Herd Mentality

When I was growing up my elders always offered useful advice such as:  if you lie with dogs you’re going to get fleas; it’s better to let people think you’re ignorant than open your mouth and prove them right; a fool and his money – just saying; actions speak louder than words; idle hands are the devil’s workshop, etc. 

When you’re a kid all that useful information is nothing but a noise and never appreciated until you are older and hopefully wiser. But thank God I did listen to my Mom who repeatedly warned me that people do judge you, right or wrong, and they judge you not for who you are but for those that you surround yourself with.  It was true then and it is true today.

Our desire to be part of the ‘popular crowd’ can and usually does damage our ability to make the right decisions according to an international study led by researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK, Princeton, Sorbonne University and the Institute for Research in Computer Science in France.

Published in the Royal Society journal, Interface, the study showed that individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by people they surround ourselves with rather than rely on their own instinct.

The Salem Witch Trials is one of the earliest examples of herd mentality. Other examples include the California Gold Rush, the Panic of 1893 which gave birth to the populist movement and the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s, where numerous people were convinced that Communists had infiltrated our government and Hollywood.

The herd movement is alive and well today with the Never Trumpsters, Antifa, BLM, etc.  One can never be certain what the latest outrage will be. The drive-by media sides with Trump haters and cop haters;  Hollywood has-beens tweet ugly remarks about Whites, about Trump, about Christians, about Conservatives. 

With the advent of smart phones isolated incidents are compounded, reframed to lies and half-truths that spread like butter on hot toast. Remember Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland?   The BLM movement was born and the “herd” decided that all police officers were racists out to kill blacks.  There were marches and riots in the streets and on July 7, 2016, five police officers were murdered in Dallas. There have been many other assassinations of police officers since then.  All this insanity is the result of herd mentality.

Another research study by scientists at the University of Leeds, Yorkshire, England, discovered why humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals.  According to their study, it takes a minority of just 5% to influence a crowd’s direction and the other 95% jump on board without realizing why. 

When mobs form, they create a powerful influential factor that shapes a character’s or person’s identity.  The desire to join this group or, at the very least, be recognized by the group, is an example of conformity.

Crowds can have numerous effects on our psychology that range from grotesque to the euphoric and everything in between.  The effects that we experience when we  organize into large groups is described by Psychologists as  deindividualization, or the development of a lack of self-awareness which opens the door to all sorts of terrible things, up to and including violence.  The larger the group, the easier it is for us to be lost in the mix and to no longer see ourselves personally as the perpetrators of violence. 

For the past 2000 years, the dominant morality in the West, according to Nietzsche, has been an “anti-natural” morality, which, in his words, turns “against the instincts of life”. Nietzsche foresaw this morality as “the danger of dangers” – a morality in which all individuals, even those with the potential to rise above the mediocre mass, are pressured into becoming “a smaller, almost ridiculous type, a herd animal, something eager to please, sickly, and mediocre.”

According to Nietzsche, “If herd morality becomes too effective in bringing down all that is higher and extraordinary,  nihilism will creep over the world” and as a result, the “values” cherished by the herd will be worshipped “as the supreme values” and “the herd will engulf all of mankind.”  Looking back over 2020 it appears he was on to something!

“When some men fail to accomplish what they desire to do they exclaim angrily, “May the whole world perish!” This repulsive emotion is the pinnacle of envy, whose implication is “If I cannot have something, no one can have anything, no one is to be anything!”  Nietzsche

Source: Herd Mentality Explained by Rick Nauert,  PhD, Psych Central; Herd Mentality: Are we programmed to make bad decisions?, University of Exeter;  Nietzsche and Morality: The Higher Man and The Herd

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