is another subject altogether.
There are various figurative ways of describing such a person as well as I'm sure the others will and have been demonstrating.
The one I like most, at least for now, is "Mechanical" describing somebody as being like a machine machine. Machines as we know them today are automatic; presumably unfeeling; indifferent to the purpose of their operations and often, albeit not always, feel very cold due to the highly conductive metals often used in their construction. That potential coldness plays nicely into emotional coldness. I am somewhat surprised that more dictionaries do not reference this meaning, since it is a common analogy, although Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged (1991-2003) does on as shown by The Free Dictionary by Farlex.
Except where otherwise noted, all referenced definitions are from Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.
Zombie: a person whose behavior or responses are wooden, listless, or seemingly rote; automaton.
Some refer to such people as cattle. Like many domesticated livestock, dairy and beef cattle are generally docile and complacent.
I prefer cattle in particular (vs. sheep, for example) because cows are also used in metaphor to describe laziness, fatness, and slowness, being very complacent to stand or slowly walk around a small enclosure or pasture, chewing and regurgitating grass for their entire lives.
Cattle are also often corraled, i.e. guided by cattle farmers through mazeworks for purposes of organization and processing (e.g. for administration of medication, medical examination, horn removal, tagging/branding, etc.).
Finally, and most poignantly, cattle are often raised to be slaughtered and consumed. Their whole environment, from the pasture to the corral to their stall at the slaughterhouse, is designed to not only lull the cow into complacency but also to fatten them so they yield more profit for the farmer. Too similarly, people who are complacent with a repetitive routine in the doldrums are being farmed by their employers and even to some extent society in general, their complacency assuring consistent production of profit often at the expense of the person's very health and longevity.
From the time they grow up at school (the pasture) to the career-building process (the corral) to the cubicle (the stall at the slaughterhouse), the whole lifestyle of those hanging on a rung of the corporate ladder is a bit too easy to parallelize to that of cud-munching moobags (cows).
jobsworth: an official who upholds petty rules even at the expense of humanity or common sense.