By Tinky Ningombam
I read a rather startling disclaimer from one article on a bandh in Manipur. It warned people, who might commit the mistake of ignoring the bandh, from physical harm to them by the supporters. I daresay, I am a little impressed with the honesty and amazed with the audacity to claim before they have committed a “crime”, that they will readily hurt someone or destroy public property. In the US, they take a potential threat to the country as a threat and pull them in for questioning. I wonder, how many jail terms would have already happen if such a rule applied to our State. But, what is common knowledge is that we do know that bandh supporters can turn extremely violent and unreasonable. No-one will claim: “I will be the one who will throw stones at your car”, but what they will say is that “the supporters are capable of something dangerous.” Now, who are these “supporters”? I DO NOT want to meet them. Do they have names? And how do we know they will become dangerous? Do they go around supporting different bandhs?
Let’s find answers and try to decipher what Mob psychology is. In a mob, be it a peaceful or a violent one, people become “deindividualized”. Mob mentality is the idea where people start acting less like themselves and more like “faceless crowd”. They will not act out of their personal nature but will follow the strongest natural instinct. They can go against their moral or personal good nature. Why? Because they can, there is no Law that binds them now. Your friendly neighbor who might not even say one wrong word if adrenaline-d by the mob-frenzy can destroy things. They will not have any responsibility, they can get away with stealing, beating someone, lighting a fire and they would not get caught. They will lose responsibility of their actions and do “as everybody else does”. It helps to conform the mob into a singular path mostly through a chant, a slogan or a common cause that the “leader” induces. But we all know this don’t we?
And when these faceless mobs who can include anyone, men, women, children, they are capable of anything. And that is the constant reality that we ignore and continue in the name of protests. All mobs need not be bad you say, yes, that is true. Rock shows, sports game with huge crowds, they also develop mob mentality. But the more huge the group, the more hard is to control the adrenaline. People turn to a crowd. And that is when it becomes most powerful, either for you or against you.
There is a mentalist by the name Derren Brown, he is also an excellent hypnotist and illusionist. He ran a series of shows which he called The Experiments couple of years back. One of his shows was about crowd psychology in which he proved that it can be powerfully negative.
Derren Brown called a group of about 50 as an audience for a mock “game show”. He told the audience that they will run pranks on a guy named Chris who did not know that he was being filmed or was being set up by his group of friends. Chris was also surrounded by actors who were supposed to play out the entire evening. The people in the audience were given a remote control each to pick the actions that Brown would suggest to them, in the meantime looking at Chris being filmed throughout the evening on the screen. Chris’s every move was to be pre-mediated and decided by the audience.
Brown made the audience wear masks and told them that this was to remove any inhibitions that they had in making their pick on their remote control and to make the game more fun played anonymously. Under the guise of a game show, the audience had to decide the fate of Chris, the victim and see how he reacted to each prank that they will pull. In the show, the audience was given the chance to choose between two contrasting options e.g. should the bar tender charge Chris extra money? or Should Chris be blamed of stealing from the shop. And every time the audience was given to vote, they always picked the negative and malicious option. And they started finding Chris’s misfortunes funny and hysterical, and when they voted for Chris’s TV to be destroyed, they cheered when his TV was smashed. All along the audience didn’t know that they were the experiments and subconsciously each time, they chose the more violent choice and found it more fun.
There are many things about mob psychology that has been experimented, recorded, observed. And yet, we have not entirely understood its ramifications. Am I saying that a mob will always be violent? No, of course not. But I am saying that it can be. Mob-frenzy has a different life; they work in their own will sometimes. Some strong voices can direct it; but uncontrolled and it will always tends to turn violent. Why I do not understand is why do we not lead peaceful protests instead of creating random mobs? It seems we clearly enjoy Schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude is a term which is meant for the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. And it is been observed that most mob mentality thrives on Schadenfreude. And yes, there is a word for it, which means that it is not a make-believe assumption, but a real human feeling. We do not know what humans are capable of doing given intense circumstances, and we should not fan this fire constantly.
(The author thinks that it is more civil to have peace protests instead of violent mobs. She also feels that certain areas can be demarcated to host protests and show solidarity instead of affecting the entire population and depriving most of them of their meagre daily income.)