Monday, May 16, 2011

A Blast From The Past

I have been re-reading Gustave LeBon's The Crowd, the 1895 classic on the psychology of herd ("crowd") behavior.  The French social psychologist was the first to scientifically and methodically study crowd behavior outside the criminal classes.

Here are a few bon mots:
  • Crowds amass mediocrity, not intelligence.
  • Compared to individual persons, crowds are always intellectually deficient.
  • Crowds cannot help but exhibit excessive credulity.
  • When in a crowd, an individual's faculties of observation and critical ability vanish.
  • Events witnessed by the largest number of people must be questioned most of all.
 I am sad to say that Hitler, Mussolini and Bernays (Freud's nephew) were fans of this book, putting it to ungodly and unhealthy use (Bernays convinced women to smoke).  Ah... propaganda, thy name is Herd.

And what do financial markets have to do with crowd behavior?  Well, actually, the proper question is: when do financial markets not have anything to do with crowd behavior?

20 comments:

Tiago said...

When people ask me the most dis-pleasant (and influential) being that ever existed, I say: Edward Bernays.

Obviously the answer that I get back is normally: "who is that?"

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Bernays... you might be interested in a little book called "PR! A Social History of Spin" by Stuart Ewen. He actually got to interview Bernays, quite unexpectedly, right before the old man finally died and that material is how the book begins.

Rufus said...

"The French social psychologist was the first to scientifically and methodically study crowd behavior outside the criminal classes."

So I guess the large banking institutions were included inside previous studies. Please tell us what these findings were.

Hellasious said...

Rufus..

Touche mon ami!

FD said...

Interesting, but his work tends to be as observer of crowds, rather than participant.

You might want to try a highly entertaining read, which debunked much of the old assumptions about crowd behaviour: "Among the thugs" by Bill Buford.

Andrew S said...

http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2011/05/25/577071/the-horror-the-horror/

More Brothers Grimm style tales to scare the kids for Europes ancien regime protections squad, the ECB.

Financial Planning said...

I dont know what to say. This blog is fantastic. Thats not really a really huge statement, but its all I could come up with after reading this. You know so much about this subject. So much so that you made me want to learn more about it. Your blog is my stepping stone, my friend. Thanks for the heads up on this subject.

Jean said...

Anxiously awaiting your commentary on current European/Greek situation?

JP said...

Hellasious agrees with me about Greece.

Greece is a sideshow. You can enjoy watching it if you like theater.

Anonymous said...

waiting for updates...

i miss your posts

=(

SushiSioux said...

Hey there Hell- Japan doing green rethink think of their energy policy::::

http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Renewable-Energy/The-Fukushima-Cloud-s-Green-not-Silver-Lining.html

camabron said...

Greece, Please Do The Right Thing: Default Now (June 1, 2011)

Rufus said...

Camabron, Be fitting the great Western default start in Greece, sorry Iceland, no dis intended.

camabron said...

Would be something indeed. Gutsy move. The author sure makes a hell of a point ; )

Rufus said...

Hellasious, We know you are probably busy looking at the changing color at sunset, when all of the currency burns at the rim of the vortex. But just one small voice letting you know we appreciate you vision and educated opinion about what this "event horizon" is going to look like up close.

Occasional Reader said...

Where the hell is Hell? (pun intended) Can we expect him to be back in 3 months time?

Debra said...

Crowds are the ultimate... democratic phenomenon.
They are at the opposite end of the spectrum of "individuals".
Indeed... "individual" calls up "crowd".
It's called polarization.
Simultaneously moving towards both ends of the spectrum.
Inevitable.
Like the more you harp on about "something", the more you are calling on "something's" opposite in the same breath.
Why do you think that that most famous NON LAW, the one about incest in our civilization IS NOT WRITTEN DOWN OR SPELLED OUT IN BLACK AND WHITE ?
Because of precisely this.
Personally, I would suggest supplementary reading.
A book called "Massenpsychologie(r)en und Ich-analyse". By Sigmund himself.
Look at those extremes... He was one smart cookie.

fajensen said...

Human nature is such that The Right Thing will be done right after all the alternatives are exhausted ... aany day real soon now ;-)

Sheds said...

When do financial markets not have anything to do with crowd behavior? - Well, I would like to hear your answer for that question too. Cheers!

Faux Leather Coat said...

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