It’s a cliché that individuals give up their values or individuation in crowds and assume a groupthink. It may not even be true as convergence theorists suggest that the opposite happens, that groups of people with expressed ideas bring them to the crowd, and it is the prevailing attitudes of a group with some history that dominate the others. It appears that these two may go hand in hand. Then there is the psychoanalyst that focuses on the emotions of the individual contrasted with the psychology the group itself. Novelties such as Adolf AHitler placing individuals in crowds to act in certain ways demonstrating support for the fuehrer, sound fascinating and well worth exploration, but I am wondering about the power and influence of the group, in particular the Quebec student movement and of similar student group endeavors.
To start, I am not a student of political of cultural history so I will limit comments on the specifics. What I believe to be true though is that student movements, often ideologically based, are no more than a bourgeoisie attempt to recalibrate power, and win concessions regardless of staunch support for the contrary elsewhere such as nationwide. The difference is groups do have power as opposed to the individual. Why?
The most obvious answers are liability of authority and voting block inertia. Simply, those in power are responsible to maintain order – safety, expense, economic impacts are general factors – and also believe that their power could be challenged by opposition that gains momentum or lasting influence. In these respects, political power is challenged and weakened.
What is not seen is the cultural dynamic of social contract, of institutions that have become less transparent and increase their own power at the expense of the individual. It’s a current of neglect of a number of areas of social strength, from economic systems, health care, or even government itself. In this respect, the convergence theorists win out. But we are not speaking of a revolution in Quebec.
Student protests, and yes, riots do more than advance singular examples of groupthink – adopting pots and pans to amplify their voices – the bourgeoisie will assume ideological references from practical social implications; but the elitism, materialism and hedonism of student groups signify a much deeper mistrust. It is the loss of entitlement, of becoming ‘like everyone else’ that inevitably translates to participation in demonstration, the very thing that they are ironically trying to avoid. This is not an Occupy movement – it does not take widespread social malaise and channel emerging socio-economic variation through to direct action.
If you want broad social change, this is not it. The students themselves will inevitably assume power as they have always done, with a collective feather in their group cap, enacting similar legislation against protests, and dealing with the problems and complexities of leadership twenty years from now.