19 May 2008

Some Swarms

We've been theme-blogging about swarms.  Shoals of fish, crowds, swarms of bees, swallows, bats, etc.  We find it difficult to understand how such a large group can seemingly act as one.  What is the connective tissue?

There is a simultaneity sometimes in human affairs.  Scheler identified a community of feeling.  We postulated that certain primitive emotions could generate this sort of mass behavior in people:  fear, hatred, grief—the sorts of pre-verbal emotions that can take us over and cause us to let go of ourselves and act as part of a crowd in an unmediated way.  When are some of the times we find ourselves acting in these ways?

When we attend a musical concert:  whether it's Mozart or Motorhead, Aida or The Star-Spangled Banner, the aesthetic idea is to create an emotional response in the audience.  And for those moments, the crowd is responding emotionally as one.

When mass disasters strike:  we've pointed out how the outpouring of sympathy and offers of aid accompanied the recent events in Myanmar and China, not to mention the recent tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, etc.

When we go to war:  the nation must be sold on the necessity of the war for its own interests.  It must march as one.  Nationalism, tribalism, etc. are powerful forces related to fear, hatred of the other, and love for those who are in our own group.

When we attend religious services:  the liturgy is designed for the sole purpose of uniting us in a religious feeling.  The sense of security which a benevolent deity gives us cows us into a feeling of submission, self-abnegation, gratitude, reverence.

When we attend sporting events (and to a lesser extent watch them on television):  each of us is moved by the fate of our home team.  Joy, sorrow, hatred of the other, love of our group.

At these moments, we make the decision to forego our individuality and relinquish our identity; to become a member of the crowd.  Other times, we are swept up in the crowd without our conscious choice:  for example, when we become the victims of some disaster such as an oncoming tidal wave or volcano or hurricane or invasion or other atrocity.  There are, I'm sure, others mostly related to fear.

Then there are events, such as riots and mobs, which are less clear-cut.  Economic panics or bubbles, for example, which seem to overpower the participants and take on a life of their own.

Can you think of others?

No comments: