To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Monday, June 8, 2020

Annals of Anarchy: 'Crowds & Power' Still Rocks

From Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti (1960) 

It is always the enemy who started it, even if he was not the first to speak out, he was certainly planning it; and if he was not actually planning it, he was thinking of it; and, if he was not thinking of it, he would have thought of it. 


The Crowd is the same everywhere, in all periods and cultures; it remains essentially the same among men of the most diverse origin, education and language. Once in being, it spreads with the utmost violence. Few can resist its contagion; it always wants to go on growing and there are no inherent limits to its growth. It can arise wherever people are together, and its spontaneity and suddenness are uncanny. 


The Crowd, suddenly there where there was nothing before, is a mysterious and universal phenomenon. A few people may have been standing together-five, ten or twelve, not more; nothing has been announced, nothing is expected. Suddenly everywhere is black with people and more come streaming from all sides as though streets had only one direction. Most of them do not know what has happened and, if questioned, have no answer; but they hurry to be there where most other people are. There is a determination in their movement which is quite different from the expression of ordinary curiosity. It seems as though the movement of some of them transmits itself to the others. But that is not all; they have a goal which is there before they can find words for it.  


It is only in a Crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite. The Crowd he needs is the dense crowd, in which body is pressed to body; a crowd, too, whose psychical constitution is also dense, or compact, so that he no longer notices who it is that presses against him. As soon as a man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch. Ideally, all are equal there; no distinctions count. Not even that of sex. The man pressed against him is the same as himself. He feels him as he feels himself. Suddenly it is as though everything were happening in one and the same body. 


First there is the lying in wait for prey; the prey is marked down long before it is aware of our designs on it. With feelings of pleasure and approval it is contemplated, observed and kept watch over; it is seen as meat whilst it is still alive, and so intensely and irrevocably seen as meat that nothing can deflect the watcher's determination to get hold of it. Already while he is prowling round it he feels that it belongs to him. From the moment he selects it as his prey, he thinks of it as incorporated into himself. 


A murder shared with many others, which is not only safe and permitted, but indeed recommended, is irresistible to the great majority of men. 

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