Nobody holds to a belief that they knowingly acknowledge is wrong or inaccurate. There is an emotional and identity-defining weight attached to each belief. For every incremental increase in resources (time, energy, money, relationships) spent on maintaining a belief, the greater the feeling of attachment and the less likely a person is ever to question the legitimacy of their claim. What area of life the belief connects to is incidental, what matters is the felt feeling of attached weight, the degree of importance a person places on it. This mounting pressure encourages us to bond together in groups, to spread the weight among the like-minded.

A mob is any group of people holding to a particular belief or set of beliefs, with the primary purpose being abject support of said belief with a demand for purity. This support may masquerade at times under the guise of rational inquiry, with questions often in the form of conspiracy building, but it is the purity standard that makes it into a mob-mentality. The belief cannot be questioned and stands as the means to differentiate the ‘true’ from the ‘false’ believers.

While for some the immediate example of a cult comes to mind, this behavior is not found only in religious groups, but is intrinsic to humanity. Political ideologies? Go to a rally and the lessening sense of individuation combined with an increase in emotional fervor will have you feeling larger than yourself. For that matter, many music concerts can encourage a similar feeling with rhythms of sound and body melting the barriers between self and other. In either situation, if you were to dare question what was going on, let there be no doubt you’d be met with varying degrees of anger and violence of one form or another.

mob mentality
Exploration of Mob Mentality in Art

A mob need not be a large group either. If you’ve ever met that couple utterly convinced of the rightness of their job venture or the sanctity of how they treat others despite chaos all around them, you know what abject support and purity looks like. Further, mobs are not constrained by physical proximity, as any social media messaging board or comment section can attest to.

 

“Individually and collectively, our very existence depends on our ability to reach accurate conclusions about the world around us.” (Schulz, 2010, p.4) Unfortunately accuracy is as much a question of individual perception as it is about representing fully the myriad connections of reality. We search for information that supports the beliefs we already hold (confirmation bias) or to add other beliefs that support an overall worldview (internal coherence). Contrary to some who think bias is an act one consciously engages in, it is instead an inevitable and universal behavior. The question is not whether one is engaging in bias, it is the depth of one’s awareness of doing so and desire/intent to mitigate it in some way.

A piece of information ‘makes sense’ or a new belief ‘holds together’ based on the  emotional criteria of whether such aligns with a personal identity or felt sense of self. As stated previously, this weight can be overwhelming, particularly when faced with a broader reality of facts and people that either don’t fit the worldview or are in vocal disagreement. The mob is a rescue from the uncertainty brought up by contrary information, a balm to the anxiety induced by skeptical inquiry.

scientific-skepticism-wordmarkSkepticism has two paths of discovery. The first is universal and exists alongside bias, where instead of focusing attention only on that evidence which is supportive, it draws the mind’s eye to all that doesn’t. The second is an active pursuit, a willful conscious deliberation upon what doesn’t fit in one’s beliefs, joined with a humility based on the long litany of historical protestations of having found truth only to be later chagrined at falling short.

Universal Skepticism is a form of psychological scientific method, parsing out the outliers in experience and shifting one’s worldview to allow for growth and change. Willful Skepticism is far more rare and often, despite boasts to the contrary, little more powerful than the Universal. A significant factor in how far skepticism plows the field of beliefs is the depth of one’s identification with the mob.

Remember that the mob is characterized by abject support and purity. If one looks around and sees in their friends, acquaintances, online communities, etc., little to no questioning of fundamental beliefs, then the mob is likely to be called home. If those who disagree are slandered, name-called, inferred or directly declared as being deficient in reason and intelligence, then it is the mob that one is part of. If one believes that their group is set against by the forces of the world in an US vs Them battle for the future of a family, community or nation, it is the mob that is being held close.

The mob is a haven precisely because it is based on one of the greatest feelings in life: that of believing one is right. Skepticism, both Universal and Willful, is the exact opposite: believing that no single or set of beliefs is ever absent the potential for being inaccurate in whole or in part. The mob is not contrary to humanity any more than skeptical inquiry is, though most certainly they each strengthen different features and encourage different behavior. The kind of person and community grown will be determined by the resources placed in pursuit of one over the other.

 

© David Teachout

References:

Schulz, Kathryn (2010-05-25). Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

8 comments

  1. //The question is not whether one is engaging in bias, it is the depth of one’s awareness of doing so and desire/intent to mitigate it in some way.//

    Awesome insight! Yes. That’s my concept of self-awareness. After reading Schultz’s book (I see you have, too — excellent!) I realized that biases, errors, etc., are where the gold is. Want solutions and great ideas? You have to dig way down into the mess and the dirt.

