Open Book
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the crowd verses the community

1960, future Nobel Laurette Elia Canetti published Crowds and Power. The crowd, Canetti claimed, emerges from the need of the lonely individual to conform with others. The lonely individual, weak and inconsequential, feels empowered by conforming with a crowd.

The crowd must grow or dissolve. To grow the crowd must overthrow other hierarchies. Yet even as it grows the crowd feels persecuted, and demands retribution. The crowd views itself as virtuous. A priority of every crowd is to accuse and hunt down the un-virtuous.
Crowds have existed throughout history. But modern technology—first radio and newspapers, now social media—creates new opportunities for the tyranny of the crowd. That tyranny, born of an assemblage of lonely people, has as its goal the destruction of the individual, because in the eyes of the crowd the outsider lacks virtue.

The 20th century was an age of mass communications with ideology delivered from the top down. The 21st century has produced an inversion, individuals coalesce into crowds from the bottom up via digital networks.

So while the tyranny is different, it has a similar result: the intimidation of dissent through a professed monopoly on virtue. If you don’t agree with the crowd, you are not only wrong but morally wanting; as such you should be not only denounced but canceled. Both Nazism and Communism were utopian ideologies. In the minds of their believers they were systems of virtue, and precisely because of that they were hotbeds for tyranny.

Western civilization champions the freedom of the individual to rise above the crowd. It honors individual excellence in the arts and sciences, publicizing such excellence through a diverse and independent media.

But today’s media increasingly joins the crowd, parroting the crowd’s demands. Media personalities often become accusers, identifying and attacking non-conformists.

The lust for purity combined with the tyranny of a social-media managed by technicians who are quite ignorant of history could produce an era of fearsome mobs. Ours could become a controlled society, driven by widespread self-censorship—the cornerstone of all totalitarianism.

The crowd can easily intimidate non-conforming individuals. The crowd cannot so easily intimidate non-conforming communities. For example,
Amish communities acknowledged Covid but simply declined to participate in lockdowns.

Jesus calls people to repentance and to belief. And to community.

Unlike the crowd, Christian communities do not innovate virtue. The authentic church follows Jesus’ hard teachings, struggling to conform to His strenuous virtues. The community of Christ cancels no one, believing every human bears the image of God. The church rejects the crowd while offering salvation and shelter to all who are being swept along or attacked by the crowd.

Jesus launched the
ekklesia—the community of Christ. Jesus established His church to be a harbor of hope, a lodge of healing in this mobocratic world. ~

Dan Nygaard