Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why Are We Afraid of Mobs?

There is a fascinating article in the February 28th issue of The Economist. The article describes a research project by Lancaster university social psychologist Mark Levine.

Levine is trying to understand how a crowd may effect whether or not situations become violent. His research has shown that larger crowds actually may decrease the chance of violence. Apparently, the larger the crowd, the more people may intervene to keep the peace.

The article goes on to say

His work could have practical consequences, since police generally aim to break crowds up. If he is right, that approach may unintentionally lead to more fights. It sounds counter-intuitive, but many of the best ideas are.
But is it "counter-intuitive"? Why do we assume that more people means more danger? And why do we assume that the police tactics are meant to decrease violence?

The real issue here is control. When police break up a large group of people it is not about preventing violence, it is about crowd control. Police methods for crowd control are often incredibly violent.

The worst atrocities are not those committed by unruly crowds, but those committed by organized, authoritarian structures. Nazis did what they did under the full force and protection of the law and of German authority, not in a disorganized frenzy.

According to the etymology dictionary, the word mob is "slang shortening of mobile, mobility 'common people, populace, rabble.'" One of the meanings for mob is still just a group of people, but we most often use it to mean a group that is out of control or violent - a product of certain people associating all of us "common people" with scary chaos.

So who do you trust, your fellow rabble or the people who want to control you?

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Daemon said...

Is "neither" a valid option? :)

Melanie said...

I think probably yes