Monday, January 30, 2006

the madness of crowds

despite everything that has and has not transpired in this offseason, the fanbase of the chicago cubs remains as obscenely maniacal as ever. what we are entering is often touted to be the season of hope -- when, in confluence with the heady emergence of the spring, with not a game having been played, wild flights of fancy dominate discussion and the denial of reality becomes acceptable in a saturnalia of sport. polls like this almost invariably result in half the public calling for the cubs to win the world series, much less the division, while their most likely landing spot as currently constructed -- fourth in a competitive national league central -- can't find sufficient attention to garner even 7%.

it is the results of such polling that have given this writer over the course of years and endless repetition a rather jaded view of the mob and its capacity to think. gustave le bon and charles mackay long ago turned empirical eyes on the crowd to reach their simple but startling conclusions -- that men acting in unison without law forfeit their souls and free will to become not heroic but stupid, mechanical drones subject to the command of their basest nature and animal passion, gullible to deceptions and susceptible to suggestions that even a simple man acting alone would easily suspect and reject.

the examinations of these studies and the social sciences that have filled the intervening centuries have convinced this writer of the absolute need, in a time of lawlessness, to be a contrarian in all things. this worldview is by definition unpopular -- so much so that wikipedia has not yet managed to say much of anything about it -- and yet finds itself a consistent improvement on popular wisdom. the employment of individual reason, while itself a miniscule and miserable power in the vastness of accumulated wisdom, cannot but help to be more sane than the willful blindness of a doctrine of complete introversion -- which is all that the madness of a crowd can profess to be.

in joining a mob, consciously or no, all men succumb to the compulsion of their nature to be alike; this compulsion is so deeply rooted and basic that this writer has little doubt that it stems not from any learned behavior but the very nature of our construction. tribalism is an excellent genetic preservative that can be found throughout the natural world. man, at once unique apart from and the same with the animals, submits to the laws of his animal kin in acquiescing to the herd -- and in so doing, abdicates his free will to be a creature transcendent of his nature and alike with a conception of god.

doing so requires submission not to any externality -- there is no rationality, no empiricism, no weighing of facts in following. personal responsibility is deferred with the will to act. it is instead the ultimate indulgence of the inward -- a nameless, consuming desire welling up from within sated with complicity. it is ultimately a selfish negation of the phenomenal world.

many have confused the crowd with civilized community -- but it is nothing of the kind. civil society is man acting not in a mob but under law, restrained by the wisdoms of solon and solomon. it is man submitting not only his right to act in contravention of others but in concert with others against wisdom, the traditions and institutions which protect it, and the rhetoric and dialectic which define it. the use of reason and the search for transcendent wisdom is as old as civilization itself -- indeed, is the very first rung in jacob's ladder, the first step from the slough of despond toward the wicket gate. its abdication for the dark, brooding resorts of emotion is the rejection of all that is good in community and, to this writer's chagrin, the hallmark of our times.

this page would implore you, dear reader, to be more than a lost soul in a sea of animal madness. embrace reason and wisdom alike. use the intelligence that what gods may be have endowed unto you to seek the measure of truth where you can. reject such indulgences of pleasant fantasy as delude you from reality, not to seek some harsh asceticism or a malefactory pessimism but to claim the right to and responsibility for this society, its wisdom and continuity, its maintenance and gradual perfection.

a baseball team can only be some insignificant microcosm within that much broader and more important task. but it is a place to start.

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