The Importance Of “Herd Mentality” In Social Manipulation
The wisdom of herds: How social mood moves the world
24 May 2010
DURING an international conference in Switzerland in 2006 I told an audience that if I were to take a 20-year nap, one thing I would certainly not expect to see when I awoke would be a European Union, or at least not one that bore more than a passing resemblance to today’s model. This followed an earlier claim of mine that the phenomenon popularly known as globalisation was in the process of rolling over, and that it will be replaced in the coming years by its opposite, localisation. This was probably the least popular talk at the meeting, and a leading candidate for the talk that provoked the most hostile audience reaction of any I have ever given. (I should mention that this was a conference of futurists.)
What a difference a year or two makes. The driving force behind both these temerarious claims is what I call the “social mood” of a population. No collective human activities or actions, such as globalisation or, for that matter, trends in popular culture such as fashions in films, books or haute couture, can be understood without recognising that it is how a group or population sees the future that shapes events. Feelings, not rational calculations, are what matter. To see what our world might be like tomorrow, next year or next decade, we need to spend time and money investigating “social mood”.
Put simply, the mood of a group – an institution, state, continent or even the world – is how that group, as a group, feels about the future. Is the group optimistic or pessimistic? Clearly, this question must be addressed on the timescale appropriate for the type of event we care about. For instance, in a short-timescale prediction such as the sort of films people will like next year, it would be useless to look at the shifting mood of the population over decades. But decades would be exactly right for a phenomenon like globalisation.
The mood of a group is how that group, as a group, feels about the future
So how do we measure the social mood? Public opinion surveys and questionnaires are of very limited use since they don’t reflect what people actually do. Nor do they take into account that people are influenced by others and don’t make decisions independently. The very essence of social cohesion is grouping together, or “herding”, which is the opposite of individuals making independent choices.