Living with the “Madness of Crowds”

Our global culture seems more and more vulnerable to divisions and conflicting emotions and ideals. In the U.S., at least, social media is not contributing to cohesion. Populist nationalism is a global phenomena; conflict in Gaza and insurgency in Afghanistan reflect the passions of crowds.

Professor Doran Hunter, a member of our board and a contributor to our work on ethical principles for government, sent me a reflection on the dynamics of crowd psychology.

At times, I think that an externality of the service provided by social media platforms is the creation of new “crowds,” sometimes called social or political “bubbles.”

Here are Doran’s insights:

A political, religious, social or economic mass movement is led by a leader who mesmerizes and besots a segment of a national population.

Such mass movements exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. Personal impulsiveness (sudden desire to believe what the leader is preaching); personal irritability (annoyed, impatient and angry with anyone who disagrees with the leader of the mass movement).
  2. Incapacity to be reasonable (capable of making only extreme or excessive judgments and incapable of making sound and moderate judgments); being driven by passions that lend themselves to exaggeration – love, hate, disgust, fear, etc.
  3. The unnerving presence of a “devil” that personifies everything the mass movement detests and embodies the reason for the movement to exist and seek victory at all costs.