Being carried away by the contagion of the crowd is an obvious enough danger to some of us try to escape this danger by avoiding whatever the Crowd does. People who reject the Crowd are often people who have been rejected by the Crowd, such as those of us who failed to be in the “in” group at school. The position of an outsider easily becomes a jaundiced view, a “sour grapes” kind of view that sees how silly the Crowd is or how dangerous it is or could become if it needs to reinforce its cohesiveness through going beyond ostracism to persecution. For one who sees these dangers, it seems that all one has to do is reject the Crowd and become independent, free of the contagion that has engulfed everybody else.
But how free are we when we reject the Crowd? Not as free as the one who tries it thinks. Rejecting the crowd sucks us back into it at least as firmly as it sucks those who mindlessly allow themselves to be carried away by it. Actually, the attachment is usually even stronger than it is for the one who is carried away because rejecters are obsessed with what they reject. The name for this attempt at alienation is resentment.
What I have said about mimetic desire and the connections it creates with other people as soon as we are born and are capable of conscious thought tells us that we simply cannot, no matter how hard we try, break off these connections with others. Trying to pull away only adds to the tension, like a stretched rubber band, only the rubber band of mimetic desire is unbreakable. This is why children and teens who are relegated to the “out” group remained tied to the people who rejected them. Both the rejecters and the rejected use each other to define themselves. It is the scenario of the royal family who does not invite their unpopular relative to the child’s christening and the rejected relative comes anyway, bearing a curse that immobilizes the kingdom. Likewise, the tension of resentment freezes a social system, leading to a breakdown such as happened with the US government this month.
Resentment, then, tends to make the resenter the mirror image of the crowd. The resenter hates everything the crowd likes and does because the crowd likes it and does it. The resenter is prone to persecuting the crowd in thought and sometimes, tragically, in deed as much as the crowd persecutes its victims. When resenters get together to form their own anti-group, they tend to reproduce the persecutory dynamics of the crowd. I should, know, my high school memories are filled with this sort of thing from the viewpoint of a resenter.
The bottom line is that we cannot gain freedom from others by pulling away. We only tighten their hold on us and ours on them. Neither can we gain freedom by seeking power over the crowd by being the one who sways the crowd. The crowd sways the leader as much as the leader sways the crowd. The only way out I can see is to seek to gain freedom with other people. Following St. Paul’s admonition to think of the needs of others is the way to do this. In seeking the needs of others, we seek their freedom. We can only do this by letting go of resentment. Seeking the freedom of others leaves us vulnerable to those who do not reciprocate. However, by renouncing our own resentments, we already gain a measure of freedom that cannot be taken away from us. It is this freedom that makes it possible for us to use our connectedness to others to move the social system in a dynamic of mutual giving and receiving.
Wonderful food for thought! As a pastor and full-time advocate for illegal immigrants, guest workers, and domestic laborers, I find this to be a crucial problem in the struggle for justice. We become so committed to our resentment of the people we disagree with that we take ourselves out of the real struggle for justice.
So true! We are at a crossroads, since now, after the sacrificial gloves have come off, we are free to resent each other – but also genuinely love (and not merely appease) each other. This is the true apocalypse – the unveiling of our free will. Now we are truly adults in the Pauline sense of the word, for we have done away with childish (i.e. sacrificial) things.