Just How Bad Do We Want It?


It seems like so much has happened while I was away from my PC; where to start? What subject should I tackle as my first post after a lengthy pause?

Perhaps that the day I chose to leave the city for the slow comfort of the country was marked as the day thousands marched through Montreal to manifest against police brutality, which, ironically, resulted in brutality… leaving millions of dollars in damages in its wake… and hundreds of brutal arrests.
As an event, this was a prime example of failure at its best.
Certainly it can be argued that the “oppressive” police presence is what triggered anger in some supporters but in my opinion, taking this view is just playing the superficial blame-game to profit from what was to be an inevitable (and perhaps even desired?) consequence since, in my mind, the rally clearly involved a mob even though no-one seemed to be mindful of this. I know; this is where I have to explain my view…

Now, according to R. W. Emerson: “A mob is a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason;” this definition appears to be the one used in the jargon belonging to sociology and psychology; even Max Weber’s treatment of the subject is in line with this. Although I agreed with it at first, further reflection led me to conclude that this definition, as it applies to this sense of the word, needs to be reviewed. Firstly, the idea of voluntarily giving up something, as presented in Emerson’s definition, implies a “united consciousness” and I fervently believe that any concept of a “collective or uniting goal” unfortunately needs to be excluded from the definition of mob adopted by the authorities and organizers; although people may unite under one given theme does not mean that they are all present for the same reasons…
Facts are that in many “riots,” the damages are often caused by a very small percentage that sees such gatherings as opportunities to go wild, to justify violent urges, and to make off with a TV or two… The words 'Stanley cup' and 'Montreal' should suffice to illustrate this idea.

As such, I believe that a proper definition of the term applicable in a sociological and/or psychological context should be: a mob is a society of bodies, gathered under the guise of a uniting factor, for whom particular events may trigger a collective loss of individual responsibility i.e. big crowd = mob.
In other words, if a 'trigger' which may potentially result in negative societal behaviour en masse can be discerned, we are hence dealing with a mob; this is true for almost any large group of people (hence 'mob effect'). Think about it, one wrong turn of events and even something as joyful as the Just for Laugh Festival has the potential to turn into a bloodbath…

This new definition I am proposing may seem pointless, but it should be noted that it distinguishes itself from the original in that it refers to an event in stasis rather than to one that is already set in motion; my definition would thus embody the potential side of the potential versus kinetic energy dichotomy found in physics. Therefore, the sense we normally attribute to a mob should eventually concretize in our minds as a 'thing' for which rioting represents only one mode of expression, instead of a 'thing' that is expressing rioting… From this p.o.v., it should now come as no surprise that even an anti-vandalism rally can produce record breaking acts of vandalism if that 'energy' is improperly triggered…

And why go through all that linguistic hoopla and an anal redefinition of a definition? Why take that semantics tangent to focus on such a minute part—a particle, a word—of the problem i.e. mob. It’s simple: simply, to simplify complexly simple matters…

Of course, this is just my way of poking fun at the 'twits' I generally see in charge on both sides of these types of events—those leading the 'cause' and those responsible for public 'security'; I am too often made to feel that certain basic tenets and tautologies need to be explained to them. How else can we reinforce the idea that they should be acting in a manner that actually befits their cause? Although there have been many worthwhile, well-organized, and efficient manifestations throughout history, unfortunately, most give the air of having been planned in between several Martinis and a greasy, early-afternoon breakfast at the local diner. Good intentions aren’t enough to produce a change, and so all too often what I see is behaviour that does nothing but hinder most causes. I couldn’t have asked for a better example for all of this than the March 15th "March Against Police Brutality."

In this case, had the law applied my definition whilst planning security measures, they surely would have asked themselves: hmmm…what type of thing can act as a trigger setting off this mob into riot mode? The most obvious answer possible, an oppressive and intimidating police presence, would no doubt have crossed their minds.The fact that police confronted the crowds in the manner in which they did, manipulating them into smaller more manageable groups, clearly points towards stupidity and makes me entirely question whether or not they actually wanted to avoid a confrontation.
Having a large number of officers dressed in civvies, aiding organisers and acting as supporters for the cause would no doubt have procured a greater and more efficient control and would have greatly enhanced police image. And what better way to diffuse a cause then by a show of support from the targeted members?
But no, instead the police showed up wearing the latest in fascist chic; evidently, they were taking a stand. They were being used as a political tool rather than functioning within the confines of what should be their primary roles, i.e. ensuring public safety and enforcing the law; the people behind this clear and deliberate choice to use the police this way should be fired!
Do we also need to redefine for them what the role of the police should be and why there was such a march???

So why did I previously say that putting the blame on the police was just a lame way to divert some of the responsibility?

Because, if those responsible for the march had been earnest in their proclaimed efforts, they certainly would have organised things differently; they would have applied pressure before the event to ensure an entirely different kind of police presence—that of supporters rather than oppressors—and consequently encourage change through positive efforts all the while avoiding a repeat of last year’s events. All sorts of (media) tactics could have been applied to guarantee a productive, sensitizing collaboration from Montreal’s police force, so the question begs to be asked: are organisers happy things turned out the way they did since this gave validity to their cause (and also enhanced any sense of importance they may derive from this)?
This leads to more question begging: Was the idea to gather a horde of easily angered citizens in a period marked by financial difficulties and violent upheavals against totalitarian acts around the world really the best way to go?
The logic and planning that was demonstrated by the people that organised this event greatly makes me question their true intentions and whether or not they actually do want to attain their goal.
Manifestations shouldn’t be a part of a marketing campaign and a way to sensitise people to a cause; they should be tools to indicate that a clear change is being demanded by a strongly united portion of the populace…

So perhaps if supporters, organisers, and the authorities realise that they’re dealing with a mob—to which we seem to assign more importance and power than a crowd—at the onset of the event rather than at the onset of rioting, this small shift in perception will instil a greater sense of responsibility in all those involved, as well as a more focused participation, and a greater achievement of all’s intended goals that can only result from better planning. This shift should also force leading members to re-question their respective approaches, as well as force some sort of introspective reassessment of one’s personal values and… (OK, now I’m off into La La Land.) In many cases, for many causes, I really don’t think that marches and manifestations are the best ways of producing change, although they certainly are the easiest to organise and to feel good about (I walked therefore I really care… yeah! Right!)…

Essentially, I’m hoping this new definition will  move people towards proactive modes of thinking and away from re-active ones.
Why do I care? Because I am genuinely upset by the many results I witness due to so much counter-productive energy and the painfully slow changes this produces, just as I am upset by the fact that present conditions necessitate the very existence of so many of these causes.
I’m all for positive change but the best way I have found to support 'my causes' is at the individual level – it has nothing to do with collective chants but everything to do with the way I choose to live my life on a daily basis…

Conversely, I’m also hoping that enough people will eventually clue in to the idea that if big crowd = mob, that once properly united, awesome changes could in fact be applied through modes of communications other than rioting – what’s important to remember is the potential, raw energy (power) that a mob represents. Now it may be true that in North America, the top 2 % now have more wealth than the bottom 94% combined, but we also seem to be forgetting that this 94, if properly “energized” does have the potential to apply a greater control over that 2%. If we all apply certain changes in our individual lives, big collective ones are bound to come… And just imagine if we all actually channelled that potential energy through proactive protests rather than shift the burden and still rely on the militant few who will always be willing to march on…

Well… I guess that this will be the topic for this first-in-a-while post after all! I had originally intended on putting together a list-like description of all the events that had caught my attention since my last tirade but it looks like I lost “it” on the first topic alone…


Keep on clicking!

PDL

© 2009, Pascal-Denis Lussier
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