Monday, April 12, 2010

Reflections on The Mob

"Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you."(Mt 7:6).

Awhile back, I wrote about the mob (not to be confused with the Mafia) mentality turning on Richard Dawkins, who appealed to it against the Christians.  Currently, it is turning its hunger against the Catholic Church.

Seeing so many uninformed commentators posting on websites bashing the Church and accusing Catholics of defending sexual abuse, I thought it would be good to comment on some of the characteristics of the mob mentality sweeping the Internet

The Purpose of this Article

I don't intend to write this to attack any individual.  Most people who take part in mob mentality don't realize they are doing it.  Rather, I write this to my fellow Christians to help them deal with the attacks of the mob… which we Christians see opposed to us all too often.  If any individual reading this thinks what I say comes too close to home, remember that one can break free of the mob by refusing to follow what "everyone says" or "relying on the newspapers" to get the facts.  In other words, to investigate before attacking.

Characteristic #1: The Mob is Led by Appeals to Emotion, Not Reason

Usually an appeal to the mob is based on the appeal to emotion.  Some sort of horrible situation is either hypothesized, or a real situation (usually something which the target condemns anyway) is expressed as the norm which is approved of.  The emotion desired is that outrage over the issue as presented by the mob leader and disproportionate calls for action are the result.  Now, the one who feeds the mob may appeal to emotion by flattery, saying the members of the mob are clearly reasonable people and care about justice.  From there, the mob can be flattered into action along these lines:

  1. You are clearly a reasonable person.
  2. Those who disagree say you are wrong
  3. Therefore they are saying you are unreasonable.

This is an appeal to pride.

This brings us to the second characteristic.

Characteristic #2: The Mob cannot be reached by logic but is easily swayed by Logical Fallacies

This cuts both ways.  The one seeking to feed the mob cannot get too cerebral or they will lose the mob.  So the message needs to be kept simple in a slogan like manner.  On the other hand, the one defending their position against the mob has nothing to exploit.  Appeals to reasoned arguments will not work.  Either the argument goes above their head or there will be an agitator [See below] twisting your words to a meaning you never said to begin with.

Logical fallacies do work however… for our opponents.  We ourselves should never consider using them.  The ad hominem is very successful used against us, as is the red herringBulverisms are also effective.  Telling the mob that the argument is already proven in their favor will make them resistant to the facts showing them it is wrong.  "That's your opinion" is a common (and dishonest) tactic.

There was a biography (Soldat) of a German officer (Siegfried Knappe) who was a Russian prisoner after WWII.  He describes some of the attempts of the Russians to instill a sense of anti-Americanism in the prisoners.  So they were constantly bombarded with slogans that "Americans were for war, Russia was for peace."  Knappe reports that even there was no evidence for it, a person questioning it was often viewed as irrational by other prisoners.

This shows the disadvantage the Christian has in defending the faith.  In order to sway the mob, we would have to appeal to logical fallacies that are intellectually dishonest.

This is shown in the spurious allegations against the Pope.  The simple slogan is "The Pope covered for abusers."  The rebuttal takes far longer to state than the accusation because it has to show why the premise is wrong and then show the evidence to the contrary.

Characteristic #3: Reason drops dramatically in groups

Peer pressure and other tactics can sway individuals who, when alone, might listen to reason.  "The mob" is stupid, but this doesn't mean individuals within it are stupid.  This often happens when one person thinks something isn't quite right, but peer pressure can make them doubt their own knowledge, and give into the groupthink [decision-making by a group as a whole, resulting in unchallenged, poor-quality decisions] of mobs.

Lynch mobs historically were influenced this way.  Individuals may have thought the act was wrong, but when the whole crowd is howling for vengeance, it is easy for the individual to be influenced into setting their own judgment aside.

This is also how the Nazis came to power.  Of course there were individuals who thought Hitler was wrong.  However, when what seems to be the whole country is supporting an injustice, it is very hard to stand against the crowd without beginning to wonder if it is you who are wrong.

Those who feed the mob prey on this.  The use of the appeal to numbers fallacy is often successful: "Everyone else knows of this injustice.  Why do you support those who are guilty?"

This brings us to the next characteristic.

Characteristic #4: The slogan cannot be questioned.  If you question it, you stand with the enemy

There is a work called Fuhrer Ex, of a Neo Nazi in Germany who eventually grew sick of the movement (because he could no longer believe what they held) and left it.  One of the key elements of the book was that certain elements were so often repeated, using false sources, that it was accepted as true.  When the author began to question some of the assumptions of the group (holocaust denial, applications of violence etc.) he was unable to convince them… indeed the propaganda he helped form was cited as an authority against his arguments, and he was accused of siding with the enemy.

This is commonly employed with the current attacks against the Church.  The accusation "The Pope covered for abusers" is a slogan which cannot be questioned.  If you do, you are defending the evil in the slogan, not showing the truth in their mind.

