Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/402

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE MOB MIND.
By Prof. EDWARD A. ROSS.

IN viewing social life among animals one is struck by the contagion of feeling in a herd or flock. Whatever the feeling called up, whether terror, hostility to a stranger, rage at hereditary enemies, sympathy for a stricken fellow, or the impulse to migrate, all the members of the group feel it, and feel it almost at once. If anything unusual occurs, a wave of excitement passes over the herd, followed by instant and unanimous response. Of inquiry or doubt or reflection there is no sign.

This prompt obedience to suggestions from one's fellows is accounted for the moment we recall the harsh conditions of animal existence. It is the gregarious animals that are least formidable by nature and hence most dependent on mutual aid. Instant fight or flight is the condition of their existence, and failure to cooperate promptly means death. By oft-repeated sifting out of the stupid, the heedless, or the willful, Nature builds up a marvelous suggestibility and a most alert response to sign. Not otherwise can we explain why a feeling should run like wildfire through a band of elephants or terror should strike through a herd of deer as a shock passes through a solid body.

The human analogue to the agitated herd is the mob. Mob comes from "mobile," and refers to mental state. A crowd, even an excited crowd, is not a mob; nor is an excited crowd bent on violence a mob. Great mental instability marks the true mob, and this characterizes only the crowd that is under the influence of suggestion. A lynching party may be excited, disorderly, and lawless, yet not be a true mob. The crowd that lynched thirteen Italians in New Orleans a few years ago, far from showing the wavering indecision of the genuine mob, seemed to know exactly what it wanted and just how to go about it. In this respect it stood in high contrast to the Cincinnati mob of 1886. What distinguished the New Orleans crowd was the absence of epidemic. Its perfect unanimity came not from an overmastering suggestion, but from the coming together of all who had been affected with the same grim rage at the news of Chief Hennessey's assassination.

Again, we must refuse the name "mob" to the disorderly masses that in times of tumult issue from the criminal quarters of great cities. In such cases there is an unchaining in each man of the evil and secret lusts of his heart on observing that opportunity is favorable and that others are like-minded. Safe from punishment or shame, the ragamuffin or hoodlum burns, loots, and riots in obedience not to a common impulse but to his natural inclination. It is this peculiar effect of numbers in bringing on