The Madness of Crowds

Michael Metzger

The wisdom of crowds might explain a few things. But the madness of crowds seems to explain much more, including our hot button issues of gender, race, and identity.

New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki had a book published in 2004 titled, The Wisdom of Crowds. His big idea is that, “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.”

Not so sure about that. There’s an expert who almost always beats the crowd. His name is Warren Buffett. And scripture cites the wisdom of many counselors, sages and seers, not crowds. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that people get more stupid in a crowd.

That’s Douglas Murray’s point in The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity. Murray is a columnist for the Spectator. In his book, he notes four movements that have been mainstreamed at a staggering speed: gays, feminism, race and transgender. The result? “We are going through a great crowd derangement… people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant.”

This from a man who is gay.

Murray makes a good case for crowd madness. For instance, he notes how in the latter half of the 20th century there was a fight for gay equality. But just as impressive gains were won, “it became clear [the movement] wasn’t stopping. Indeed it was morphing.” GLB got a T added, then a Q. “As the gay alphabet grew, so something changed in the movement. It began to behave—in victory—as its opponents once did. When the boot was on the other foot something ugly happened.” The movement blew though all constraints.

This includes vilifying those who disagree with the gay agenda as being homophobic or hateful. In a sane society, good people can disagree. Now we hardly see this. Murray says it’s madness and afflicts not just the gay movement. We see it in race and women’s rights.

Both began as efforts to rectify terrible wrongs. But like the gay movement, in both cases, “just as the train appeared to be reaching its desired destination, race and women’s rights “suddenly picked up steam” and “went through the crash barrier.” Unconstrained.

Now we’ve stumbled into transgender, “the most uncharted territory of all.” It’s the claim that a considerable number of people are discovering they’re in the wrong body. In fact, it’s very few, but “is being fought over with an almost unequalled ferocity and rage.”

The result is these movements police (prohibit) any phrase that “triggers” an emotional response, or makes people “feel unsafe.” Look at US Senator Tim Scott. A black man, he recently said America is not a racist country. Many called him racist (or on Twitter, “Uncle Tim”). That’s ugly. In these movements, acquiescence is the only acceptable response.

Which is why Murray wrote his book. Crowd madness “is something we are in the middle of and something we need to try to find our way out from.” The way out requires seeing the way we got into this mess. Murray sees these causes based on a Marxist foundation.

Now don’t go all crazy on me. To understand Marx, read Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty. Berlin wrote that there are two types of freedom. Negative freedom is “freedom from” external forces of coercion, such as the state (or the coercive forces at work in many movements today). “Freedom from” is the constrained vision for society.

Positive freedom is just the opposite. It’s “freedom to” reach particular ends, such as equality or fairness or justice. Marx promoted “freedom to,” the unconstrained vision for society. And therein lies the problem. Berlin wrote that all “freedoms to,” no matter how appealing the ends in view, can become rationales for coercion. Welcome to 2021.

But Murray sees a way out. It includes forgiveness. This from a man who is an atheist. Murray is right, but his way into forgiveness is based on the notion that people can be reasonable, rational. Murray’s an Enlightenment man. I don’t see his way in working.

Again, Isaiah Berlin helps us here. In another book, he wrote that Romanticism replaced the Enlightenment in the late 1800s. It values authenticity, freedom to be who I truly believe I am. Marx was a Romanticist, embracing “freedom to,” which meant seeking to destroy institutions for they “confine the unlimited will.”[1] This is madness, for causes based on this Marxist foundation invariably become rationales for coercion. Again, welcome to 2021.

So how do we stop the madness? The western world would have to return to the constrained vision for society. The church could help if she recognized how the constrained view of society is based on the limits of knowing, what is called The Cloud Of Unknowing.

If you want to know more about this Cloud, click here.


[1] Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, ed. Henry Hardy (Princeton University Press, 1999), 145.


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One Comment

  1. Example: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot this week announcing she will only do interviews with journalists of color: “And the truth is, it is too heavy a burden to bear, on top of all the other massive challenges our city faces in this moment, to also have to take on the labor of educating white, mostly male members of the news media about the perils and complexities of implicit bias.” So the mayor will now judge journalists solely by the color of their skin. Where have you gone, Martin Luther King Jr?

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