Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Crowd

Potemkin Stairs from Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin

Any crowd, even those with the most high-minded of sentiments, runs the risk of being a lynch mob.The crowd mentality is not  constitutionalist. Self-congratulatory anger can easily make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Humans may easily partake of the phenomenon of hive mind. In an article entitled "Making Sense of the Mob Mentality" (NYT, 6/11/22), Benedict Carey cites Gustave Le Bon’s l9th Century work, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind to bear on the insurrection at the capitol. Carey quotes Le Bon thusly, “An agglomeration of men presents new characteristics very different from those composing it. The sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same direction, and their  conscious personality vanishes. A collective mind is formed.” This is not to discountenance or excuse what happens, but it gives an idea of some of the alarm signals that liberal thinkers might look out for even in themselves. Canetti famously wrote Crowds and Power and you've only to recall the Cossack attack in the Odessa Steps Sequence of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), one of the greatest visual embodiments of a stampede that's motivated both by anger and fear. The crowd that tried to interrupt the confirmation of a new president on January 6 was egged on by the President in the self-same way that a lesser nuclear device activates the power of the fusion reaction that sets off a hydrogen bomb.

Read "MAGA and the Coronavirus" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star.

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