Political Violence and the Hive Mentality – Garry Smith

This article in its subsequent parts is a complete redraft of a previous article but brought up to date after reflecting on the recent political violence particularly in the USA. I am a firm supporter of people having the right to speak freely, however obnoxious I feel their views are. I hope it touches on points others fear to write about or discuss in case they are screamed at and attacked. So here goes, feel free to comment at the end, I will take any comments that I have not already included and weave them into the article, so it could be our first interactive article.

Regards, Garry.

I will start with a confession. Sometime ago before we had Bertie, our cute little Puggle, we had a Border Collie cross called Guinness. He was a lovely dog too and like Bertie used to like his walks. On one nice sunny day we were walking along a path in the Mayfield Valley and I noticed a large number of wasps coming in and out of a cavity in a tree. I am not sure why but I threw a stone into the cavity hitting the nest, guess what happened? Yes, out came the wasps and I made a run for it. The problem was Guinness did not.

The wasps caught up with Guinness, I tried swatting them off him with my hands but they, and there were a lot of them, began to crawl into his coat. I did what I could by getting him to a part of the nearby river that was deep enough and pushing him in. Hoping this would kill the wasps. They had already been on him for a couple of minutes and I had no clue as to whether they were stinging him. There were no signs that they were but he did slow down as we walked home.

I felt real guilt as my stupid actions had caused my dog possible suffering. The good part is after a nap on the lawn Guinness went about the rest of the day as normal.

The thing is I know about wasps, I know that like bees in a hive, they will swarm if they feel the hive is under attack let alone under actual attack. If you have seen bees swarm it is a pretty impressive sight and not something you want to provoke. Stings hurt and multiple stings hurt more. Insects, bees and wasps in this case, have no intellect, if attacked or if they think they are being attacked,

Swarming can also be the result of overcrowding in a successful hive so the hive splits and reproduces itself. This is different; these bees are looking for a new home. Our previous bees and wasps were looking to defend theirs, and for the insect mass attack is the best form of defence.

There are a number of different things that can trigger a swarm, overcrowding, lack of space, reducing pheromone levels in the queen, reducing pheromone levels in the population, increasing daylight are just a few, plus some species of bee are more prone to swarming than others.

Whatever signal that triggers the attack these insect will sacrifice themselves in the process. Take a look at this video.

Frightening stuff. The thing is people behave this way too. I am now going to reprint a book review I wrote for the February 2016 Conflict Manager on ‘The Crowd, A Study of the Popular Mind‘ by Gustav Le Bon 1896.

I first came across this book in my studies at the University of Warwick in a class called Social and Political Movements taught by Professor Jim Beckford. Jim was a great tutor and a really nice guy to boot; his classes were always looked forward to although his rigorous analysis of ideas may upset some of today’s precious petals.

The first class looked at the work of Le Bon and his study of the psychological nature of crowds. I remember liking it at the time but feeling that it was just too much guess work and overtly influenced by the authors experience of a turbulent and frightening, for him,  period of French history.

That was back in September 1990, much water has passed under the bridge since then, so why come back to it now?

Well it all comes back to a conversation I had with Rory Miller early in 2015 about ConCom and the triune brain when I mentioned Le Bon and his theory. Le Bon’s analysis is that once subsumed in a crowd an individual surrenders their individuality and a psychological mind is formed through contagion, emotions spread throughout the crowd and freed from individual responsibility the baser instincts take over. The individual ceases to think about the consequences of their actions as emotions take over and acts of both barbarity and heroism are possible.

Le Bon describes the ‘spinal cord’ as being in control and not the intellectually reasoning brain. 
 Ring any bells? Well it rang mine.

The thing is in the PC days of the 90’s this became a bit of an Aunt Sally, by the students that is, to be fair Jim used it in its historical context to begin a much wider and deeper exploration of the subject at hand. For the students, fresh out of some of the top schools in the UK, it was to be belittled, corny, out of date, lacking in evidence etc.

I was 31, I had been involved in a lot of crowd violence involving a full on riot with flaming barriers, thousands of people mobilised and hand to hand fighting with specially trained units of riot police, plus the occasional football riot, I thought differently.

Though written in a voice from a different age and though the criticisms raised were in part valid, it was not enough to write it off as a whole, I thought all along there was something of value here.

Like our friends the bees there are many different triggers that can cause the hive mind to kick in and for humans to swarm. Politics and religion are the big no go areas for most polite social intercourse because this is where families and friends can fall out. In a world where social media is helping people to inhabit their own echo chambers where the harmful and dangerous, people forget different, ideas, however horrible they are to you, cannot actually hurt you. Well the echo chamber is an increasing trend and it lends itself as an actual too to those who will benefit from influencing then manipulating others, the radicalisers.

Traditionally the political left accuses the political right of doing this and vice versa, but the centrist parties do it too, in fact all the political class do it, end of and religion have been doing it far longer..

Part II will follow next week.


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