Crowds Can Tell Lies

Crowds can tell lies. They have this propensity towards inflating and contorting the facts. More than often crowds cannot be relied upon to discern and reflect truth. They tend to be naive, volatile and far more foolish than wise. No wonder crowds become such fertile soil for populist politics and religion, and lets face it, certain politicians and clergy know this only too well.

Our TV screens have been filled with images of the thousands across the Middle East and North Africa protesting against a film made in the US depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Many have condemned the film, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who  described it as “reprehensible.”

What is so disturbing, and I’m just expressing a personal feeling here, is what the protest has now turned in to. The crowds seem to have lost all sense of proportion and propriety. It’s as if a kind of madness and lunacy is beginning to reign, and sadly it begins to reflect some the very  sentiments expressed in the film itself.

I cannot believe that what we are seeing here, the violence and the mayhem, is a true reflection of the tenents of Islam. The crowds are getting it wrong. Surely in the midst of it all there must be those Muslims who will not trade truth for numbers, or allow the crowds to reduce them and their faith to a mindless and brutish aberration.

Perhaps I’m being naive, but that’s the way I see it.

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
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20 Responses to Crowds Can Tell Lies

  1. nrhatch says:

    The film is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, of sorts ~ with volatile crowds displaying the exact behavior attributed to Muslims in the film.

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  2. Don says:

    That’s the saddening thing, Nancy.

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  3. Hudson Howl says:

    Here in Canada, specifically in Toronto a Hindu Advocacy Group is planning on screening the film not to insight but rather to teach tolerance. Not sure what the reaction will be from Muslims in this country if the plan goes a head as planned. They may not be able to go through with it if a venue is not found. But if crowds form as you have pointed out, I fear dark clouds, however if a point is to made for tolerance I find it hard not to weigh in on the side that is willing to take a risk to promote tolerance.

    Here’s a quote from their spokesman.
    “It shows the value of tolerance to Muslims and the Islamic community and teaches them, in Canada, we do have tolerance and diversity and they are simply going to have to tolerate diverse viewpoints and opinions without rioting and without going berserk.”

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    • Don says:

      I think it’s a good thing, but as you say you can’t be sure of the response to a screening like that.Sometime ago we had a contentious film doing the rounds in our community and we decided to show it and reflect on it. It turn out to be an extremely enlightening moment for the many who came.

      Good quote from their spokesman. It’s always a hard lesson to learn, but one that just has to be learnt. Thanks for the comment Hudson.

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  4. Dianne says:

    I think you are so right! I wonder if Christ would have gone to the cross if it weren’t for ‘crowd mentality’?

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  5. I agree wholeheartedly Don. There is a strange compulsion by people to “follow the crowd” when their ire is raised. This whole fiasco shines a tainted light on not only the film-maker but all that act with aggression and anger in response. Sadly, this merely creates more fear and hatred of ALL people that are not of similar beliefs and possibly those that share the same convictions.

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    • Don says:

      So true. As you say, its the hatred and aggression that is so tragic. Religious beliefs in most forms don’t always take kindly to diversity, but it’s something that it will have to deal with and resolve within itself. I wonder to what degree the conflict we see is the necessary sign towards a new consciousness. After all, new levels of consciousness don’t come easy. History is proof of that. Thank you for your comment – appreciated.

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  6. Theo Coggin says:

    Many years ago I studied crowd behaviour as part of my degree. The psychology of crowds is fascinating on the one hand, and incredibly frightening on the other. People in a crowd – including sports’ crowds – lose all sense of their individual independence, and propogandists in particular know exactly how to manipulate this. Such an insightful post Don.

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  7. lyn Stephenson says:

    I agree, crowd mentality can take on a frightening life of its own which often has very little to do with the target of its violence and hatred. It’s very easy to manipulate and incite a crowd. We are experiencing this is in South Africa at the moment.

    I don’t profess to know the Koran, but one thing I do know is the Prophet Muhammad, like all great spiritual leaders, taught compassion and tolerance, even for those who offend us and appear to be the enemy. Where is the voice of the moderate Muslim in all of this?

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    • Don says:

      Thanks Lyn. I agree with you, we certainly are experiencing this in South Africa at the moment and it’s extremely destructive. Your last question is so incisive. Indeed, where is that voice. John Van Der Laar’s comment touches on some good stuff. Take a look if you want.

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  8. Don says:

    Must have been a fascinating study. I can just imagine all the dynamics. As you say it’s unfortunate that there are those who know exactly how to manipulate it. But then I suppose these insights can also be used for the good. Thanks Theo.