Any attempts to rebut such an accusation is met with the accusation that the debunker is making excuses, "playing the victim card" and so on.

It is depressingly effective.  Consider all those out there who post comments on the blogs accusing Catholic apologists of "defending child rape" on the grounds that they question the slogan.   Never mind the fact that the Pope was a strong force for reforming the Church system.  Never mind the fact that the slogans are not supported by the actual facts.  If you dare to defend the Pope, you are accused of defending the system.

"You're either with us or against us" (or a variant in wording) is the battle cry.  No, this wasn't just George W. Bush (though he was appealing to the mob mentality, to his detriment).  Any group which accuses a person who disagrees with them of being on the side of the enemy uses this argument.  But this argument ignores the crucial question: Is it right that I am with you?  Do I have to be on the opposite side if I oppose you?

The mob demands we answer "yes" to both questions.  The reasoned person answers "If your position is true, I will stand with you.  If your position is not true, I will stand where the truth is to be found."

Unfortunately, the mob sees this as supporting the other side.

Characteristic #5: Agitators help influence the mob

This isn't an argument of a conspiracy theory.  I'm not talking about some person with a nefarious plot to overthrow something.  The mob generally is headless.  It can be guided and influenced but it can never be controlled.  The mob can turn on the one who tries to use it.

Rather, I am talking about true believers in a cause who have a strong hatred of whatever they are working against.  This zeal leads them to attack what they see as an enemy.  They instinctively make emotional appeals to steer the audience to their position.  These people tend to be zealous, or even fanatical in their hatred.  They are certain they are right.  However, they differ from those who are speaking the truth in that they generally will use any tactic against their enemy, justifying it on the grounds that the enemy does worse.

For example, ex-Catholics who become anti-Catholics take whatever real or imagined wrong from the Church which offends them, and use their anger as a focus to attack the Church, certain that whatever wrong they suffered (or think they suffered) was not only deliberate, but malicious as well.  So they scour Church documents for words which will justify their hatred of the Church, giving them the interpretation they choose.  If you tell them their interpretation is wrong, you are accused of lying.  Or being stupid.

Agitators are good at twisting words.  If you use a vague analogy, they will distort it.  If you use one example to lead into another point, they will use the the example and misrepresent it as being your point.  Their tone will always be condescending and mocking you… obviously you must be an idiot if you disagree with them.  [This is why Christians should avoid sarcasm and mocking.  Yes these people can make us angry, but getting angry is to lose the argument].

They will always reduce their arguments to slogans however, and will not listened to reasoned argument.  Why?  Because they aren't here to discuss the truth.  They are here to attack people who disagree with their accusation which they interpret as denying their experience.

These can either be poor at what they do, in which case you can reduce them to silence, or they can be skilled enough to make an argument futile: you won't get a fair hearing for your position.  The agitator's clever phrasing will lead the mob to think he has won when in fact, he is doing nothing to answer your actual points.

Sometimes you have to suppress your desire to get in the "last hit" and walk away from those people.  A "last act of defiance" almost never comes off looking as good as you hope it would.

Dealing with the Mob

Arguing your case before the mob is like casting pearls before swine.  If you take a position which the mob has been told is wrong, it will be distorted and the distortion will be turned against you.  They will believe the agitator's distortion is true and no matter what you say, it will be the agitator's misrepresentation and not what you said that they will believe. 

Now the temptation is to sink to their level, slinging mud for mud and insult for insult.  However, such a tactic may win points with the "living in Mom's basement" crowd who enjoys an exchange of insults, but it won't actually prove the point we are trying to get across.  It won't actually convince them either, because what the Christian calls people to is contrary to the appetite of the mob.

Christians can't feed the appetite of the mob.  Nor should we want to.  What the mob wants too often is wrong in the eyes of the believer. Whether the mob wants a scapegoat or whether the mob wants us to bless its immoral actions, we can't give them these things.

However, there is a way which we can use.  That is remembering that the mob is not a faceless mass, but is made up of individuals with different motives and levels of understanding.  You can't speak to the mob.  You can only speak to individuals.  Only individuals can be turned from error.  The mob simply wants the bread and circuses, and will support whoever will feed their appetite.

All we can do is to speak to the individual, hoping they will listen to the truth and not to what agitators distort our position to be, praying they will leave the mob.  Because of this, we need to pray that we act in accordance with God's will and try our best to act as representatives of the King.

After that we can do no more (though we must be tireless in doing this task).

Finally, we must remember that Jesus has told us men would hate us on account of Him.  They will use whatever scandal (real or imagined) they can find to fuel their hatred.  We should remember Christ's words in such a case:

22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.

23 Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. (Luke 6:22-23)

No comments:

Post a Comment