“The mark of a true democracy is a perfect toleration of all opinions,” said le Gustave LeBon.
What occurred in Vermont was further evidence of the corrupt nature of a crowd. In this case, a crowd of students from a liberal arts college was the major actor that attacked a guest speaker, injured a teacher, and its flaws should be examined.
Multitudes are dangerous. The frenzied passions of a multitude can sweep away the scruples of the individuals in it because crowds are full of unconscious and intolerant elements. Crowds obliterate the differences between the collective and the individual. Common passions and sentiments, if provoked, are enough to form a crowd. An individual can lose his integrity when he gets submerged in a multitude. The individual voice means little to the members of a crowd. If a member of a crowd doesn’t endorse what the crowd endorses, the dissenting opinion of the individual has little weight. It’s like trying to listen to the song a bird during an avalanche. You simply can’t hear it. In a crowd, the solitary voice is useless.
It is a sad truth that the mood of a crowd is both dictatorial and unstable. Its animosities are contagious. They spread through its members like a virus. To become a member of a crowd, a person has to give up a portion of his or her own idiosyncratic personality, its self-ownership, in order to belong to an ignorant collective, a multitude armed with false certitudes. The motive that often drives a crowd is a desire for self-glorification, to have your views be found superior to rival ones. They see rivals as low, gross and brutal.
The crowd is always right. Crowds are obvious, impatient, irrational, they believe in their righteousness. Because they think they are without flaw, a crowd will vilify opponents using undermining hearsay and unsound evidence. Certainty of a crowd is able to shut up any opposition. Thanks to the emotional conformity of a crowd, the avenues that act to question or reassess or compare are sealed shut. To be a member of a crowd demands that you give up a big piece of your self-ownership – your own emotional and intellectual independence.
To shout someone down may give you the complacency you’re your views are the only ones that matter. But power in a crowd comes from knowing that you think just like everyone else in your group. Crowds think in unison, yet crowds are fickle. What the crowd cries up, the crowd will soon cry down. It is merely a matter of time. But for a moment, the crowd is invincible.
Unfortunately, that sense of self-satisfied complacency derived from the belief that you are always right works to rot the soul over time. It weakens the power of your mind and weakens the powers of detached and objective judgment. In a crowd, complacency is a sinister quality.
Another thing. Crowds are always illogical and aggressive. Reason seeks balance, but crowd demands unanimity of belief and feelings. Because of this, crowds are quick to take offense. Crowds are emotionally headlong. In any public discussion, there will always be some points on which the author and the crowd agree, even if only on minor matters, but a crowd will overlook them. Crowds are also touchy. If proved wrong on any point, the crowd can turn into a lynch mob. I went to school in St. Louis and one of my teachers told me of how he walked alone one night when he heard a huge din up ahead. A crowd was about to hang a man (for what I offense I don’t recall,) but the teacher, who was a levelheaded, honest man suddenly found himself chanting, “Hang him! Hang him! Hang him!” and afterward, he found himself utterly bewildered by his conduct. Such is the power of a crowd.
Crowds get their views from their leaders. How to lead a crowd? Be a speaker who excites, a speaker who appeals to national vanity and national/regional grievances; or calls for reform. The leader of a crowd is rarely a person of high character and great attainments, but it would be a drastic mistake to think that he or she has no talents. From talking to Gen. Galland, the Nazi who headed the Luftwaffe’s air defenses during WW II, I learned that Hitler had a photographic memory but lacked a sound sense of strategy. He had an appetite e for “gigantic follies. During the last year of the war, the Germans had just produced the first jet fighter in history, the ME-262, which was faster then the American P-51, but it could only stay in the air for six minutes. Hitler and Galland had a screaming fight in which Galland refuting Hitler’s notion of turning the ME-262 into a dive bomber which would have lessened its time in the air and which would have sapped its maneuverability.
But Hitler was also a mesmerizing speaker. Of course, he was full of Nazi platitudes and was often disastrously wrong, and when he was wrong, he was wrong at the top of his voice. The public adored him. What the public didn’t see was that this man who preached “unshakable resolve” often hesitated or misjudged a situation at key moments, reversing himself, then reversing himself again, then reversing himself yet again while hundred thousands of his troops were sent one way, then sent another way, Hitler had no feelings for his troops. He saw them as tools. He lacked the imagination that could picture or feel the wear and exhaustion, the casualties, the crippling illnesses that resulted from his troops following Hitler’s orders. On night, Hitler was dining in his rosewood dining railroad car when another car pulled up opposite him. The latter was full of badly wounded and emaciated troops from Stalingrad. What did Hitler do? He reached over and pulled down the window shade.
