The Mob Psychology

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Honour, it seems to be a forgotten word"

"Honour, it seems to be a forgotten word" (or something to that effect) was the opening line of The Last Samurai. If you have watched the anime Kenshin or watched The Last Samurai, you get a good idea about life in Japan during the mid 1800s. People gave a lot of value to honour - Of course, some were extreme in that, Seppuku being an example.

Many of my friends have gone to the US for higher studies. I still remember them telling me that the US was not very different from India, except that there were lesser people, and the streets were a little cleaner (less dusty). They were vehement, and even said that the US was greatly hyped. But as time passed by, they seem to have changed their opinion, because with time, they have seen several differences.

If you are reading this post, you are most likely educated (I won't merely call you literate) and if you look around, you will notice that the following is true. I don't know if the same is the case with other countries as well, considering I haven't visited any. These are my observations...

People find comfort in numbers: 
In school or college, if I hadn't done my homework, I would be more nervous than when there were a couple of others who were sloppy along with me. Call it Schadenfreude if you must, but it is true. And if the entire class has not done it, you feel powerful, you feel right. You feel you have the strength to challenge anyone. What can they do to us? If we were two or three, maybe we would be mealy-mouthed when the teacher asked us about it; But fifty? We grin! We aren't ashamed, because we outnumber.

When the college security guard used to drive us away from the OAT, we would probably tuck our tails between our legs if we were, say about five in the group. But when we are about 20, we shrug our shoulders. Maybe a couple of them would even enter into a slanging match, while the rest guffawed. We cannot be touched, for we are the mob.

People who are brave in a group are seldom courageous when alone.  A mob is strong as long as the mob is a mob; You see, even in the wild, a pack of wolves can perhaps scare a lone lion or a tiger. But an individual wolf is no match.

We succumb to peer pressure:
Another observation of mine is that, we often succumb to peer pressure. If everyone else is doing it, and I am not, then I must be doing something wrong. We don't wholly analyse if what's being done by others is really relevant to us, or if it is correct. A simple example is - Parking next to a No Parking sign; You see many bikes already parked, so you go ahead and do it as well. But notice, some of them do this despite knowing that it's wrong, which is why they squeeze their vehicle in between, for they know that the ones at the corners are the ones that would get towed first.

We also tend to get easily swayed into "Standard reactions and behaviour" - I mean that we do some things in certain ways only because we have seen others doing it in that way (And not for any other reason) You can call this freedom of expression or call it anything else that you kids like to call it, and I am not saying it is frowned upon. I am merely stating facts. For instance, in ads, weddings are always christian and are portrayed to be romantic. What's the big deal? Someone I know said that she wants to have a christian wedding in a chapel (despite being Hindu and having a Hindu wedding) for the reason that she feels those weddings are romantic. It is because we see christian weddings all the time on American TV shows, we probably even know all the lines and all the preparations that go before, asking someone to be the best man, the maid of honour, etc. Observe it in ads the next time - weddings are mostly christian, unless, of course, it's an ad for jewellery. Candle light protests is something that people feel intuitively as the first thing to be done. Saying the words "Absolutely" and "That said" very emphatically during debates or while reporting news on English news channels. Remembering to be environment conscious during Earth Hour. A lot of these things are said and done, not because it adds value, not because it is symbolic, but because it seems to be an accepted standard. Only because the mob is doing it, and nothing else.

People are afraid of the mob:
While many chided the reporter/journalist who video-recorded the girl being molested by a mob of 30 instead of being a knight in shining armour, only a few realised the true nature of being in a situation like that. Really, ask yourself, if you were outside a pub where there were around 30 rowdy boys pulling a stunt like that while you were alone, would you venture? It's easier said than done. Two of them can hold you while one of them stabs you... You can maybe pick a fight with up to four, but a number like 30 would mean that either you are resorting to bravado or that you are Batman.

