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Education As A Possible Cure For Crowd-thinking

We have seen that Democracy in and of itself is no more sure a guarantee
of liberty than other forms of government. This does not necessarily
mean that we have been forced by our psychological study into an
argument against the idea of democracy as such. In fact, it cannot be
denied that this form of human association may have decided advantages,
both practical and spiritual, if we set about in the right way to
realize them. It does not follow that, because the franchise is
exercised by all, democracy must necessarily be an orgy of mob rule. If,
under our modern political arrangements, it has been shown that the
crowd presumes to regulate acts and thought processes hitherto
considered purely personal matters, it is also true that the dominance
of any particular crowd has, in the long run, been rendered less
absolute and secure by the more openly expressed hostility of rival
crowds. But crowd-behavior has been known in all historic periods.
Democracy cannot be said to have caused it. It may be a mere accident
of history that the present development of crowd-mindedness has come
along with that of democratic institutions. Democracy has indeed given
new kinds of crowds their hope of dominance. It has therefore been made
into a cult for the self-justification of various modern crowds.

The formula for realizing a more free and humane common life will not be
found in any of the proffered cure-alls and propagandas which to-day
deafen our ears with their din. Neither are we now in such possession of
the best obtainable social order that one would wish to preserve the
status quo against all change, which would mean, in other words, the
survival of the present ruling crowds. Many existing facts belie the
platitudes which these crowds speak in their defense, just as they lay
bare the hidden meaning of the magic remedies which are proposed by
counter-crowds. There is no single formula for social redemption, and
the man who has come to himself will refuse to invest his faith in any
such thing--which does not mean, however, that he will refuse to
consider favorably the practical possibilities of any proposed plan for
improving social conditions.

The first and greatest effort must be to free democracy from
crowd-mindedness, by liberating our own thinking. The way out of this
complex of crowd compulsions is the solitary part of self-analysis and
intellectual courage. It is the way of Socrates, and Protagoras, of
Peter Abelard, and Erasmus, and Montaigne, of Cervantes and Samuel
Butler, of Goethe, and Emerson, of Whitman and William James.

Just here I know that certain conservatives will heartily agree with me.
"That is it," they will say; "begin with the individual." Yes, but which
individual shall we begin with? Most of those who speak thus mean, begin
with some other individual. Evangelize the heathen, uplift the poor,
Americanize the Bolshevists, do something to some one which will make
him like ourselves; in other words, bring him into our crowd. The
individual with whom I would begin is myself. Somehow or other if I am
to have individuality at all it will be by virtue of being an
individual, a single, "separate person." And that is a dangerous and at
present a more or less lonely thing to do. But the problem is really one
of practical psychology. We must come out of the crowd-self, just as,
before the neurotic may be normal, he must get over his neurosis. To do
that he must trace his malady back to its source in the unconscious, and
learn the meaning of his conscious behavior as it is related to his
unconscious desires. Then he must do a difficult thing--he must accept
the fact of himself at its real worth.

It is much the same with our crowd-mindedness. If psychoanalysis has
therapeutic value by the mere fact of revealing to the neurotic the
hidden meaning of his neurosis, then it would seem that an analysis of
crowd-behavior such as we have tried to make should be of some help in
breaking the hold of the crowd upon our spirits, and thus freeing
democracy to some extent from quackery.

To see behind the shibboleths and dogmas of crowd-thinking the
"cussedness"--that is, the primitive side--of human nature at work is a
great moral gain. At least the "cussedness" cannot deceive us any more.
We have won our greatest victory over it when we drag it out into the
light. We can at least wrestle with it consciously, and maybe, by
directing it to desirable ends, it will cease to be so "cussed," and
become a useful servant. No such good can come to us so long as this
side of our nature is allowed its way only on condition that it paint
its face and we encourage it to talk piously of things which it really
does not mean. Disillusionment may be painful both to the neurotic and
to the crowd-man, but the gain is worth the shock to our pride. The ego,
when better understood, becomes at once more highly personalized because
more conscious of itself, and more truly social because better adjusted
to the demands of others. It is this socialized and conscious selfhood
which is both the aim and the hope of true democracy.