In sum, Hitler had a biological view of life – the individual was merely a tool –what mattered was the species. If a man died, you could always get another.
(Remember, Hitler was a human being like us.)
But to return.
It pays to remember that the leader of a crowd is the Voice of the Commonplace. That is the key to his or her popularity. The leader shares the prejudices of his followers but he still retains talents that allow him to articulate their views better than they can. A leader of a crowd has to have emotional and literary powers that exceed those of his listeners. A leader of a crowd has to be a person of great emotive power. This will get people to believe him, even swear by his words, because his makeup is similar to his followers.
A member of a crowd brings little capacity for analysis to his group. Comparison is a chief method for determining whether one topic is better than another. Comparison weighs disparate things, and then makes a disinterested judgment about which is better and which is worse. If you listen to the music of DeBussy along with the music of Ravel, your decision comes pretty quickly. Listen to Handel alongside Beethoven or read Milton alongside Homer or compare Tolstoy with Jane Austen and the difference is clear.
Entertaining a feeling of being superior to others may seem comforting to the half-baked, but any superiority has to be tested by dispassionate judges, people whose judgments are objective and exact.
Thus a crowd harbors a degree of uneasiness and suspicion when it comes to assessing opponents. Crowds are full of innate vanity and dishonesty, and its members often believes that they can preside over matters which the crowd is incompetent to judge. If a crowd tries, it will soon find that it’s out of its depth, and its vanity will suffer a thousand stings. Not only will a crowd be wrong in what it despises, but if you are a leader, like Hitler, you will be wrong at the top of your vice. Dictators do not like their intellectual powers to be compared, or be intelligently graded. It is a supreme vice of the uneducated to believe that their talents are supreme in everything. Said a great historian who died at Auschwitz, "…were the wise man, through freer and ampler judgment, finds a deeper sense in things of life, the fool in his freedom finds only a license for greater nonsense.” All crowds have a hatred of genuine merit.
Turning to Hunches and “Feelings”
We are all emotional beings. None of us escapes that. But our feelings are like gunpowder. They are unstable and any abrupt jar can cause them to explode. We all have minds that are full of uncorrected mental errors and defects in personality and our political views reflect that. But what makes such errors worse is that errors of logic that gain strength by being incessantly repeated by others who are just as misinformed as they are. A crowd is a very simple animal. Its members think in a herd. A herd always conceives itself as infallible. It won’t bear correction, it doesn’t tolerate a different view, and all ideas that differ from it are branded evil. Of course, Evil must be attacked, rather than overcoming it with Good. So the critical and moral sense of a crowd rests at a very low level. It wants to hear what it already believes and the great number of people in a crowd re quick to go on the war path. Anyone who stands in heir path is a heretic, a devil, a case of heartless scum. If they were not base and degraded, they would believe what the rest believe, and if theyr resist the accepted, the common and obvious truth, they deserve whatever happens to them.
There is a cowardice that sits at the base of false confidence of a crowd. To shout something down, betrays a lack of certainty in the value and truthfulness of your own beliefs and the soundness of your own knowledge. If you were analytical and severe in developing your own beliefs, you would accept the tests required to determine their value and accuracy. You would recognize areas where your knowledge is flimsy and set to work to read and think in order to shore them up. Demagogues don’t do that because they don’t really understanding the basis of what they believe. They blind themselves. One of the marks of a mature mind is that it is not afraid of what it doesn’t know. It wants to learn, not shy away from what would improve it.
Most people’s beliefs on matters come ready made. They are right off the rack; they are hand me downs. They come from the people around them, their parents, teachers and pastors, and most spend little time clarifying what they think and how they came to believe what they do. To say, “I think so,” means simply that you don’t know so.
As we saw in Vermont, intolerance is based on fear. If you hear something you don’t like, you are sized by vivid alarm. Who is this person? If they are saying things you don’t like or which you are unfamiliar? Such a person is a danger, a menace and he has to be stopped. Yet in life, you learn a lot more when you listen to your opponents rather mug them. Ignorant people get enraged when they hear something they don’t like because they are prisoners of prejudice, and prejudice is always based on ignorance. Ignorance takes away the weapons that might aid the understanding. Ignorance kills the ability to reason and analyze.
