Mob(s): A structured organism

With this metaphor, we might find it simpler to understand how the principles of a mob operate, and how they work in isolation from the rest of the World.

A mob is an organism. With this metaphor, we might find it simpler to understand how the principles of a mob operate, and how they work in isolation from the rest of the World. In the usual cases we see, such as that of Akbar from Alwar, the lynching of Pehlu Khan, the lynching of Junaid, have a lot in common. Here the creature attempts to terminate what is not in sync with its own mind. Each cell of this creature constitutes, at least on the surface, of people who carry a similar set of values and deem that those values are the only ones to be practiced.

Now the important psychological question here would be, why does a set of people need their principles upheld by ‘everyone’, and what is the reason behind this aggression, that only takes place within the mob, and would probably be unlikely if it was only one individual to another.
However, this cannot be examined in isolation to a sociological context.

The theory we can use to understand the context of a mob is the social identity theory that was proposed by Henri Tajfel. This theory consists of 2 types of groups, the “in-group”, and the “out-group.” The in-group consists of people who have something in common, it may be very little, but it serves as a binding force, for example, religion, nationality, fear against a common object, etc. This, in our context, would be the creature. (Mob) And then the “out-group”, that can simply be defined by an individual or a group existing outside the “in-group”, and lacking the binding thread of the “in-group.” Thus all that exists outside the mob, if different from it, can be seen as the “out-group.” For example, in case of a religious lynching such as the case in Alwar or the case of Pehlu Khan, the in-group bound together by anger against cow violence, killed the outside, or the “out-group” due to their lack of a feeling of worship towards the cow. However, it is important to note, that in most of these cases only speculation that the outsider has eaten or sold a cow is enough for the creature to jump to action, to ‘protect’ the said cow, as it is their religious symbol.

Now, it’s important to note that there are a lot of systems in place that exists outside of the emotionally, (fear and anger) driven organism of the mob. Such as the political powers, the judicial powers, etc. And these forces form the environment that can either check the organism and reach the roots of the problem, or that could facilitate and foster the creature to do its own bidding and act upon impulse. It is quite common to be protective of what you follow, and look at anything that is different, as a threat, and think that the only two options are either the destruction of the outside or the destruction of the inside. In a country such as India, many people following different religions co-exist in a democracy, yet the organism of a mob can become highly authoritative and would take action for the removal of the ‘other.’

The famous theory of the “Diffusion of Responsibility” also applies here, that when acting in a group, the sense of responsibility of the act committed is negligible as it is distributed through the group. Thus the bigger the group the lesser the responsibility one feels individually.

We can also use the same theory to talk about cases that exist outside religion, for example, a 55 year old woman who was distributing candy among children was lynched due to a rumour that was going around which stated that child abductors are going to be active in the area, and the locals speculated that she was one of them. 27 people have been killed due to similar situations throughout the country, since May 2018. These threats have spread through social media (WhatsApp) Thus the mob has been formed online, and came physically together only to take action. Here a fear of the loss of children, (a paranoia we might call it) lead to the violent outbursts that finally lead to killings. The in-group here are bound together by a paranoia of sorts (even after repeated announcements that the messages were only rumors by the police) to protect children, and anyone outside the group becomes an object for the fears and violence.

Now if we deconstruct this organism and look at the cells that enable it to breathe, move, think and take action, we find ordinary humans. These human beings deal with everyday life and go through their own caste and class struggles. They may have their own privileged position in society, they may be down-trodden. And in ordinary life society denies the expression of anger directly, and thus one may quell their anger that arises from their daily life to a point where they might not even be aware of it. Yet in a situation where they meet with people who have something (anything) in common with them, it is quite possible that they may take this anger out on anyone existing outside the group. Thus channeling their rage and dismay onto a scapegoat.

About the author

Reva, a second year student of bachelors in psychology, finds the pleasures of life in writing. She is working with Mind Piper as our Story Designer. She can be seen in various parts of Delhi with a diary, a pen and a laptop; capturing the world through ink and words. Psychoanalysis is her coffee, and perhaps, her lens of viewing all that goes on within her, and outside of her. And what is a writer after all, without her cup of coffee!

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