Surviving Human Nature

Some Topics

Protests and Mobs -- Surviving Human Nature

A book about human nature and the challenges all humans face in the 21st Century.
By Stephen Gislason, available in printed format and as an eBook PDF file download from Alpha Online.

We have recognized that humans are social animals who interact continuously. There is a constant tension between self-identity and group membership; between self-interest and group interest; between bonding, belonging and being a free independent person. There are important differences between acting alone and acting within a group. Group size also influences behavior. We have also recognized that humans do best living in working in small groups and become dysfunctional when they join larger groups. Social grooming is one of the most common everyday social interactions among chimpanzees and other primates. Chimpanzees allocate a large portion of their daytime hours grooming each other.

Humans often form social gatherings and interact with multiple partners at the same time in everyday interactions, such as conversation. Adult male chimpanzees compete for higher status by forming coalitions. Males have to renew or confirm their relationships with each other by frequent grooming sessions in relatively small clusters. Adult females do not compete for higher status by forming intimate allies and do better by having wider interactions with many individuals and tend to groom in larger groups.

Some primate species, including humans, come together in groups of several hundred individuals for conventions. These are temporary congregations that may have enduring benefits or adverse consequences for the participants. Humans also assemble in-groups to protest, to seek revenge and to attack real or imaginary enemies. Well-focused mobs with effective leaders can be agents of change. Authoritarian rulers are sometimes disposed when large numbers of people protest injustices on the street, risking their lives to demand rights, freedoms and justice. democracies need activism and public displays of disapproval to survive corrupt and incompetent politicians who tend to disregard human rights.

Even in polite societies, mobs may become disorganized and destructive, transforming more or less well-behaved humans into combatants, who push, shove, raise their arms in the air, show fist gestures and shout meaningless slogans. Soccer fans, for example, will gather in large stadium to enjoy the game and then riot as they exit, crushing each other and destroying property down the street. Mass movements of humans occur regularly and often operate at the lowest level of intelligence with none of the moral restraints that are available when individuals act alone according to the rules and peer pressure of the local community.

Street Mobs with Opposing Views

Mobs of people have assaulted each in passionate encounters that lead to mass deaths. Kakar describes an ethnic riot as-the intense, sudden physical assault by civilians of one group on civilians of another group. He stated that: “In the 20th century, the number of dead claimed by the primitive weaponry used in ethnic riots was second only to the number killed by sophisticated armaments. Ethnic riots can be followed by secessionist warfare, terrorist violence, and a general undermining of democratic institutions.” Dictators often use protests as an opportunity to kill large numbers of disobedient citizens either by uniformed police shooting at the crowd or by more surreptitious attacks by mercenaries who form counter protest mobs.

Horowitz studied 150 ethnic riots in 50 countries and concluded that lethal riots combine passion and calculation. He identified four factors that lead to killing: a hostile relationship between two groups; a response to events that engages the anger of one group, a response dominated by outrage or wrath; a sense of justification for violence, such as viewing it as self-defense, part of a long drawn-out war, or punishment of the other group for wrongdoing. The participants in lethal riots believe that that their aggression will not be punished. Societal assets that reduce outbreaks of violence include more liberal, humanitarian attitudes that negate ethnic animosity and increase the aversion to violence of all kinds. Increased personal risk assumed by would-be rioters is an important deterrent. Even in polite societies such as Canada, the deployment of riot police has become routine for crowd control. The politicians and police will argue that dangerous riots often escalate over days and even weeks so that early intervention and detention of aggressive rioters will prevent escalation toward property damage and of loss of life. Crowd control is not an easy task.

Suppression of Dissent

Despite token support of human rights, the right of free speech and the right to assemble and protest peacefully, governments everywhere prepare to suppress dissent by using force, arrest and detention. You could invent a scale to rate governments according to their tolerance for public protest and their willingness to abrogate human rights to stay in power. One of the problems with mob control by riot police is that legitimate and peaceful protest may be suppressed with the same vigor as potentially dangerous riots. Public protest is a citizen’s right in a free society and a necessary option when governments become corrupt and autocratic. A citizen concerned with civil rights will insist on strong civil control of police actions. Otherwise, corrupt governments will use police and military power to further their fascist goals. Autocratic governments stay in power by limiting or banning public protest, suppressing free speech and using lethal force to punish individuals and groups for challenging their authority.


  • Persona Digital publishes a series of books on current topics in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. eBooks and can be downloaded to any destination on the planet. Printed books are also ordered from Alpha Online... shipped only to Canada and the USA by postal services. Surviving Human Nature is published by Persona Digital Books. All rights to reproduction by any means are reserved. We encourage readers to quote and paraphrase topics from Surviving Human Nature published online and expect proper citations to accompany all derivative writings. The author is Stephen Gislason MD. The date of publication is 2016.

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