This morning, as I was driving in to work, I was listening to Donald Trump supporters who were explaining why they agree with The Donald that we should ban all Muslims from entering the US. Some of these supporters were surprisingly articulate. For example, one guy’s response was:
- ” ‘Cuz I don’ like ’em here”.
Another great response was:
- “I’m scared and we gotta pertect Americans.”
Now, those are some rock solid debaters if ever I’ve seen one.
You may think I’m being biased when I quote people with an IQ of 16 but I’m not. Clearly, there are some intelligent people who have equally inane ideas. The problem comes when you put them all into a crowd where they are mutually supportive and where, in turn, they generate energy. That energy gives the leader greater and greater power. So, like we saw in Nazi Germany, or in Darfur, or at any political rally no mater who is speaking, crows give leaders power.
That is why I want to encourage everyone I know to read Elias Canetti’s seminal book “Crowds and Power“. Even right after the Holocaust, Canetti knew we could bring ourselves to extinction. He said:
- “There is no doubt: the study of man is just beginning, at the same time that his end is in sight.”
He knew we could likely do it through war but that we always would need an invented enemy:
- “Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim.”
He seems to have even known that Donald Trump was coming when he said:
- “The paranoiac is the exact image of the ruler. The only difference is their position in the world. One might even think the paranoiac the more impressive of the two because he is sufficient unto himself and cannot be shaken by failure.”
Canetti knew, way back then, that all Trump would need to do is to create fear by selecting an “enemy” that most of us don’t understand:
- “There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.”
And, of course, he knew what would happen if Mr. Trump spewed his nasty rhetoric in front of a large group:
- “As soon as a man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch. Ideally, all are equal there: no distinctions count, not even that of sex. That man pressed against him is the same as himself. He feels him as he feels himself. Suddenly, it is as though everything were happening in one and the same body.”
He certainly knew that the key to gaining power would be fear:
- “All the distance which men place around themselves are dictated by this fear.”
And…. unquestionably the great Canetti knew that we have no longer any reason to believe that we have some divinely ordained right to even continue on. He observed:
- “The planet’s survival has become so uncertain that any effort, any thought that presupposes an assured future amounts to a mad gamble.”
But, perhaps most amazing of all is that Canetti knew exactly what Mr. Trump needed to do to gain ever greater power. Knowing that a man like Trump gained the most from being continually in the press he said:
- “Success is the space one occupies in the newspaper. Success is one day’s insolence.”
I’m giving you all these Canetti quotes because “Crowds and Power” is, perhaps, even more important now than it was after WWII. You see, for every person who is intelligent enough to rationally reason about political issues, engaged enough to make decisions based on data, concerned enough to look beyond their own small communities, and compassionate enough to see people who they don’t understand as a part of the rich fabric of humanity, there are dozens of people who don’t care, don’t pay attention, don’t see beyond their micro-worlds, don’t think, or are simply too stupid to understand that a threat to others is a threat to themselves. Put all the latter types into a room with Donald Trump and soon they will be cheering for laws against Muslims.
I hope you know where that path leads! It leads to religious laws, then racial laws, then explicit discrimination, then perhaps internment camps, and then…. I dare not say it.
Will all the people who support the coming tragedy be evil? Of course not. What they will be is part of an out-of-control machine that will be heading down a slippery slope with no breaks. We can’t let that happen.
Please people: Read Canetti!
If you think it can’t happen here, think again.