Let’s first of establish that the concept of “the crowd” is abstract. There isn’t always a physical crowd around each and every one of us causing us to behave in a specific way. Although schools are probably the worst place for it. Continuously, I see posts on social media about self-love and acceptance and being yourself no matter what everyone else is doing. It’s funny that the people posting these images and quotes haven’t managed to escape the irony that social media is in a way the embodiment of crowd behaviour. You tweet something. I agree. I like it or I retweet it so that my followers see it too and probably do the same. We live in a world where crowd behaviour is inevitable which honestly is not always a bad thing. So why isn’t there ever a focus on how crowd behaviour can be good? Well, as usual, to satisfy my obsession with beginnings let’s deal with where, how and why, crowd behaviour started.
Collective behaviour is a sociological term used in reference to a miscellaneous set of behaviours in which large numbers of people engage. To be more precise, collective behaviour refers to “relatively spontaneous and relatively unstructured behaviour by large numbers of individuals acting with or being influenced by other individuals. Relatively spontaneous means that the behaviour is somewhat spontaneous but also somewhat planned, while relatively unstructured means that the behaviour is somewhat organized and predictable but also somewhat unorganized and unpredictable” (which to me mean the same damn thing). I needed to get my head wrapped around what this means visually (Not so fun fun-fact: I’m a visual learner) so I created this:
Collective behaviour is a natural (some may say evolutionary) defence mechanism. In short we started to copy each other in order to survive. Prehistoric humans realised that if they did things alone like our first stick man (let’s call him Bob) they wouldn’t survive. And it’s true. We need each other to keep the word going, as said in my previous post. Also, it just helps if there’s 10 of us trying to kill a bear than just Bob. The homosapien having become the dominant animal on earth means that this crowd function needed to be used in different ways. The establishment of academia and other institutions is what in my opinion has turned this natural defence mechanism into something that at times can be quite dangerous. My other obsession with man’s ability to continuously forget that we are animals with instincts just because we can talk and communicate and wear nice suits is coming out here. But let’s not start that right now before we digress. I brought that up because we behave like the crowd in order to “fit in”. We want to fit in because isolation means being cut off from society and not belonging and nobody wants that. The institutionalisation of crowd behaviour (following the development of organised work and factories and the creation of schools) is really where this all started to go wrong. You see, as a natural “there-needs-to-be-10-of-us-to-kill-the-bear” thing, it’s okay. But when it becomes “I-don’t-like-bob-and-neither-do-the-other-28-boys-in-my-class-so-lets-make-his-life-hell” it’s a problem. And it doesn’t even need to be that direct. Social media has presented to us images of beauty (exacerbated by the miseducation on cultural differences and general discrimination) that are somewhat unachievable for some of us. But because everyone else is highlighting and contouring or wearing the latest Balenciaga’s we must too or we risk being left out and not belonging. (RANT OVER BECAUSE I TRUST THAT YOU ALL KNOW WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOUR AND WHAT IS NOT!!!)
I think collective behaviours are amazing to an extent. When people are in trouble, it’s amazing to see how many other people rush to help without being told what to do. But we need to be careful what we choose to be a part of. Like I said it is inevitable. Experiment have been done by psychologist where they get people to deliberately avoid a certain part of the pathway all day for absolutely no reason and everyone else just follows them. By the end of the experiment at least 95% of people are walking away from a normal part of the road leaving it empty just because five people started it in the morning. Sometimes, we don’t even know WHY we’re doing the same thing as everyone else but we do it. Although we may not realise it, or accept it, a lot of us behave like everyone else. Furthermore, most people don’t understand why they do it. My advice would be to always self-evaluate and make sure that if do feel negatively towards an individual, a group of people or even a movement, you stop to ask how much of your view is influenced by the people around you. Apart from that, there are some pretty cracking human beings out there to follow, so copy the right things.
Escape from the negatively blinding crowds.
Embrace collectively doing the right thing.
But still be yourself as much as it is possible to be.
I leave you with this speech I wrote when I was about seventeen:
“Sometimes we fail realise our own greatness because for ourselves we generate mental barriers through attempts to emulate the external. In our pursuit of happiness (as individuals) we observe the multitude: We are left unsatisfied by our satisfactory attempts to become who we are not. We reach for the ungraspable, the unattainable, the unreachable thus exacerbating our desire to be better than what we are. We allow ourselves to escape from reality by crafting dreams in which we epitomise the crowd, whilst simultaneously forgetting the existentialist thought that we are time fillers, time wasters, time watchers. We watch. We watch time pass us by, (although there lies always a disparity between it and us) waving it as though it were the Canaan to our Moses. Escape from escapism and walk into reality. We must dismantle the hard-wired social conventions which intrinsically bind us to one another thus producing crowd behaviour, stripping away our uniqueness. Be who you were called to be and not who they were called to be.”