Saturday, December 22, 2012

Power of the Mob

Disclaimer: The intention of the author is not to target any particular group or community. In fact, the intention is to bring to surface the underlying currents that draw us into constant conflict situations with one another. The ideas expressed would hold true if you lay the same context with any two different groups.

It's always easy to rationalize behavious patterns in isolation. And, even easier to blame it on the other person/group/community. We absolutely love to believe that if it were us, we would never do it. That we would not differentiate.

I would say that the fact that we are conscious of the existence of different groups implies implicitly that we differentiate. Actually, I think it's foolish to say that one treats everyone equally. We unnecessarily strive to eliminate differentiation. What's different from differentiation is discrimination. In other milder forms, it gets manifested as preferential treatments, superiority-inferiority complexes, better-worse debates. We are conditioned to partition the sample population into constant Us vs Them constructs. Men vs Women, Rich vs Poor, Master vs Slave, White vs Black, Hindus vs Muslims, Winners vs Losers, I vs the Neighbour, and so on and so forth. And then, we get really competitive against 'Them'.

Our social environment forces us to unite under a common cause and against a common enemy. The driver for that is the want of inclusiveness in a group and the fear of being left out of the group. You are either with a group or against it. And, when in the group, you lose your individuality. You become part of the mob. You would not protest against the notions or norms of the mob you are a part of. Because if you do, you become an outcast. The ideas and notions of the mob is decided not by majority, nor by rational deliberation, but by the select few who speak first and speak the loudest - the self-proclaimed leaders of the group.

So if you really believe that it would be different if it were you, then what we need to do is to speak up instead of getting carried away when you think that the others in your group don't make sense. Defy authority of these self-proclaimed leaders and break out of the mob mentality. You would be surprised at the amount of support you will get. Your speaking out will create a new group - hopefully a more sensible, positive one - which will act as a shelter for those who wish to breakout. So, the next time you find yourself a part of the mob, instead of quietly believing that you are not like the rest, stand up for your opinion and oust the mob.

Ofcourse, this new group formed is also exposed to the risk of a negative mob mentality and then another group needs to breakout and re-form. What's also important to note is that these mobs are formed in the first place because those who are a part of the mob saw something in it for them. Or they felt a common ground. What that means is that you probably already had a bias against the other group - whether conscious or not. Sometimes these groupings are forced upon by us by the people around by the virtue of our existence. I think then the first thing to do is to accept for yourself that you have that bias. While it can be really hard to accept that, I think it is really important. Let's shed the myth and let's see through the truth for ourselves.

I will narrate a recent personal experience here (at the risk of making this post too long).

Last Sunday I was heading towards the CST station hoping to board a train to Vashi as I quite often do. That evening, some religious congregation had just gotten over and swarms of people were also heading towards CST. Afghani Pathans, Sufis - basically Muslims in various shapes and sizes. Being a Hindu by birth, I got really cautious. There were several reasons for my insecurity in that train station. First, there was this group of easily over 20,000 people potentially united (all coming from a particular event and of the same religion). Most of this group might be conditioned to a sense of minority in our largely Hindu nation. Today, they were in clear majority. Also, I think trains and train stations are a big trap for a victim - the exits are limited, the security not enough and no one to hear your cry for help. But I think more importantly it was my conditioning of Muslims as more hard-hearted & aggresive because of my historical, cultural and social influences. Ofcourse rationally I know that the conditioning is a big generalization and means nothing. I have a few Muslim friends and aquaintances who are really nice and friendly actually, and I would never associate any violence with them.

In the midst of my active consciousness of the existence of a majority of the Them group, another scary thought creeped in my head. If more people were similarly insecure got united even for want of security, another mob could have formed. If you turn the tables around, a majority population also makes for an easy target on the community at large. A Sabarmati Express of Muslims, if you will.

And, I think that experience taught me first hand, what can conditioning do to you, what being a minority felt like and what is the power of the mob!