“We are more animals than we imagine”: how ordinary people turn into marauders


The new scandal associated with the murder of an African American by a police officer resembles another remake of a story that has been repeated more than once in this country. The use of force in the arrest of a black man again led to tragedy. The detainee – or rather, the victim – died, and this event produced the effect of a match lit near a powder store.

The peaceful protest of the deceased’s friends and relatives turns into a rally, which is gathering more and more people. The availability of information on social networks and emotional reposts with appeals “warm up” the crowd. Armed clashes, looting and vandalism begin. The situation is getting out of control, the authorities decide to send troops into the city. Protest movements are also emerging in other localities.

How does a peaceful protest of those mourning the loss of loved ones turn into an armed uprising and pogroms?

“The riots that we are now witnessing are taking place against the backdrop of a pandemic, against the background of a long stay of a huge number of people in a situation of quarantine or self-isolation,” says psychotherapist Vladimir Dashevsky. – The times are very difficult, many of these people have lost money and jobs. Driven to despair, and even forced to stay at home for a long time. Naturally, their needs are not met.

For several months, social tension has accumulated in society – a spring effect has been created. And one reason was enough to make emotions flare up like gunpowder.

Let us note that similar incidents occur quite often in America. And yet, these incidents do not lead to such an escalation as they are now, when unrest after riots in many US cities. People are seized with righteous anger, they want to relieve tension. And the classic way to release tension is aggression. “

What laws are in force in the crowd?

“First of all, this is total dehumanization – a person in a crowd, partly ceases to be a person as we know him, that is, a reasonable person – homo sapiens. More ancient structures that are evolutionarily embedded in us are included, – continues Vladimir Dashevsky. – We are talking about the so-called “emotional brain”. The paleocortex are ancient structures in the cerebral cortex that determine the behavior of animals rather than humans. Subjectively, this is a rather pleasant feeling of taking off control.

The crowd is anonymous. And despite the fact that now there are cameras on every corner, we remember that all these people are wearing masks and it is quite difficult to identify them. It is the anonymity that gives this feeling of belonging to something larger, to the pack. And it turns out that people turn into a kind of education – in a sense, without a head. Indeed, the crowd is like the “Headless Horseman”, exclusively with emotions.

The crowd is most often guided by unconscious attitudes and very ancient instincts

This is similar to the behavior of fish: where one looks, the whole flock instantly turns in that direction. There is no need to talk about a sense of responsibility here.

Social psychologists Gustave Le Bon, Charles Tart, Serge Moscovici investigated the behavior of the crowd and identified certain laws: infection, imitation, and so on. You need to understand that this behavior is unconscious.

The crowd is most often guided by unconscious attitudes and very ancient instincts. Long, complex thoughts cannot be held back. Usually some one idea prevails – for example, to beat and destroy ”.

The last words of the deceased in Minneapolis: “I can’t breathe” – have become a slogan that is uttered and painted by completely different people. The protesters are quickly developing a new identity – they have a common enemy and a common idea. Thanks to this identity, they already act as a single whole.

Social psychologist Naomi Ellemers conducted a laboratory experiment in which participants were divided into groups of higher and lower status. It turned out that when it is impossible to “rise” to another level, people begin to identify themselves more strongly with their group of lower status and do everything possible to overthrow the “top”.

Elemental or controlled process?

“The fact that pogroms, looting and so on are taking place is, in a sense, a good indicator,” Dashevsky said. – It deals with crowd control.

The fact that people started to rob is good in the sense that they did not kill. The crowd, engulfed in righteous anger, thirsts for blood, murder. And redirecting this energy to robbery means: perhaps there is someone there who controls this mass. And, probably, there are some agents of influence – people from state structures or someone else. If you choose between two evils, robbery is better than murder.

Le Bon said that the crowd is like leaves being lifted by a hurricane and blown in different directions, and then falling to the ground. And this is really the element. It is unlikely that a hurricane has any will – rather, on the contrary.

But inside the hurricane there may be “breakers”, currents. And in this mass, leaders appear who have the ability to keep reason in the crowd, they can gather and direct it for a short time. With an aggressive crowd, it seems to me, this happens quite often, and, perhaps, there are people who benefit from these very looting.

If you carefully watch the video about what is happening in America, you will notice that recent actions in Los Angeles or New York are quite well organized. Some people break the bars, while others take TVs and other goods out of the stores – it is obvious that there are those who benefit from it, who fish in troubled waters. What is happening is really terrible, but it does not seem like some kind of secret plan. “

Loss of human form

Sitting at home and looking at what is happening, many ask themselves the question: how does a simple, ordinary person with an average level of dissatisfaction with life at one point turn into a marauder, destroying shop windows and stealing things?

“It happens very easily,” continues Vladimir Dashevsky. – Fast, at the snap of your fingers. Have you ever gone to football? I went. And on my own I can say how instantly the superstructure called culture, which, in fact, is very, very thin, like a thin gray matter of the brain, flies off.

Ethical, moral principles that we have acquired in society are instantly lost. Unconscious motives are much stronger. We are much more animals than we imagine.

In football, let’s say you support a team. And this is what happens automatically: even while you are standing with the attributes of a fan at the metro, waiting for friends, all the people in the colors of the other team seem to you some kind of ugly, ugly, stupid, stupid and aggressive. And I really want to throw out aggression – to fight. I noticed it myself several times.

I, thank God, also have a critical look that allows me to track this down and amuse myself that this is happening. But I also feel in myself an animal that wants to destroy, to break.

Losing conscious control can be very enjoyable.

This is proven by science – remember the experiments of Stanley Milgram, when a person endowed with the power of an experimenter was allowed to hurt another. And educated, intelligent people showed unreasonable, but “permissible” cruelty.

The crowd also “gives permission” – to aggression, to stop being human. Because when you are part of something huge, a grain of sand in the sand, you kind of stop being Vanya, Petya, Seryozha, Natasha, Lena – anyone. You become part of the whole. This is, of course, a very powerful effect.

Losing conscious control can be very enjoyable. Something like this arises not only in a negative context. For example, when people pray together, make certain ritual movements to the beat, dance, they enter a similar hypnotic trance. This is the effect of anonymization, feeling like a part of more, and lightness, euphoria, a sense of strength from belonging to something huge. “

About the expert

Vladimir Dashevsky

Vladimir Dashevsky – psychotherapist, candidate of psychological sciences. His website

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