Once upon a time, people in America eschewed mob justice. Lynch mobs were considered uncomfortable relegates of the not-too-dstant past, an example of our evolution as a people toward more civilized ways of dispensing justice. A return to this mentality is disturbing, to say the least. That old taboo still exists; nobody wants to acknowledge it. Indeed, most people would deny that it’s happening, or endeavor to call it something different. However, if we look at the way things are now, we see that increasingly it is the case.
Most people would react with horror if shown a video of rapists or thieves being beaten and burned alive in the street in some other country. However, horror notwithstanding, not everybody would agree that it’s wrong. A growing number of people seem to have no problem at all with someone being ostracized, attacked, beaten or even killed with no trial or even any proof of wrongdoing – and many of these people are fine with those same actions even if it is known the victim has done nothing criminal at all, but subscribes to a different philosophy, opinion or belief system than they themselves do. This is something most people would like to believe happens only in third world countries where people are uncivilized barbarians but this is once again no longer the case – if it ever really was.
The number of “civilized” people screaming for blood – both figuratively and literally – over unproven, overblown and even relatively minor infractions is becoming frightening. Society as a whole has become a timebomb just looking – not waiting, looking; searching, wanting – for any chance to explode. Couple that with the digitalization of interaction which effectively removes any face of humanity from the situation, and factor in the self-righteous indignation, narcissism and plain old selfishness involved, and the prognosis becomes even more dire.
It’s different in some ways than it used to be; people are not afraid. They are too oblivious to be afraid. They are angry and bored. They have nothing to root for, nothing to care about and not enough of an attention span to truly engage in these things, even if they wanted to. The only thing that people cannot seem to let go of or forget about these days is that feeling of manufactured outrage over any and all perceived slights. We have become a society of expressing our moral outrage in 147 characters or fewer. Our attention span has shortened to less than that of a goldfish. Attempts to interact or engage beyond that limit are often met with hostility or even genuine anger, as if attempting to connect on a more human level or having more to say than can fit in a soundbyte is somehow wrong, unreasonable or unfair. As if it’s asking too much.
Humans have become plastic and untouchable puppets. They rage when they are told to rage and they accept when they are told to accept. They explode over nothing – or everything – and then it’s back to their digtal lives, no sweat. They have become a mob. A mob of puppets, dancing to the tune of whatever they are told to feel. It’s a Pavlovian response; ring the bell and react, only instead of triggering drooling, it triggers rage. Humans believe we are so far removed from this, even as we react accordingly to our conditioning everyday. The enemy is pointed out. We attack him. We “defeat” him. We celebrate. The enemy is pointed out. We attack him. We “defeat” him. We celebrate. Over and over and over ad nauseum, with the mob mentality not only defeating the scary enemy but also being used to keep those in line who dare to express dissent. The mob sees only one enemy, and that enemy is all who are not itself. We do all of this secure in the knowledge that we are operating autonomously for the greater good (of the mob itself, though we don’t realize that), and that our feelings are our own. We are so sure that we are righteous and correct, and that our feelings are ours.
But are we? Are they? Can living things operating under nonstop conditioning, programming and brainwashing from cradle to grave really be said to operate autonomously? Do we say rats which have been conditioned to run the maze are “smart” when they run it alone? No, we don’t. We say they are trained. And we are right.
Perhaps key to this phenomenon is that humans are not just angry and bored. We are confused, trapped and pressured into a system of being that we think we understand but which, even still, we somehow cannot make work for us. And why? Because That’s Just How It Is. We sit in a cubicle or at a desk all day and all night, staring at a phone or a screen 24 hours a day (either for fun or profit) and none of our biological imperatives or drives are exercised properly. We have too much energy and paradoxically, none at all. We become fat, anxious, depressed, despondent, hyperacidic… we can’t eat, we can’t sleep, we eat too much, we sleep too much… and we never wonder why – Because That’s Just How It Is. Humans are living a life far removed from the life we were supposed to live and because of that, the human experience has become one of illness, anxiety, depression and psychiatric problems. We cling to the flock because we don’t understand why it should be that we are living exactly as we are told to live and still it is not working. We are still sick, we are still anxious, we are still confused, we are still unhappy. We listen to those who tell us how to feel because, frankly, we don’t know. We don’t trust our own feelings because obviously something must be wrong with us if we are doing everything exactly “right” and things are still not OK. Someone must know better than we do. Someone must have the answers. It’s the same mentality that explains politics, cult leaders and more.
Mob mentality could be seen as a dysfunctional attempt to engage in the biological imperative of group forming. (Regardless of the society or situation, people still try to fulfill biological imperatives, even if they think they don’t.) The mob mentality keeps us safe. There is safety in numbers and it removes the obstacle of morality, neutralizes validation and confusion. It ensures acceptance and relieves individual struggle and responsibility. Identifying a mob enemy further solidifes the cohesion of the group and enhaces the sense that those on the outside of the group are expendable. More than any of these things, though, the mob phenomenon as a whole – and particularly the mob enemy – gives a voice and a face to our otherwise-unarticulated rage and boredom, as well an outlet for same – much the way the Two Minutes Hate in Orwell’s epic, 1984 does. People have no other outlet for the vast amounts of energy and emotion that are being repressed by our current culture. There is no wood to chop, no bread to knead. They have to let it out somehow. Cue our version of the Two Minutes Hate, the latest desperate attempt of a profoundly sick society to purge the poison.