Gustave Le Bon, a French social psychologist, is considered the father of crowd psychology and offers a cynical yet more than likely accurate analysis of the nature of individuals when they renounce their individuality and embrace being a part of a group. A crowd is a herd of people centered on an idea, but Le Bon posits that for an idea to be populist enough for a crowd to rally around, it must be simplified to the point where they are able to grasp it. In today’s context, it would need to fit within 140 characters. Typically, the crowd looks to a leader, as the leader is the one who comprehends the idea (or is Machiavellian enough to manipulate the crowd with the presumption of their comprehension) and can direct the pedagogy of its ideals. Those within the crowd abandon their individuality and are willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the greater benefit of the group. The 20th century was rife with examples, such as Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Hitler and the Nazis, or Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. Crowds are not intrinsically moral or immoral constructs, but we will talk more on that later.

Social media is rife with the crowd mentality, as each individual zealously adheres to their chosen ideological clique, but these cliques notoriously do not have an individual guide who possesses the intellect to direct them. Occupy Wall Street, the movement borne of the social media trend, celebrated its lack of leadership before floundering within the maelstrom of differing priorities and beliefs. The Arab Spring suffered similar defeat when the movement was co-opted by the military due to its distinctive lack of leadership and the power vacuum it invariably created.

The traditional online movements, such as the MRAs, the feminists, the Tea Partiers, and the SJWs rely on memes, tweets, and Tumblr posts as their ideological directors. The crowd creates its own ideological drive, and given the mediocrity of the crowd mentality, simplifies their ideological canon even further to the point of inane nonsense. However, the crowd mentality survives and the zealotry that begets self-sacrifice offline translates to the most vitriolic diatribe as people fearlessly defend this nonsense with the online anonymity that precludes consequences.

Let’s look at an example:

l05snt4On the surface, this meme appears to illustrate the fear allegedly inherent to the female experience, and offers a means for men to potentially empathize with them. However, it’s really a very shallow surface. Let’s look to see what it’s saying.

Who is this meme for? That’s easy, it’s addressed to you. However, using the second person narrative personalizes the message, and by its assumptions about the way you treat women and the way you feel about gay men, it becomes accusatory. Being online, this accusation lacks any humanity behind it, and therefore is simply alienating. Anyone who could genuinely benefit from its message will dismiss it based on its very nature.

Ignoring what I just said, maybe it’s for homophobes in general. Except its definition of homophobia excludes women from being homophobic, despite women being only marginally less homophobic than men (34% opposing gay marriage in the US in 2015 compared to 36% of men). It also does not account for how one could possibly be homophobic toward lesbians, thereby delegitimizing its entire definition of homophobia. And really, what message is it giving to homophobes anyway? That the homophobia you experience is akin to the lived experiences of women? Would that not justify homophobic beliefs if we consider women’s fear justifiable, or alternatively, render irrational (if we assume homophobia is irrational) the fear derived from women’s lived experiences? This leads me to believe that this meme is not for women either (despite the sage who offers her great wisdom being the clear protagonist of this story), as I doubt most women would want the fear they experience in a parking lot likened to the fear a homophobe has of sharing a taxi with a gay man.

Is it for misogynistic men? Are they supposed to foster homophobic beliefs in order to develop the empathy needed for a greater connection to the female experience? I’m assuming that is not the intent, but maybe I’m giving it too much credit.

So, it’s not for anyone, its message is contradictory to its intent, and it’s oppositional and divisive by its very nature. Its target audience is the crowd. Its message of empathy, feminism, and LGBT rights is watered down to the nonsensical, yet those who reject its message are considered outsiders and enemies. Its place is in an echo chamber of stupidity.

Why would people want to be a part of this idiocy? Le Bon theorizes that being a part of the crowd masks the impotency that individuals face when large obstacles need to be overcome. There is strength in numbers, and crowds are necessarily required for revolutionary action. However, the strength of the online crowd is only an illusion, as social media activism does not lead to any kind of tangible change. The impotence that the individual is running from carries over into social media, but it becomes hidden in the confidence derived from being a part of a crowd.

Crowds on their own are neither good nor evil. Occupy Wall Street was founded on the same principles as the Tea Party movement: discontent over the plutocracy running America. Even Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump share the belief that corporate-financed politics and mass globalization are detrimental to the world at large. The fiery division results from the ideological zealotry of each crowd. Our moral judgement of the followers of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders comes from our interpretation of their ideals, however bastardized, to which they as a crowd are beholden. However, Le Bon argues that being part of a crowd enables the beastial nature within us to bare its fangs, as personal responsibility dissipates when surrounded by peers. This leads the typical crowd to veer toward less-than-savoury dogmatism, as seen in the fights breaking out at rallies. Of course, with a capable leader, such as Martin Luther King, a crowd can adhere to strictly non-violent methods and still accomplish their goals. The online crowd prefers chaos, antagonism, and memes, however, but luckily it is ineffectual enough to enact real change.