Such analysis may possibly give us the gift to see ourselves as others
do not see us, as we have not wished them to see us, and finally enable
us to see ourselves and others and to be seen by them as we really are.

We shall be free when we cease pampering ourselves, stop lying to
ourselves and to one another, and give up the crowd-mummery in which we
indulge because it happens to flatter our hidden weaknesses! In the end
we shall only begin to solve the social problem when we can cease
together taking refuge from reality in systems made up of general ideas
that we should be using as tools in meeting the tasks from which as
crowd-men and neurotics people run away; when we discontinue making use
of commonly accepted principles and ideals as defense formations for
shameful things in which we can indulge ourselves with a clear
conscience only by all doing them together.

There must be an increase in the number of unambitious men, men who can
rise above vulgar dilemmas and are deaf to crowd propaganda, men capable
of philosophical tolerance, critical doubt and inquiry, genuine
companionship, and voluntary co-operation in the achievement of common
ends, free spirits who can smile in the face of the mob, who know the
mob and are not to be taken in by it.

All this sounds much like the old gospel of conviction of sin and
repentance; perhaps it is just that. We must think differently, change
our minds. Again and again people have tried the wide way and the broad
gate, the crowd-road to human happiness, only to find that it led to
destruction in a cul-de-sac. Now let us try the other road, "the
strait and narrow path." The crowd-path leads neither to self-mastery
nor social blessedness. People in crowds are not thinking together; they
are not thinking at all, save as a paranoiac thinks. They are not
working together; they are only sticking together. We have leaned on
one another till we have all run and fused into a common mass. The
democratic crowd to-day, with its sweet optimism, its warm "brotherly
love," is a sticky, gooey mass which one can hardly touch and come back
to himself clean. By dissolving everything in "one great union" people
who cannot climb alone expect to ooze into the co-operative commonwealth
or kingdom of heaven. I am sick of this oozing democracy. There must be
something crystalline and insoluble left in democratic America.
Somewhere there must be people with sharp edges that cut when they are
pressed too hard, people who are still solid, who have impenetrable
depths in them and hard facets which reflect the sunlight. They are the
hope of democracy, these infusible ones.

To change the figure, may their tribe increase. And this is the business
of every educator who is not content to be a faker. What we need is not
only more education, but a different kind of education. There is more
hope in an illiterate community where people hate lying than in a
high-school educated nation which reads nothing but trash and is fed up
on advertising, newspapers, popular fiction, and propaganda.

In the foregoing chapter, reference was made to our traditional
educational systems. The subject is so closely related to the mental
habits of democracy that it would be difficult to overemphasize its
importance for our study. Traditional educational methods have more
often given encouragement to crowd-thinking than to independence of
judgment. Thinking has been divorced from doing. Knowledge, instead of
being regarded as the foresight of ends to be reached and the conscious
direction of activity toward such ends, has been more commonly regarded
as the copying of isolated things to be learned. The act of learning has
been treated as if it were the passive reception of information imposed
from without. The subject to be learned has been sequestered and set
apart from experience as a whole, with the result that ideas easily
come to be regarded as things in themselves. Systems of thought are
built up with little or no sense of their connection with everyday
problems. Thus our present-day education prepares in advance both the
ready-made logical systems in which the crowd-mind takes refuge from the
concretely real and the disposition to accept truth second-hand, upon
the authority of another, which in the crowd-man becomes the spirit of

Even science, taught in this spirit may be destructive of intellectual
freedom. Professor Dewey says that while science has done much to modify
men's thoughts, still

It must be admitted that to a considerable extent the progress
thus procured has been only technical; it has provided more
efficient means for satisfying pre-existent desires rather than
modified the quality of human purposes. There is, for example,
no modern civilization which is the equal of Greek culture in
all respects. Science is still too recent to have been absorbed
into imaginative and emotional disposition. Men move more
swiftly and surely to the realization of their ends, but their
ends too largely remain what they were prior to scientific
enlightenment. This fact places upon education the
responsibility of using science in a way to modify the habitual
attitude of imagination and feeling, not leave it just an
extension of our physical arms and legs....

