Thursday, October 13, 2022

"Vegas, America, and the Madness of Crowds"

"Vegas, America, and the Madness of Crowds"
by Brian Maher

"Las Vegas, Nevada has been our resort for these past several days. Here we have witnessed several madnesses - madnesses large, madnesses small. Madnesses public, madnesses private. Yet the public madness, the mass madness, the extended madness is our concern today. That is, the market madness.

And so we publish once again our reflections on the madness of crowds. As we have written before: When a man enters a crowd he exits civilization. He goes in, his blood goes up… and his reason goes out. As Herr Nietzsche long ago observed, madness is a rarity in individuals - but the rule in crowds. Or as argued Mr. Charles Mackay, author of the 1841 classic "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds": "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

“A Crowd Runs Not on Thought but on Hormones”: A man in a crowd ceases to be a man. He is instead a face. He is but a cog in a lunatic machine. And a man in a crowd does not think for himself. The crowd thinks for him. That is, the man ceases to think whatsoever. For a crowd runs not on thought but on hormones. The crowd’s lusts become the man’s lusts. The crowd’s will becomes the man’s will. The crowd’s devils become the man’s devils. It is these devils - in fact - that cement together a crowd.

A Crowd Needs a Devil: These devils may appear in the form of policemen, of whites, of blacks, of Muslims, of Christians, of Chinamen, of Russians, of conservatives, of progressives, of capitalists, of anti-capitalists, of greenhouse gas-geysers, of meat-munchers. One crowd has its devil. A second crowd, another. A third, a devil of its own. Above all: Any crowd’s hate for devils vastly exceeds its love for angels.

Angels do not excite the blood. Angels do not bubble the hormones. Angels do not furl the fingers into fists. Devils do excite the blood, get the blood up. Devils do bubble the hormones. Devils do furl the fingers into fists. Once you understand this you understand politics - politics yesterday, politics today, politics tomorrow.

A Crowd Is Not Necessarily a Street Mob: Let us now extend our analysis, beyond crowd, beyond mob… to nation…A crowd is not merely a mass on a street or a mob. A nation is a sort of crowd and a sort of mob. For our purposes we will label it a supercrowd. And no greater menace exists than a supercrowd after a devil… This supercrowd is given to the same madnesses as the street crowd… only its madnesses are amplified by the tens, by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the millions, by the hundreds of millions. It often leaves “rivers of blood” and a “harvest of groans and tears” trailing behind them.

From the aforesaid "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds": "In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion and run after it till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple, and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity."

The Madness of Market Crowds: A market too is a crowd, a mob… and equally susceptible to lunacy. Do you doubt it? Mr. Mackay consecrates page upon page to the Tulip delirium (1636–37), the Mississippi Bubble (1718–20) and the related South Sea Bubble (1720). And let us say it now: It is a pity the fellow no longer writes.

The stock market bubble of 1929, the technology bubble of 2000 and the housing bubble of 2008 added entire chapters to the literature of mass delusion. Additional chapters - no doubt - await writing. We hazard the 2020-2021 market deliriums will rank high among them. Here is the common element that unites them all: The man in a crowd. Only the man under crowd influence heaves his reason into a ditch. Why do men do it?

Man Must Choose Between Freedom and Happiness: Mankind confronts a choice, argued George Orwell in "1984." He must choose between freedom and happiness. And the mass of men prefer happiness to freedom: "The choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better."

The great bulk of men seek the peace and contentment of herd living - of life in a crowd. The man truly divorced from the social influence is a man truly exceptional. Freedom is too hot for most hands, as Mencken described it - or too cold for most spines, as Nietzsche described it. Either way… freedom runs to temperatures too extreme for most constitutions.

Here we do not judge. Nor do we evaluate or condemn. We merely describe, describe a phenomenon. The crowd offers safety. Numerical strength. Solidarity. Companionship. Reassurance.

“Freedom Includes the Freedom to Starve”:
 As we have written before: The free man must go upon his own hook. He must push along under his own steam, weave his own safety net, face cruel fate alone. Do not forget: Freedom includes the freedom to starve. We therefore have no heat against the man who chooses security over freedom, the full belly over the empty belly.

We enjoy happiness ourself. Safety. Security. And a belly stretched to capacity. Extremes of heat and cold, meantime, immiserate us. And - despite all evidence - we enjoy human companionship. We nonetheless confess a vast respect for the man who never wanders into a crowd, for the man who does not flock. For we prefer humanity in batches of one. The free man’s example is the eagle, the free and noble eagle.

The Eagle: We would emulate the solitary eagle over the flocking birds - over the birds that crowd. For the eagle does not flock. You find him one by one. That is, the eagle takes the individual view. In our experience, that view is often the higher view, the superior view. The free man is the eagle high aloft, wheeling and wheeling on motionless wings, on steady wings, on confident wings…On free wings. He is free to starve, it is true. But he is also free to soar. And the man in a crowd? As the bird in a flock… he is free only to follow…

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