Platts: That Mob Mentality
Last Saturday night, I found myself immersed in a crowd of a couple thousand people. We had all taken over a street and were waiting to be told what to do by actors dressed in flower wreaths and Slavic style, old-fashioned robes. We were waiting for a trial to start, the trial of the Great Grump who is annually found guilty and burned at the stake.
We were just 20-plus miles away from Aspen (as the crow flies) in the mountain town of Crested Butte, and we were attending the annual Vinotok Festival, a pagan celebration that dates back to the Middle Ages. It coincides with autumn, celebrating the Harvest Earth Mother and the beginning of the season. The Great Grump appears on the last night. He is a large wooden monster-like creature that’s stands at roughly 25 feet. He acts as the scapegoat for the rest of us. The final night of Vinotok, he is the sacrifice for all of our sins.
The Grump is put on trial in the downtown area. Once he is found guilty, he is carted to an area just outside of town (for fire safety reasons, most likely) and burned at the stake. We, as the crowd, follow him out there, chanting and taunting the whole way. “Burn him, burn the grump, burn him now,” we all said in unison, over and over again. Even as the wooden structure was up in flames, we continued to yell. Every single one of us enraptured in this riot, this pseudo mob, portraying characteristics that were practically appalling. Yet, they were all so much fun.
The idea of a mob or herd mentality is something that has been studied in depth by psychologists and sociologists alike, and it’s for good reason. When people join together in group solidarity, they often feel invisible and safe. They can lose their individual inhibitions and even their values. In place of those come the group’s inhibitions and values, which are often much more drastic.
Instances of mob- or herd-like mentality practically date back to the beginning of time. Knowing the influence groups have over individuals helps us rationalize historical situations like the Salem Witch Trials, crucifixions from the time of the Roman Empire and executions in England in the Late Middle Ages.
Although things may be more civil in present day, instances of mob mentality are still very prevalent, as we’ve seen from protests that have turned violent throughout the country and the world in the past several years. At Vinotok, the whole burning of the Grump is meant to be a positive thing, and it is. However, it does make one think how quickly rational thought and individual beliefs and inhibitions can be tossed by the wayside when everyone is caught up in what the group stands for.
So, what was the takeaway lesson from this (besides that Vinotok is a funky, fun event and I highly recommend everyone attend at some point)? Perhaps the takeaway is that we all have to make a concerted effort to think for ourselves, even in turbulent and confusing times when just following the group or the trend seems like the easy and logical option. I believe this is particularly important to think about right now, as we are in an election season, and we all have several big decisions to make very soon. I’m not trying to sway anyone in a certain direction, on a local, regional or national level, I’m simply suggesting that we look at all of the facts in front us before casting our votes.
Happy election season!
Barbara Platts has always been a big group person. She constantly has to remind herself that what the group wants may not always be the rational choice for her. Reach her at email@example.com.
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In this week’s Writing Switch column, Ben and Sean throw out some basketball-related hypotheticals involving things everyone can appreciate: booze, gambling and partying like an A-lister.