The problem of an educational use of science is then to create
an intelligence pregnant with belief in the possibility of the
direction of human affairs by itself. The method of science
ingrained through education in habit means emancipation from
rule of thumb and from the routine generated by rule of thumb

That science may be taught as a set of formal and technical
exercises is only too true. This happens whenever information
about the world is made an end in itself. The failure of such
instruction to procure culture is not, however, evidence of the
antithesis of natural knowledge to humanistic concern, but
evidence of a wrong educational attitude.

The new kind of education, the education which is to liberate the mind,
will make much of scientific methods. But let us notice what it is to
set a mind free. Mind does not exist in a vacuum, nor in a world of
"pure ideas." The free mind is the functioning mind, the mind which is
not inhibited in its work by any conflict within itself. Thought is not
made free by the mere substitution of naturalistic for theological
dogma. It is possible to make a cult of science itself. Crowd-propaganda
is often full of pseudoscientific jargon of this sort. Specialization in
technical training may produce merely a high-class trained-animal man,
of the purely reflex type, who simply performs a prescribed trick which
he has learned, whenever an expected motor-cue appears. In the presence
of the unexpected such a person may be as helpless as any other animal.
It is possible to train circus dogs, horses, and even horned toads, to
behave in this same way. Much so-called scientific training in our
schools to-day is of this sort. It results not in freedom, but in what
Bergson would call the triumph of mechanism over freedom.

Science, to be a means of freedom--that is, science as culture--may not
be pursued as pure theorizing apart from practical application. Neither
may a calculating utilitarianism gain freedom to us by ignoring, in the
application of scientific knowledge to given ends, a consideration of
the ends themselves and their value for enriching human experience. It
is human interest which gives scientific knowledge any meaning. Science
must be taught in the humanist spirit. It may not ignore this quality of
human interest which exists in all knowledge. To do so is to cut off our
relations with reality. And the result may become a negation of
personality similar to that with which the crowd compensates itself for
its unconscious ego-mania.

The reference just made to Humanism leads us next to a consideration of
the humanities. It has long been the habit of traditional education to
oppose to the teaching of science the teaching of the classic languages
and the arts, as if there were two irreconcilable principles involved
here. Dewey says that

Humanistic studies when set in opposition to study of nature are
hampered. They tend to reduce themselves to exclusively literary
and linguistic studies, which in turn tend to shrink to "the
classics," to languages no longer spoken.... It would be hard to
find anything in history more ironical than the educational
practices which have identified the "humanities" exclusively
with a knowledge of Greek and Latin. Greek and Roman art and
institutions made such important contributions to our
civilization that there should always be the amplest
opportunities for making their acquaintance. But to regard them
as par excellence the humane studies involves a deliberate
neglect of the possibilities of the subject-matter which is
accessible in education to the masses, and tends to cultivate a
narrow snobbery--that of a learned class whose insignia are the
accidents of exclusive opportunity. Knowledge is humanistic in
quality not because it is about human products in the past,
but because of what it does in liberating human intelligence
and human sympathy. Any subject-matter which accomplishes this
result is humane and any subject-matter which does not
accomplish it is not even educational.

The point is that it is precisely what a correct knowledge of ancient
civilization through a study of the classics does that our traditional
educators most dread. William James once said that the good which came
from such study was the ability to "know a good man when we see him."
The student would thus become more capable of discriminating
appreciation. He would grow to be a judge of values. He would acquire
sharp likes and dislikes and thus set up his own standards of judgment.
He would become an independent-thinker and therefore an enemy of crowds.
Scholars of the Renaissance knew this well, and that is why in their
revolt against the crowd-mindedness of their day they made use of the
litterae humanores to smash to pieces the whole dogmatic system of the
Middle Ages.

