The science behind the mob.

Pakistan has seen its share of mob violence. In the past month alone, we witnessed another frenzied protest, put together by a tsunami of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan workers that took to the streets, wielding sticks and stones, angry and full of vengeance. The TLP has long exercised its influence with street power to oblige any sitting government to accede to its demands.

As an Election Commission-approved political party, sitting in the Sindh Assembly, the party has adopted agitational politics as its method of choice, a method that has gone onto revealing violent tendencies. This puts the state's writ alarmingly into question, especially when the devotees of the TLP march in mobs and clog main arteries of Pakistan's major cities, splattered in blood, hurling abuses to anyone that crosses their path. The price of the latest TLP saga was a heavy one, paid by the police, who suffered both deaths and injuries.

Over the decades, there have been many attempts to understand mobs and their tendency to turn violent. Some have followed the line of Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century philosopher who argued that society drives towards chaos and destruction. By that logic, just because society is the way that it is, protests would inevitably lead to restlessness-riots, looting, and other forms of violence.

Some find merit in the 'Mad Mob' theory, which postulates that people lose their own sense of identity and self in a crowd, and so they will behave in ways they would otherwise not have, had they been alone. Others suggest that mob behaviour is simply a product of criminal and bad individuals who act in coherence. In essence, this means bad people who come together will naturally create chaos.

All of the abovementioned theories lend support to the opinion that mob behaviour is...well, mindless. But, is it really? On the contrary, more intricate readings of social psychology would reveal that mobs are not necessarily irrational. In fact, there is a science behind mob behaviour, one underpinned with meaning and conscious intent. While it can be criminal, and instigated for all the wrong reasons, there is a method-a method to the madness.

In understanding the method behind crowd mentality, social identification is a key factor. That means the way a crowd behaves is largely governed by the individuals' shared sense of social identity. The people that make up a mob know how alike they are, know what they stand for, and most of all, know who they are against.


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