The 20th anniversary of the first successful “flash mob”—those events in which people stealthily coordinate in advance to behave like a spontaneous, synchronized public eruption of some sort—arrives this coming June 3. I was right to believe in 2003 that this was likely a harbinger of the collapse of civilization. The last thing humans need is a deepened conviction that herd behavior and groupthink are inherently clever and exciting. That’s how you get gang rapes and arson—both crimes to which stirred-up mobs have been prone throughout history, regardless of their stated goal.
In 2003, it wasn’t hard to foresee flash mobs being used for terrorism, mass thefts, street brawls, or at least annoying protests of the traffic-blocking variety. The fact that the first flash mobs weren’t organic, exuberant expressions of the man on the street but rather performance art projects organized by Harper’s only makes it all more disturbing: the elite pulling the masses’ puppet strings, as usual.
The libertarian-leaning sci-fi author Larry Niven used the term “flash mob” 30 years before that to mean a large group of people who teleport at the same time. An individualist, he intuited the inherent danger. “Mob psychology” is a phrase for a reason. Today, flash mob-style coordination yields events like the band of 20 or so teens who pointlessly trashed a Chinese restaurant in Queens, New York in February and numerous robberies around the city.
Humanity slips into barbarism with ease, but it slips with even greater ease when it can tell itself it’s doing something with technological or clinical purity, so the little dash of hack-like or game-like electronic coordination in flash mobs probably makes them seem less violent and wrong to the participants even when a real physical melee ensues.
We’re likely inured to such things not just by physical beatings, then, but by the acceptance of the occasional automated “flash crash” such as that exacerbating the Silicon Valley Bank crash, or Twitter frenzies like the one that recently badgered actor Guy Pearce into deleting and apologizing for his perfectly reasonable observation that if only trans actors can play trans roles (and so forth) in current liberal thinking, actors (including some potentially versatile trans actors) are likely going to end up very narrowly constricted in the roles they can play.
Among the countless issues that shouldn’t be handled by angry mobs are gun seizures and genital surgeries, but a mass of people in favor of both stormed the Tennessee state capitol this past week (whereas Florida passed concealed carry without a permit), three days after a trans shooter killed six at a Christian school in Nashville, the subsequent capitol protest coming one day before the Trans Day of Visibility and two days before the canceled Trans Day of Vengeance that was promoted with images of guns and knives, not just by full-time activists but by the likes of Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan with her trans knife-logo shirt—and by backpedaling leftist pundit Cenk Uygur, who reaped a Twitter whirlwind recently for criticizing trans activists who speak dismissively of those boring, conventional women who happen to have vaginas.
Very conscious of which sort of mob the left-liberal establishment wants to cultivate and which it does not, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said shortly after the Nashville massacre, “Our hearts go out to the trans community, as they are under attack right now.” Odd—but the Biden White House undoubtedly knows you have to bend over backwards to keep the trans activists happy, even at some awkward times.
Even The New York Times is apparently not pro-trans enough for some of its staffers, who openly criticized the paper for this failing in an open letter and got criticized in official written communications from the Times in return. At least one “trans die-in” followed of some 30 people intending to represent the devastation that will follow from Times-like callousness, though faux-dead bodies just days after the Nashville murders would surely strike any other political movement as a bit tone-deaf.
But then, the “erasure is murder” mindset within the trans movement—use the wrong pronoun and you’ve set the stage for genocide, etc.—is bound to produce mob-like panics and the occasional outburst of purportedly-retaliatory violence. Yet as conservatives like to note, it’s not even clear trans people are likely to suffer violence at a significantly higher rate than the general population, and when they do it’s usually at the hands of sexual partners, not narrow-minded cis-het mobs. Efforts to prevent further Nashvilles that focus on looking for anti-trans murderers—or on treating the U.S.’s roughly 100 million well-behaved gun owners as if they’re big violence risks-- will likely end up wasting time and lives.
Rather than delve into these touchy issues, news execs at places like CBS have opted to tell reporters to avoid saying “transgender” during reporting on Nashville. If labels make reality, avoidance of labels can keep truth up in the air and spinning until the establishment media find an angle with which they’re comfortable.
But the left’s love of herds—“direct action” the fancy theoretical ones might call it—has made itself apparent in ways slower-moving than capitol invasions or flash mobs. You may recall that 20 years ago, around the same time the flash mobs arose, there was also a “zombie” craze among millennial left activists, hordes with corpse-like makeup and outstretched arms lumbering their way toward hated events such as the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City (and that was 12 years before New York’s Donald Trump was the nominee, so it was strange even without the zombies).
Do such activists find feigning mindlessness to be relaxing? Empowering? Just familiar? Do they in truth have no self-awareness? That might explain their lack of empathy and chronic inability to reason their way through other humans’ incentives on issues ranging from economics to gun control.
But the right can’t claim it spawns no mobs these days, not with angry members of Congress still milking their own Capitol invasion experience from Jan. 6, 2021. Then again, just as the flash mobs of two decades earlier were instigated by Harper’s, it appears the Jan. 6 mobs were at least exacerbated by federal agents, spotted by facial recognition among the first to breach the building and looking rather similar to that faux-Antifa agent who worked his way into the crowd. Sometimes, as leftist activists tried to tell me for years, riots are started by riot cops. And historians know how much violence was falsely attributed to anarchists a century or so ago.
When in doubt, it’s best to avoid violent group actions, my fellow Americans. Look at how much energy the French, who really excel at this sort of exercise, end up wasting in this way. Then again, France is a country where you can face a $13,000 fine for calling President Macron “filth” online, so you can understand them seeking other outlets for their political anger. You can also understand the French thinking the stakes are always very high in political conflicts, given their past recourse to guillotines and bayonets.
Over here, we don’t usually form violent mobs. Even when the closest thing we’ve had to a king lately is being pulled down, we use lawyers and subpoenas and hope no embarrassing fistfights break out.
—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on Twitter at @ToddSeavey