I struggle with the reality that though men and women have the capacity for great acts of kindness, beauty, intelligence and sacrifice our actions often fall dramatically short of our potential. How does one explain the holocaust? The crusades? The flying of civilian planes into buildings full of innocent people? Are men and women inherently intelligent or not?
On a lesser scale how does one explain a host of decisions by political parties, educational and judicial systems or even denominations? Obviously something sinister is involved here. Scriptures call it sin. But how does sin and stupidity get such a stronghold?
I’ve read a little bit of James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds. It’s a fascinating read. While at first I thought it might be contradicting to my opinions I think especially after reading some of the Q&A with the Surowiecki that in the end it’s congruent with the only conclusion I’ve been able to make:
In crowds the opportunity for stupidity is heightened.
The more we identify with a group the more we tend to forfeit our right to think critically. We become lazy. We worry about what others in the crowd think. We elect people to make decisions for us and we don’t bother to check out the facts. We all know this and yet, we fall for it time and again. So it’s worth repeating: Just because a crowd is for a particular answer doesn’t make that answer intelligent, right or honest.
On the contrary, maybe it’s more accurate to say wherever you find the crowd, intelligence and integrity decrease. (Eugene Peterson applies this little observation: Which promise is most likely to be kept? The one between the politician and thousands of people or the one exchanged between two friends?)
Kierkegaard said, “The crowd is untruth.”
Jesus said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.”
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? When are crowds appropriate or positive or honest?