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

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.