Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The nature of the mob

Mencius Moldbug thinks that Egypt is screwed, in a must-read post:
For we have seen this movie before. When the student of history contemplates the "Jasmine Revolution," applauded deliriously by the entire "international community," by Americans right and left, Brahmins and rednecks, neocons and paleocons and progressives, post-Trotskyists, post-Maoists and post-Stalinists, not to mention every human being on Earth who has so much as heard of Egypt, all serenading pure chaos with gladiatorial bloodlust - CNN had become so boring lately - the student does not even need to set his time machine. The pattern is simply too familiar. The autopilot can see it. The pony knows his way back home.

The student is at once in Russia, February, 1917: the archetypal exported revolution.
What's important about this post is how things go bad.  Moldbug claims that it's the mob, and the psychology of the mob cuts across all points on the political spectrum:
The power conservatives at Powerline, for instance, write:
My guess is that Arab dictatorships, like autocracies elsewhere, will prove surprisingly brittle once they are challenged. What the current unrest will lead to is anyone's guess, but there is no reason to think that more popular input will lead to friendlier regimes. Instead, we may see more Irans and Gazas. Be that as it may, there is a certain relief in seeing the dam finally break and the ossified, archaic, anti-free enterprise ruling elites of the Arab world come tumbling down.
Here is the true arsonist's logic, approaching real mens rea - almost, but not quite, a conscience. Of course, if I throw a Molotov cocktail into this church, it will burn down. Lives may be lost. Lives will be lost! But, I mean, what a flammable building. Look - the whole thing is made entirely of wood. Even the siding. And it's such an ugly, cheap, common little building. And besides, those horrible snake-handling Pentecostalists...

On so many issues today, especially in foreign policy, this is the difference between the American liberal and the American conservative. The liberal delights in the fire - he hates the church, this church, any church, all churches. Once it is burned down, he thinks, it can be replaced by a modern, handicapped-accessible and well-stocked library. His reforming impulse is founded in cupidity, in the human lust for power, but above them he has built a charming little cottage of delusions and good intentions.

The conservative knows that burning the church is wrong. He knows that nothing will be built on the rubble, that it will remain a heap of charred bricks and snake corpses for years and perhaps decades. But he also knows that some liberal will burn the church if he doesn't; he, too, is human and delights in the sight of flame; and he's not a Pentecostalist. So he goes right along and flicks his Bic.
RTWT, which is pretty depressing, but pretty smart.  What he doesn't cover in his post is why the mob acts this way.  That's hinted at in another must-read post by Blue.  He tells a story from his military training, tells it well, and uses it to show us the psychology of crowds caught up in unexpected situations, concluding with this:
That night, those few hours, were a life changing experience for me.  I learned that people are sheep.  All of us are, at one time or another in our lives.  I learned that you can be scared to the point that you cannot make a rational decision no matter how hard you try.  I learned that 60 men who could have easily overpowered their "guards", didn't.  Training.

I made a decision right then and there that I would never allow myself to be put in the position of being a cowardly sheep again.  I have never been so ashamed of myself as I was when I went over that night in my mind.  Perhaps ashamed is too strong a word, perhaps disappointed in myself is a more appropriate  description of how I felt.   I wasn't prepared for what was happening to me....
Right now, the situation in Egypt is pregnant with marvelous possibility.  Everyone across the spectrum, from the Powerline dudes to the Kos Kidz are rooting for the People.  It's very likely that the Egyptian People will force Mubarak from power soon.  Elation seems to be called for.

Except what will come next?  Russia 1917 shows what happened in Iran 1979.  A few ruthless people who do not shrink from the naked use of force will find themselves facing a vastly greater number of people who flinch from the logical conclusion of Revolution.  Those people will find themselves in Blue's situation, only it won't be a training drill.

Quite frankly, I don't agree with Moldbug's recommendation that we stick with Mubarak - that while he may be an SOB, he's our SOB. But this is going to be messy, for a long time, and a lot of people in Egypt are going to get hurt or killed.  We've seen it here on these shores:

Under the terms of Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Tory troops were treated as turncoat Americans rather than prisoners of war. And the treaty that ended the war allowed the states to enforce their laws sanctioning the confiscation of loyalists’ property. Branded as traitors and denied their homes and farms, tens of thousands of Tories felt they had no choice but to obey the taunting jingle they so often heard: “Tories with their brats and wives / Should fly to save their wretched lives.”


No one knows how many Tories renounced their homeland. By some counts, about 80,000 fled—proportionally, six times the number of people who escaped from France during the French Revolution. A larger estimate came from a Tory historian who wrote that “not less than 100,000 souls” left New York City. Most exiles chose Canada and transformed a wilderness into a nation.
A sadly familiar dynamic has been unleashed, one that seems to be sweeping all parties up in a whirlwind of excitement.  It is almost certain to play out the way it always plays out, with a population unprepared to resist a ruthless but tiny minority whose only asset is their understanding that the masses, while fundamentally decent, are sheep.


New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Oh THIS line made that worth it: "that it will remain a heap of charred bricks and snake corpses for years"

Blue said...

Very well stated. Bravo!

kdzu said...

Power to the sheeple? Never happens. Eventually after they have been sheared throughout their productive lives they are led to the slaughter and bleed out with hardly a bleat of surprise or dismay......
just surprise.

Windy Wilson said...

To quote a fictional miltaristic darling of American leftists*, "As usual, your logic is impeccable,"
except in this case it really is, and really does come to a rationally supported conclusion.

*Starfleet Captain Kirk