Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Herd Mentality

Friedrich Nietzsche, renowned philosopher and intellectual, describes the herd as thriving on and promoting the values of dependency, weakness, and corruption. The herd fears the strong willed individual because the strong willed individual threatens the warm safety blanket the herd has thrown over itself and projected over others. Like most fear in the human mind, that fear turns to hatred, jealousy, and malevolent intentions. Those who feel a necessity to belong to ‘the herd’ reject the view of independent thought, and think of themselves as merely a function in a large working machine. This comfort, however, comes at the cost of reconciling one's experience with others. He criticizes those of the herd mentality for their communitarian tendencies. In order to reach agreements, people must have similar sets of concepts. The plebs are dishonest about their backgrounds, their history. They deny from whence they have come, the questioning beliefs they may develop, and are therefore being dishonest with themselves. Nietzsche contends that people ought to embrace their nature - embrace what it is that they are - and in doing so build on that instead of trying to build on a false platform (the social standard/believing what you are told). For people to have these similar sets of concepts, and to relate to one another, they must live in a community that is closely knit enough to foster a similitude betwixt a word and a concept. In doing so, one becomes less genuine, and more herd-like.

I think that Nietzsche's insight is particularly valuable in the application of evaluation Arthur Miller's, "The Crucible". A diverse array of Nietzche's analysis is embodied in Salem, as the town's chaotic and feverish decline leads them to hunt the "witch"; really just a supernatural embodiment of independent(and secular) thought. It is worthwhile to consider seriously not only the prodigious influence of this herd mentality in Miller's play, but also in our lives today. How many of us can say today that we have not displayed this "herd mentality"? I do not accuse this mentality of being intrinsically maladaptive, but rather a tool to be used for unity and social progress, rather than to suppress individual thought.

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