The Center for Syncretic Studies’ Artura Gal speaks with Indus News Meshal Malik on Mob Behaviour – how governments, groups, and politicians can manipulate these towards desired results.
The French Revolution marked a key moment in history when over 40,000 noblemen and women were guillotined by ‘the mob’ during the so-called Reign of Terror, writes Patricia Casey for the Independent. It wasn’t until the late 1880s that academics began to take an interest in crowd psychology. The father of the genre was the anthropologist Gustave le Bon and his work is still important today although some of his theories have been challenged.
Le Bon believed that a crowd of demonstrators was greater than the sum of the individuals in it; thus it had a “consciousness” of its own. He believed that the individuals became submerged in the crowd and lost their sense of individual responsibility under cover of the anonymity it provided. He further postulated that individuals, having become so immersed, followed the dominant idea or emotion of the crowd unquestioningly, through contagion, Casey’s writing continues.
He believed that in themselves, crowds were a force for danger and that the ideas they generated were primitive. He identified the tactics the crowd manipulators used to spread ideas. Unsurprisingly Hitler and Mussolini drew heavily on Le Bon’s theories but so too did Churchill and Roosevelt, she continued to explain.
Group identity is also an important factor in determining the behaviour of the crowd. If the crowd is bound by some common bond (such as Christians or animal rights activists), then the values of that group will determine crowd action, aided by the leader. Thus a positive or negative mob emerges. A leader can influence the crowd to violence or to peaceful protest; soaring rhetoric, emotion, metaphor, extreme examples and repetition are just some of the oratorial techniques used to instill action into the followers.
When we read claims recently that the water charge demonstrators were being manipulated we may have been sceptical. But mob theorists teach us that a crowd is not some passive organism but an active unit with its own dynamic that is willing and capable of being led in a particular direction. The crowd and the leaders interact to become a powerful unit. And therein lies their danger.