Understanding the Group Mind
How can ordinary people take part in a program of psychological torture like organized gang stalking? Erich Fromm describes the alienated man of our time. Social conditions, he tells us, are creating character traits in people that predispose them to aggression. The dominant character orientation in our consumer democracy is the marketing orientation. A person with this character orientation seeks profit through favorable exchange. He looks upon everything as a commodity. His very body becomes an instrument for success. He must look youthful, wear the acceptable smile, conform to the acceptable image. Who he is – is all about image. He adapts his personality to others, to the cultural pattern, falling in completely with the expectations of others, forfeiting his individuality and spontaneity in the process. He isn’t interested in life – people, nature, ideas. He’s more interested in things not alive – machines, gadgets. He’s out of touch with his feelings. Instead of the joy of self-expression, of the unfolding of his potentialities, he seeks excitement to make himself feel alive. He pollutes the environment. Puts technical progress above human values. He has a cerebral-intellectual approach to life – how does it work, how can it be manipulated, what is it worth? Passion with him is dead if it isn’t the passion to win.
Where the psychologically healthy person develops as an individual who has differentiated her personality from the group, who is in touch with her feelings, has spent time alone thinking about what she values in introspection, our new alienated person’s functioning is in reaction to the behavior of others. In her togetherness trumps individuality. This lack of balance between the individuality force and togetherness force operating within us spawns social problems. Where the individuality force leads people to act like individuals, being inner-directed, thinking things out for themselves, feeling what they really feel, not manipulating themselves or others – the togetherness force leads people to make connectedness uppermost, responding to other people’s directives, to function as part of a group and to do what the group does. The togetherness force results in people thinking, feeling, or acting as others do and trying to get others to think, feel, and do as they do.
Then too, in understanding the alienated person spawned by the marketing orientation in our time, we have to talk about the group mind, understand group psychology. Being a member of a group, Sigmund Freud tells us, produces a unique mental phenomena. The people who make up a group have a collective mind that is different from the mind they have as individual persons. “There are certain ideas and feelings which do not come into being, or do not transform themselves into acts except in the case of individuals forming a group,” we learn in Freud’s book entitled “Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego.” A group acts differently than individuals. The unconscious motives of the group, Sigmund Freud tells us, outnumber the conscious.
In the individual who has spent time alone thinking about what he values, being introspective about his own behavior – education and information play a crucial role. Whereas, heredity is the most dominent influence in the group. The characteristics that are the inheritance of the human race are paramount in the motives of the group. Our uniqueness is lost in a group where our common predispositions are what is most apparent. Hence the group manifests a common character.
The group acts without conscience or responsibility. “In a group every sentiment and act is contagious,” Freud tells us. In groups people do things that is uncharacteristic of them, that is not part of their personal repertoire of habits. In a group the conscious personality vanishes, individuals lose consciousness of their acts. There is a tendency to immediately transform suggested ideas into acts. “Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian – that is, a creature acting by instinct.” Freud tells us, “by the mere fact that he forms part of an organized group, a person descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization. He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the ferocity, and also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings.” A group is almost completely unconscious in its behavior. “The feelings of a group are always very simple and very exaggerated. It goes directly to extremes; if a suspicion is expressed, it is instantly changed into an incontrovertible certainty; a trace of antipathy is turned into furious hatred.” The only thing a group respects, said Freud, is force, “groups have never thirsted after truth. They demand illusions, and cannot do without them.” The behavior of groups is based on fantasy, not truth. Groups are dominated by feeling, not thought.
The group gives the individual a feeling of power which permits him to express instincts he might have been able to restrain had he not become part of a group. “He will be less disposed to check himself, from the consideration that, a group being anonymous and in consequence irresponsible, the sentiment of responsibility which always controls individuals disappears entirely,” we learn in Freud’s book on group psychology. Where the individual is apt to repress unconscious impulses – the group doesn’t. So an individual displays characteristics as part of a group they don’t display as individuals.
Groups can also help an individual to transcend herself or himself. But in this case we are speaking of communities – not collectivities.