Mob Mentality

There is a phenomenon in which people who normally know and adhere to their values change when in the company of an emotionally charged group. Over the past millennia, I’ve seen it far too often. Call it “peer pressure”, “groupthink”, or “mob mentality”, it doesn’t matter.

Since most people in your time are not scholars of history, I won’t use an obscure example, but one with which most of you are familiar. Nevertheless, the same interaction has recurred time after time–the living do not learn, so it is up to those of us who are gone to explain.

In an ancient land with no BBC, no cable, no wi-fi, a man approaches a village. A murmur passes through the crowd. “This is the ONE that we’ve been waiting for! He is the one!”

The people run together and a crowd forms and welcomes him. “Hail to our hope! Hail to our future! Hail to military victory!”

But it is not Alexander, or Caesar, Hitler, or Stalin. It is an itinerant teacher who has asked for nothing; who has accepted only a place to sleep and a shared meal.

As he approaches, the people line the streets.

“You are what we’ve prayed for! You are the best–Holy, Holy, Holy (holiest, the third order of holy). We wave palms over your head! We lay our cloaks for you to walk over. You are THE one.”

A few days later, in the middle of the night, a kangaroo court is held to condemn the same man to death. The mob, this time, cries “Crucify him.”

Was it the same people?

Think.

 

 

Us, Them, and Me

“I” am powerful. “We” are dangerous.

If someone has an agenda, such as a politician or an actor, the worst way to build a following would be to sit  down, one-on-one with another individual and lay out the idea in a logical format. Why? The listener would examine the proposal, critically evaluate its merits and reach a logical conclusion as to its intellectual merit.

On the other hand, if the proponent presents the idea to a group–the larger the better–inevitably there will be some who agree with it. When these people express their support through cheers or chants, more will pick up the emotion and join in. Eventually, few will be silent.

Unfortunately, one of the easiest emotions to stir up in people is irrational hate.

The same people who had welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, turned up at his illegal overnight kangaroo court with cries of “Crucify Him!”

In America, there has often been the idea, spoken loudly, that, “The only good [Insert group here] is a dead [and here].”

My advice to you is “Never let go of yourself. The individual is better equipped to make decisions than any group.”

In George Orwell’s novel 1984 he spoke of “groupthink,” in which all, or at least most, of the members of a group accept an idea because the group does, not because they have made a conscious and deliberate decision that it is what they believe. There is another term for this–mob mentality.

Perhaps the idea is best expressed in the movie Men in Black: 

Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Everything they’ve ever “known” has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.