Tuesday, 15 April 2014

‘Dios los cria y ellos se juntan’

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

The crowd is group contagion on a larger scale and with broader borders. Crowd behaviour has been studied from many angles and in a nutshell, two streams are apparent. People join a crowd because of a conscious or unconscious, rational or irrational affinity to something or the desire to behave in a particular way.

This is called convergent theory. But the crowd itself, for whatever reason, also makes people behave in a particular way. This is called contagion theory. You can see that both are possible and likely to appear together. Homo Imitans has some characteristics that make him find affinity with others (convergence). Once inside the crowd or large social group, he can see others ‘going with the flow’. It’s a visible phenomenon. And so, he will become infected by the collective behaviour (contagion), which will reinforce his belonging to the crowd. But there is a third element. The collective itself may also create its own emergent and somehow invisible rules. This trio of crowd rules also explains quite a lot of what is going on inside organizations even if strictly speaking organizations are not crowds. People may join an organization because they want to be part of it. There may be many reasons. Once inside, ‘the organization joins them’.

Now, some crowds are one-off phenomena, others are transitory, some recurrent (civil rights protests) and some are established rituals (religious gatherings). In some crowds the stability is often precarious. The crowd’s own rules can be broken very easily by small deviations, particularly if Homo Imitans has ‘converged’ from different ‘positions’ and uses the crowd as a vehicle of expression. In crowd mode, sometimes all it takes is a minority of rule-breakers to exacerbate hidden emotions in Homo Imitans. The anti-Iraq war demonstrations in the UK and other parts of the world saw enormous (largely selforganized) crowds composed of a variety of unlikely companions. On the surface, they all had the anti-war theme in common, but the motivations behind their anti-war stance and the ‘crowd-joining’ mechanisms were extremely diverse. The crowd, which can have its own personality and emotions, is the perfect social copier and amplifier. An old classification of primal emotions is useful here4. It is said that if the dominant emotion is fear, the crowd could convert it into panic. If it’s craze, the crowd produces joy. If it’s anger, the crowd breeds hostility.

Incidentally, I believe my parents may have inadvertently been very fond of the convergent theory, as they often used the Spanish expression Dios los cria y ellos se juntan’. This translates roughly as ‘God creates them and then they get together’, pretty much meaning people always seem to be able to find likeminded people and associate themselves with those. The English say ‘birds of a feather flock together’, but in my parents’ opinion that always meant something more. It meant trouble...

For more visit www.viralchange.com

No comments: