In 1895 French doctor and scientist Gustave Le Bon proposed that a group of individuals is different from the sum of its parts. This has become a first principle of modern crowd psychology and has been expanded to postulate that when individuals form a group, this group behaves differently than each individual would normally act.
In the 21st Century, this theory can be seen at work in the narrative of identity politics. From Antifa to Black Lives Matterto the Alt-Right to In–Cels, and even terror groups such as ISIL. Creating a sense of belonging amongst the disenfranchised is a powerful tool used across the political spectrum.
The most effective tactic deployed to galvanize these individuals to “join up” is the appeal to the emotion of fear. The leadership of these various groups, although not always well organized, deploy a strategy of coercive reality-shaping power that tries to exacerbate the latent emotions of an individual, whipping he or she into a state of frenzied panic and desperately looking to hop on the that group identity’s bandwagon.
One of the issues that arises with this type of strategy is that consideration by the individual for who might be driving that band wagon is negated by the overwhelming emotion of fear.
In Order to Be Controlled, Nature Must First Be Understood
Academics in the Humanities have dedicated their lives to understanding human nature. Inarguably, consensus exists on the use of emotion to elicit a response – the more provocative the emotion, the more powerful the response. One of the principle tenets of emotional intelligence is the process of learning how to understand and thus control emotions.
This poses a clear and present danger to those who engage in the politics of fear to bolster their identity ideologies. As individuals begin to learn, understand, and control their emotions through heightened emotional intelligence, the ability of ideologues to deploy a power strategy of fear to promote tribalism is significantly hindered.
As power dynamics exists on a spectrum of dialectics, the consequence of failed fear mongering has historically been to either “yell louder” or to heighten the fear narrative, often to the point of hysteria.
As these attempts fail to achieve the originally intended goal, the ideologue must pursue an alternate social power strategy. According to E.M. Vokes & Associates, there are 11 identified forms of social power (used with permission):
REWARD POWER: Based on a desire for a reward offered in return for compliance.
COERCIVE POWER: Based on a desire to avoid a threatened consequence.
EXCHANGE POWER: Based on an agreement to return, gain,or exchange a favour in its
reward form, or an understanding of the mutual ability to withhold, block or retaliate in its
coercive form (e.g., buyer-seller, politicians exchanging favours, partnerships, international
treaties, Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.), etc.).
LEGITIMATE POWER: Based on the acceptance of the right or privilege of an authority
figure or group by virtue of complementary roles in eachcultural space (e.g., boss–employee,
officer-soldier, teacher-student, parent-child, etc.).
EXPERT POWER: Based on the perception of a superior knowledge base possessed by another person or group whom one regards as useful or desirable (e.g., degrees, professionals,award winners, those with many years of experience).
INFORMATION POWER: Based on the perception that a person or group has information that one does not have, and which one views as useful or desirable (e.g., news media, database
holders, workplace gossip, spies, etc.).
REFERENT POWER: Based on a desire to be liked by and/or accepted by the person or group, or out of a liking and/or respect for the person or group (e.g., “peer pressure”, celebrity status, friendship, admiration, love, etc.). Affective states engaged include attraction, admiration, affection, love, respect, and devotion. Forms the basis of trust and loyalty.
NETWORK POWER: Based on the perception of the value of a network of relationships with others who are perceived to be powerful in this as well as in terms of the other forms of power(e.g., business associates, political connections, friends and family members, neighbourhood, social and online communities, etc.).
INCLUSION/EXCLUSION POWER: Based on the desire for affiliation with, or separation from, a person or group. (e.g., group membership vs. non-membership/expulsion, employment vs. termination/resignation, marriage vs. divorce, free citizen vs.incarceration/exile, etc.). Conformity to existing cultural power norms is typically required to achieve inclusion. Autonomy from existing cultural power norms is achieved through self–exclusion.
SUBORDINATE POWER: Based on the perception that acquiescence with, submission to, or formation of a subordinate alliance with a superordinate power holder (a person or a group)will induce the superordinate to utilize some of their power toward the subordinate’s intended effects. (e.g., children to parents, followers to leaders, victims to protectors, under class togovernment, etc.). Emotional states engaged include hurt, fear, depression, despair, vulnerability, helplessness, or neediness for the other’s empathy, sympathy, pity, compassion, camaraderie, sense of duty, sense of responsibility and/or pride in their capacity to provide assistance, or sense of advantage in accepting the subordination.
REALITY-SHAPING POWER: Based on a willingness to adopt a presented view of reality, alter an opinion or outlook, or change a belief or belief system (e.g., compelling reasoning,presentation of evidence, emotional appeals, illustrative behaviour such as ‘setting an example’, etc.).
A New Wave
As identity politics groups collide head on with individuals developing enhanced levels of emotional intelligence, the ideologues promoting their mission will need to resort to other deployments of social power strategies. From the list above, there are plenty of examples in the media about how groups and individuals are trying to find the right mix of strategic social power deployment to achieve their respective goals.
Soon, society will see more sophisticated and elevated attempts at reality-shaping power from these groups through increasingly coercive and reward-based tactics. For the individual looking to resist the dangerous appeal of tribalism, working to improve emotional intelligence is the best route. Nothing is more powerful than the ability of the human mind to think critically. It’s all we have.