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  9. Sacredise says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, Don. I share your outrage at the violence that often erupts from protest actions. Until we can learn to work out the necessary changes in our world without violence, we will simply continue to perpetuate the very injustices we seek to address – be it religious disrespect, economic disparities or political debate.

    The crowd dynamic is a very complex thing, though – and it’s not always the negative thing you portray here. Your post picks up on the dynamic that Irving Janis referred to as Groupthink which is when a group becomes less than the sum of its parts and ends up being “stupid” or even destructive. There is a very different phenomenon, though, that has the exact opposite effect. James Surowiecki’s excellent book The Wisdom of Crowds demonstrates that, given the right ingredients, groups will consistently outperform individuals, and will often get far closer to the truth than individuals. One of the most powerful of these ingredients is “cognitive diversity” – the acceptance of different thinking within the group. It’s when we refuse to allow for this cognitive diversity that groups become stupid and destructive.

    Of course, I’m oversimplifying his thoughts here because of space restraints. But, if you’ve got some time, Surowiecki’s book is an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

    Grace
    John

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    • Don says:

      John, Thank you for your comment. I enjoyed it immensely. I’ve always experienced you as a wonderfully challenging person and admired your thinking. Let me just respond firstly by saying that the post was really just a quick and brief expression of how I was feeling about a particular group in a particular context at a particular time. It was not meant to be a kind of in depth study of the dynamics of various groups or crowds. That’s it weakness and there’s always something incomplete when one speaks like this, I suppose also a little dangerous.

      I absolutely agree with you when you say the crowd dynamic is a very complex thing and that there is a very different phenomenon that has the exact opposite effect. I think the wisdom that often exists in crowds can be profound. And certainly the negative side needs to be balanced by its positives. You’re so right to point that out and I’m grateful for your insight. Thank you for the info on James Surowwiecki’s book. It sounds very good and I’d love to get it. I haven’ heard of him before, so again thank you.

      I so agree too when you speak of “cognitive diversity” as an influence in crowd or group behaviour. One cannot study any group or crowd at any depth without assessing or trying to assess the nature of cognitive diversity in that crowd or group. I believe it’s the very nature of this cognitive diversty which dictates whether a group or crowd becomes a positive or negative force for change. So, yes, I agree, stages of cognitive and moral development are absolutely crucial in the dynamics of crowds. I think the greater the cross section of cognitive and moral diversity there is in a group the greater the effctiveness of that group. But how you maintain the cohesion of such a group is another story.

      John, again thank you so much for your comment and for your challenge. I certainly value it immensely.

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      • Sacredise says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful response, Don. Forgive me if my comment came across as a criticism of your post – it wasn’t intended to be. I suspected that you were already aware that crowds can be a very positive thing, so I’m not surprised by your agreement with what I wrote.
        If you’re anything like me, I write blog posts hoping that others will expand and add to my thoughts (although I don’t get anything like the interaction on my blog that you do here!). It was in this spirit that I added my comments. Thanks for making space for this conversation!
        Grace.

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    • Don says:

      John I certainly never saw your comment as a criticism. Good critical thought is always welcome, especially when it’s backed up in the way you always do. I know exactly what you mean by wanting others to expand on your thoughts. Thanks for doing that for me.

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  10. Katy says:

    Just recently I saw on the news something very scary. A store, I think it was in Canada, was holding a sale. The crowds gathered outside and when opening time came, all hell broke loose!
    The civilised shoppers became a mob, pushing, shoving and trampling anything in their path. A lot of people were injured, some badly but still mob came on. And what had changed these foolish folk into an uncaring dog eat dog mob/? AN APPLIANCE SALE!! I found this more worrying than a naive, volatile, foolish rent a crowd who feel they have a just cause.

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    • Don says:

      That’s quite a story Katy. You’re right, it is very scary. What lurks beneath those everyday people that a simple appliance sale can change them in to that way. Very revealing Katy. Thanks for the comment. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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  11. The demonstrators overseas are ‘choosing’ not to acknowledge the fact that our government didn’t make the film and a majority of us don’t support it, because from what I understand, many of them have been made aware of that fact. — It reminds me of the extremist political rally’s I see here in the U.S. in which the crowds display cruel, hateful signs, slogans and images. These people gather to ‘demonstrate’ together and to listen to the speeches of the people in charge of the rallies who are spewing the lies, hate and racism that they want to hear. — The only difference I see is that they’re not setting anything on fire.

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    • Don says:

      It’s very sad. I agree with you. People hear and believe what they want to and no amount of truth will make them do otherwise. As for the people who do the speeches, they’re there mostly for the ego trip. Truth has go nothing to do with it. I don’t even think that this video portraying your President and the Secretary of State will do anything. Thank you for your comment.

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