*Reposted with author’s permission from a Facebook note, here. Because it needs wider dissemination. The note was written December 2019. As a side note, from my misspent youth, even though I still like to think I was fighting on the side of angels, let me say that what he says about violence being addictive is 100% right. So is danger. For years after moving to the US I MISSED it. I mean, I didn’t miss it, but my body craved the adrenaline rush. Took a while to dry out.- SAH*
The Danger of War Elephants (a.k.a. whipping up mobs)- by Marc MacYoung
On ancient battlefields elephants could wreak major havoc. The tricky part of that idea is the question, “To which side?” See, war elephants could just a easily go berserk and start crushing your own side as the enemy. That’s why the Carthaginian ‘drivers’ were equipped to kill the elephant if it flipped out and started killing the wrong team. With one as-hard-as-possible downward strike in the right spot and Dumbo was done. However, if the driver was killed, fell off or dropped his prod all hell broke loose for everyone.
A very strong analogy can be made comparing mobs to war elephants. While there are many comparisons, where the analogy really works is a berserk elephant and the driver (Indian term, mahouts) having lost the prod. The mob, like an enraged elephant, doesn’t care who it crushes.
It is common for conspiracy types to talk about shadow forces manipulating and whipping up the mob. There is an equally strong tendency among the middle-class, self-certified intellectuals to poo-poo the idea that such dark organization exists. Into this mix we also have the media and politicians, who are doing everything in their power to downplay that it is, in fact, a mob. (Read, “Yes there was a disturbance downtown. But it wasn’t a berserk elephant rampaging the streets.”) Both the conspiracy types and the pseudo intellectuals use this media-downplay as proof of their position. Which initially doesn’t seem to make sense, but if you turn your head and squint, you can see how that works.
Here’s the problem, even if the conspiracy theorist are right about shadowy, goading mahouts or, the faux-intellectuals are correct, and there are none—that’s still a rampaging elephant coming down the street at you. In other words, no matter why it’s there, you still have to deal with the mob.
Yep, that’s a pissed off, self-righteous, very dangerous mob of people deep in a part of their brains that most Westerners don’t understand —and more importantly, apparently don’t want to. It’s much easier to pretend ‘people don’t do that,’ even if it means dismissing evidence we see with our own eyes.
Thing is, even in the deepest and darkest depths of this phenomenon, we never quite lose our individuality. (That’s why we can deny the idea and that we’re susceptible to it happening to us.) What we do however, is accept certain ‘group’ beliefs as unquestionably true and reject any information that would challenge, disprove, counter or limit the idea. It’s easy to demonize anyone who doesn’t think like us and it’s even easier to declare them our enemy. Rome delenda est. (Brownie points if you see what I did there.) In short, when this switch is thrown, we become zealots for these ideas. Fanatics who, even if we don’t physically act out ourselves, we approve of the behaviors of those who do. In a mob scenario, that means not everyone will be smashing windows, throwing bricks, and busting heads of those-whom-the- mob-has targeted. In fact, most won’t, but they’ll cheer on and encourage those who do. (Look up the tricoteuse—women knitting during the guillotinings of the French Revolution/Terror.) It is this support that spurs on the violence. Violence that we know is wrong, but because it’s for the ‘Cause,’ that makes it all right in our minds.
And yes, anytime you have a mob of adrenalized, ideologically excited people, you’re a thin hair away from violence erupting. Like a fume-filled room with gasoline on the floor, all it takes is a small spark. Or, in this case, finding a target. That target doesn’t have to be legitimate. When people are in this mindset, the slightest accusation or interpretation will be enough to green light the attack. For example one person screaming “Fascist” at a particular individual will be enough to trigger a mob attack. Another example, is while rampaging down the street smashing a Starbuck’s front window because the person with the club decides that store represents “Corporate and capitalistic oppression.” While it seems like a whim decision, the ground work for that decision to ‘just happen’ has been laid a long time back.
Before we get to the mahouts let’s take a look at the rampaging elephant (a.k.a., the mob)
In truth, it’s more like a pack of dogs that got out of the yard. They can do a lot of damage yes, but only until someone shoots them. Opening fire is the historic and effective counter to mobs. (That, by the way, is the difference between a city response and a country response. City authorities will quietly destroy dogs behind closed doors after they’ve captured them. Rural response is to shoot any dogs that threaten livestock on the spot.) But shooting into angry mobs is frowned upon in civilized society. The combination of perceived power and delayed response (or outright lack of response) encourages the mob mentality in cities.
I’m going to use a specific example, but it is far from the only one. What I am talking about is a very human behavior, no matter who is doing it. Something many people in the West don’t know about (but especially those who have been told by academics how wonderful Communism is) are the decades of intense internal purges against those who were not ideologically pure enough or who had fallen from the ‘true path.’ A useful and commonly understood term from Maoist China is “struggle sessions.” These were crazed —and sanctioned —attacks on fellow communists that the mob deemed had fallen from Mao’s narrow interpretation of communism. And for the record, this whole situation met the standards of behind the scenes forces, namely Mao destroying anyone who might pose a challenge to his power and control. The thing is, like a berserk elephant, the mobs rampaged through the streets and halls of power taking down anyone they turned their attention to. Oh yeah, one more thing. a lot of the rampaging mobs were young, idealistic and whipped up by local ‘mahouts.’
