Large clusters of people are a part of life at Western and everywhere else. Lines occur every day in every cafeteria, at every coffee stand and at every library check-out. They happen when exiting movie patrons head for the restrooms and even at Convocation. Lines are everywhere.
But while lines imply some semblance of order and calm, crowds are an altogether different beast on campus. Crowds can be a distinctly un-funny thing.
Iím sure itís been stated in a more succinct way before, but I often tell my friends that while I believe in an individual personís ability to reason, I donít have faith in the ability of people to reason.
Of course, extensive studies have been done on the rationality of crowds. Once, I remember hearing that the collective reason of a mob is lower than any one of its individual members.
Not that such behaviour is restricted to humans. Animals are often described as having a herd mentality, hunting in packs or being led like lambs to the slaughter. Yet for all our development, instinct often returns humans to the same type of behaviour. Thus, when a fight broke out last weekend on campus, a crowd gathered, watched and amplified the struggle. Later, when a fire extinguisher was deployed, cries of ďtear gas!Ē caused crowds to run in fear.
No discussion of crowds would be complete without a story from the bus. The other day, I witnessed a single male sitting in the aisle position of a double seat. Though the bus became crowded, he never moved over to accommodate someone else.
Standing passengers shuffled awkwardly and looked at one another. Everyone thought that someone else would ask the inconsiderate passenger to move. But no one did. In a crowd, nobody expects anything from him or herself. Instead, everybody expects something from anybody else.
Some feel safe in a large group; comfort can come from being a ďface in the crowd.Ē Many find it difficult to stand alone, to eat alone or to walk alone.
I donít. Most times Iíd rather be on my own. Itís not that I have a fear of large, open spaces. I just donít like being at the mercy of a crowd. Call it a modern version of agoraphobia.
None of what Iíve written is terribly groundbreaking. Paul Brunton, a British journalist and philosopher born in 1898, once noted that ďsolitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness. The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines.Ē I suppose that was the succinct expression I was looking for.
Iíd like to believe in common sense; I really would. The only problem is that itís anything but.