In theory, the difference between mob rule and liberal democracy is that the former operates outside of authority, while the latter is limited by a set of principles. The former is operating in the moment while the latter is deliberative. Instead of just doing what feels right in the moment, like exacting revenge, liberal democracy has processes and limits, forcing people to think about what they are doing before they act. It is majority rule slowed to a crawl by the ideals of western liberalism.
The problem is that liberal democracy is an industrial age political philosophy that is unsuited for the technological age. Fifty years ago, information flowed primarily by words on a page, carried around by men. Television and radio sped up the flow of information, but the information still got into those networks by foot. Before it could be on television, someone had to go out to the scene, make video, carry it back to the studio and then edit it. It was still a slow world.
Today, information flows at the speed of light. A conspiracy theory can be hatched and promoted to millions on-line in a matter of minutes. As the old expression goes, a lie is around the world before the truth is out of bed. It is why the race hoax has become a phenomenon of this age. By the time the truth of the incident has been revealed, we are onto the third or fourth race hoax. These stories collectively build up in the system to the point where they cumulatively become a truth of their own.
An easy example is the Chauvin case. There are people absolutely sure he stood on the man’s neck for nine minutes. They were convinced of this by the bombardment of lies they experienced on-line. They never bothered to watch the whole video when it was finally released. Why would they? They knew and everyone around them knew that Chauvin stood on Floyd’s neck until he suffocated. It is just another example of racist cops murdering an innocent black body for the crime of being black.
In a mass media society like ours, there can be no deliberation, so the psychology is that of the mob, not liberal democracy. There can be no concern for limits and process, as we are all forced to decide by those around us on-line. That is what happens in a mob of people excited by some event. As with a school of fish or a flock of birds, each person is responding to the actions of those around him. Mob psychology is an emergent property that transcends the mentality of the members.
A very good example is the behavior of corporate America. Supposedly, the heads of the largest corporations have been plotting to undermine what is left of election integrity in America. They had a “first of its kind” conference call about Georgia. They were compelled to act because, well, everyone around them is sure that Georgia has just reinstituted Jim Crow. They know this because everyone around them knows this and all of those people are good people like them.
We live in an age in which the most powerful people on the planet, some are the most powerful who have lived on this planet, truly feel they are in a twilight struggle against forces greater than themselves. The heads of the big banks think they are the little guy facing off against some invisible goliath. Others helpfully anthropomorphize it with pictures of people waving Trump signs. The insurrection hoax is all about validating the very real fear of the most powerful people on the planet.
This is the psychology of the mob. Whatever drove the people to show up on the street is soon confirmed and becomes the identity of the whole. The individual shows up because he is angry about something. Quickly he is just another corpuscle in the organism that is the collective anger of the members. He is now swept up in the mob, like a cork on an angry sea. Even though he could have real power in his own right, he feels powerless as a part of the mob swarming around him.
This is liberal democracy in the technological age. Democracy cloaks the people who are naturally in charge of society with the concept of the public will. Public policy is not the result of one man or a group of men, it is democracy. The price and supply of goods is not the result of decisions made by specific people, but by the invisible hand of the marketplace responding to millions of silent decisions. In a democracy, no one is responsible, because everyone is responsible, so no one is accountable.
In the slow motion world of the industrial age, this headless system can work reasonably well because people have time to stop and think. In the technological age, where no one can think about anything, cooler heads are trampled into the dust by mobs pushed along by forces external to themselves. Worse still, the mob mentality is amplified, so it is not just a mob, but a deafening mob. Those will real power fear the mob, so they lend their power to the mob.
Critics looking at what is happening, assume the people in charge, the people with real power, see some benefit in the chaos. Like liberal democracy, bourgeois objectivism is an artifact of a bygone age. In the technological age, the age of instant communication, the mob mentality is what prevails. What is good for the individual is no different than what is good for a liver cell. Individual good is subsumed into the emergent properties of the whole and the mentality of the individual is the mentality of the mob.
So much of what is happening today is just a replay of mistakes made a generation ago, often by people still in power. The assault on law and order is right out of the cultural revolution of the 1960’s. Most of the people in charge today were young adults back in those days. They should have the wisdom to see what is happening, but they care caught up in the moment like everyone else. They don’t feel like they have power, so they act like they are as powerless as the rest of us.
Liberal democracy in the technological age results in anarchy and mob rule. The consequences are inevitable. America is shaking itself to death over problems that could be mitigated with a little deliberation and respect for limits. No one has time for that as there is always another crisis, another mob demanding immediate attention for the object of their rage. Mob rule always ends in blood, either the blood of the mob or the blood of the innocent. This age most likely ends in both.
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