The Beliefs of Cyclones

Don’t we shudder when we think that in a time of  popular emotion all it takes is a word, just one word imprudently spoken without hatred by an honest man, to provoke so horrible a murder? EUGÈNE SUE, THE WANDERING JEW The most illuminating book ever written about social media was published in 1895. It is called La Psychologie des foules — or, in the English translation that appeared a year later, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. The book is a work of social science that reads like the work of a seer. “A crowd in the process of formation does not always imply the simultaneous presence of several individuals in one place. Thousands of separated individuals can, at a given moment, under the influence of certain violent emotions…. acquire the characteristic of a psychological crowd. Some chance event uniting them then suffices for their behavior to take on the special form of the acts of crowds.” The author of those sentences was Gustave Le Bon, and he was a kind of political Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. He foresaw many things — for example, that education is no impediment to participation in the crowd mind: “From the time they are part of a crowd, the ignorant and the learned become equally incapable of observation.” As he acidly noted, “a gathering of scholars and artists, by the sole fact that they are gathered together, does not render judgments on general subjects markedly different from those of an assembly of bricklayers or grocers.” And he foresaw, without an inkling of the enabling technology, the entire phenomenon of social media-induced conspiracy theories. QAnon, Pizzagate, criminal murders that are turned into political assassinations, the lie of a stolen presidential election, all the proliferating garbage of our twisted era — the

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