HUMINT: Crowd Theory

CROWD THEORY: If you want to understand crowds, you’ve got to immerse yourself in them. Not just one kind of crowd, but all kinds of crowds. There are a number of cross cultural similarities between crowds. As an observer, I’ve always enjoyed watching crowd mechanics in action. Concerts, demonstrations, games in stadiums, lines, speeches and parties are just a few examples of situations where crowds coalesce. Why study crowds? Why not? We move through them every day. Every crowd is a microcosm of society. Case in point, your government represents an institutionalized manifestation of crowd control theory.

CROWD MEMBERS: When observing crowds, most of the people you’ll observe will consciously avoid you. Don’t take it personally. Members of crowds are not ignoring you on purpose. Instead, they’re hiding behind synthetic boundaries, probably to remain focused on less transient subjects than you. I refer to the behavior as tunneling. Under different circumstances, some tunnelers discard their usual social inhibitions. Behaving like tourists, every detail, including other members of the crowd matter. Tourists are inherently erratic and complicate crowd dynamics. To keep order and some modicum of discipline, crowds have to have officers. Unofficial and official officers readily accept responsibility to protect and support their crowd in any unusual event. Therefore, by my observations, there are three distinct categories of crowd members.


TUNNELERS: When in crowds, many people tunnel through them. Tunnelers emotionally avoid the crowds they cannot physically avoid. Tunneling is a kind of dissociative behavior that is so common, it must be normal. Tunneling behavior is best described as dispassionately transiting through a crowd without attempting to influence it, or to be influenced by it. Tools help tunnelers. Tunneling tools might include but are not limited to a novel, a newspaper or an i-POD. In any case, each escapist device serves a similar purpose. If no physical tool is available, imaginary ones work almost as well. A tunneler might focus on their destination. More recent but increasingly popular tunneling tools are devices that connect a tunneler to an external, more familiar, more friendly, “virtual crowd”. This form of tunneling can be achieved through a cell phone, blackberry or laptop. These devices are particularly intriguing to fellow tunnelers. Diverse tunneling tools might render other escapist devices ineffective. In that case, the least effective tunnelers may turn their attention to the most effective tunnelers. The distraction may or may not be received positively. In other types of crowds, mimics are tunnelers too. Immersed in an audience, members who adopt similar behavior exchange their own identity for that of the crowd.

TOURISTS: These crowd members want to learn about the environment they’re immersed in and share what they’ve learned with tunnelers, tourists and officers. They read signs out loud. They ask questions. They make notes, create recordings, take pictures and make videos. There are a number of industries that manufacture tourist tools. A professional tourist is a classic journalist, constantly uncovering the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of their situation. Some tunneling tools have merged with tourist tools allowing spontaneous transformation from tunneler to tourist. Digital cameras embedded in cellular telephones allow tunnelers and officers to seamlessly leap from category to category.

OFFICERS: Official officers identify themselves clearly. Uniforms are common tools of an officer. Hand signals given to other crowd members might identify an unofficial officer. Like a mother watches over her child, officers pay close attention to the crowd and its surroundings. Unlike a tourist who is looking at everything, officers are looking for something specific. They are looking for ominous signs, from within and without the crowd. An officer’s toolbox includes sensors and detectors calibrated to detect specific threats. Interestingly, no mechanism is more effective at detecting ominous signs than an officer’s combined natural senses. In addition, memory of is paramount to the effectiveness of an officer. Without a clear understanding of recent history, officers are easily distracted by their misperceptions. Every crowd has perfectly innocent statistical outliers. An officer may be distracted by a tunneler who is unusually nervous. Inversely, confident tunnelers, tourists and officers are sufficiently camouflaged in crowd. In some situations, officers may become suspicious of tourists who are innocently interested in what an officer is charged with protecting. As shepherds, officer’s first impressions are critical. The more confidence an officer has when they are testing for threats, the better.

CONCLUSION: Crowd theory explains a great deal about social behavior precisely because crowds are a microcosm of society. Crowd theory is an articulation of observable group phenomena not dependent on time, technology or culture. Looking to world history for answers, it is reasonable to believe every government that ever existed is an institutionalized permutation of an individual’s crowd theory. If true, we can say Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Khomeini and Pol-Pot, among other mass murderers perceived a similar crowd theory. They used their knowledge of crowd theory to find and exterminate tourist and officers not loyal to their utopian vision. Inversely, America’s founding officers; Washington, Jefferson and Franklin understood the inherent danger of strictly imposing utopian fantasies on crowds. These men incorporated what they knew they could not know about the future into their perception of crowd theory. To create an extremely successful society, they sought to empower officers whose ambition was to serve and protect tourists and tunnelers. Interestingly, the only way to serve and protect a crowd is to guarantee each member’s individual liberties. Therefore, it is no coincidence individual liberty is the core concept of the U.S. Constitution.

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  • HUMINT: Crowd Theory

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