In a democracy, the ruling idea is equality, not liberty. All people have equal rights to choose those things that improve their mind and its reach. In politics, the major error is the assumption that all views have equal merits. But this view ignores the huge inequalities bestowed on us by nature. There are people who are more beautiful, graceful, striking and brighter than we are. There are people whose intellectual gifts make us feel small and inadequate. There are talents whose excellence dwarfs us. It is humilatioing but it is true.
But a crowed ignores such differences. A crowd thinks that hundreds of views lifted in error are still right in their conclusions. They deduce the correctness of the opinion from the volume of noise it produces. To defy such power is fatal, they think. To them, volume is key – it sweeps everything before it.
But 500, 00 voices endorsing the same error of act remain in error.
America is a civilization whose people are gradually losing the ability to reflect. Instead, we turn to our “intuition” our hunches and surmises or feelings. One of Hitler’s generals described him as “a man of many brain waves,” but he neglected to state that most of them led to disaster. As our distracted and continually interrupted mental life narrows, the more we are addicts of Talk Radio or the banalities of TV news, the more we will be a nation whose people will be marching at the forefront of every backward movement. As a result we will see more and more people who lack the capacity to be skeptical about what they hear.
It is not God who speaks through Talk Radio. Its purpose is the endless repeat the mistaken statements in the service of a political agenda. The liberals had for MSNBC while many head for Fox News, yet neither seem to fully know what they are talking about. You are likely not to hear any sort of factual truth coming from either. They are prisoners of the moment. Their intellects are increasingly myopic. In short, what I see is a crowing and widespread disregard for the truth.
What does reflection require? We are all surrounded by impressions, visual or auditory impressions. Our mind is swamped by them. In fact, the advance of technology has basically undermined the individual’s ability to stay still for a minute in order to take stock of his impressions. We have lost the ability to prioritize, to rank them in order of importance, significance and validity and throw out the ones that don't measure up to any standards of dispassionate analysis.
Every mind has its inborn biases because every mind likes to think itself brilliant and always in the right, but the truth is that we are all victims of its own insufficiencies. It is reason and conscience that compel us pause to analyze what we hear and what we think. We all have grievous faults. We are not equal in our endowments of our temperaments. Some are minds have a broader gauge than others. Some minds are incisive; see clearly a point of fact and the consequences of understanding it correctly. But many lack the imperatives of conscience when they hear information. They applaud what feeds their unthinking biases, their own assumption of superiority and they savage what ever points out their flaws of understanding.
Some of the topics being discussed today are so complex, so complicated, so difficult to grasp that we should approach them humbly. First of all, avoid the immediate response that instantly pops out like bread from a toaster. The immediate response of reaction is not an argument; it is a trigger, something that impudently endorses whatever commonplaces you carry around in your head. In thoughtful people, their minds wrestle like Jacob with the Angel, because, in the words of John Dewey a mind that reflects is in “a state of perplexity, hesitation, doubt; and the search or investigation directed toward bringing to light further facts which serve to corroborate or to nullify the suggested belief.” So each of us, in order to think have to go struggles and hesitations and set backs and humiliating rebuffs until at last the mind feels that satisfaction of thinking a thing through. Thinking for many is a solitary torture.
Universal education and modern publicity are righting a war to the death in the fabric of our civilization. There is little doubt as to which is winning. Technology is not only transforming our lives, it encourages all kinds of activities that dull the train.
We must admit the merits of what things that don’t appeal to us personally. In high school, I had a faculty member who directed the school’s chorus and soloists each Christmas. I was a bass/baritone a member of the chorus, and he one day, with an expert eye, he detailed the beauties of Handel’s Messiah. Afterwards, I was congratulated him on his brilliant exegesis, and he replied he was grateful for my praise, but at heart he felt that The Messiah was far from being Handel’s masterpiece. He thought Israel in Egypt and his operas were works of the first rank.
How many people today have either the knowledge the spiritual generosity or to highlight the excellences of something they don’t personally like. Today, I would guess they are few, if any.
Today being “superior” is an ideal that has degenerated into naked, ignorant, prejudiced self-assertion. I saw a TV show recently I saw a Trump supporter who was a bearded and whose teeth were in disrepair. He asserted that Michelle Obama, our former first lady, was a “she-male,” Such things make you shake your head.