Any suggestions…?

Saturday 16th July 2011

MANY of the books peering over my shoulder were once my father’s: spine-shaping spines of Steinbeck, Huxley, Orwell, Swift; Carter’s tombs, Palgrave’s treasures, Heyerdahl’s expeditions; the shelf-sagging gravitas of two dozen Britannica; no tome unlearned.

Deserving of more thumbs is Wilfred Trotter’s Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, first published in 1919, before the rise and fall of sociology.

Suggestibility, he suggests, is a human instinct, whereby leaders lead and followers follow. Our gregariousness brings both conflict and a need for it to end. Thus are we drawn towards the social interactions of cafés, sports events, Facebook, or alcohol: ‘a means of securing, for however short a time, some way out of the prison house of reality back to the Golden Age’.

My concern – and the reason I object to the influences of the motor car, the media and self-service machinery – is that we have become increasingly isolated as individuals, with the result that suspicion and fear now control our lives much more than inquisitiveness and sensitivity.

‘Xenophobia’ is a word with which we have all become familiar. In ancient Greek, ‘xenos’ means not only ‘foreigner’, but also ‘guest’.

Trotter’s conclusions are not optimistic:

‘Living as he does in a world where, outside his race, no allowances are made for infirmity, and where figments however beautiful never become facts, it needs but little imagination to see how great are the probabilities that after all man will prove but one more of Nature’s failures, ignominiously to be swept from her work-table to make way for another venture of her tireless curiosity and patience.’

However, after a week that has seen small dents made in the empire of an odious man, driven by greed and a lust for power, perhaps we can begin to hope for a more measured future, where the herd becomes more susceptible to the suggestion that our differences need not be difficulties.

Though how this might be achieved is beyond me.

Any ideas, anyone?

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