a jeering circle

 

A jeering circle..

Persecution of the pack..a jeering circle of boys.. why am I cheering the Queen? ..the worst thing I ever did..

I was trying to explain the other day, probably unsuccessfully, how much I loathed and despised those lynch mobs of neighbourhood vigilantes that seem to form up and perform for the benefit of the cameras everytime some released paedophile’s whereabouts is made known. Sure, I agreed, the track record of released paedophiles is not good and as a father myself I would be deeply concerned should such be housed in my neighbourhood.

In theory, of course, they are monitored by the police, but in my experience police are not there to prevent crime, but to mop up after the event. But I feel Ostracism & Community Vigilance are appropriate responses in these cases rather than seeing a hysterical mob with pitchforks and burning torches (even metaphorical ones)forming which makes me feel deeply uneasy, even if, as on this occasion, I’m not their objective.

The Mob Mind is not master of its passions, it is too easy prey to the Power of Group Hysteria. I well believe studies that suggest the individual’s IQ decreases when they’re part of a group.

Perhaps it all goes back to my childhood and the story of Richo, poor bastard.

Richo was one of those kids who was always picked on. He was a bit slow and a bit fat and always had a running nose. His parents were white trash and his clothes never fit. Myself I didn’t ever have anything much to do with him. Maybe just vaguely glad he was the victim and not me.

Then one day I found myself in a circle of jeering boys out in the playground, taunting and throwing stones at the snivelling human wreck in the centre. How it started I could not tell you, nor how I came to be standing in that vicious circle. It was as though the generalised group disdain for Richo had some how crystallized, come to a head and erupted into a howling mob; a centrifugal event that swept every individual in its vicinity, including me, into its gravitational well.

But suddenly it was as though I woke up. It was as though I took a step back in my mind and was an individual again, no longer a part of the pack. A passionate revulsion for the bullying circle went thru me like a shock wave.

So I walked away. At ten or eleven I didn’t have the courage or confidence to try and break it up, or put my arm around the poor snivelling wreck to comfort him, but I did walk away. I’d seen one of the girls racing off to get a teacher (please her goody two shoes heart) so I knew the pack would soon be broken up anyway.

Perhaps I couldn’t articulate my feelings clearly yet, but I felt I had grown somehow that day. It was like I had grown as an individual, taken a step up above the mob. I felt almost free. I didn’t know how much more growing I would have to do. I thought I was free of the mob mind but I wasn’t; it came to get me again, and soon.

The next occasion I witnessed group hysteria was the Queen’s visit to Australia in 1970. For the event all the local primary school kids had been rounded up and packed into a football stadium, (the then Lang Park) there to cheer and wave little flags to demonstrate our patriotic fervour. I was by no means an anarchist yet at this early stage in my career, but I was a smart aleck and a rebel with no respect for authority figures. So the whole occasion was a joke to me. The entire bus trip there and while we waited in the stadium I kept the class amused (already the class clown) and a little shocked by my constant stream of juvenile jokes about the Queen. I had no intention of cheering or waving a flag. I was not impressed. It was just a day off to me.

So Queen Liz finally arrived (first rule of show biz; always make them wait) and before her speech did a couple of laps in an open top vehicle, waving to the kids as she went by. As she drove past each section the kids would erupt in a squealing, hysterical mass and rush down the seats to press against the railings and stretch out their hands as she drove by. Then a strange thing happened, against my will and plans, I found myself rushing down to the railings with the frenzied mob as she went by, caught up, as it were, in the excitement. She trundled on and I snapped to. What the hell, I thought and walked back to my seat, a little annoyed and determined not to succumb to mindless adulation on her next circuit around the track.

But the same thing happened, she went by, the kids rushed down to the railings and I went with them, swept along by the fervour.

I was quiet and thoughtful on the bus ride back, impressed by the power of the Mob Mind and disturbed at how easily I succumbed to mass hysteria and I have never forgotten that day. But the Mob Mind wasn’t finished with me yet, it had one more lesson to teach, one more trick to play, leading me into a scene I sometimes remember as the Worst Thing I Ever Did.

So skip forward a few years and I am about 14 and goofing off on Sports Day. We are supposed to be training for long distance running but a group of us have hidden in an obscure corner of the golf links, there to smoke cigarettes and talk the sort of bullshit 14 year olds talk. They’re not my usual circle of friends, we were just hanging through circumstance.

Anyhoo, as it happened, a couple of poor, old, harmless, broken-down metho-drinkers lived under a bush nearby. Again I have no recollection how it started, but once more I found myself part of a jeering pack of boys, throwing stones and skipping lightly out of reach, laughing and taunting the less fortunate.

One poor wreck tried to stand up to us and protect his older mate. “This mans a war hero,” he slurred. Poor bastard. We didn’t listen.

It didn’t last long and soon we ran off breathless and laughing, and one of my companions, perhaps feeling his own conscience, little hypocrite, said to me, “I thought you were a radical..aren’t you supposed to stand up for people like that?”

His comment cut me to me core. He was right, of course. I’d recently come across Anarchism and was in the process of turning myself into a teen radical, given to precocious rants against the oppression of the Church, the State and, especially, my school. But now I’d regressed and slipped back down the social evolutionary ladder, even if it was for only a couple of minutes. I felt deeply shamed. To this day it still feels like the worst thing I ever did.

I went back to the golf links a couple of days later with a packet of cigarettes as a gift for the metho-drinkers by way of apology, but they were gone. Hopefully they found a quieter park, free from persecuting school-boys, in which they could continue their slide to Oblivion in peace.

It’s too late now, but, Sorry mate, wherever you are. I’m sorry.

Thus ever since I have kept a close and wary watch on the Mob Mind, the Group Think, the Hysterical Mass lest it sweep me up again. Cheering or jeering, I will not join the herd.

 Never again will I stand in the jeering circle.

 

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The Reverend Hellfire..you’ll miss him when he’s gone.

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~ by reverendhellfire on June 26, 2011.

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