    Your discussion on skepticism is really interesting. I need to finish up a paper I’m mid-way through on the counterpart to skepticism. Ever notice that no one talks about its logical complement? And yet we engage in it every day. In fact, we engage in it all the time, far more than skepticism. And I’m not talking about credulousness or gullibility. I’m talking about a discipline every bit as valid as skepticism. I call it credulism. Here is the kernel, an excerpt from the paper:

    ——–
    Skepticism and credulism, in my usage here, are principles that characterize our approach to new information of unknown reliability — as simple as that and no more involved, limiting, or binding than that. In other words, what is our rule of thumb for how we handle new information? The answer is either skeptically or credulistically.

    Skepticism is the unwillingness to believe new information of unknown reliability until there is good reason to do so — a default attitude of initial distrust.

    Credulism is the willingness to believe new information of unknown reliability unless there is good reason not to do so — a default attitude of initial trust.

    A skeptic is someone who self-identifies as preferring skepticism as his predominant or exclusive way of handling new information of unknown reliability.

    A credulist is someone who self-identifies as preferring credulism as her predominant or exclusive way of handling new information of unknown reliability.
    ——–

    I’d love to hear what you think. I need a good kick in the pants to finish up that paper! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In many ways I find your usage of “credulism” to be similar to what I am discussing here as “mob mentality,” albeit with a less negative connotation. I’ve discussed this process in other entries, the fact that the human brain simply cannot and is not evolutionarily designed to formally logic its way through every piece of information available. We have shortcuts, heuristics, and the pressures of society providing guiding influences in what we consider, unconsciously, to be true far before we ever have the wherewithal to question it.

      As I noted in this article, I don’t consider either mob-mentality or skepticism or, in your case, credulism, to be antithetical to humanity or that any of them should supplant the others in moving through life. Often those who describe themselves as skeptical are credulous about many things and vice versa. The process involved is often, if not always, context specific, which is precisely why I find beliefs to be as much about the person as they have to do with the topic at-hand.

      Like

  2. One more thing. I use “cult” to refer to any and all groups that sport the characteristics you described for a “mob”. “Mob” is good, too, but for me the salient point is the psychology behind both. The same kind of mentality, whether in a religious setting or a secular setting, represents the same cognitive/affective problems, so why treat them as two different things?

    I key on information dynamics: thinking, feeling, communication, and behavior. Those all involve identifiable patterns and processes of information flows. The patterns remain remarkably consistent regardless of the social context, both in personal and public, and in one-on-one and group situations. You touched on some of the features in your article.

    I like using “cult” for both religious and secular flavors, precisely because the emotional associations it carries are as appropriate to one as to the other. And in terms of body counts and havoc, secular cults wreak as much or more damage these days than do religious cults. It’s hard to tell, though. The two are in bed together anyway. Heckle and Jeckle, peas in a putrid pod. Notice that “glory” is a term almost exclusively used by religion, the military, and patriotism/nationalism — the Big Mamas of the cult world.

    In the same vein, although it’s several years old now and my thinking has progressed way beyond where it was at that time, you might be interested in this one, “Cult Thinking Explained”:

    https://tochristians.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/cult-thinking-explained/

    So glad I met you! I’ve been pining for someone with similar interests who might be interested in some iron-sharpens-iron hashing this stuff out together! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Full agreement with you! I pointed out that for most, the notion of a mob will immediately bring to mind a cult, but that the same tendency exists in everything from politics to social movements to music concerts. In an attempt at focusing the writing I sometimes will use one word over another to describe a similar idea, not because I think they’re all that different, but because I’m attending to a particular topic. That the same processes are going on in “cults,” whether of religious or secular varieties, is why I find abhorrent the dismissal often given to religious adherents, as if they’re the repositories of all that is anti-rational and violent. A profound absurdity. I cover that point in “why we carefully select our delusions.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree completely David. Wholesale dismissal of religious thinking/thinkers is ironic. We’re all believers. Atheists who tell me they “have no beliefs” really crack me up. Oh really? Sounds like a belief to me, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “Belief” has gotten this dirty connotation for many who like to stylize themselves as “rationalists.” For them it is now synonymous with unsubstantiated and/or silly superstition, whereas truly it only means a mental state representing a relationship between self and the world, which we all must have to function. I care less about what a person believes than what said beliefs inspire in their actions.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Absolutely David! (Sorry for the slow response — not sure how I missed the notification.)

        I’m interested in how they affect behavior as well as what motivated their formation in the first place and the rationale behind how people use them.

        Any healthy way of life is engaged with reality. (That’s where health comes from, both by what the source provides and from the connection to the source itself provides in terms of belonging and integration.)

        When beliefs are used to encourage, navigate and successfully manage that engagement (successful to all involved) they’re great. But I notice that by and large when people speak of beliefs, they refer to things they use to insulate and protect themselves from the risks they think (superstitiously, because if they actually made contact they’d see otherwise) engagement with others and the world at large threatens them with. Those beliefs are toxic.

        And it’s possible to interact with people and the world without involving beliefs. It’s a very childlike experience. Even Jesus recommended it, LOL! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s