In all this about crowds and masses, I’ve not yet touched on what I find most intriguing about groupings. If you know absolutely everything about an individual creature, you cannot predict the behavior of that creature in a crowd, or the behavior of the crowd. And to reverse it, by looking at a crowd or the way a crowd is organized, lets say how people are seated in a theatre, you can’t be sure as to what the cause was. The latter example comes from Thomas Shelling’s Micromotives and Macrobehavior. For instance, if the grouping is all in the centre of the room, maybe they like to sit together, or maybe they are all trying to sit away from the edges, or a combination of the two.
In Mormon crickets, yes that’s what they are called, long lines of up to five miles long can form. This comes from Carl Zimmer (who I mentioned before in my parasite post) in an article called From Ants to People. The reason the lines are long and contiguous is this. In times of famine, crickets depend on each other. They themselves are their own perfect sources of nutrition, so they try to eat each other. The line is formed by crickets trying to on one hand eat the cricket in front, and on the other hand, trying to get away from the cricket trying to eat them.
In the classic Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti wrote about how crowds had their own peculiar behaviors that the individuals within them normally didn’t. When massing together they tended to break windows (the explanation being that windows were eyes, so damn the observers) and to set fires. And we know fires attract crowds.
I read the book a long time ago but I did read it. I am not Bayarding. And I thought why not develop some new terminology here (and get in one last dig at this git).
Bayard (noun: 1. someone who believes the world is less substantial than their impression of it or 2. someone who appears to be well read but isn’t or 3. (pejorative) a French philosopher; verb: 1. to glance at the title of a book and consider it read or 2. to discuss a book with no actual knowledge of it and also no shame or 3. to lecture on topics you know nothing about).
By the way, I have not bayarded yet on this; I have only discussed his words in interview and the first chapter I had access to, and I also do have his book on order at the library. To actually read his book does go against his method but what the hell. (And by the by, do you suppose a crowd of Bayards might form a book club?)
But back to the crowds. I always find it amazing that the best way to make things work smoothly is not to tell people what to do but to set up conditions that they can effectively use to fulfil their purpose. Millions of cars on the motorways with few accidents really all manage to negotiate by following a couple of basic rules. No one has sat down with the morning coffee, asked where everyone is going and figured out the best way it should all happen. This also goes to effective robot design. Basic rules on how to deal with the world rather than overarching everything knowledge seems to do the trick. If you hit a wall turn around, or stay at least five inches away from any wall is better than programming in the wall and the route.