Have you ever been a part of a crowd that morphs into a mob? Get swept up into the fervor, passion and “group think”, when a collection of individuals is suddenly transformed into one powerful organism?
It can be a scary thing.
On Halloween night in my freshman year at college, I and several thousand costumed revelers (many very inebriated) were packed into the student union building, jammed tight into a space designed for far fewer folks. There were raucous yelps and whoops and screams. I got separated from my friends and at one point was crushed against a wall. Furniture was overturned. Finally I was able to squeeze out a side door and escape. That experience made me never, ever want to be a part of any such mob again, or any big crowd that takes on a life of its own.
What strikes me most about that mob, all mobs, many crowds, is how fast a collection of “I’s” can turn into one big frightening “we”. How in the collective, folks often lose or forget about the ability to think for themselves. How people behave in ways they’d never normally do so, if not for the rabble, and the cover that a crowd can gives folks to act up and act out.
That’s why at sports games I’ll sometimes slip out before the end, to avoid having to jostle along with so many overly boisterous fans. That’s why when I’m in a big crowd, I always scope out the nearest exit, just in case. And that’s why you’ll rarely if ever see me at any political rally, for any cause or any candidate.
We are in the year of the crowd and the mob in our elections and politics in America, more so than at any other time I can remember. On the news and on the net, the story always plays out the same. The anointed political king or queen prepares to stand triumphant before his or her subjects in some cavernous space. The backdrop is a sea of red, white and blue to ensure the secular congregation that their candidate is all wrapped up in the flag. A cliché rock ballad plays as the “messiah” enters. On cue, colorful signs pop up and are waved back and forth by frenzied acolytes. Then a canned opening, almost always the same, with a few tweaks for the locals. “Thank you _________! (Fill in applicable location) It’s great to be here!”
And then inevitably, the red meat that everyone has been waiting for: naming just who is really to blame for all of our nation’s ills. The enemy. “Them”. Make a list. Mexicans, folks with New York values, immigrants, Wall Street, wide eyed liberals, heard hearted conservatives, the rich, big banks, etc., etc., etc. Then the crowd answers back, feverishly chants the candidate’s name or “USA! USA!” like some war cry. Then the cliché endings. “And may God Bless the United States of America!” and/or “And now on to ______!” Cue inspiring exit music. The worst part is we have seven more months of these overblown spectacles to look forward to. Yuck. Count me out.
All of the candidates—every single last one—plays thus to the crowd and sometimes to a mob too, in a dance of contrived political theater. The overwhelming collective emotion expressed at these rallies is anger. Red hot anger, even rage. No one gets a pass this election cycle. We are in the year of p____ed off politics, when so much of the time, self righteous civic energy sets the tone.
Worst of all, there seems to be little or no talk of the common good from the candidates or the voters. No discussions about working or coming together, or seeking common ground, or reaching across the aisle. Instead some days it feels like every thing and every one is “fair” game: race, class, sexual orientation, region, and gender. Red state/blue state. North/south. Religious/secular.
Far too often, the revved up crowd or worse, the mob, rules.
But the truth is that mobs can’t rule, ever, not unless we seek perpetual social chaos. It doesn’t matter if it’s a religion, a nation, a corporation, an institution or any social movement. At some point, for us to live up to the best in ourselves, we need to leave the mob, the crowd. We need join together to form true community. One in which we respectfully listen to “the other”, especially when their ideas differ from our own. A community where compromise is the goal, not just confrontation. A community where we think for ourselves and then seek what is best for “we” and not just “me”. A community where leaders actually lead, with humility, and not just hubris.
Here’s my hope. The mob doesn’t have to rule. In the days leading up to next November 8th, I pray that we can remember this ideal together. “No” to the mob. “Yes” to community.