In the wake of the recent horrors of the riots and looting in Gujarat, this article is written to give an insight into the mob psychology.
It is a very surprising fact that under the mob condition, an individual whom you had come to understand, thought, felt and acted in quite a different way from what would have been expected. The mob, however differing in the individuals who compose it, however like or unlike their modes of life, their occupations, their character, or their intelligence, they are in the possession of a collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act were he in a state of isolation. There are certain characteristics of an individual in a group – Firstly a sentiment of invincible power, which allows him to yield to his aggression, which, had he been alone, he would perforce have kept under restraint. He will be less disposed to check himself, from the considerations that, a mob is anonymous. The next sentiment is of irresponsibility due to which the control of the individuals disappears entirely. Another characteristic is of contagion and actions are so contagious to a degree that an individual readily sacrifices his personal interest to the collective interest. He indulges in actions that he is scarcely capable of except when part of mob. Under the magnetic influence of the group and in a state of fascination, he may commit acts in utter contradiction with his character and habits. He is no longer conscious of his acts. He will undertake the accomplishments of destructive acts with irresistible impetuosity, which gains in strength by reciprocity. The individual becomes an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian. He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, and the ferocity of the primitive. There is a lowering of intellectual abilities.
A group is impulsive, changeable and irritable. There is no personal interest, not even that of self-preservation. Though it may desire violence passionately, yet it is never for long, for it is incapable of perseverance. It cannot tolerate any delay between its desire and the fulfillment of the desires. There is a sense of omnipotence and the notion of impossibility disappears for the individual in a mob. A mob is open to influence and it has no critical faculty. Its agreement with reality is never checked by any reasonable agency and the feelings are very exaggerated. There is no logical adjustment and only forcible repetitions. There is no doubt or uncertainty. The emotions are at extremes – a suspicion is changed into an incontrovertible certainty, a trace of antipathy is turned into furious hatred. It is intolerant to authority, respects force and can only be slightly influenced by kindness, which it regards merely as a form of weakness. It demands violence from its heroes. In a group all the cruel, brutal and destructive desires, which have been dormant are stirred up to find free gratification. Groups never thirst after truth, they demand illusions and cannot do without them. They constantly give what is unreal precedence over what is real; they are almost as strongly influenced by what is untrue as by what is true. It also places itself under the authority of a master and it is our misfortune that the leaders of today are not as principle oriented and welfare-minded as before. Groups under the leadership of benevolent people can exhibit ethics far beyond the reach of an individual. They play on the arousal of aggression in individuals and the pleasure when this emotion is expressed collectively. The excitement increases by mutual interaction. A mob impresses an individual as being an unlimited power and insurmountable peril, it is therefore to follow it rather than oppose it. In obedience to the new authority, one often puts one’s conscience out of the way and surrender to the attraction of increased pleasure. Mobs are excessively emotional, impulsive, violent, fickle, inconsistent, irresolute and extreme in action, displaying only the coarser emotions and the less refined sentiments; extremely suggestible, careless in deliberation, hasty in judgment, incapable of any but the simpler and imperfect forms of reasoning, easily swayed and led, lacking in self-consciousness, devoid of self-respect and of sense of responsibility, and apt to be carried away by its own force so that it becomes an irresponsible power. A person who is self-respecting and conscientious would not want to be a part of such a mob.
What to do?
Collective activity is always going to be better than individuals. In order to have successful group interactions and not unruly mobs which do not respect the individuals the following can be done – firstly there should be some degree of continuity and consistency in the group. Secondly, some purpose should be assigned to the group and the purpose should be constructive rather than aggressive. This can define a positive emotional reaction for the whole group. The third is that there should be interactions between different groups. Fourthly, groups should have certain traditions and customs, which do not violate the norms of the society. The group should not withdraw intellectual activities from the members. These suggestions can help you to form a group that can probably try and help heal the wounds inflicted during the riots. You, as an individual, possess your own continuity, self-consciousness and position, your own traditions and customs. You may have lost your distinctiveness momentarily as being a part of the unorganized mob but all is not lost as you can still rely on your conscience to guide you home.