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“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” ― Bertrand Russell

We are often taken aback by the vehemence with which our friends, associates and acquaintances disagree with our observations, especially while discussing the political motivation of politicians. We are also surprised by their loyal devotion to the politicians who are responsible for the hardships and financial and economic disorder the people of India go through while these politicians escalate and intensify identity issues, or while they divide communities by region, language, class, caste and religion. And it is sometimes difficult to fend off their attack on our integrity with grace when we remark about the politician’s slippery ability to sidestep issues related to ‘rights to knowledge and information’; basic subsistence and wellbeing, i.e. food, education and health’ or, ‘freedom of expression’, or, any plan to protect our ecosystems.

Let’s accept the unpleasant truth. However individualistic and independent minded we think we are, we are influenced since our earliest years to conform; by our education system, by our families and by the society we live in. We have been programmed to absorb and agree with popular opinion; be followers; become members of a team; join the masses; tag along with the group.

Nietzsche often called the common, mediocre masses ‘Herd’. Herd animals lack individual will and live by group instincts. “Herd morality” was his description of the “democratic will to render everyone equal in mediocrity”.

We are nothing but sheep in human clothing. We follow others like sheep do. Herd mentality, or mob mentality, is typically, when people adopt certain behaviour that is influenced by their peers. The flock loses its sense of individuality and becomes part of a group’s mechanism, it follows blindly and does not even realise that it is being led. The general public are conditioned to stop thinking and conform to the behaviour of their social group and follow the rest of the flock or herd. A mob feels sure it is doing the right thing because everyone is doing the same thing. A herd wants to be with its own kind. A mob feels safety in numbers. Nobody wants to feel isolated and alone.

A herd loses its ability to think individually. Individuals find it convenient to follow a political leader who is strong on rhetorical skills and displays confidence in what he is doing. It lets them off the hook from making decisions and arriving at their own conclusions, or assessing a situation, or making judgements and making up their own minds about the path to follow either for their best interest, or, for the greater common good.

And while listening to the words of a dominant and dramatic orator in an electoral democracy they substitute his political cunning for intelligence; his political expediency as cleverness; his politicians’ words and expression as dedication to people; his oppressive political proficiency as firm, decisive assertiveness. They interpret his lies as the truth. And when lies are repeated often enough and drummed into the mobs mind it becomes real. Lies become truth. This is ‘post-truth’.

When people as a mass, or herd, hero-worship and take-as-gospel a leader’s oft repeated words and catchphrases in speeches that are frequently reproduced by the media, then the mass, or the mob, can be led anywhere. Mob mentality takes over; the mob willingly sacrifices its independence and its autonomy and symbolically eats out of the leaders’ hand and feels secure as a constituent of the herd.

“Followers’ motivations fall into two categories—rational and irrational. More influential, much of the time, are the irrational motivations that lie outside the realm of our awareness and, therefore, beyond our ability to control them. For the most part, these motivations arise from the powerful images and emotions in our unconscious that we project onto our relationships with leaders. Freud called the dynamic “transference,” and it was one of his great discoveries.

Employees in the grip of positive transference see their leader as better than she really is—smarter, nicer, more charismatic. They tend to give that person the benefit of the doubt and take on more risk at her request than they otherwise would. And as long as the leader’s reality is not too far from the followers’ idealization—and she doesn’t start to believe in their idealized image of her—this works very well”. Why People Follow the Leader: The Power of Transference by Michael Maccoby – Harvard Business Review – September 2004.

A good speaker with theatrical speech-making skills can condition minds to follow his leadership by simply repeating pithy two word slogans more than three or four times until we repeat them and follow them as truths. This frequent repetition of slogans is called auto-suggestion, conditioning, or programming. And so we allow ourselves to be ‘programmed’, to follow a voice of authority, and we are in fact, glad to follow it. When we become a part of a herd, or a flock, or a mob, we absolve ourselves of responsibilities. We become a collection of ‘unthinking’; we gradually lose our ability to think rationally; we let go of self-determination – easily. This is a strategy followed in advertising too.

“Let’s face it. We live in a command-based system, where we have been programmed since our earliest school years to become followers, not individuals. We have been conditioned to embrace teams, the herd, the masses, popular opinion — and to reject what is different, eccentric or stands alone. We are so programmed that all it takes for any business or authority to condition our minds to follow or buy something is to simply repeat a statement more than three or four times until we repeat it ourselves and follow it as truth or the best trendiest thing.” ~ Suzy Kassem, advertising filmmaker, author, cultural observer, thinker.

Independent minded dissidents who are capable of critical thinking are looked upon with suspicion by the unthinking common people, the herd. And this herd will heatedly reject an independent minded individual who is willing to propose a view that is different from that of the herd and its leader.

“There are two groups of people: Herds and individual clever people. Because herds have numerical superiority, individual clever people remain weak in determining the right fate for the country! The solution: Disperse the herds, augment the individuals!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

Independent thinkers must fortify ourselves against the ferocity of the crowd, shore up our integrity of purpose and steadfastness of belief, expel fear, disregard the herd and reject herd-instinct. And, like independent minded human rights activists, environmentalists, social justice activists, civil liberties and civil rights activists, we must engage with authority and question politicians, government officials, petty public and private office bearers, and other self-important office-holders, and appeal to them to do their best for the country; for the citizens; for the  greater common good. And also to remind them – they are meant to serve us. Not rule us.

Pratap Antony is a Passive activist. Active pacifist freelance thinker and writer. Writes on an array of subjects: ecology and environment, social justice and pluralism, management ideas and issues. Music: western classical, jazz, and Indian classical dance.

2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    It may be more appropriate to call people as ‘ misinformed’ or ‘ uninformed’ rather than ‘ unthinking common people’ because the common people are absorbed in daily work from early morning to late night. Their nature of work makes them ‘ blank’ to political and social developments. That is why activists should meet people on the field and explain the situation painstakingly. If people are made ‘ aware ‘ of the conditions, their ‘ unthinking ‘ minds start to think and participate proactively in social change

  2. Pratap Antony says:

    Yes, duly noted, ‘uninformed’ and ‘misinformed’ are appropriate words. Writers can only create awareness of their conditions and provoke thought through their writing.