Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Virtual Mob

There is something about a large group of people that can be very scary. The power of a mass of humanity has been referenced here already, and the way an otherwise normal person who wouldn’t hurt a fly can become compelled to cheer for someone to kill themselves is a demonstrated phenomenon. Every society has developed rules of one sort or another to keep the masses from destroying themselves.

The United States of America has been one of the most successful democracies in the history of humanity because it is not a democracy. It is a carefully constructed representative republic with clearly divided powers and a strict rule of law. On aspect of that rule of law is an exacting legal system that makes it hard to convict and punish people. The reason it is so hard is because we think it is better for a few guilty people to perhaps go unpunished than for any innocent people to be wrongfully convicted. In spite of that, there are still innocent people who are wrongfully convicted all the time.

Thankfully, our legal system is not set up where all convictions are delivered through a popular vote after the evidence and speculation has been transmitted over television. With our current reality television obsession, perhaps that is not so unlikely an idea. Of course, in our history there have been times when the legal system was deemed too weak and the masses took matter into their own hands in the form of a lynch mob. Those are not some of our prouder moments. Masses can be very scary.

Of course, the individual human is not much better at times. I find myself having unfortunate questionable opinions of people all the time. A couple days ago, as the latest example of how “failed” our legal system can appear to be was announced, I scrolled down my Facebook news feed. I wondered how many of the vocal friends I have would have been happy to join a 21st Century lynch mob if they could. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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