The Crowd is Untruth

There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side.] There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that “the crowd” received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.

***

There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd.

***

A crowd is indeed made up of single individuals; it must therefore be in everyone’s power to become what he is, a single individual; no one is prevented from being a single individual, no one, unless he prevents himself by becoming many.

Søren Kierkegaard, The Crowd is Untruth, 1847

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12 comments on “The Crowd is Untruth

  1. Aurini says:

    From this it would seem to follow, that one’s Truth as an artist and writer should follow through speaking to the person, the individual. The mass appeal of freely-interpretive lyrics is shallow. To quote Harlan Ellison (I’ve been doing that a lot lately) “Writers take tours through people’s lives.”

    • outofsleep says:

      The more one speaks in generalities, the easier it is to delude oneself. [Tom said, generally.]

      Speaking directly to one specific person about one specific thing, there’s no way for me to lie without deliberately lying. Speaking to a “demographic” or a “market” about things like their dreams or “hope” or … I can spout pure nonsense and lies and all the while think myself a noble man.

  2. bgc says:

    Consequently Democracy is intrinsically (by design) untruthful, hence (since the Good is a unity) Democracy is evil – And only rarely, accidentally, and against the current is Democracy supportive of the True, Beautiful and Virtuous.

  3. Matty says:

    I think self-sustaining, long-lived crowds (The Masses that the guys at “Amerika” harp about) are a rather unique phenomenon brought about by some aspects of modernity. Society has always existed, and society is a dynamic organism with many overlapping parts that move in and out of eachother, always aiming towards an equilibrium between adapting to the demands of the moment, and retaining their customs (continuing the past into the future, being eternal). Crowds, hyper-aggressive growths (make no mistake, crowds are aggressive because they are against the normal order) that emerge suddenly, are a natural part of society as a method of attacking problems. The crowd beats and kills the dangerous dissident, excises the pervert, the liar, the conman. The crowd is a militant “form” of society that is transient, and is supposed to fade with time. It is a reaction to a sudden danger that the formal system doesn’t have time to deal with, so it goes down to the level of the individual and “group feeling”.

    Modernity turns society into a mass crowd and assembles it against society itself, attempting to purify it of all “evil”. Modernity is an auto-immune disorder.

    But what is the disease? I think that Evil is behind all Evil, and as such Modernity is Evil’s new Judo. Perhaps moral laws were used to destroy society, perhaps stereotypes, perhaps the emotions of union with God (Demons in the Philokalia often pretend to be divine messengers). Now it is using the Crowd, a unique form of organization perfect for an age where information travels at the speed of light, but we only receive small amounts at a time, and society is built around fragile global industries and combines. People need something that requires little thought, but can achieve violent results. This is the crowd.

    • outofsleep says:

      Very insightful comment, thank you.

      Certainly there were crowds in ancient times (mobs, Coliseum crowds, and a few large ancient cities, etc), but I agree that the crowd is *characteristically* modern. (Just as there was also mindless distraction in ancient times, but it could never hold a candle to the modern madness for, and perfection of, mindless distraction.)

      Modern hyper-democracy is a crowd phenomenon, as is mass-market capitalism, as are the signature political evils the 20th Century (Communism and it’s mirror image, Nazism).

      Individuals are allowed to speak up and voice their opinions in a crowd — but only if their opinions precisely match the pre-approved opinions of the crowd. In other words: individuals may only speak if they check their individualism at the door.

  4. [...] The Crowd is Untruth. [...]

  5. zhai2nan2 says:

    ‘wherever the crowd is, there is untruth’

    Someone has to make this into a meme that presents Kierkegaard as a hipster.

    “Yeah, I listen to the Truth. It’s really obscure, you’ve probably never heard of it.”

    But seriously folks, I think this is just a function of the biological design of humans. Humans are designed to work in small hunting bands. We can’t behave with decency to any number of people beyond our personal Dunbar number, which is usually about 150.

    Any system of human life bigger than a tribe will be dehumanized. It’s evo-psych.

    • outofsleep says:

      Kierkegaard-hipster is a funny idea :)

      On a more serious note, have you seen this? http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/020778.html#evolution

      You may be right. But do you see how saying “evo-psych” doesn’t add anything to the discussion? It’s like saying “boom, it’s creation. End of discussion.”

      Presumably, if you are an evo-psych guy, *everything* is “just a function of the biological design of humans.” It’s a form of hand-waving, only with a scientistic caché slapped on for modern consumption.

      One might as well point out how the force of gravity keeps our feet on the ground, or how all energy on the surface of the earth is a function of the formation of the solar system. Of *course* that’s true… but so what?

      Meanwhile, back in real life, we are social creatures that are living in the society that we have now.

      • zhai2nan2 says:

        ‘But do you see how saying “evo-psych” doesn’t add anything to the discussion? ‘

        Fair enough.

        Fashion it thus: the inherent tribalism of humans, and the strong influence of the Dunbar Number, are not just truths of evo-psych, they are such practical and well-established truths that to ignore them is downright reckless.

        And with that, I yield the remainder of my time to Gustave LeBon, who wrote _The Crowd_:
        http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/BonCrow.html

  6. Where there’s already a crowd, there’s a mature trend that will soon inevitably go into decline.

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