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Let’s Talk About Feeding Frenzies

A feeding frenzy is a mighty phenomenon. It involves a group of animals, say a shoal of fish, battling over a limited source of food.

A mob works in similar ways.

I’ve been writing about mobs and revolutions and the impulses that drive behavior of that kind for years.

One of the things that struck me during my research is our propensity for mob mentality.

What has also struck me is how closely mob mentality is linked to ‘feeding frenzies.’

A feeding frenzy is a mighty phenomenon. It involves a group of animals, say a shoal of fish, battling over a limited source of food.

To clarify: throw a few pieces of bait in a shoal and the sea boils with murder, as each fish tries to bite on that piece of bait.

It’s the same with people. Bring a truckload of food in a starved area and you’re smack in the middle of a rampage, just like that.

Other ways to incite rampage: introduce a pedophile among a crowd of parents. Whatever the country, whatever the level of police security, whatever the educational level of the people involved, the pedophile will be torn to pieces.

So will a black person in a KKK-infested town in Indiana (sorry Indianans, just an example, owning to the state being the birthplace of the KKK).

So will a Jew in Mecca.

So will a middle-class American in the ganglands of northern Mexico.

So will a blonde woman clad in a miniskirt-clad hitching a ride in a bus full of men in certain parts of India.

So will a Muslim Brother in a Christian neighborhood in post-Morsi Egypt.

So will a Chelsea fan in certain pubs of North London.

So will a homosexual on the streets of Uganda and Moscow.

So will an abortion activist, or a mother who’s had an abortion, in the back counties of Kansas and the plains of Poland and the streets of Pakistan.

So will a hippy in a black-tie party at the opera.

So will a suit in the back alleys of Athens.

So will a politically incorrect firebrand in a San Francisco charity ball.

So will a Tupac fan in Harlem.

So will the descendants of Jesus, should they exist, were they to walk the streets and preach in the name of their forefather.

So will anyone who, for whatever reason, rubs a gathered crowd the wrong way.

Thing is, though, the world has grown and evolved. The platforms on which people engage and interact have morphed.

So have the battlefields, and s
o have the ways in which we address and confront each other.

Some of our behaviors have morphed in turn, shifting to new domains, expressing ancient impulses in novel ways.

Online beatings, for example: the new way of going wild over bones of contention.

So are web trolling, twitter battling, and digital feeding frenzies. These are, by now, legitimate phenomena.

Internet shoals act in the online-equivalent manner of a mob. Their actions are the digital analog of a feeding frenzy.

These attacks don’t involve bloodshed, but the raw impulses behind them are as heated and aggressive as those observed on the streets. Internet shoals act in the online-equivalent manner of a mob. Their actions are the digital analog of a feeding frenzy. Their accumulated anger expresses itself in a manner typical of any group of people driven by rage, emboldened by their strength in numbers and their righteous indignation.

In light of all this, I’ve decided to write about the phenomenon, exploring the phenomenon of feeding frenzies, both online and street-wise, which are, after all, the cornerstone of revolutions, one of my preferred topics of writing.

Let me take the opportunity to shift this piece to an ongoing revolution.

Ukraine! As I write this, the Ukrainian people are going mad over how their tyrant president is not letting go of power. They’ve gathered on the streets, barricading themselves behind makeshift fortifications, battling it out. Many have died in the process. The pressure mounts from all sides, everyone is making their move, and how, but the revolutionaries are getting the upper hand. The tide is gaining momentum and a change in government is not far off.

That, or a civil war.

For what it’s worth, I praise these brave individuals. They’ve have come together to oust a tyrannical regime, using their feeding-frenzy impulse for a good cause, for lack of a better term.

In the wake of this turmoil I’d also like not to get carried away by notions of runaway morality. Let me stay within the confines of reason and calm apprehension, coloring the impulse of any spontaneous uprising in neither ‘good’ or ‘bad’ terms because it is neither. It’s just a violent impulse, a drive of aggressive and potentially harmful proportions, performed by an angry crowd, which can nevertheless act in ways that can be later interpreted as either constructive or destructive, beneficial or harmful, good or bad, depending on how we appraise it.

Let’s not forget that one man’s revolution is another’s annihilation, and that it’s not easy to brand any action with certainty.

Like the buddhist monk who decided to free the minnows from the fish merchants only to see them devoured by a flock of seagulls.

Yes, let’s keep in mind that the world is too complicated to separate into clear strata of righteousness. Only time and a careful consideration of the bigger picture can do that.

Having said that, I think the Ukrainians are doing a good thing. Ousting their current president

will take them further away from Putin’s Russia, bringing them closer to Europe — a Europe fraught with limitations, with its bank problems and its fiscal mess, its massive debt and its technocratic inefficiency, and its ever-rising populism and dysfunctionality.

Like I said, one man’s salt on the earth is another man’s poison.

I belong to Europe and to the West, and ascribe to a rational, open-society mindset, bar the excessive political correctness etc, so I salute the Ukraine’s decision to ditch Putin’s vision in favor of the West. I applaud their move Europe-ward, for better or worse.

Keeping this in mind, let me close by pointing out once again that the force behind Feeding Frenzies is a biological phenomenon that can be seen in fish, meaning it’s a primordial instinct, and that it’s instrumental in mobs ranging from the Ukrainian revolutionaries in the Euromaidan and the Venezuelan protesters in Caracas, to the Sans-Culottes in 18th-century Paris and the Klan’s lynch mobs in 19th-century Indiana, to the Nazis in Hitler’s Germany and the gay-bashers in Putin’s Russia, to the politically-correct consensus in Frisco and the sanctimonious parishes in Kansas, to the writers and tweeters and trolls on the web, and every single group that gathers together in anger against someone or something they want to sink their teeth in, be it a villain, a victim, or a scapegoat.

Time will judge everyone’s actions. Time and the bigger picture.

Until then,

Eyes open, mind sharp.