Beware the mob mind or it will consume you, as a flash statement, sounds ominous, right? At the same time, despite the extreme posturing, it does bear some truth that warrants discussion.
Seeing the occasional news shot of angry Trump supporters shouting vitriolic epithets filled with hatred and prejudice can make any peace and love-minded person shudder. Shaking our heads, many of us (considering ourselves immune to the type of mob madness on display on our flat screen TVs) marvel at the blatant loss of constraint, composure, and decency.
A vague sense of superiority fills us, as we think, “look at those people. Poor shmucks, probably don’t even know what the hell they’re angry about, blaming the wrong things, the wrong people, for their problems.”
But I wonder, how slippery is that slope from self-perceived sanity and rationality to outright mob mayhem? I venture to believe the slope is not only very slippery, but also very short and steep, and often times, unrecognized.
I suspect mob mentality is an all-too common phenomenon. That it happens all around us. That it consumes us while we fail to realize we’ve been caught in the snare of a mob mosh pit.
Why? Because we, you, most of us, don’t have the experience of being in, or a part of, an angry mob.
Think about it. Your image of a mob probably approximates the pic at the top of this blog entry, or some reasonable facsimile thereof. You think that to contract mob mind you have to physically be located within a mob. It requires dozens, if not hundreds of bodies around you, all yelling in unison some simple and angry thing they want to tear down. Only then, once there, you’re in a mob, which you can recognize. Knowing this, you can warn yourself, tell yourself not to fall into the mob’s mental frenzy.
Oh, how deceived you have been.
Mob mind doesn’t need a riled up crowd of pitchfork wielding folks determined to burn the monster.
No sir. No ma’am. Mob mind can happen at your work station, at your church pew, or while driving your car. That’s the rub, and that’s the problem.
How in the heck do we know we are falling to mob mind when we are not physically situated within, or in proximity to, a mob? Have you seen the documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad? It’s a good place to start if you’d like to begin to understand how mob mind can seize a human being while he’s alone, sitting in his favorite couch.
I’m not trying to say that right-wing ideas are mob-generating ideas (although much of what passes for right-wing ideas on faux news television does feel like intentional mob-generating dribble). When it comes to creating mob mentality, politics on the left and the right are equal opportunity users, and there’s the real problem.
We like to believe that mob mentality belongs to the “crazies” you make fun of on TV. Truth is, we are all prone to mob mind at any given point. There are those who promote mob mind intentionally because it benefits them, not you. So it will be up to you to defend yourself against mob mind, wherever you spot it.
Mob mind shows up at any point we fail to see nuance. It shows up when we fall for the extreme answer, or the extreme belief, or the extreme prejudice. Mob mind robs us of our ability to see the grey. Mob mind hates the messy complexity of real-life. Instead, mob mind loves to interpret the world in absolutes, in black and white. Mob mind is unable to fully appreciate that life and society embody contradictions. The good and the bad, the black and the white, the down and the up, the left and the right all have their place, all belong.
The power of mob mind is, well, mind-boggling. And it doesn’t corner the market on ignorance, either. Plenty of intellectual, professional, highly trained people, have been prone to mob mind throughout history. Exhibit A is the host of scientists and strategists aiding Hitler in his quest for European domination.
No, you are not immune from mob mind. No one is. But there is a cure. That cure? A never-ending intentionality to stay open to what you don’t understand. To fight mob mind you have to keep an open view to differences of opinion, differences of thought.
You need to have an always vigilant discernment if you are to notice when you begin to utter absolutes. Nothing in the real world exists in absolutes, not even the sub-atomic material that makes up our bodies. Nothing is fixed. Everything is changing, and everything is complex, messy. Mob mind hates messy.
If you find yourself recoiling from the messiness of political participation, social relations, workplace politics, and so forth, chances are you may have already fallen prey to mob mind. Once in that rabbit hole, you are no longer you but some facsimile of yourself. This facsimile spews out the same fixed, extremist, absolute, and rigid things that used to make you cringe. If doing this doesn’t bother you, then you should know you have joined mob mind.