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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Madness of Crowds and What Lies Ahead

In his 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Scottish journalist Charles Mackay chronicled the history of the phenomena we now see gripping the Resistance movement to the Trump presidency. Writing on national delusions, moral panics, economic bubbles, and herd behavior, Mackay observed, "We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first."

Mackay documents the manias that made traders turn tulips into the most expensive objects on earth in the mid-1600s, caused Christian communities in the American colonies to torture and execute "witches," and caused European nobles to sponsor alchemists to turn base metals into gold (and imprison them until they succeeded). Of these and many other episodes of mass hysteria, Mackay wrote, "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

In the present madness commonly known as "Trump Derangement Syndrome," the Resistance is led, in order of influence, by Hollywood entertainers, New York City journalists, and Washington Democrat politicians. By any objective measure, all three groups have failed utterly at their primary jobs to entertain, inform, and lead – at least in any way that inspires, educates, or solves problems. Instead, the most notable features of these groups is their desperate need for attention (in an age of unprecedented media saturation) and their obsession with being seen as morally superior to us commoners – the latter to justify the former. Two ingredients combined to create the alchemy of madness now consuming our national politics.


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