Many studies have been done, and real-life examples have shown the power of a body of people focused on a particular feeling, thought or action. Mob psychology shows that individuals who otherwise might be seen as quiet and peaceful can be riled up into paroxysms of anger when part of an angry crowd. It is this type of psychology that turnsordinary people into savage beasts when they are demagogued and harangued to stoke the force of anger.

There are also instances of religious bigotry or racism being played out using a similar tactic of mobilizing the force of the crowd to overturn the individual’s own balance and normal ways of seeing things. In his book 1984, George Orwell illustrated this with what he called the “2 minute hate” where everyone’s emotions were whipped up to an extreme degree to hate a particular object to which the State was directing the attention of the citizens.

We see similar things in some of the political rallies that take place in the world today, when a particular individual or group is demonized and the mob made to believe that only violent resistance or action is possible to solve the situation. The mob can then be directed toward the object of the hatred so raised and chaos will then ensue.

There are of course also positive aspects of a collective emotion, such as when devotees joint together in devotion and create a positive atmosphere. The issue is not that crowds always are destructive; rather, that if a participant is not sufficiently conscious and self-developed, he can more easily be brought under control of whatever force is working through the throng.

We have seen the evolution from a tribal society which is necessarily a collective endeavour, to a more individualistic development as seen in the modern civilisation. This transition was necessary so that each individual can reach an optimum development; it was, however, not intended to destroy the sense of community, but uplift it to a new level where conscious individuals can join voluntarily together in a collective effort without thereby needing to erase their unique individuality and abilities. The collectivity is naturally conservative and relies on the traditions, mores, and habits of the collective group. The individual can provide the impetus and capacity to bring new forces, energies and movements of consciousness into being, and thereby uplift the collectivity to a new level. The two forces need to find their harmony, balance and appropriate relation to one another such that progress can be made without the destruction of the collectivity. The centrifugal and centripetal forces must find their balance.

The Mother notes: “To be individualised in a collectivity, one must be absolutely conscious of oneself… the Self which is above all intermixture… the Truth of your being. And as long as you are not conscious of the Truth of your being, you are moved by all kinds of things, without taking any note of it at all. Collective thought, collective suggestions are a formidable influence which act constantly on individual thought…. To escape this there is but one means: to become conscious of oneself, more and more conscious….”

Sri Aurobindo continues: “In the crowd the individual loses his inner direction and becomes a cell of the mass-body moved by the collective will or idea or the mass-impulse. He has to stand apart, affirm his separate reality in the whole, his own mind emerging from the common mentality, his own life distinguishing itself in the common life-uniformity, even as his body has developed something unique and recognisable in the common physicality…. Nature invented the ego that the individual might disengage himself from the inconscience or subconscience of the mass and become an independent living mind, life-power, soul, spirit, coordinating himself with the world around him but not drowned in it…. For the individual is indeed part of the cosmic being, but he is also something more, he is a soul that has descended from the Transcendence. This he cannot manifest at once, because he is too near to the cosmic Inconscience, not near enough to the original Superconscience; he has to find himself as the mental and vital ego before he can find himself as the soul or spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pg. 14

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.