The Psychology of Crisis

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The Psychology of Crisis

by Steve Gresh, May 6, 2003

What prompted me to think about mass psychology and crisis is a chapter, "The Original Understanding of the Second Amendment," by Stephen P. Halbrook in the book, "The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding." Following the events at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, a committee of selectmen in Boston met with General Gage. From a newspaper account, "The General convenanted with them--that if the inhabitants of Boston would give up their arms and ammunition, and not assist against the King's troops, they should immediately be permitted to depart with all their effects, merchandise included; finally, the inhabitants gave up their arms and ammunition--to the care of the Selectmen: the General then set a guard over the arms." Halbrook continues, "Gage was then in a position to, and did, refuse the passage of both merchandise and people." A total of 2,624 muskets, pistols, and short-barreled shotguns were surrendered, which amounted to 1 for every 5.6 inhabitants of the city of Boston.

I was struck by the realization that there's really little difference between mass psychology today and that which was exhibited by the collective response to authority immediately following the "shot heard 'round the world." Basically, the collective response to authority in times of crisis has always been very predictable. Desires for safety and security have always outweighed desires for liberty, except among a very small number of individuals. As Halbrook explains, "On June 12 Gage proclaimed martial law and offered a pardon to all who would lay down their arms except Samuel Adams and John Hancock."

What this is all leading to (you may have guessed by now) is my thesis that educational efforts to instill desires for liberty in the hearts and minds of the comfortable albeit subservient masses have never been successful. The collective response of the electorate is very predictable. Short of another revolution, such as the one precipitated by the events at Lexington and Concord, the only feasible alternative is to accept the deplorable reality of the effects of mass psychology.

Now, I realize that many libertarians will disagree with my thesis. They will insist that liberty must first be won in the hearts and minds of the electorate before it can become an enduring attribute of society. I congratulate those who persist in that pursuit. May I live long enough to see you prove me wrong.

The reality that I have come to recognize is that people are creatures of habit. People (sheeple) behave as a herd. Many libertarians have removed or distanced themselves from the larger herd (if not physically, at least mentally) to find comfort among a smaller herd -- a herd that's still subject to the effects of the larger herd's movements. The result has been to make it much easier for the authoritarians to exert their influence over the herd's behavior and direction. In essence, many libertarians have deliberately isolated themselves, eliminated themselves from competition, and thereby forsaken the best opportunities for contention of the herd's leadership.

As repulsive as it may seem to many libertarians, the only feasible remedy that I see is to accept the reality of mass psychology as exhibited by the collective response to authority in these most recent times of crisis. Then, rejoin the herd. How you think of that act depends entirely upon your interests and abilities. It can be an act of infiltration, education, outreach, or politics. I consider my involvement with the Republican Liberty Caucus to be motivated by all of these interests.

I'll conclude with one more observation. Ron Paul gets elected every two years because he's a Republican in a district with a Republican majority, not because he's a libertarian. I'm confident that other Ron Pauls, i.e., libertarians, could also get elected as Democrats in districts with Democratic majorities or as Republicans in districts with Republican majorities. It's a simple matter of libertarians accepting the reality of mass psychology, rejoining the herd, and contending for the herd's leadership.

Has any of this moooooooved you?

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