It is very difficult to distinguish what is right or wrong in the current society in which new information is created and shared every day. Fake news is distributed, and public opinion is manipulated. The manipulated public opinion becomes real when it is spread and lures individuals into believing it. Also, the development of the Internet and SNS (social networking service) extends a certain ‘thought’ to a national basis, and forces people to believe it without criticism. Sometimes it demands particular actions from individuals and is restrictive. Therefore, the ability to tell truth from information and the ability to act based on one’s own belief is becoming more important. Then how can we develop that ability? That is to use fully considered rationality, not impulsive emotion.
‘Given to exaggeration through feelings, a crowd is only impressed by excessive sentiments’; ‘Speakers who know to make an impression are always appealing in consequence to their sentiments and never to their reason.’ This is a quote from The Crowd, written by Gustave Le Bon, the 19th century French sociologist. In The Crowd, he analyzed a person’s characteristic like emotion and thought, especially as part of the crowd. According to Gustave Le Bon, a person in a crowd is infected and swayed by feelings. And that person has a tendency to put such suggestions into acts immediately. And being part of the crowd, a person can’t understand logical arguments. In a group, you would probably have experienced acting like you have never done before. That is the power of the crowd, which is much more than the sum of individuals.
Unfortunately, The Crowd was read by dictators like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin to instigate the public for totalitarianism. According to the book, when someone wants to stir the crowd and make them act, he or she can use the three principles of ‘affirmation’, ‘repetition’, and ‘contagion’. The more the thought is affirmatively expressed, the more weight it carries. And the more the affirmation is repeated, the more it is fixed in the individual’s mind. When the affirmation is sufficiently repeated, the mechanism of contagion begins. Through the contagion, the particular thought is spread explosively, and is enforced toward an entire generation. These three principles could heavily influence the emotion of individuals. Gustave also said that the way to show conviction to a crowd is to comprehend the sentiments that stimulate them and pretend to share their sentiments. Then one can inject an idea to them easily. Through this approach, politicians like Adolf Hitler instigated the public, and started World War Ⅱ.
These are the reasons in which we must be rational, and not emotional, when we react to the events around the world. Of course, it is not the 19th century anymore when Gustave Le Bon wrote his book, so there might be some issues corresponding to his theory. However, on the one hand, the current society could be the exact example of what he discussed in his book. The media can fix specific ideas into individuals before they start to notice them. And such idea can spread rapidly and broadly through SNS. Also, many commercial advertisements are using the principle of ‘repetition’ and targeting the consumer’s emotion. It’s obvious that frequent exposures to commercials makes consumers believe that the advertising content is true, and the emotional appeal entices customers to open their wallets.
Then should we become emotionless cold-hearted person or outsiders who belong nowhere? That’s not true. We should empathize in sorrow and revel in the pleasure of our neighbors. More importantly, we should distinguish those emotions from unwanted notions. That is the life of being rational ‘individuals’ and not an unstable, emotional ‘crowd’. Perhaps, the economist Alfred Marshall’s saying, ‘Cool Head and Warm Heart’, could refer to this idea.
Oh Ye-sung (ST Reporter)