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By identifying with the crowd, the individual is freed from responsibility for his or her actions, and thus is more likely to engage in violent behavior (or at a minimum, feels more comfortable engaging in said behavior). However, this does not fully account for violent crowds, because even if individuals gain anonymity through the crowd and thus are free to engage in violent behavior, one must explain just how this violent behavior is instigated and transmitted through the crowd, because although there is a positive connection between anonymity and violent or unethical behavior, one cannot go so far as to say that anonymity causes this behavior. Instead, one may look to a topic in bio-mechanics that, while usually reserved for discussions concerning birds or machines, actually goes a long way in explaining how violent crowds can form, or how previously nonviolent crowds can transition rapidly.
"Flocking" is a term first developed by animal biologists but which has found important applications elsewhere, and it describes the paradoxically well-coordinated movements of a group (usually birds) that shows no signs of central leadership or organization. Observers have long noted that flocks of birds can travel seamlessly, making dramatic shifts in direction and velocity while minimizing in-air collisions, but only recently has this complex behavior been demonstrated to be the result of relatively simple responses to specific variables.
Essentially, collision-free flocking is made possible due to the fact that any one bird need not know the relative position of every other member of the flock, but instead only needs to be aware of the birds immediately surrounding it. Because each bird holds to this rule, the flock can move as a unit because adjustments in flight are transferred from bird to bird. With every bird ensuring that it does not collide with its immediate neighbors, the flock can maintain itself in a state of dynamic tension, such that it can move and reconfigure itself with little direct coordination. In the same way, violence can move through a crowd with surprising speed, because each individual will very likely imitate the individuals surround him or herself, and as such what begins with a few members of a crowd can balloon to envelope everyone.
This behavior is undoubtedly the result of evolution, and one may view "flocking in birds, troop formation in primates, and similar multi-species social behavior in other taxa" as evolutionary developments influencing "population dynamics by enhancing survival probability, either through decreased predation probability or through increased foraging efficiency."
However, flocking describes more than mere social group formation, because it also accounts for the near-unconscious behavior of actors in a group. In this sense the notion of flocking can offer some insights into violent crowds, because it offers an elegant means of describing how a group of people can engage in violent action, even without central leadership or organization (as in the case of riots).
The algorithms which explain flocking in birds depend upon their particular biology; for example, birds tend to pay more attention to the birds on their sides, because their eyes are oriented that way. Recognizing this, one can begin to understand how human beings' particular sensory apparatus influence their behavior in violent crowds, and particularly how mobile communications technology has expanded the range of violent crowd action. While violent crowds in the past depended upon human beings viewing the actions of those around them and imitating it, mobile communication technology means that violent crowds can exhibit flocking behavior even when members are not in direct proximity. A prime example of this is the 2011 riots in England, where reports of crowd violence were spread through instant messaging programs, instigating new outbreaks of crowd violence relatively far away from the epicenter. In this sense, human flocking as it relates to crowd violence involves not only immediate sensory transmission and imitation, but also technological transmission.
Thus, one come to the conclusion that the most salient factors influencing the formation and actions of violent crowds are psychological, sociological, and biological. Beginning with a more accurate understanding of how violence functions as a means of identity formation, this study demonstrated that crowds encourage violent behavior by anonymizing individuals and removing responsibility for any one person's actions. This makes violence more likely, because it breaks down the usual internalized social standards which keep violent behavior in check. From here, violent action can move through a crowd in a way similar to birds flocking, because human beings observe and imitate the actions of their immediate neighbors, even if those neighbors are not literally next to them, but instead transfer their behavior via mobile communication technologies. Recognizing how violent crowds form and function is only becoming more important in the twenty-first century, as repressive governments attempt to tighten their hold on their populations even as those populations become more and more capable of acting out in an organized yet uncoordinated fashion.
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Hodge, "Why do Humans Commit Violence?" 3.
Hodge, "Why do Humans Commit Violence?" 3.
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Wallace qtd. In Tatsuya Nogami, "Reexamination of the Association between Anonymity and Self-Interested Unethical Behavior in Adults," the Psychological Record (2009).
Robert Mulligan, to Kill a Mockingbird, Universal Pictures (1962).
Nogami, "Reexamination of the Association between Anonymity and Self-Interested Unethical Behavior in Adults."
Nogami, "Reexamination of the Association Between Anonymity and Self-Interested Unethical Behavior in Adults," 262.
Nogami, "Reexamination of the Association Between Anonymity and Self-Interested Unethical Behavior in Adults," 269.
Andrew Silke, "Deindividuation, Anonymity, and Violence: Findings from Northern Ireland," the Journal of Social Psychology 143 (2003).
Silke, "Deindividuation, Anonymity, and Violence: Findings from Northern Ireland," 493.
Silke, "Deindividuation, Anonymity, and Violence: Findings from Northern Ireland," 496.
E.M. Beck and Timothy Clark, "Strangers, Community Miscreants, or…[continue]
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