The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Celebrating The Crowd At CPAC, ii
General Characteristics of Crowds

Posted on | February 9, 2012 | 4 Comments

by Smitty

Le Bon, emphasis original:

The sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take on the same direction, and their conscious personality vanishes. A collective mind is formed, doubtless transitory, but presenting clearly defined characteristics. The gathering has thus become what, in the absence of a better expression, I will call an organized crowd, or, if the term is considered preferable, a psychological crowd. It forms a single being, and is subjected to the law of the mental unity of crowds. (LeBon, 43-44)

So, four experiences I’ve had being in large groups of people:

  • CPAC/Tea Party gatherings, i.e. political outings with a largely self-selecting contingent of people.
  • Rock concerts, with self-selecting fans.
  • Military gatherings, with volunteers in uniforms.
  • Religious services, where the presence of the Almighty is known among self-selecting worshippers.

I think that Le Bon must mean spontaneous, large gatherings of people not united much above the language level. Flash mobs, but without the preparation. Like the wad of people at the L’Enfant Plaza metro on 9/11.  I was there. But even then, I’m uncomftable with this ‘collective mind’ concept. It follows from the rock concert experience noted above that, in a large group of people, rationality can be repressed. Think of a crowded elevator or bar. There is plenty of room for discomfort short of a full-on attack of claustrophobia. You’re operating a little lower on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. More and varied smells are happening. You wouldn’t, say, compose a reflective blog post there. People are behaving more instinctively. I get that.

What is worrisome is Le Bon’s notion of a ‘collective mind’. Sure, you can have a flock of sheep, but where is the flockness kept? The notion of the flock is in the mind of the observer; the sheep are never more than a bunch of sheep in close proximity. Thus, much of modern political speechifying consists of talking heads engaging in wishful, projective thinking with bumper sticker ideas, as they pander to the crowd instead of edifying.


4 Responses to “Celebrating The Crowd At CPAC, ii
General Characteristics of Crowds”

  1. Anonymous
    February 9th, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

    How dare you insinuate Bill ‘Garden Gnome’ Maher’s  cable audience as flocking sheep! They’re clearly clapping seals.

  2. William Quick
    February 9th, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

    If you haven’t already, check out “The Madness of Crowds.”

  3. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 10th, 2012 @ 2:43 am

    I am glad I can live vicariously through you.  You look like you are having a lot of fun at CPAC.  

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    February 11th, 2012 @ 9:14 am

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