To anyone — left, right, centre or other — who has a shred of intellectual honesty and psychological perspicacity, it has become an un-ignorable fact that some percentage (estimates vary) of Americans have, at present, taken leave of their senses.
This mob — best to call it what it is — seems to have reached a frenzy. Will the end come soon? It actually might.
The current situation masquerades as “political differences,” but like marital squabbles, it’s an excellent bet that the fight’s not really about what it seems to be about. I believe a lot more stuff is coming to a head right now in American society than any single analysis (or single analyst) can grapple with.
However, if we narrow our focus to the ostensibly political aspects of whatever the larger cultural upheaval is, it’s clear that a mass cognitive dissonance emerged over the outcome of the 2016 election. As the months have ticked by since then, people who forecasted a doomsday scenario that has entirely failed to emerge have had two choices: admit they’ve been at least a little bit wrong or continue to insist, in spite of all evidence, that things are absolutely awful — maybe even more awful than even they predicted! It’s the deluded latter bunch to whom I’m colloquially referring as the “mob.”
In my more compassionate moments, I feel sad for these people; their suffering is real to them, and a few public figures whom I personally admire and care for (like Stephen King and Bill Maher) seem to have fallen prey to this mass derangement; I wouldn’t have wished that on them.
But as compassionate as I am, I’m also angry: because, without realising they were doing it, the mob has been subjecting the American citizenry to a gigantic Milgram experiment to find out just how much shrieking we would endure before crying foul.
For 18 months, the core mob and its adjunct members have been gaslighting the rest of us — calling anyone unable or unwilling to share their distorted reality crazy anyone unable or unwilling to share their distorted reality “crazy,” all the while, they have projected their own vices and shortcomings onto us, and asked (very rudely) that we validate their (mostly) ludicrous viewpoints. They’ve been demanding, in Ayn Rand’s excellent phrase, “the sanction of the victim,” wanting us to admit guilt for things we didn’t do and to make ridiculous (and often contradictory) sacrifices in order to placate various deities that only they can see. While doing this, they managed to turn modern social life, at least temporarily, into a place where, as Dennis Miller put it, “eggshells are the new Linoleum.” I can’t speak for you, but for me it’s been decidedly un-fun having to deal with this meshuggah nonsense. I’ve lost friends over it, and it all feels so needless.
Happily, after months of “fire and fury” (as they like to call it) the mob faces three imminent, and hopefully terminal, problems.
Problem 1: The mask has dropped, and those who never shared the mob’s views are now able to see more plainly than ever the nature of what we’re dealing with. In response, we’ll upgrade our tactics.
At least judging by my Twitter feed (which I’ve made certain is not an echo chamber), there’s an emerging consensus that what we’ve got here is, in fact, an irrational mob and not a rational adversary. We’re onto the game, and so it’s only a matter of time now before everyone who can see it does see it. And I’m betting that’s a lot of people.
Of course, there have been suggestions of impending violence, but I can’t make myself believe there’s truly an appetite for widespread disorder. Besides, memes like the following are making the rounds, and they have a certain point: “Folks keep talkin’ about another civil war. One side has 8 trillion bullets. The other doesn’t know which bathroom to use.” It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.
Sadly, sporadic skirmishes and violent acts targeting certain individuals (à la the Republican baseball incident) are a foreseeable problem. A second Civil War? Unlikely. But that’s also what the people believed who brought picnic lunches to the first battle of Bull Run in 1861, not realising they were seeing day one of a four-year bloody ordeal.
Problem 2: People who once had at least partial sympathy with the mob’s aims are now waking up and withdrawing their goodwill en masse.
As I write this, the #WalkAway movement is trending. Predictably, some claim it’s all Russian bots, but it looks to me like it’s rafts of normal people sharing believable anecdotes about how they’re walking away from the Democratic party.
What’s more, the Left’s sense of humour seems to be coming back. That the BBC is running skits like the Tracy Ullman one about a support group for “people who are so woke they’re finding it impossible to have any fun at all…and ruining their lives by being overly virtuous” indicates to me that cooler heads are starting to prevail even in places previously subject to the contagion.
And it’s no surprise. I know plenty of liberals who are smart and decent, and I always knew that at some point they were bound to spit out the “When they go low, we go high” pabulum. I mean, even Lefties have a Milgram threshold (I keed, I keed). An important side note: nobody on Earth has ‘normalised’ the art of pissing on people’s feet while telling them it’s raining more than Hillary Clinton. In fact, I hypothesise that she and her husband laid much of the groundwork for this “rift in reality” that’s now opened up. During the Lewinsky fiasco, to take just one example, the Clintons forced their supporters to lie for them, played head-games with all of us over the meaning of the word ‘is,’ and led Democrats to vote party line in the Senate to agree that what obviously happened hadn’t happened. Blame Republicans for some role in this particular episode if you must, but Clintonian epistemology and ethics began before Ken Starr and prevailed long after. Grudgingly, I admit that history will probably be kinder to the Clintons than I am. But I hope not by much. Regardless, their ongoing presence in the public eye serves no one, least of all the Left. And in a sane world, these charlatans would have been driven out of town years ago.
Problem 3: The mobs core members are bound to become exhausted soon (especially when they feel the diminished support of their former allies).
Nobel Prize for Literature winner Elias Canetti, in his 1960 book Crowds and Power, explains that as a mob grows, it develops a rhythm, a copycat oneness, which contributes to its intensity. To make his point, he cites an old text describing a tribal dance, and it frankly sounds like what you see on mainstream TV every day (italics mine):
‘The countenances of all were distorted into every possible shape permitted by the muscles of a the human face; every new grimace was instantly adopted by all the performers in exact unison. Thus, if one commenced screwing up his face with a rigidity…he was instantly followed by the whole body with a similar gesticulation, so that at times the whites of the eyes were only visible, the eyeballs rolling to and fro. They almost rolled their eyes right out of their sockets, and distended their mouths, like hammer-headed sharks, from ear to ear.’
That’s CNN right there.
Elsewhere in his treatise, Canetti extends the metaphor of dancing to explain mob dynamics:
‘As long as they go on dancing, they exert an attraction on all in their neighbourhood. Everyone within hearing joins them and remains with them. The natural thing would be for new people to go on joining them forever, but soon there are none left and the dancers have to conjure up increase out of their own limited numbers. Their excitement grows and reaches a frenzy.’
‘How do they compensate for the increase in numbers which they cannot have? First, it is important that they should all do the same thing. They all stamp the ground and they all do it in the same way; they all swing their arms and shake their heads…when their excitement is at its height, these people really feel as one, and nothing but physical exhaustion can stop them.’
In other words, once the mob can no longer gain numbers — and especially once it senses the tide turning — it makes one final push before its rhythms and energy abate.
The above analysis gives me hope that the Dionysian danger in America may soon simmer down. But I’ll say this, too: if I were running for election in the United States this autumn (and, possibly, for evermore), I wouldn’t want to be doing it with a D after my name. November is a few months away still, and a lot can change. But for the mob itself, the jig may be up.