4 Lessons from The Crowd | Gustave Le Bon
I’m impressed whenever I read centuries-old literature that is still applicable in this day and age. I’m especially in awe when I read The Crowd, written by French psychologist Le Bon in 1895, way before the invention of any modern communication methods. One hundred years later, with the emergence of telephones, televisions, and the Internet, the wisdom of the book becomes more salient than ever. In other words, though technology has evolved and communities have scaled up from small towns to the entire globe, people’s tendency to act in a crowd setting has not changed. In the following section, I will illustrate the key lessons from the book that still holds true in modern society.
Who Should Read It: a must-read for anyone who wants to understand crowd psychology
1. The Crowd Determines the Trajectory Of History
Throughout history, countless dynasties and civilizations that rise and fall. These changes in historical direction are often the result of human forces. The cycle of a crowd overthrowing current regimes and establishing a new one that is eventually overthrown by another crowd repeats itself over and over. Humans are creatures filled with emotions and ideas, and this is even more so in a crowd.
2. Individuality Disappears In the Crowd
A crowd is not just a gathering of people, rather a group of people sharing the same sentiment. Le Bon argues that, when people come together as a crowd, their individual intelligence and characters are compromised. Instead, they form a collective mind that makes them think and act. Crowd members acquire a feeling of invincibility that allows them to do things that they wouldn’t do if they are on their own.
My Take: In modern society, people like to belong identify themselves with different groups, such as music, ethnicity, and political agenda. When a group’s core belief is challenged, its fervent members would sometimes retrieve to violence and other extreme methods to defend their views. Very often, the loss of clear individual conscience causes many tragedies from terrorist attacks to cyberbullying.
3. Crowds Are Easily Influenced
Given that the crowd forms a singular mind, it can be easily influenced by suggestions. Le Bon believes that a crowd’s mind cannot differentiate the subjective from the objective, and is only capable of thinking in vivid images and simple yet extreme ideas.
My Take: With the simple access to massive unfiltered information thanks to the Internet, it is easier to manipulate a crowd than ever. This is especially noticeable during election season. Hackers, politicians, and their avid supporters would conjure up simple yet ridiculous rumors about opponents that the public would buy into. In addition, some would go to the extreme of using photoshop or false captions on images of the opposing candidates to further strengthen their arguments. Though the rumors might sound ridiculous to impassionate outsiders, to a crowd that is incapable of thinking critically, they become a reliable stream of information.
4. Secrets to Persuading the Crowd
After explaining the psychology and motivation behind crowds, Le Bon provides three key characteristics for leaders of crowds.
- Affirmation: pure and simple messages that are free of reasoning and proof
- Repetition: incessant repetition of the affirmation makes the inconceivable eventually facts in the crowd’s mind
- Contagion: once affirmation message establishes its ground, the message will spread like a virus among the public
My Take: When I was reading these characteristics, Donald Trump immediately comes to mind. Set aside his political career, he is a master in manipulating crowd psychology. When he starts his presidential campaign, his message is simple and easy to remember: MEGA (Make America Great Again). Even though his message is based on the premise that the current administration is bad, the public often skips questioning the premise. Next, he repeats this message so much that people start to believe in it. To have his message be contagious, he makes extreme comments that are often proofless so that they can be reported by news and social media, causing his message to spread quickly.
Thank you for reading my summary. If you enjoy it, feel free to check out my other book reviews at https://jackyangzzh.medium.com/