Your verdict on the protests embroiling the Wisconsin statehouse may depend on whether you think a school is a place to educate children or a jobs program for union members. It may also hinge on whether you view the mob as an impediment to democracy or democracy itself.
Democratic state senators, objecting to a Republican plan that increases the pension and health care contributions of state employees (and largely removes their ability to bargain collectively) have fled the state to deny the elected body a quorum. One legislator without a sense of irony posted “Democracy” on his Facebook page before bailing out on the duties of his elected office. If there was a question about whether loyalty to unions trumped loyalty to constituents, it has been answered.
As Democrat officeholders fled the Madison capitol, Democratic voters inundated it. Teachers calling in sick en masse have shut down numerous public schools. At the rallies, doctors’ notes sans examinations could purportedly be had by teachers too “sick” for school but healthy enough to demonstrate. After playing hooky themselves, teachers have shamelessly encouraged students to ditch school in favor of protesting. As one marching youngster told Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute, “We’re trying to stop whatever this dude is doing.”
If the mob in Madison is easily led, the one in Cairo is evilly led.
Shortly after the Western media beatified the Egyptian mob, it ravaged a star CBS correspondent. Shouting, “Jew! Jew!” as they sexually brutalized the non-Jewish Lara Logan, the barbarian horde succumbed to the classic mob mentality of dehumanizing outsiders, in this case, women and Jews, to rationalize inhumane acts. Clearly, the mob didn’t expel what ails Egypt by deposing Hosni Mubarak.
Who knows whether a better or worse Egypt emerges? Mobs are good at destroying. But even the best organized ones aren’t very good at building. Mobs tore down oppressive governments in Russia and Iran only to endure worse oppression by the governments that ultimately succeeded them. Islamists, democrats, and common ne’er-do-wells shared the streets in Cairo. So Western attempts to impose a coherent narrative on the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square, whether as Middle Eastern Thomas Jeffersons or Middle Eastern Albert DeSalvos, are certain to be inaccurate.
Mobs are dangerous because they relieve the individual of a sense of responsibility—to think, to act morally, to behave civilly. The swarm of 14 that fled the Wisconsin State Capitol acted uniformly out of intimidation from the public employees unions, the largest financial benefactor of their party. The swarm of thousands that crowded the state capitol did so to intimidate lawmakers. Similar to the Madison rabble that shouts “democracy” while attempting to block it, Egypt’s demonstrators may help realize a government even further from their stated ideal of democracy and human rights than the Mubarak regime.
Remember: Mobs don’t lead. They follow.
The mob also doesn’t check credentials. It admits indiscriminately. If you don’t fit in outside the mob, you will fit in inside it. That’s why so many misfits flock to it. People wanting to escape themselves find a good hiding spot in the pack.
Mobs convey emotions, not ideas. When the mob attempts to appeal to the intellect, it does so in the most anti-intellectual manner. The premade placard slogans, the nursery-rhyme chants, and the bullhorn interrogative, (“What do we want?”) don’t require thought but conformity. People wanting to make an intellectual point generally don’t do so while beating oversized bongos.
It’s easy to lose your humanity in the sea of humanity. Individuality yields to the throng. The mob hides cowards and evildoers. They won’t get judged as individuals. So they don’t act like individuals.
There may be power in a union. There is madness in the mob.