Since people are afraid of the mob, and the mob feels that they cannot be touched, the mob can achieve anything - We have seen dangerous repercussions where mobs raid stores, burn other people's vehicles, molest women, rough up policemen, etc. The mob feels it can afford to do it because they believe that the mob is an entity of its own, a faceless entity, that the individual existence of constituent people ceases and that individually they are not responsible for anything that happens.

We tend to go with the flow
I often wonder how it is that students end up drinking and smoking - I remember each and every lesson taught in school; things like "The liver gets damaged from drinking, because alcohol is not a natural food and the liver has to work overtime to break it down... resulting in problems (like cirrhosis)" and also all the harmful effects of smoking, starting from smoker's cough and tartar, all the way to cancer. It is understandable that you continue to do it once you start it, because you are habituated or addicted. But why did you start it in the first place? Ask yourself this question - When you started, did you know the harmful effects? If yes, why did you start? Did you tell yourself or were you told that it's just an experience, and you should always experience things to learn more... I understand you do it for pleasure, maybe some of you are just social drinkers and occasional smokers - But the very idea of doing things like this, per me, is an influenced decision. You most likely did it because most of your friends were doing it. Au contraire, if most of your friends looked at you like a loser for doing it, maybe you wouldn't... Just a hunch.

Who's the mob anyway?
The answer is You! Yes you... Don't say that you are not the mob. The mob is nothing but a group of people, and at some point or another, you form the mob. Don't necessarily picture the mob as a group of irate boors wrecking public property. If you are not the mob, you definitely have the ability to influence people who are part of the mob. The mob is the society. People's mindsets are the way they are because of the nature of society that moulded their behaviour, their parents and teachers, their friends (who are the way they are because of their respective upbringing), the kind of experiences they have had, etc. The experiences result in people becoming what they are. I am sure all of you know the story of Birbal showing Akbar the cat that hated milk. Experiences will alter people's behaviour. Bad experiences make some people stronger, some people cynical, some depressed. We often have the power to influence people around us, and we should strive to send the right message to those who get influenced by us.

Children are considered to be the most impressionable. If you flout rules or behave badly in front of the child, the child naturally will consider it as acceptable, and will emulate it. A good society is formed by raising good children, correcting the mistakes. I mentioned the US in the beginning, because people there apparently follow traffic rules inherently - and here, it's extremely bad. Why? I mentioned honour in the beginning, because if the concept of honour is instilled in a young mind, it will result in honourable people in the society. The fact will always remain, that the mob will always win, but the mob is reckless, haphazard. The mob will suffer if it elects a wrong leader. Then, the mob's victory will be its defeat.

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Abhishek said…
Hehe, nice one! I was wondering where u were headin in between, coz u started with honour, moved on to USA and then to mob! I liked the way u linked it all in the last para!
This post reminds me of a scene from the movie ferrari ki sawaari, in which the dad accidentally jumps the signal, but goes to the next cop and says he would want to pay the fine. When the cop says he need not, if no one saw him.. To which the dad says, his son who was the pillion rider saw it, and so he doesn't his son to teach his son that it is acceptable!
( )

However, I think breakin traffic rules has to do with population India has. For example, I stay in Buffalo now, which is a big city with very less population. U never get to see roadblocks in this city. So, all the motorists r very patient, always yield to pedestrians if we r waiting to cross the road etc etc. However, the couple of times I have been to NYC, which is very densely populated the driving habits r very very different. I did see ppl jumpin signals, no one ever yields to pedestrians and so on. So I guess the high traffic, roadblocks makes one lose his patience and hence the road-rage which leads to flouting traffic rules.

I see u constantly complaining abt how ppl break traffic rules. Goin by the India's population, I dont think things will ever improve.! :)
Haha you are right about my complaints regarding traffic rules. The only reason for me picking traffic rules is that it is the easiest and most commonly seen example. We all know all kinds of rules that are broken though :)

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