Whether it is a crowd at a football match, a crowd attending a religious festival or a crowd of people rioting against a grievance or just rioting because they feel like it, dealing with crowds is hard for anyone in authority, because mixed up in crowds are a lot of individuals.
The difficulty as far as brain science goes is knowing how to sort the individual from the crowd. We are all possessing multiple selves, and there is no doubt that when an individual becomes a member of the pack then a pack mind takes over.
The problem for those in authority is that dealing with a crowd as a crowd turns most of the individuals into being members of a crowd, and getting people back to minds which are individual and so can choose different options from the crowd, is immensely difficult.
One criticism of containment policies, now called Kettling, is that this is precisely what happens to people as individuals. A large number of people change from having many different agendas to being part of a group with a simple and single agenda, which is usually negative.
Similarly, a criticism of media coverage is that it too creates the identity of a movement of people and not a collection of individuals, even down to asking individuals why ‘are you here?’, with the implication of a plural You not a singular You.
Likewise, the individuals in crowds often have great difficulty saying why they are there, because they have split minds, suddenly being treated as an individual but one who is part of a group. The result is often some inane remark which does justice to no-one.
The problem for the President, or for the Prime Minister, or just the Chief of Police, Head of Security or whatever, is that it is in other ways handy to have people seen as a collective and not a set of individuals.
If ‘the mob’ gets out of hand, then you can treat it as a mob, which is much simpler. So leaders at all levels have had the tendency to subscribe to groups of people as if they were one body, so Maggie Thatcher took on ‘The Unions’, and President Bush wanted to take on ‘The Terrorists’, and policing in cities around the world deals with ‘gang violence’, and so on.
But although this sounds simpler those people who try to get change in those communities find that dealing with people as individuals works much better. As individuals we have much more of a conscience, as individuals we recognise that other’s are individuals, including the police.
And it is true that people who are protesting about the financial crisis while emphasising their own personal rights to free speech and freedom of movement are castigating other people as groups, and so take on the police as if they are one body of people defending the capitalist system, or the bankers as if all banks and all financial institutions are the same.
So the Advice to the President, or the Prime Minister, or the Minister of Justice, or the Chief Inspector of Police, is to put massive effort into treating people as individuals, which will take a lot of creative thinking, but it is the only way, and the same applies to drug issues, or any other cult laden groups such as the obese, the unemployed, and favourite group of all for the politicians, ‘tax paying working families’, which might include the odd rich banker of course.
Groups, crowds, cults, gangs, have an evolutionary path that is so unpredictable, so irrational, that effort to try to manage them should be minimal.
Crowds are said to have wisdom, but in fact only when acting as a loose set of unrelated individuals.
‘We the people’ is not actually a good start for any democracy, but maybe ‘we the individuals’ could be.