Crowd-Delirium

By Steven William
web posted October 1997

How terribly difficult, it seems for many, to tell individuals apart from one another, except in those situations where only a small number interact with one another in real time and in real talk. Certainly, myself in the company of three or four is not much of a concern, since I can still, to some degree, control the conversation and enjoy the presence of those who may share some common interest. I can act, react, relate to, or stand silent in such company, without worry, because there I am, present and ready. But in the midst of three or four hundred, my individual presence becomes taken for granted, my face mistaken for the crowd, even to the point where my individual being and rational is not only discouraged, but outrightly stifled; my individuality degenerates almost to the vanishing point. Such is the nature of a crowd, a collective; individuality becomes problematic. And if I toss in the argument that every crowd is automatically self-exciting, and say if I were to increase the number to three or four thousand, not only is there the absence of individuality, but of common humanity.

Pay attention to a protest or demonstration sometime, on whatever issue, and you will see what I mean. Usually a few speakers will utter slogans and catch-words that are expressly intended to incite anger, outrage, or a general feeling to riot. The mob will react, which is about all it can do, with cheers and hoorahs, ready to do whatever they are told. And this is the point, that wherever a multitude exists, there also happens an intoxication that leaves the individual in a state of heightened suggestibility, in a hypnotic trance, powerless to effect any action that isn't in keeping with the mob, or more precisely, the mob rulers. For it goes without saying that wherever people are gathered, there also exists a governing power; whether it be in the Machiavellian sense, in the Christian sense, for the good of the environment, for the good of collective bargaining, for the celebration of a sports
franchise's latest victory. Notice also, that "good" is a term wielded often in these circumstances. Too often.

"The crowd-delirium can be indulged in, not merely without a bad conscience, but actually, in many cases, with a positive glow of conscious virtue. For, so far from condemning the practice of downward self-transcendence through herd-intoxication, the leaders of church and state have actively encouraged the practice whenever it could be used for the furtherance of their own ends."
-- Aldous Huxley

Here, Mr. Huxley could have well included the leaders of environmental movements, or union movements, as in the case of strikes. The point is, however, that what is happening to the individual, who at one time exhibited signs of reason and free will guided by the light of ethical principles, is a reduction to mere use, what I consider to be the greatest evil imaginable. The mob rulers, those trained and skilled in manipulative techniques, place a restriction on what was a free man who joked and cried and erred and meandered off into tomfooleries, and limit him despite what he may imagine or think, to the fulfilling of an aim outside of his own personal destiny, while making it appear as if he desired it.

Individualism, along with the capacity for free thought, such as taste or discrimination or judgement, becomes impaired where the collective exists. No longer do you decide what is right or wrong, what is truth or false, decisions which properly belong to the personal realm, for others have already decided it for you. "Crowd-delirium" operates much in the same way as other intoxicants, such as drugs or alcohol, the usage of which anyone knows impairs judgement. The difference, however, is, where drugs are still a matter of personal responsibility, crowd-delirium offers no such characteristic. Once in the mob, crowd-delirium secretes automatically, without warning, and if the mob is manipulated well enough, often the secretion goes unnoticed and, regretfully, unchallenged. Crowd-delirium, a nebulous, intoxicating sense of shared excitement, deteriorates the individual to a state of antisocial and irresponsible behavior. It is, to say the least, dehumanizing.




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