With the picture of ancient life before him the student could not help
becoming more cosmopolitan in spirit. Here he got a glimpse of a manner
of living in which the controlling ideas and fixations of his
contemporary crowds were frankly challenged. Here were witnesses to
values contrary to those in which his crowd had sought to bring him up
in a docile spirit. Inevitably his thinking would wander into what his
crowd considered forbidden paths. One cannot begin to know the ancients
as they really were without receiving a tremendous intellectual
stimulus. After becoming acquainted with the intellectual freedom and
courage and love of life which are almost everywhere manifest in the
literature of the ancients, something happens to a man. He becomes
acquainted with himself as a valuing animal. Few things are better
calculated to make free spirits than these very classics, once the
student "catches on."

But that is just the trouble; from the Renaissance till now, the
crowd-mind, whether interested politically, morally, or religiously;
whether Catholic, or Protestant, or merely Rationalist, has done its
level best to keep the student from "catching on." Educational
tradition, which is for the most part only systematized crowd-thinking,
has perverted the classics into instruments for producing spiritual
results of the very opposite nature from the message which these
literatures contain. Latin and Greek are taught for purposes of
discipline. The task of learning them has been made as difficult and as
uninteresting as possible, with the idea of forcing the student to do
something he dislikes, of whipping his spirit into line and rendering
him subservient to intellectual authority. Thus, while keeping up the
external appearance of culture, the effect is to make the whole thing so
meaningless and unpleasant that the student will never have the interest
to try to find out what it is all about.

I have said that the sciences and classics should be approached in the
"humanistic" spirit. The humanist method must be extended to the whole
subject-matter of education, even to a revaluation of knowing itself. I
should not say even, but primarily. It is impossible here to enter
into an extended discussion of the humanist theories of knowledge as
contrasted with the traditional or "intellectualist" theories. But since
we have seen that the conscious thinking of the crowd-mind consists in
the main of abstract and dogmatic logical systems, similar to the
"rationalizations" of the paranoiac, it is important to note the bearing
of humanism upon these logical systems wherever they are found.

A number of years ago, while discussing certain phases of this subject
with one of the physicians in charge of a large hospital for the insane,
the significance of education for healthy mental life was brought out
with great emphasis. It was at the time when psychiatrists were just
beginning to make use of analytical psychology in the treatment of
mental and nervous disorders.

"The trouble with a great many of our patients," said my friend, "is the
fact that they have been wrongly educated."

"Do you mean," I said, "that they have not received proper moral

"Yes, but by the proper moral instruction I do not mean quite the same
thing that most people mean by that. It all depends on the way in which
the instruction is given. Many of these patients are the mental slaves
of convention. They have been terrified by it; its weight crushes them;
when they discover that their own impulses or behavior are in conflict
with what they regard as absolute standards, they cannot bear the shock.
They do not know how to use morality; they simply condemn themselves;
they seek reconciliation by all sorts of crazy ideas which develop into
the psychoneurosis. And the only hope there is of cure for them is
re-education. The physician, when it is not too late, often to do any
good has to become an educator."

The practice of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic method is really hardly
anything more than re-education. The patient must first be led to face
the fact of himself as he really is; then he must be taught to revalue
conventional ideas in such a way that he can use these ideas as
instruments with which he may adjust himself in the various relations of
life. This process of education, in a word, is humanistic. It is
pragmatic; the patient is taught that his thinking is a way of
functioning; that ideas are instruments, ways of acting. He learns to
value these tendencies to act and to find himself through the mastery of
his own thinking.

Now we have seen that the neurosis is but one path of escape from this
conflict of self with the imperatives and abstract ideas through which
social control is exercised. The second way is to deny, unconsciously,
the true meaning of these ideas, and this, as we have seen, is
crowd-thinking. Here, as in the other case, the education which is
needed is that which acquaints the subject with the functional nature of
his own thinking, which directs his attention to results, which
dissolves the fictions into which the unconscious takes refuge, by
showing that systems of ideas have no other reality than what they do
and no other meaning than the difference which their being true makes in
actual experience somewhere.