But, after a certain point, it was mob mentality that was driving the attacks and purges, not the ideology. It became about the rush and addiction to hurting people. Who did it hurt most? Other communists and countrymen. That’s the rampaging elephant crushing the side it’s ‘supposed to be on.’ Because hey, when you’re feeding your addiction to this power, it doesn’t matter who gets crushed, it’s all about the crushing. What originally appeared mercurial, starts making sense in the context of feeding an addiction.
Now let’s look at the conspiracy nut’s position that there are shadowy, behind-the-scenes, conspirators pushing the mob forward for their own purpose. Thing is, it’s very doubtful that there is a single, Mao-like overlord or group driving this behavior in the US and Europe. In other words there is no uber-mahout with countless mini-mahouts doing ‘his’ bidding, driving elephants for ultimate and unified goals.
Having said that, that doesn’t mean there aren’t behind the scenes –or often pretty open about it—people/groups out there organizing mobs and whipping people up to target others for an agenda. These groups are often at cross purposes, but just as often closely aligned and using the same mobs. These groups have weaponized mobs and use the threat of and actual mob- violence for their own agendas. The outright denial of this reality is just as nuts as the idea of an ultimate-mahout pulling the strings.
The problem with using mobs as your war elephants is how easy it is to lose the elephant killing spike when the elephant goes berserk and turns on your side (or you even). Now you have a rampaging elephant and no way to stop it. That’s the danger of weaponizing a mob. They start picking the targets, not you. Sure you can do it. A mob can cause a lot of damage to your enemies and it’s really easy to recruit more to replace burnouts, jailed, and the fallen. This especially in light of how many mass movements recruit young, idealistic and the diagnosed mentally ill for their cause. These people act as goons and torpedoes for the person/group at very little direct cost –or negative consequence—to said person/group. Usually it’s not these shadow players who get their heads that get split or thrown in prison, but the ‘addicted’ mob members. Remember, like meth, it’s real easy to get addicted. And addiction that ‘works’ until the addict crashes and burns. That’s how it usually works, until it doesn’t. This is when the mob turns on its handlers. As happened in Evergreen University, where packs of armed students roamed the campus looking for a professor. The war elephant they’d spent so much time developing, turned on administration and faculty
There’s also another historical point that needs to be brought up. But before we go there, ask yourself this. “Which side is the elephant actually on?” Thinking about an out-of-control elephant crushing it’s own side is actually a misnomer. The only side an elephant can be on is its own. The mahouts are using the elephants for their own purposes. They have a side and it’s not the elephant’s. They’re using the elephant for their own ends. Destruction is going to happen to whoever is in front of the rampaging elephant, that’s why traditionally mahouts were equipped and ready to kill the elephant. But it goes further than that. War elephants can outlast their usefulness. The historical example I’m talking about is how the Nazi Party purged the Brownshirts after they’d served their purpose and the Nazis had come to power.
I mean really, who want’s to keep thugs around after they beat up who you wanted them to? But that reality isn’t likely to be seen to someone who has become addicted to the rush of being part of a mob.
All of these factors go into why you should pay close attention to what someone who is trying to whip up a crowd is actually saying. If it involves motivating a crowd and calling for a action the situation has been taken out of everyday activity and daily routine. It’s moved into a different territory. Is it dangerous? Don’t know yet, that’s why you have to pay attention.
What is this person saying and implying? Not what you think he or she means, but what are the actual words and what are other ways to look at it? This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really important. If you automatically assume you know what the person is saying, you’re likely to get worked up about it—for good or bad. Instead, stop and consider other interpretations of that message. Often you’ll find there to be two or three ways it could be interpreted if you weren’t automatically filling the blanks and ascribing motivation. This is to say way too often people either assign the best or worst intentions to what someone ‘meant’ without considering alternative interpretations. Then they argue that position as if it is an unquestionable truth.
This especially when it comes to ‘calls for violence.’ There are many currents and levels at play here. There are absolute fanatics who will choose to act violently no matter what was actually said. As such, a fair point can be made that a person’s words didn’t encourage or promote violence; so claiming the loony acted on ‘orders’ is over the top. On the other hand, another way this can go is when someone actually does encourage violent action against enemies of the “Cause” and it’s dismissed as “He didn’t really mean that.” Uhhh, Yes, yes he did. He came out and clearly said it.
There’s no real simple answer to this issue, but the idea of mobs being used as war elephants makes a lot of sense. So if you know someone who has been recruited or is trying to be recruited, or even if you’ve found yourself addicted, hopefully this information will be useful to you. If nothing else it can help you better understand the perspectives of those arguing over “He’s encouraging violence” vs. “No he’s not.” Because it isn’t black and white.