The Fox And The Crowd

Facebook has a tool you can use to create a community page. People use it to alert others to things happening in the community, such as events, yard sales, and other things of interest. One day on my local community page someone posted two pictures of a Red Fox that was molting. Molting is something that many animals go through each spring, shedding hair, feathers, skin, etc. to make way for new ones. If you have a dog, you know what I’m talking about. My dog sheds huge clumps of hair every spring. She looks terrible while she’s doing it. I have to follow her around with the vacuum cleaner. The pictures clearly showed it was a Red Fox, with black feet half way up the legs and it was clearly molting. The poster said they took the pictures that morning, gave the location and said they didn’t know what was wrong with this animal but people ought to be aware of its presence in town. Simple enough, right? A concerned citizen. It was the comments that others left on the post that got my attention.

I go to Northern Minnesota each Spring for a camping vacation. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I also go to state parks, and county parks and walk the trails. I’ve seen lots of Fox. I’ve seen lots of Fox who were molting. When they’re molting they look like Sunday morning after a rough Saturday night. Clumps of hair sticking out all over, hanging down from their sides. But you can see there is new hair underneath. A beautiful new coat waiting to show itself. They don’t act sick or rabid. The pictures clearly showed a Fox that was molting. And it was June, another reason for my analysis. But the comments that people left on this post were fascinating. They started out suggesting the Fox was sick, “It’s got mange,” “It’s got rabies,” and these comments multiplied rapidly after the first ones. A lot of people didn’t know it was a Fox. One person said it was a cross between a Wolf and a Coyote. You could clearly see the black feet of a Fox and reddish colored fur. Oh well. By the end of the more than 150 comments, everyone was convinced that it was a sick animal and needed to be put down. I tried to calm nerves with a couple comments of my own however the fear was spreading like fire.

This is an example of what psychology calls, “herd mentality.” When one or two members of the herd start to panic, everyone panics. This is from Wikipedia: “Herd mentality, mob mentality and pack mentality, also lesser known as gang mentality, describes how people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors on a largely emotional, rather than rational, basis. When individuals are affected by mob mentality, they may make different decisions than they would have individually.” It was interesting to see it happen. I followed the post for a few days just to see where it would go and most of the commenters fit the herd mentality mold very well. They were panicking, they were afraid. Many people said the Fox should be shot, captured, put down. And all, over a picture of a Fox naturally shedding its fur.

You can see other examples of herd mentality in every day life. People believing rumors and spreading them, making assumptions, believing their assumptions are the truth and acting on them. Rather than taking a step back and trying to use reason, most people go with the crowd and panic because others are panicking. Fear. Fight or flight. Textbook psychology stuff. It is wasn’t so serious, it would be fun to observe.

It’s serious because you see it happening in the country today. Look at the chanting that happens at Trump rallies. “Lock her up!” or “Send her back!” Because the guy next to you is shouting it, you start shouting it. Something you would never do on a street corner by yourself. And yet in the crowd it seems like a reasonable thing to do. It’s scary to watch. Riots happen this way. One person throws a brick through a window and the next thing you know, the whole street is throwing bricks. People make irrational decisions while under the influence of herd mentality caused by fear, like when they vote. Many people, without even realizing it, live their lives in fear, just waiting for that one person to either fight or run and then following along. Apparently it’s easier to let someone else do your thinking for you.

The author Robert M Pirsig wrote: “The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away.” Sad, and unfortunately true. The whole idea of not looking rationally at any situation is foreign to me. I have never just gone along with group thinking because everyone else is doing it. It just doesn’t make sense to not think about a problem and rationalize it to a solution. It really is scary to see it happening especially when it can happen with really important things like war. Agreeing with the group ideas about a Fox seems inconsequential until you realize that these same people vote with the same mentality. We haven’t evolved nearly as much as we would like to believe.

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