We have previously noted the connection between the intellectualist
philosophies with their closed systems of ideas, their absolutists, and
the conscious thinking of crowds. The crowd finds these systems
ready-made and merely backs into them and hides itself like a hermit
crab in a deserted seashell. It follows that the humanist, however
social he may be, cannot be a crowd-man. He, too, will have his ideals,
but they are not made-in-advance goods which all must accept; they are
good only as they may be made good in real experience, true only when
verified in fact. To such a mind there is no unctuousness, by which
ideas may be fastened upon others without their assent. Nothing is
regarded as so final and settled that the spirit of inquiry should be
discouraged from efforts to modify and improve it.

Generalizations, such as justice, truth, liberty, and all other
intellectualist- and crowd-abstractions, become to the humanist not
transcendental things in themselves, but descriptions of certain
qualities of behavior, actual or possible, existing only where they are
experienced and in definite situations. He will not be swept into a
howling mob by these big words; he will stop to see what particular
things are they which in a given instance are to be called just, what
particular hypothesis is it which it is sought to verify and thus add to
the established body of truth, whose liberty is demanded and what, to be
definite, is it proposed that he shall do with the greater opportunity
for action? Let the crowd yell itself hoarse, chanting its abstract
nouns made out of adjectives, the humanist will know that these are but
words and that the realities which they point to, if they have any
meaning at all, are what "they are known as."

This humanist doctrine of the concreteness of the real is important. It
is a reaffirmation of the reality of human experience. William James,
who called himself a "radical empiricist," made much of this point.
Experience may not be ruled out for the sake of an a priori notion of
what this world ought to be. As James used to say, we shall never know
what this world really is or is to become until the last man's vote is
in and counted. Here, of course, is an emphasis upon the significance of
unique personality which no crowd will grant. Crowds will admit
personality as an abstract principle, but not as an active will having
something of its own to say about the ultimate outcome of things.

Another important point in which humanism corrects crowd-thinking is the
fact that it regards intellect as an instrument of acting, and not as a
mere copyist of realities earthly or supermundane. Dewey says:

If it be true that the self or subject of experience is part and
parcel of the course of events, it follows that the self becomes
a knower. It becomes a mind in virtue of a distinctive way of
partaking in the course of events. The significant distinction
is no longer between a knower and the world, it is between
different ways of being in and of the movement of things;
between a physical way and a purposive way....

As a matter of fact the pragmatic theory of intelligence means
that the function of mind is to project new and more complex
ends to free experience from routine and caprice. Not the use of
thought to accomplish purposes already given either in the
mechanism of the body or in that of the existent state of
society, but the use of intelligence to liberate and liberalize
action, is the pragmatic lesson.... Intelligence as intelligence
is inherently forward looking; only by ignoring its primary
function does it become a means for an end already given. The
latter is servile, even when the end is labeled moral,
religious, esthetic. But action directed to ends to which the
agent has not previously been attached inevitably carries with
it a quickened and enlarged spirit. A pragmatic intelligence is
a creative intelligence, not a routine mechanic.

Hence humanism breaks down the conformist spirit of crowds. From the
simplest to the most complex, ideas are regarded as primarily motor, or,
rather, as guides to our bodily movements among other things in our
environment. James says that the stream of life which runs in at our
eyes and ears is meant to run out at our lips, our feet, and our
fingertips. Bergson says that ideas are like snapshots of a man running.
However closely they are taken together, the movement always occurs
between them. They cannot, therefore, give us reality, or the movement
of life as such, but only cross-sections of it, which serve as guides in
directing the conscious activity of life upon matter. According to James
again, there are no permanently existing ideas, or impersonal ones; each
idea is an individual activity, known only in the thinking, and is
always thought for a purpose. As all thinking is purposive, and
therefore partial, emphasizing just those aspects of things which are
useful for our present problem, it follows that the sum total of partial
views cannot give us the whole of reality or anything like a true copy
of it. Existence as a whole cannot be reduced to any logical system. The
One and the Absolute are therefore meaningless and are only logical
fictions, useful, says James, by way of allowing us a sort of temporary
irresponsibility, or "moral holiday."

