Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This is a blog I started writing some time back. Was waiting for some ideas to complete this and now I realise that is not going to happen soon.

Groups and Identity

Watched two Aamir Khan starrers recently. 1947- The Earth and Mangal Pandey. Don’t know why I suddenly wanted to watch two films linked to the Freedom struggle.

In the first one, young Mangal Pandey faces a dilemma about his identity, his religious one in a society where people could be excommunicated for using greased cartridges and another of an honorable soldier in the Company’s service. Then later the story goes into how the entire matter shifted from being about grease and rifles to something about honor and self respect.

In the second, a ice candy man suddenly sides with a mob of his religion to take revenge on a girl who refused to take him.


“Any trait, biological or cultural, can become an emblem of collective identity. Biological, linguistic, religious and political traits often are identified by the believers as denoting their distinctiveness.” - Caste, Nationalism and Ethnicity: Jacob Pandian.

1) Groups are very scared about losing their distinctiveness and hence try to preserve the group’s symbols fanatically.
2) Group members restrict entry to their group for the same reason.

There are so many powerful symbols of groups around us that it is no point trying to attack the groups. What it does to men’s behavior is of interest. Humanity’s greatest crimes happened when men formed groups which set out doing things against humanity (Cleansing a country of Jews, Seeking religious freedom through a new country etc).

What binds men together?

The fact that they both were born in the same geography?

Or because an official put down their names together in the same list when they joined any organisation?

Because the other spoke the same tongue as he did?

Why do men boo, ridicule and refuse to cooperate with each other?

The fact that both were born in different geographies?

The fact an official put down their names in different lists when they joined the organisation?

Because the other cannot speak his tongue?

"Mr. Pickwick and company found themselves in Eatanswill amidst a crowd which was either decidedly Blue or unquestionably Buff. After hurrahing along with the mob for Mr. Slumkey, Mr. Pickwick, in a low tone said, 'Hush. Don't ask any questions. It's always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.'

'But suppose there are two mobs?' suggested Mr. Snodgrass.

'Shout with the largest,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

Volumes could not have said more."

There is no saying what a mob will not do. Mobs are made up of people who identify themselves with a particular identity. I for instance can identify with a dozen things. I am a man, an Indian, speak Tamil, an engineer, student, Anna University alumnus, a blogger, from Section D, belonging to Dorm 21, LEMmer etc. Others I am sure can come up with a dozen more including identities of their place of work, residence etc.

Are there any non negotiable values that rise above all identities and loyalties a man is burdened with? My friend once told me there are no non negotiables in life. “Even sell one’s wife if need be” were his exact words. I don’t share his skepticism. Then how does this apple cart of society carry on without toppling? Maybe because of the fact that every group is faced with a counter group which ensures peace. When faced with a mob with a common feeling of revenge and intent of vandalism, there arise counter groups like the Army which have values such as courage and honor to keep in check another group from realizing objectives.


(not completed)

Gokulakrishnan S

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Vijay Krishna said...

There are two other reasons why mobs are dangerous.

Firstly, social proof. This is a common principle, something which is used widely in Positioning. When people see that many others are doing something, they tend to do it too. It is a kind of indirect approbation. Everyone buys a four-wheel drive car, I'll do too. The same applies to mobs.

Second: the relative anonymity that a mob provides. One person cannot be singled out for the actions of a mob.