From all this follows the humanist view of Truth. Truth is nothing
complete and existing in itself independent of human purpose. The word
is a noun made out of an adjective, as I have said. An idea becomes
true, says James, when it fits into the totality of our experience;
truth is what we say about an idea when it works. It must be made true,
by ourselves--that is, verified. Truth is therefore of human origin,
frankly, man-made. To Schiller it is the same as the good; it is the
attainment of satisfactory relations within experience. Or, to quote the
famous humanist creed of Protagoras, as Schiller is so fond of doing,
"Man is the measure of all things." The meaning of the world is
precisely, for all purposes, its meaning for us. Its worth, both logical
and moral, is not something given, but just what we through our activity
are able to assign to it.

The humanist is thus thrown upon his own responsibility in the midst of
concrete realities of which he as a knowing, willing being is one. His
task is to make such modifications within his environment, physical and
social, as will make his own activity and that of others with him richer
and more satisfactory in the future.

The question arises--it is a question commonly put by crowd-minded
people and by intellectual philosophers; Plato asks it of the
Protagoreans--how, if the individual man is the measure of all things,
is there to be any common measure? How any agreement? May not a thing be
good and true for one and not for another? How, then, shall there be any
getting together without an outside authority and an absolute standard?
The answer, as Schiller and James showed, is obvious; life is a matter
of adjustment. We each constitute a part of the other's environment. At
certain points our desires conflict, our valuations are different, and
yet our experience at these points overlaps, as it were. It is to our
common advantage to have agreement at these points. Out of our habitual
adjustments to one another, a body of mutual understanding and agreement
grows up which constitutes the intellectual and moral order of life. But
this order, necessary as it is, is still in the making. It is not
something given; it is not a copy of something transcendent, impersonal,
and final which crowds may write upon their banners and use to gain
uniform submission for anything which they may be able to express in
terms which are general and abstract. This order of life is purely
practical; it exists for us, not we for it, and because we have agreed
that certain things shall be right and true, it does not follow that
righteousness and truth are fixed and final and must be worshiped as
pure ideas in such a way that the mere repetition of these words
paralyzes our cerebral hemispheres.

Doubtless one of the greatest aids of the humanist way of thinking in
bringing the individual to self-consciousness is the way in which it
orients us in the world of present-day events. It inspires one to
achieve a working harmony, not a fictitious haven of rest for the mind
interested only in its relations to its own ideas. The unity which life
demands of us is not that of a perfect rational system. It is rather the
unity of a healthy organism all the parts of which can work together.

Cut up as we are into what Emerson called "fragments of men," I think we
are particularly susceptible to crowd-thinking because we are so
disintegrated. Thought and behavior must always be more or less
automatic and compulsory where there is no conscious co-ordination of
the several parts of it. It is partly because we are the heirs of such a
patchwork of civilization that few people to-day are able to think their
lives through. There can be little organic unity in the heterogeneous
and unrelated aggregation of half-baked information, warring interests,
and irreconcilable systems of valuation which are piled together in the
modern man's thinking.

Life may not be reduced to a logical unity, but it is an organic whole
for each of us, and we do not reach that organic unity by adding
mutually exclusive partial views of it together.

Something happens to one who grasps the meaning of humanism; he becomes
self-conscious in a new way. His psychic life becomes a fascinating
adventure in a real world. He finds that his choices are real events. He
is "set intellectually on fire," as one of our educators has correctly
defined education. As Jung would doubtless say, he has "extroverted"
himself; his libido, which in the crowd seeks to enhance the ego feeling
by means of the mechanism which we have described, now is drawn out and
attached to the outer world through the intellectual channel. Selfhood
is realized in the satisfactoriness of the results which one is able to
achieve in the very fullness of his activity and the richness of his

Such a free spirit needs no crowds to keep up his faith, and he is truly
social, for he approaches his social relationships with intelligent
discrimination and judgments of worth which are his own. He contributes
to the social, not a copy or an imitation, not a childish wish-fancy
furtively disguised, but a psychic reality and a new creative energy. It
is only in the fellowship of such spirits, whatever political or
economic forms their association may take, that we may expect to see the
Republic of the Free.

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